Saturday, March 26, 2005
The decision to do this is not without cost -- India is pretty annoyed -- but ultimately it is a bone to Pakistan's embattled president Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who has played along to some significant degree with the American war effort. Anyway, even the India Daily is untroubled by the proposed sale, which will not make any strategic difference:
India's existing superiority in fighters and planned purchases of far more sophisticated arms, its concern was more the symbolism of US sales to Pakistan than the threat posed by F-16s, an ageing design seen as a poor match for new-generation fighters.[sic]
In fact, the United States has already agreed to sell arms and other technology to India as well.
The Bush administration played down India's security concerns, and signaled a willingness to sell sophisticated fighters to India if it chooses to buy them, but made no firm commitments.
A U.S. official said India is contemplating a ``very large'' purchase of fighters, including U.S.-built F-16s and possibly F-18s.
Indian newspapers predicted India would get more than Pakistan.
``There was quiet satisfaction in New Delhi'' hours after the United States agreed to sell F-16s to Pakistan, the Indian Express daily said.
``U.S. gives Pakistan F-16s, India gets F-16s plus plus.''
The Hindustan Times quoted unidentified sources as saying India and the United States had agreed on ``co-production of 126 aircraft including F-16s and F-18s.''
Apart from throwing Musharraf a much-needed bone, why did the United States agree to sell F-16s to Pakistan? First, it is probably stabilizing. If Pakistan thinks that its strategic situation vs. India is deteriorating, it may become harder, rather than easier, to achieve peace in Kashmir. It certainly will become harder to persuade Pakistan to crack down on the Islamists who are blowing up innocent Kashmiris.
Second, Pakistan suddenly looks like it is going to turn over centrifuges to the International Atomic Energy Agency after having dragged its feet for months. The IAEA has found traces of highly enriched uranium on nuclear equipment in Iran, which would be evidence of Iranian efforts to build a bomb. The Iranians claim that the traces arrived in a contaminated shipment of centrifuges from Pakistan, smuggled there A.Q. Khan's black market network. The IAEA can verify or perhaps dismiss the Iranian excuse by inspecting other centrifuges from Pakistan.
The F-16s are obviously not a direct quid pro quo for Pakistani coooperation with investigation into Iran's nuclear program. We coerce Pakistan to our side in the GWOT with a combination of carrots and sticks, and this deal was a carrot (and the deal with India was a stick). It is not surprising, though, that the announcements of the jet deal and Musharraf's public commitment to turn over the centrifuges were substantially simultaneous. Now Musharraf can argue domestically that he got something for his cooperation with the United States.