The key to your own F-16s

Who said hyphenation is dead?

So it finally happened. President George W Bush has announced the sale of F-16s to General Musharraf’s Pakistan. If there was one act, short of forcing India to make territorial concessions in Kashmir, that could strengthen Musharraf’s hand, this is surely it.

And lest India get too worked up over this largesse to its threatening neighbour, the United States has a lot more in store for it — not only alphanumerical superiority in the form of F-18s but also a qualitative upgrade in the bilateral strategic relationship, giving it a ‘much more global character’.

Military co-operation in general, and defence procurement in particular are important — but not the end-all of a bilateral relationship between India and the United States.[The Acorn]

That India and the United States are talking about a bilateral relationship that is global in character is good news — but the acid test of this will come later this year, when the United States will be forced to put its vote where its mouth is. It would be rather vacous to talk of an ‘upgrade’ in relationship if the United States does not support India’s candidature for a permanent ‘Model A‘ seat on the UN Security Council.

The United States may have convinced itself that it has managed to satisfy both sides, but it has weakened the hand of those in India who argue for a strong pro-American foreign policy stance.

While the United States has sought to balance the geopolitical impact of the deal by applying a soothing balm on India, the decision to sell F-16s to Pakistan is not a good idea at all, as Kaushik Kapisthalam explains. Even with spin-doctors working in the overdrive mode, it will require a leap of faith to believe that selling advanced arms to dangerous dictatorships with unsatiated territorial ambitions is somehow consistent with spreading liberty and freedom in the world. Instead of the Pakistani people, it is American fighter-aircraft that have bolstered Musharraf’s position.

Even if Musharraf’s announcement that he will now allow greater international inspection of Khan’s centrifuges does not in any way imply that Pakistan has stopped procuring nuclear materials, even from North Korea. The half-lives of nuclear materials and their delivery mechanisms are much longer that the remaining lifetime of General Musharraf. That only means that instead of nipping the global threat from Pakistani nuclear weapons in the bud, it has only been postponed for the future.

Jeb, if not George himself, will have to contend with the fallout (sad pun unintended) of the way Gen Musharraf was handled since 9/11. Indian diplomats should closely study the six-way talks over North Korea that are currently in progress — they may be sitting in on a similar table in a few years from now.

Tailpiece: How can the Indian prime minister’s concerns over the sale be taken seriously when he plans invite Musharraf and watch cricket together?

Related Post: Those infernal F-16s

11 thoughts on “The key to your own F-16s”

  1. Nitin:

    The sale of F16s to Pakistan, while disappointing, is not surprising of course. Besides the dangerous puffing-up of the Pakistani military establishment, it gives Pakistan a more reliable way to deliver nukes via planes. I know some argue that the Pakistani missile advantage over India renders the F16s otiose. However, that underestimates the value of forcing one’s enemy to defend against multiple avenues of weapons delivery.

    In any case, the sense of satisfaction in some Indian papers (TOINS) at the American offer to India is not justified. That offer is simply a promise, and as the cliche goes, ‘a bird in hand…, etc.

    Reinforcing my skepticism about this offer is the promise of licensing and manufacture to India–something not in the American self-interest. One newspaper reported, rather deliriously, a supposed American offer to make India a 21st superpower! The political naivete of some Indians never ceases to amaze me. Why would the Americans held to build a rival superpower ?

    If this offer does materialize, I hope that India doesn’t make America its only armourer. Diversity in weapons suppliers is very much in India’s interest.

    P.S., I do think your worry about India being hemmed in by diplo’s a few years hence is unwarranted.

  2. Just an update:

    The Indian accounts of the American offer do indeed, seem to be exaggerated. Here’s a quote from the NYTimes:

    “March 26, 2005
    U.S. Is Set to Sell Jets to Pakistan; India Is Critical

    WASHINGTON, March 25 – ….Mr. Bush….cleared the way for India to discuss a combat aircraft purchase with American arms manufacturers….the United States was “responding” to New Delhi’s request for information on “multirole combat aircraft,” according to White House officials…..”

    Very much pie-in-the-sky. I would be surprised if anything came of this in the near future.

    Also, according to this report, the Pakistanis will not be sold the 1980s vintage F16s.


  3. I would also be skeptical of any offers of weaponry by the Americans given their past non-reliability as a supplier.
    I agree, what is the rationale for the Americans to hand-over production of these advanced weaponry to India. This would militate against a) their technological superiority which they would like to maintain come what may
    and b) part of the argument is jobs at Lockheed and Boeing etc. which would have had to go if there were no business to support it.
    A diversity of suppliers as well as good old self-reliance (w/ Privatisation) is the best way forward for our armament requirements.

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  5. Although 24 F-16s in the hands of Pakistan does not seem threatening to India, in light of India’s greater strength and expected purchase of 126 similar aircrafts, Pakistan has never in its history been intimidated by such realities and forgone the opportunity to use its weapons to threaten it neighbors. It is a military dictatorship and survival is the game, all else, even the stark realities of the fall-out of a nuclear war, are subverted to this all-consuming cause. Watch for the jingoism.

