Pakistan is expected to take up with the U.S. administration the expected sale of Patriot missile defense system to India, diplomatic sources told United Press International Monday.
A U.S. defense team began briefing Indian officials in New Delhi Monday on the Patriot missiles. In Washington's diplomatic circles the visit is seen as a prelude to the sale of the advanced capability anti-ballistic missiles to India.
"It's a serious development and comes into conflict with the existing nuclear deterrence in the Subcontinent," said a South Asian defense expert familiar with the system.
Since the May 1998, when both India and Pakistan tested their nuclear devices, there exists an undeclared balance of power in the Subcontinent based on the fear that a clash between the two nuclear-armed neighbors could lead to the destruction of both.
But the Patriots, which can bring down an incoming missile, can seriously tip the balance in India's favor, making Pakistan vulnerable.
"If the Patriots are delivered to India, it will seriously imbalance Pakistan's strategic capabilities and can trigger an arms race in the Subcontinent," said the South Asian defense expert.
"The Pakistanis will need to do some soul searching to determine what effect it will have on their strategic defense," said the expert.
When asked what Pakistan could do to meet the threat posed by the expected sale of Patriot missiles to India, the expert said: "Pakistan will have to acquire counter-capability. This new development will tip the balance in India's favor unless it is redressed."
"They will take up the issue with the Americans," said the expert when asked what could be Pakistan's immediate response.
Sources in Washington say that the Bush administration gave clearance for a classified technical presentation of the system to India as part of the Next Step in Strategic Partnership agreement initiated by the two countries last year.
The sources said the decision to give a classified briefing about the Patriot system to India was taken during the first phase of NSSP that concluded in October.
The NSSP envisages cooperation in what is known as the "quartet issues" - civilian space and civilian nuclear fields, hi-tech trade and missile defense.
The conclusion of the first phase of NSSP was marked by the U.S. partially easing export controls on supply of equipment and technology for India's space and nuclear programs.
The Patriot is a long-range, all altitude and all weather air defense system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.
The missile's range is 44 miles and it can climb to an altitude greater than 25 miles. The minimum flight time -- time needed to arm a missile -- is less than three seconds and maximum flight time - time needed to reach a target - is just three-and-half minutes.
India will be the sixth country with which Washington has shared this technology after Israel, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.
Patriots were first used by the Israelis in the first Gulf War against Iraqi missiles. Since then more advanced versions have been developed.
An advanced version, PAC-3, was seen in action during the U.S. invasion of Iraq and is credited with a kill rate of over 95 percent.
India is expected to receive a previous version, the Patriot advanced capability-2 anti-ballistic missile system. Although less sophisticated than PAC-3, PAC-2 is a long-range, all altitude and all weather air defense system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.
Defense experts in Washington say that if armed with PAC-2, India can easily prevent Pakistan's Ghauri and Hataf missiles from penetrating its space.
They argue that it's these missiles that created the present level of deterrence between India and Pakistan and prevented the two nuclear-armed nations from going to war during the military standoff in 2002.
India hopes that acquiring the PAC-2 system, will open the way to PAC-3, the latest upgrade of the anti-missile system developed by U.S. defense majors Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
In a report from Karachi, Washington-based South Asia Tribune news site reported that the expected sale of Patriot missiles to has caused a panic in the Pakistan Army's General Headquarters.
According to this report, Pakistan is now basing its hopes on "the personal rapport and skills of President Pervez Musharraf to persuade President Bush not to create the huge arms imbalance in the subcontinent."
"If Musharraf fails, there would be a lot of angry and depressed faces in the GHQ and Musharraf will have to double his own personal security and cut down interaction with many of his brothers in uniform," the report said. "He will have to spend more time ensuring his survival."
"Neither China nor Pakistan have this type of anti-ballistic missile capability and the geo-strategic location of Pakistani missiles makes the Patriots more effective as any Pakistani missile could be intercepted in the air while in Pakistani airspace or much before it could reach any major Indian city," the report said.
The report quoted analysts in Pakistan as saying that the "intrinsic lack of trust in Musharraf and his generals, specially their ... cover up of (disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist) Dr A.Q. Khan's nuclear sales network" played a key role in convincing the Americans to look at the possibility of selling Patriot missiles to India.