October 22, 2005

Why does Pakistan need a huge number of F-16s?

First America said Pakistan will get 25 F-16s as a gift; then the number was raised to 40; and now looks like Pakistan will get 80 F-16s!!

Why so many? For what?

To fight the Al Qaeda?!



Turbulence ahead: Pak F-16s next week


Posted online: Saturday, October 22, 2005 at 0444 hours IST

New Delhi, October 21: Despite the tall talk on de-hyphenating US relations with India and Pakistan, the impending American sale(to be announced next week) of 80 F-16s to Pakistan has begun to cast a shadow over the Indo-US regional security dialogue which is being held tomorrow.

There’s growing concern on the Indian side that US tactical interests in Pakistan might begin to overwhelm the proclaimed long-term American commitment to build a strategic partnership with India.

As they survey the Asian security scenarios tomorrow, the challenge for Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns is to begin a frank discussion on Pakistan—a country in which both have huge stakes.

Unless they begin to sort out the fundamentals on where their interests in Islamabad overlap and how the differences ought to be managed, Pakistan might once again trump the prospect of a productive Indo-US relationship.

The only exception to the growing convergence of Indian and American interests in South Asia appears to be Pakistan. Pointing to the new convergence in a speech at New York’s Asia Society last Tuesday, Burns pointed to the ‘‘close consultations on regional issues, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.’’
‘‘In each of these states, we share with India the basic recognition that the best path to development and peace is a democratic one,’’ Burns added. Nevertheless, this ‘‘active and productive dialogue’’ does not appear to include a serious conversation on Pakistan and its future.

It is easy for Washington to say its military ties with Islamabad should not and would not affect ties with New Delhi. India could similarly say its ties with Iran should not come in the way of Indo-US partnership.

The logic of de-hyphenation sounds good in theory. However, there is no way of ignoring the Pakistan factor in thinking about Indo-US relations.

It appears that the Bush Administration has made up its mind on selling 80 F-16s to Pakistan. It is a matter of time before the US Congress considers and approves the Administration’s request.

While some in the Indian establishment continue to look at the F-16 sale in terms of air balance with the Western neighbour, the real problem for India lies in its long-term political rather than military implications.

Indian officials are certainly not blind to the new American interests in Pakistan—from the imperatives of the war on terror to management of the unstable neighbourhood in Afghanistan and Iran.

However, if the US sells Pakistan military equipment like F-16s, which have no bearing on the war on terror, India’s focus will have to inevitably turn to the prospect of a long-term US military relationship with Pakistan that might not take into account India’s sensitivities.

Worse still, such a relationship could destabilise not only the peace process between India and Pakistan but also the potential for a strong future military relationship between New Delhi and Washington.

Equally troubling is the trend line in which Washington seems to offer extraordinary political slack to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf while putting India to a loyalty test on Iran.

The fact that Pakistan’s abstention on the Iran issue at the International Atomic Energy Agency last month has met little criticism in Washington has not gone unnoticed in New Delhi.

While India’s vote with the European resolution has been appreciated, voices in the US Congress have insisted that India be examined again when the Iran’s non-proliferation comes up for renewed debate at Vienna next month.

India’s vote next time around would depend on the merits of the diplomatic circumstances and the state of nuclear diplomacy with Iran. However, New Delhi is disconcerted by any suggestion that links its vote on the Iran issue with the prospect of civilian nuclear cooperation with the US that is dangling in the air.

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