November 22, 2004Foreign Affairs

That’s another $1.3 billion threat to India

Kaushik Kapisthalam writes that US largesse to Pakistan will only make a bad problem worse

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Unless United States Congress votes against it in the next few weeks (and decides to run the risk of angering the American defence industry), Pakistan will receive an entire arsenal of modern arms, aircrafts and munitions. That includes items like P3-C Orion long-range naval reconaissance planes to hunt down al-Qaeda terrorists in the mountains of Waziristan. The last time the Bush administration gave the Pakistanis some gear to help fight the war on terror, it ended up in Pyongyang, North Korea, to ship cargo that is not unlike what a large contingent of American soldiers is currently hunting for — without any avail — in Iraq.

And as Kaushik Kapisthalam writes in Washington Times the United States risks further destabilising South Asia by indulging Pakistan’s military regime.

Apologists for Pakistan in Washington point out that given the big imbalance between India and Pakistan militarily, the United States must step in to address the disparity for the sake of stability.” One could write a book on the hollowness of this argument, but two big holes in this hypothesis stand out.

Firstly, Pakistan is already close to max-out levels in its defense spending. Its current defense budget for 2004-2005 is officially 194 billion rupees. But that doesn’t include grants, pensions and other expenses, which increase the actual number to 300 billion rupees or approximately $5 billion. If one adds to that the $600 million that Pakistan is getting in terms of free weaponry from the United States, it comes to $3.6 billion or a whopping 8 percent of its 2003 gross domestic product. India, on the other hand, spends between 2 percent and 3 percent of its GDP for defense.

The fact is that there is never going to be an equality between Pakistan and India in conventional arms, just like India can never equal China’s numbers and China in turn can never match up to America’s. Besides, aren’t Pakistan’s nuclear weapons supposed to obviate the need for Pakistan to match India weapon for weapon?

The other argument is the one that is usually spouted by retired Pakistani military officials who frequent American think tanks. For instance, retired Pakistan Army Brig. Feroz Hassan Khan is a visiting professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, Calif. Khan says that the United States needs to realize” that India is Pakistan’s main threat and must seek to alleviate this specific concern of Pakistan.

In fact, this argument is also without merit. The reality is that in terms of South Asian stability, India is a status quo power, which seeks to wait out issues, much like China does with respect to Taiwan.

But what the Pakistani military establishment clearly wants is a license to try to change the status quo through the use of sub-state actors, such as the jihadi groups its uses in Kashmir supplemented by a U.S.-provided safety net when its ill thought-out military adventures backfire, like they usually do.

Now it is quite true that the military dominated Pakistani establishment has always viewed India as an aggressor and a mortal threat. But that does not mean that the world should buy into this theory. In fact, most experts in Washington and elsewhere point out that Pakistan’s main threat is an internal one from homegrown Islamist groups and the radicalization of the Pakistani society in general and the army in particular. In fact, the unsaid fear factor is America’s post 9/11 policy towards Pakistan has been the prospect of a radical Islamist regime taking control of Pakistan’s already leaky nuclear weapons complex.

It is therefore in the American interest to focus aid to Pakistan toward efforts to thwart the internal dangers, rather than buttressing the Pakistani establishment’s paranoia about the Indian threat.” [Washington Times]

Related Link: Joshua Kucera writes how F-16s fitted with air-to-air missiles are not quite the best weapons to fight al-Qaeda

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