Selig Harrison – Learn from history

Selig Harrison is one of the more thoughtful analysts of South Asia who takes a long view of the subcontinent’s history and future. In today’s LA Times he suggests that history has taught that dollops of US arms to Pakistani dictators (for various stated purposes) invariably leads to military adventurism against India.

The Pentagon spin that U.S. military help for Islamabad would relate only to the war on terror sounds to Indian ears like President Eisenhower’s 1954 reassurances that a program of “limited” U.S. weapons aid to Pakistan would be solely for use against the Soviet Union and China. By 1965, the United States had poured $3.8 billion in military hardware into Pakistan. This encouraged the Pakistani military dictator, Gen. Ayub Khan, to stage cross-border raids in Kashmir that touched off a wider war in which his forces freely used its U.S. planes and tanks.

No sooner had India begun to forgive and forget than the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan led to another outpouring of weapons aid to pay off Islamabad for serving as a “front-line state.”

With its new F-16 aircraft and heavy tanks, this second aid package was clearly not intended for use on the mountainous Afghan border but rather to bolster Pakistan’s balance of power in plains warfare with India. Still more U.S. weapons channeled through Pakistan to Afghan resistance forces were skimmed off for Pakistani use.

In a striking repeat of history, the type of military aid that Pakistan is now seeking has less to do with Afghanistan than India. Islamabad’s wish list includes the Predator aerial spy plane used by the United States in Afghanistan, Hawkeye mini-AWACs, AIM-9 missiles and P3 anti-submarine aircraft.

In addition to military aid, Bush’s promises in June included $1.5 billion in economic assistance.[The LA Times]

To be sure he argues that arms supplies to India must be stopped too, at least until New Delhi shows a certain commitment to negotiating with Pakistan.