The United States had co-opted Pakistan as a frontline state in its fight against communism during the Cold War, and armed it with Patton tanks, F-86 Sabre Jets and F-104 Starfighters. The sharp Indian reaction to the announcement of a new US arms package for Pakistan is understandable.
The United States had co-opted Pakistan as a frontline state in its fight against communism during the Cold War, and armed it with Patton tanks, F-86 Sabre Jets and F-104 Starfighters. US-Pak cooperation was expanded further when the erstwhile Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan and the CIA gave Pakistan huge quantities of weapons to be given to the Afghan mujahideen, including shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missiles. However, as soon as the last Soviet tank left Afghan soil, the US had dropped Pakistan like a hot potato.
Post-September 11, 2001, the US not only ignored Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation, but also its emergence as the new hub of Islamic terrorism, and tolerated its dictatorial regime because it suited US national interests in the war against terrorism. Washington’s designation of Pakistan as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) in March 2004 disturbed Indian policy planners, particularly so because the “next steps in strategic partnership” (NSSP) had just been announced and India was looking forward to a comprehensive engagement with the US. Phase-I of the Indo-US strategic partnership has now been concluded and the contours off Phase-II are under negotiation. Hence, the sharp Indian reaction to the announcement of a new US arms package for Pakistan is understandable.
Rightly or wrongly, the US views these arms sales as justified for several reasons. Besides the need to retain Pakistan’s ‘support in the hunt for Al- Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, the US realises the fragility of the Musharraf regime in the face of Islamist hardliners in the Army and rest of the country. As it sees him as a stabilising force in an Army that has been deeply Islamised, the US feels that it must do all that it can to keep Musharraf in power. If the Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, the Phalanx gun systems and the TOW anti-tank-cum-bunker busting missiles satisfy Pakistan’s corps commanders, so be it. Also, India and Pakistan are among the largest arms buyers today and no US administration can neglect the military-industrial complex.
The acid test of US sincerity will lie in its decision on the long-pending supply of F-16 fighter aircraft that Pakistan has already paid for but not yet received. In the unlikely event of the US deciding to go ahead with the sale of the F-16s, India will be justified in seeing the move as a US attempt to balance its strategic partnership with India by once again propping up Pakistan as a regional challenger. Till then, the eight new Orion aircraft must be seen as nothing more than additional lucrative targets on the tarmac of Karachi airbase for the Indian Air Force and the army’s special forces commandos. Also, history is witness to the fact that Uncle Sam’s warm hug has often ended with the kiss of death.