    What are the F-16s for? It has roped the US into its paranoid thinking that India wants to invade its soil, so it needs to have these planes at the ready to deliver nuclear weapons to New Delhi, Bombay, etc. It fritters away more than half a billion US dollars – gifts of the American taxpayers, on these planes, when it has dire needs in edcuation (37% literacy), health care, food and agriculture, and industry. And this is not all, America continues to supply Pakistan weapons, the only use for which is to kill Indians. Recently the US promised 6 P-3C Orions, several AWACS, 2000 missiles, and much more under the guise that they will be used to hunt down Al Queda and its favourite guest – Osmam bin Laden.

    But can the Pakistani military be trusted with such weapons, for consider that it used its strength to host, support, train, protect, and push thousands of terrorists into neighbouring countries for reasons of destabilization and provocation, all the while hiding its evils behind the cloud of religion and reprisals for imagined historical wrongs. Consider how footloose even its nuclear technology is. Its brazen sharing of nuclear weapons technology and equipment by A.Q.Khan at the behest of and with the active involvement of the ISI and Musharraf himself should be sufficient evidence. The new Chinese-Pak FC-1 is “designed”/reverse engineered F-16, a gift from Pakistan to China. The problem is not European weapons getting into Chinese hands, it is American weapons that go from Islamabad to Beijing.

    Ms. Rice’s reason is that without these weapons, Pakistani neurosis will increase and the region will become more unstable, so the gifts of F-16s will bring stability and security to Pakistan and the regions. All of south asia is held hostage to Musharraf’s insecurity. So, it now is making a case for feeding this mindless “Asian Pit Bull”, for fear that its insecurity would lead it to attack its neighbors. Is America now paying in F-16s, missiles, and AWACS to appease the Pakistanis? The is downright blackmail! If Ms Rice is right in her analysis, why aren’t American taxpayers asked to give to North Korea, Zimbabwe, Syria, and Iran, 150 F-16s apiece so as to make them feel more secure? If balance is the aim averred here, then, why not help North Korea to have the same balance with its neighbours and with the US itself?

    This deadly gift, given to bring about this elusive balance is going to cost the US, even though a key benefit is doubtless the use of Pakistani military bases and facilities for a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Another key “benefit” for the military dictatorship of Pakistan is its increased boldness to continue its bleeding of India by a thousand cuts, (its all consuming dream/mission that somehow missed being in its national anthem). The cost, however, is the great likelihood of nuclear bombs in the hands of Pakistani trained terrorists, headed for India and the US through the multiple means, now well studied by Pakistan’s favourite guest. To effect its own balance, India now has to make great sacrifices to divert development funds to defense, and to ratchet up its efforts in education, industry, etc., to not only keep up with the Pakistan + China alliance, but sadly now, it has to keep up with the treasury of the worderful USA. Since Pakistan on its own cannot maintian military balance with India, it appears that the US is going to ensure this balance is maintained, at all cost.

    I am sure that the US would like to recoup the > $0.5B US from its sale of 126 F-16s to India. India then would be underwriting the cost of Pakistani insecurity and its own demise. What else can be conclued from this but that it is indeed strange. Strange that the world’s greatest democracy so thoroughly despises the world’s largest democracy, that it is investing so much in its cooperation with the world’s two most dangerous dictatorships, (one a major non-NATO ally) to corral and destroy it. Strange! And at the same time, and on the same day it announced its gift to Pakistan, it provides this travel advisory to US citizens, who were just billed for 24 F-16s, to avoid traveling to Pakistan, because it is dangerous for Americans. In international politics, it appears that the only “moral” code in vogue is the hypocrite’s code: “do as I say, and not as I do”, and the US is not above this code.

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  7. The current american posture can be compensated say by nuclear deal. but thanks to america, pakistan(read chinese scientist) will get the best tech know how(read reverse engineering). India will have no option but to buy MiGs.(only reliable in transfer of tech)
    INDO-US Nuclear Deal is great for both in commercial terms. India will get latest nuclear tech for its growing economy and US will get a guaranteed market for its Specialized industries. But F-16s or F-18s which some people believe india should get for countering Pakistans F-16s is ridiculous. When america sells its fighter jets, it comes with hell lot of Strings attached to it. The diplomatic arm twisting(read blackmailing) during a war like scenario on spare parts and possible exact location of fighters being given to opposite side(not just sattelites have mouths even those jets have mouths to reveal its location. thanks to those “intel inside” electronics). i am suprised how can india afford 60-70 million dollars for a single F-18. In that kind of money india can buy 2 Su-30MKI with complete spare parts and its tech know how. There is no doubt about american weapon superiority, but its stupid to give your life line to US who believes that to shoot down Osama you need f-16, sidewinders. Dont be suprised if they are made to believe by paks that they will require F-22 raptors free of cost to kill osama.

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