Published on Thursday, June 6, 2002 in the New Zealand Herald
West Hawks Arms As It Preaches Peace
by Rahul Bedi and agencies
A delicious irony underpins the efforts of several Western countries to avert a conflict between India and Pakistan, even as they queue up to sell the nuclear rivals military hardware worth billions of dollars.
The United States, Britain, France and Russia have collectively launched diplomatic offensives of varying intensity to stop New Delhi and Islamabad from going to war, fearing it might escalate into an apocalyptic nuclear exchange.
But paradoxically, backed by their governments, the military-industrial complexes of these very countries are either supplying India or Pakistan or both varied military goods, or negotiating desperately for access to the world's largest arms market.
The US has taken the lead by signing in April a US$146 million ($298 million) deal with New Delhi for artillery radar at a time when more than a million Indian and Pakistani soldiers face off along the 3200km frontier. The build-up began after a militant raid on India's Parliament last December.
Another 20 "big ticket" military items have been approved by the Bush Administration for sale to India, including engines and advanced avionics for the indigenous light combat aircraft program, submarine rescue facilities and ground sensors, and electronic fencing for installation along Kashmir's Line of Control.
Pakistan, too, is being sold these satellite-linked sensors and has unofficially been told that "low-key" military sales will resume shortly.
In March, the US signed the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement with Pakistan, by which Islamabad is entitled to a range of military equipment, instead of financial compensation, for allowing American forces access to bases along the Afghan frontier.
Washington is interested in selling the Indian Navy Sea Black helicopters, P-3C multi-mission maritime reconnaissance aircraft and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
Britain, equally keen to tap into India's poverty for its riches is desperate to close the deal with the Indian Air Force for 66 British Aerospace Hawk training aircraft worth over £1 billion ($2.97 billion).
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in New Delhi last week was quick to refute news reports from London that Britain had imposed an arms embargo on India and opposed the sale of Hawk trainers.
Russia remains the largest military hardware provider to India.
Around 50 of 310 Russian T 90 S main battle tanks that India bought last year for around US$700 million have already arrived and been absorbed into regiments deployed across western Rajasthan against Pakistani's Ukrainian T 80UDs based in Sindh. Their operational task is to counter an Indian Army thrust to cut off the southern Province from the rest of Pakistan.
Fighter aircraft, missiles and a range of military hardware worth upwards of US$3 billion are also in the pipeline to India.
France, too, is not lagging in pushing its military wares in the region. Its Direction des Constructions Navales is on the verge of closing a deal with India to locally build six Scorpene submarines, while the Indian Air Force (IAF) has opened preliminary discussions with Dassault Aviation of France to acquire Mirage 2005 fighter aircraft to enhance its strike and nuclear deterrence capabilities.
Official sources in New Delhi said the IAF plans to acquire 126 Mirage 2005s to equip seven squadrons that will comprise the "backbone" of India's Strategic Nuclear Command that is expected to be in place later this month.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said yesterday that India would consider joint monitoring of the Kashmir border with Pakistan.
In what could be a major step to ease tensions, Vajpayee said India and Pakistan should work together to patrol the Kashmir border and verify Islamic militants were no longer crossing into Indian-controlled Kashmir to launch attacks against Indian forces.
"Joint patrolling can be held by India and Pakistan," Vajpayee said. "There can be joint verification, but there is no need for third-party verification."
Vajpayee was referring to reports that Britain and the US have offered to help monitor the Line of Control that divides the disputed Himalayan province.
India and Pakistan have been on a war footing since December, with a million troops along their frontier.
The international community has been scrambling to avert a potential fourth war between India and Pakistan as fears of a nuclear confrontation have escalated.
"We want to move away from a path of confrontation to a path of co-operation," Vajpayee said from Kazakhstan, where he attended an Asian security conference with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.
Despite the Pakistani military leader's calls for dialogue, Vajpayee declined to talk to his counterpart during the summit. India has insisted dialogue will resume only when cross-border terrorism ends.
"Indian citizens want that terrorism should stop and if these steps can be done through peaceful ways, then people will be happy," Vajpayee said.
"Pakistan was not ready to stop cross-border terrorism. They are ready now - at least they say they are."
The Prime Minister said 3000 Islamic militants were being trained in Pakistan-based camps to join the 12-year insurgency for Kashmir's independence or merger with Pakistan.
Vajpayee said India wanted to test the Pakistani claim that cross-border infiltration had stopped.
©Copyright 2002, New Zealand Herald