NEW DELHI (IPS/GIN) - By offering nuclear-capable F-16 “Falcon” fighters to Pakistan, and the even more advanced F-18 “Hornets” to India, Washington has shown a readiness to profit from the long-standing rivalry between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors.
“This is a bit like the Aesop’s fable in which two cats fighting over a loaf take their dispute to a monkey for settlement,” said P.R. Chari, research professor at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, a prestigious think tank devoted to security in South Asia.
In an interview with IPS, Prof. Chari said what was happening was all too obvious. “The (North) Americans must be laughing all the way to the bank.”
He pointed to reports in the Washington Post on Mar. 16 that said the sale of F-16s to Pakistan may have saved 5,000 jobs in Pres. George Bush’s home state of Texas, where the plane’s builder, Lockheed Martin Corporation, was located.
According to Prof. Chari, there was little doubt that U.S arms contractors were now eyeing India’s much larger market that has been closed to them since 1974, when India first exploded a nuclear device. Washington, at the time, reacted by imposing an arms and dual-use technology embargo on this country.
India, which signed a military pact with the former Soviet Union in 1971, has traditionally sourced its defense needs from Moscow. But rapidly expanding ties in recent years between India and the U.S., the world’s two largest democracies, have seen a progressive lifting of sanctions and moves towards defense cooperation.
For India, the real icing on the cake was an offer by Secy. of State Condoleezza Rice of cooperation in India’s civilian nuclear energy program.
As for the fighter deal, analysts saw little use for either India or Pakistan to be buying expensive nuclear-capable aircraft. Prof. Chari said neither country needed aircraft to deliver nuclear bombs against each other since both possessed missiles with more than adequate range.
India and Pakistan have been at pains to improve relations, soured by a long-standing dispute over the territory of Kashmir, and are currently engaged in ‘cricket diplomacy’ with a Pakistani team currently touring India as part of a series of confidence building measures.
“The logic of escalating military preparations contrasts with the logic of dialogue and reconciliation,” said Prof. Achin Vanaik, a well-known anti-nuclear activist who teaches in Delhi University.
What was interesting to note, Prof. Chari said, was that from a position of imposing sanctions against both India and Pakistan for carrying out the 1998 tests, Washington has come round to supplying both countries with platforms capable of delivering nuclear bombs.
“It just shows that Washington has a flexible enough foreign policy to accommodate what it judges to be in its own best interest and this includes such issues as nuclear proliferation,” he said.
That “claws in, claws out” approach has seen Washington first offering F-16s to Pakistan during the war to rid Afghanistan of intervening Soviet troops in the 1980s and then reneging on it on the grounds that Islamabad was pursuing a clandestine nuclear program.
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