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Browning Off Indo-us Ties

The arms package for Pakistan sends out confusing signals

Browning Off Indo-us Ties

FOR Ministry of External Affairs officials, it is back to the diplomatic minefield. Soon after the US Senate passed the Brown Amendment authorising the $368million arms package for Pakistan, the Americans dispatched Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, E. Gibson Lanpher, to New Delhi and Islamabad. His primary mission was to soothe ruffled Indian feathers and to assure South Block that the Hank Brown Amendment notwithstanding, the Clinton Administration attaches much importance to Indo-US relations.

 But in his interaction with some nongovernmental experts, Lanpher took the opportunity to indulge in some straight talk. He left no one in doubt that it was the mutuality of American and Pakistani interests which had dictated this move by the American Government.

The Indian reaction was along expected lines. It spoke of legitimising Islamabad's clandestine nuclear programme, endangering peace and security in the region and triggering off an arms race. In Islamabad, the Benazir Bhutto Government was ecstatic about this diplomatic victory.

While the Brown Amendment drama was taking place, Canada, chairman of P-8 (a group comprising G-7 members and Russia), sent a demarche to the Indian Government. It was basically a repeat of the Canadian prime minister's position at the P-8's Halifax summit this June and urged both India and Pakistan to "support international arms control norms, accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and refrain from taking further steps towards ballistic missile deployment or any other measures that might precipitate a regional arms race".

The hypocrisy in the stand adopted by the eight most powerful countries in the world could not be more pronounced. Here was India saying that the arms package for Pakistan would set off an arms race in the region, and there were these eight countries warning India precisely against this. And all this while a G-7 member, France, has ignored protests from around the world to conduct nuclear tests.

For its part, the US is dismissive about Indian apprehensions that the aid package would provoke an arms race in South Asia. According to a State Department official, "The equipment proposed for release will in no way alter the military balance in South Asia, which overwhelmingly favours India." And to drive the point home, he added for good measure that the US does not feel there is any "military justification for India to make significant new arms acquisitions in response to this one-time release of by now aging equipment for the most part already in Pakistan's inventory. We are confident that the Indian Government understands this and has no intention of starting an arms race in response to this transfer."

 India, he said, had a "better than 4.5 to 1advantage over Pakistan" in naval patrol aircraft like P-3 Orion: "Since Pakistan will get only three P-3s, it will be hard-pressed to keep more than one on station at a time. Further, Pakistan does not possess escort aircraft which would allow it to take advantage of the P-3's greater range in a wartime situation."

Besides the P-3s, Pakistan will get Harpoon missiles, AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles, M-198 howitzers and C-Nite kits for Cobra helicopter gunships. And the release of $658 million, through the sale of F-16s to a third country, should enable Pakistan to buy the advanced Mirage 2000-5 aircraft from France.

American justifications notwithstanding, the alarm in New Delhi was understandable. At stake is not just the quantity of arms being supplied to Pakistan. As a defence expert said, "It is the political strategic message that is being sent." The Pentagon and the CIA have traditionally had close relations with the Pakistan army establishment. It was this political relationship which was disrupted after the suspension of economic and military aid in 1990 when the Pressler Amendment was passed.

Testifying before the foreign relations subcommittee considering the Brown Amendment, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robin Raphel, said: "The key impact of sanctions relief is not military or financial. The effect is primarily in the political realm, creating a sense of faith restored and an unfairness rectified with a country and a people who have been loyal friends of the US over the decades." What she left unsaid was that Pakistan is an indispensable strategic ally in the Gulf and West Asia and is crucial in keeping an eye on Iran.

The importance attached to clearing any hurdles in US-Pak relations was evident from the fact that the US Congress and the Administration had mounted a joint effort to get the amendment passed despite objections by powerful Senators like Glenn, Feinstein and Pressler. In the process Washington also ignored its own nuclear non-proliferation laws.

"The US has shown a high level of pragmatism about the Pakistani nuclear programme in order to restore its economic, trade and political relationship," points out an Indian defence expert. "India will be justified in expecting a similar pragmatism from the US towards its nuclear programme."

In fact, this is the crux of the matter. Pakistan had successfully warded off American pressure over the last two years for a verifiable inspection of its nuclear programme in return for a one-time waiver of the Pressler Amendment. State Department officials refused to explain how the US reconciles its policy of not supplying weapons to countries with nuclear capability with its decision to provide arms to Pakistan, saying the question was "too loaded".

But it will be unrealistic for India to expect a 'pragmatic' approach from the Americans on its nuclear programme. For the last few years, there has been sustained international pressure on India to sign the NPT and abandon its missile programme, even though the sale of M-11 missiles by China to Pakistan and the Chinese nuclear programme are well known. In fact, in September 1993, just before the UN General Assembly session, when news of India having test-fired Prithvi leaked out, the Americans called on the Indians not to go ahead with its deployment. Within days, the American envoy was followed by the envoys of France, the UK, Germany, Japan and Australia, all with the same message. There was a certain method in this.

And there are already signs that the Americans will be orchestrating more pressure on India from other countries like Japan and Germany, who have some clout because of their economic ties with India. As Jasjit Singh, director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, says, "The P-8 must examine whether a weak, disarmed India is in their own interest. They do not seem to have objections to missiles owned by Saudi Arabia, Iran and China."

Indian foreign policy experts recognise the setback caused by the Brown Amendment to Indo-US relations and note that this is bound to result in a re-examination of the country's nuclear and missile programmes. Says former foreign secretary J.N. Dixit: "We must seriously consider whether we should nuclearly weaponise ourselves. The predication and trend of the discussions with the US which led to our agreeing to move towards the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and fissile material cut-off arrangement have totally changed. We must carefully consider whether CTBT will be a comprehensive and non-discriminatory arrangement."

At the political level, experts believe that while India can effectively handle any threat posed by the new Pakistani weapons, the Brown Amendment will help the Indian political leadership, hamstrung since the Bofors controversy, to go in for major arms acquisition. But that will hardly console South Block. 


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