US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly defended the decision to sell nuclear-capable F-16s to Pakistan and expressed confidence that the balancing exercise in the Indian subcontinent will succeed. At the same time, US is allowing its companies to bid for advanced jet fighters wanted by India. It is talking about the possible supply of nuclear power plants by the order-starved American companies and the sale of missile defence system.
Through an interview with The Washington Post, Ms Rice conveyed to Pakistan that the US would not abandon it this time as it did after its participation in the strategic alliance during the anti-Soviet operation in Afghanistan.
US penitence should reassure Pakistan, as it had complained after the collapse of the Soviet Union that it was used like a toilet paper. Geopolictical and commercial reasons converged in the case of the US decision to sell F-16s and the Bush administration will ride through the storm of negative comments about the deal made by the media, some lawmakers and a section of scholars.
The critics believe that the US is rewarding an undemocratic regime and a nuclear proliferater at the cost of a democratic ally. They say it would kickstart a new arms race in one of the most dangerous areas in the world.
Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone expressed his “outrage” over the US decision and said that it will mean a step backward in the US-India relations. Some months ago, he had written to Mr Bush cautioning against the sale of F-16s to a non-democratic country that supported terrorists infiltration in Kashmir and supplied nuclear equipment to terrorist nations.
On the day the F-16 decision came, it was reported that the last of the F-16s have been delivered by Lockheed Martin to the US Air Force. In the absence of fresh order, the defence contractor would have had to slow down the production line at some stage. Pakistan’s order will help save jobs in US.
Once in 1992, the F-16 line was saved when the earlier Bush administration allowed the sale of 150 F-16s to Taiwan.
The US as well as Lockheed will see whether the decision to supply to Pakistan will make India to favour the company with a larger order of the model that the Indian Air Force finds suitable.
Of course, the entry of the US companies into the picture may make the rival European and Russian suppliers more flexible in their terms. India’s order for new fighter planes will be a much bigger deal.
At this stage, India has just requested information from potential suppliers.
The Secretary of State told The Washington Post that the US is trying to solidify and extend relations with both India and Pakistan at a time, “when we have good relations with both of them, something that most people didn’t think could be done, and when they have improving relationships with one another”.
She said in New Delhi, the two countries talked about broadening and deepening the US-India relationship in areas like defence and energy co-operation. We have broad and deepening relationship with both India and Pakistan, she said. In the same interview, Ms Rice highlighted the US plans to spread democracy throughout the world.When asked to justify the F-16 decision in that context, she said: “Pakistan is worlds away from where it was three and a half years ago. One has to look not at fixed points in time. International politics is not like a satellite that comes over and takes a snapshot, takes a snapshot, it’s a process.” She also cited in defence, the 9/11 Commission report that asked the government to invest in the relationship with Pakistan.
A day after Washington offered to supply F-16 or more advanced F-18 fighter jets to India, New Delhi said on Saturday it would consider buying sophisticated warplanes from American companies “if they match Indian requirements”, reports PTI from.
“Recently, American companies, which manufacture fighter aircraft and weapons, are willing to work with us and they have submitted some proposals to us,” Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters here. “Naturally, we will discuss them (proposals) and if military aircraft and other weapons, needed for our national interest, are available from the US, we will certainly consider them,” he said.
Dismissing the sale of US fighter planes and sophisticated weapons to Pakistan as “nothing new”, Mr Mukherjee said: “Cooperation in economic and other areas between US and India has increased manifold, but there is so far no defence agreement between the two countries.”
To a question about Washington's willingness to sell F-16s to India, the Defence Minister said New Delhi was looking for several military aircraft and would prefer the one suiting the country's interest.