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The Rediff Special/Gopal Ratnam
May 03, 2005
The Bush administration's decision to sanction a fleet of F-16 aircraft for Pakistan in March still raises hackles in New Delhi, even though Washington has hastened to promise India much more in armaments.
In this two-part series, Gopal Ratnam, a defense writer based in Washington, DC, and Amir Mir, a Pakistan-based journalist, examine the many angles in this complex issue.Pakistan may be getting its much desired fleet of F-16s, but India could be getting a lot more from the United States that could eventually change the 50-year-old dynamic between the nuclear neighbors.
But getting to that state won't be easy.
For the Americans, it will take enormous focus and attention to navigate the thicket of US and international laws relating to nuclear non-proliferation and restrictions on exports of sensitive military technologies. India would be required to enact laws to tighten exports of such technologies and embrace some elements of US global hegemony -- in other words, more displays of leadership and less of a maverick streak.
Though many Indian officials from Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh downward and several commentators were swift to condemn the sale of advanced fighter jets to Pakistan, US officials say they envisage a broad strategic cooperation with India that would more than offset the sale of fighter jets to its neighbor.
As if a private assurance of the American intention to the Indian government were insufficient, two US administration officials took to the podium at the State Department, March 25, and declared that United States' goal was 'to help India become a major world power in the 21st century.'
Bill to block F-16s to Pak in US Congress
"India could have a greater security role in the world, like Japan does now and Germany did a decade ago," one State Department official said in an interview soon after the announcement of the F-16 sale to Pakistan and a much larger offer to India. "The essence of being a world power is not just military but economic. We are talking about helping with its economic reforms, growing its infrastructure and reducing poverty; it's not about arming them to the teeth."
The unusually explicit American diplomatic language about helping India become a world power "plays to India's desire" to see itself as one, said one former Bush administration official who helped set the stage for US policy toward India. By picking strong words the administration is signaling its seriousness and ensuring that India hears the message, he said.
But the United States is "not anointing India as a world power," the official said. "If India wants to be a player, it needs to step up to the plate." For instance, going by India's voting record in the United Nations "you would never say India is a friend of the United States," which expects India to "play a role on a grander scale and not sit on the sidelines and throw firebombs."
Already India's military and economic muscle can reach its neighbors when they need it. For example, several State Department officials were effusive in their praise of India's efforts to reach out to Sri Lanka and Indonesia in addition to taking care of its own needs when the deadly tsunami struck South Asia on December 26.
However, there is the matter of India's pride. Kowtowing to future American demands may not come easy.
Not just about F-16s!
"We are not allies in the traditional sense of the word," Ronen Sen, India's ambassador to the United States, told a conference organized by the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington on March 16, when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was meeting India's Prime Minister Singh in India.
"We will always remain independent; decisions affecting India will be taken in New Delhi, just as decisions affecting United States are taken in Washington," Sen said.
Stephen P Cohen, a South Asia expert at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, cautions US officials not to expect India to become an American satrap. India "will ride our bus to the point where they think they can get off and ride their own bus," Cohen said. Indians will not "subordinate their interests to the United States."
But the interests of both sides seem to converge: advanced military systems, missile defense equipment and assistance with nuclear and space related technologies for India; in exchange for that the United States would win a key strategic ally in Asia and could potentially extend its global domination.
By committing itself to meet India's needs, the United States is "choosing and tacitly endorsing India as a regional security manager," said Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Don't worry, US tells India
It means that Washington will eventually "not only acquiesce but support the active development of India's strategic nuclear deterrent," said Tellis who served as an adviser to former US ambassador to India, Robert D Blackwill and as a special assistant to President Bush on the National Security Council. "India's nuclear weapons at some point could become an asset for the United States."
Moreover, without a strong India on one side and Japan on the other "Chinese influence in Asia would dominate the region and other countries would be forced to make accomodations," he said.
Opening America's technology and weapons arsenal to India will not be easy. "There are still elements of the arms control community that see India's violation of the nonproliferation treaty as the worst thing that could have happened," he said, though India along with Pakistan, Israel and Cuba never signed the 1970 Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty.
Some in Washington see India as an "inward proliferator," a country that scours the world for technologies to advance its nuclear weapons, the official said; Pakistan, whose A Q Khan has been linked to the spread of nuclear weapons technologies to Libya and possibly Iran, would be considered an "outward proliferator."
Pakistan's nuclear bazaar
The United States is discussing ways to bring India into the Proliferation Security Initiative, a two-year-old partnership of 11 countries that use legal, diplomatic, economic and military and other tools to interdict shipments of nuclear items and technologies, the State department official said. India may also be persuaded to join the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime, which aims to prevent the spread of missile technologies, he said.
By getting India to embrace such norms, the United States could achieve its larger non-proliferation goals, the State Deprtment official said.
The bigger conundrum for American officials is "finding a way to keep India and Pakistan (as allies) but not encouraging others" like Iran and North Korea, the former administration official said.
The US Congress is likely to be receptive to the Bush administration's plans to strike a strategic partnership with India. Any foreign policy goal that is aimed at balancing China's influence would be welcome in Congress, one Congressional staff member said, provided it doesn't unduly alarm China and set off a row with the United States.
For those who are still fuming about the United States bestowing Pakistan with the Major Non-Nato Ally status and now allowing the sale of F-16s to go through, the former administration official said, "The important thing to realize is there is no game between India and Pakistan. India has already won; the reality is how does Pakistan maintain some semblance of staying in the game?"
India-Pakistan peace talks
But at the same time cutting off assistance and aid to Pakistan could be dangerous to US and global security, the former official said.
It is a point that Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri emphasized in an interview with Pakistan Press International, March 29: 'I want to make it clear that if Pakistan suffers then the United States will have to suffer too. If someone does not believe this contention then he should read the report of the 9/11 incident which has a complete chapter on that.'
Next: A lollipop for Musharraf
Gopal Ratnam is based in Washington, DC and writes for Defense News.
Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images