US Military Aid to Pakistan: Issues and Concerns

Ajey Lele

Indo-US relations are on the upswing since signing of the coveted nuclear deal during the US President’s visit to India in March. On the other hand, the Americans have not forgotten their old ally Pakistan altogether. The seriousness of the AQ Khan affair prohibits Americans from offering nuclear energy to Pakistan but on military front they are ready to help their ally considerably. This becomes evident with recent Bush administrations announcement that it has agreed to sell Pakistan advanced missiles capable of being launched from ships and submarines with additional 370 million dollar worth of related equipments.

In this entire deal Pakistan also suffers from the same insecurities that India faces in case of their nuclear deal: ‘the US Congress has to give its nod’. Although, it is expected that the Congress may not feel the same amount of discomfort to agree to this deal as it faces with India. First, this deal is not going to harm the interests of the so-called disarmament lobby. Second, Pakistan is still important for the US as an ally in their fight against global war on terrorism. Third, such deals have major economic ramifications for their war industry.

Pakistan has requested for more than 100 Harpoon missiles from the US so as to “significantly upgrade” their existing weapons systems. The US intends to provide 50 missiles capable of being launched form submarines, 50 from surface ships and 30 by air. Pakistan hopes that this supply would improve their target acquisition capability.

Chicago-based Boeing Company describes the advanced Harpoon as capable of knocking out coastal defenses, surface-to-air missile sites and exposed aircraft as well as ships in port. It uses a satellite-aided inertial navigation system. It is understood that the upgraded targeting capability could significantly reduces the risk of hitting noncombatant targets and improve Pakistan's naval operational flexibility.

The US-Pakistan defence deals have a long history of cooperation as well as holdups. Until 1990, the US provided military aid to Pakistan in various forms. Pakistan, the world’s eight-largest armed forces essentially grew on support from countries like China and the US. Till 1990 the US helped them substantially to modernize their conventional defensive capability. The US had allocated about 40 percent of its aid package to non-reimbursable credits for military purchases and the remainder of the aid programme was devoted to economic assistance.

Subsequently, sanctions were put in place in 1990 because of the discovery of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. These sanctions denied Pakistan further military assistance. They became extremely stringent after Pakistan's nuclear tests in response to India's 1998 Pokhran tests and Kargil misadventure.

For Pakistan the things eased out only after they joined the US bandwagon of war on terrorism post 9/11. This led to waving of the sanctions to a great extent with resuming of military assistance from Washington. Pakistan claimed the need for spare parts and equipment to enhance their capacity to police their western border and address their legitimate security concerns. In 2003, President Bush announced that the US would provide Pakistan an economic and military package worth $3 billion spread over a period of 5 years. This assistance package has commenced during the financial year 2005.

Pakistan intends to use the Harpoon on its Lockheed Martin Corp. P-3 maritime surveillance aircraft, surface ships and submarines. Naturally India would have to factor in this likely induction of arsenal in Pakistan’s kitty for its own security preparedness. Interestingly, a year back the same Bush administration has signed a 10-year defense pact with India outlining expanded two-way defense trade; missile-defense cooperation plans and increased opportunities for technology transfers and weapons co-production. Also, the US is keen to trade Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) short-range missile defense system with India.

There is a much of euphoria, of late, regarding the increasing closeness between India and the US. However, India should take lessons from such type of deals because they clearly indicate that for the US, more important is business interests and to satisfy them they are even willing to do arms trade in the region which they themselves call as a region of ‘nuclear flashpoint’.

Pakistan has till date fought all the wars unsuccessfully with India. Militarily they are not in a position to defeat India in foreseeable future. Their plan of using terrorism as a tool to trouble India has not given them much of dividends and particularly in post 9/11 era, it is very difficult to bank completely on that agenda. This forces them to engage India in the game of numbers and start arms race in the region.

Meanwhile, US President George W Bush has urged the US Congress to approve selling F-16 jets to Pakistan as the US nuclear deal with India progresses. The Bush administration indicated that the deal was not related to the passage of Indo-US nuclear cooperation bill. The administration already submitted a package that includes an option to purchase a further 18 jets and an offer to upgrade Pakistan's existing F-16 fleet.

However, Pakistan has not yet succeeded in managing F-16 aircrafts from the US. Their demand for missiles could be one way of improving their conventional superiority over India. On diplomatic front they are trying to stall India’s nuclear energy deal, also are constantly speaking against India’s ambition of becoming Security Council member. On one hand Pakistan is talking of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) but on other hand their interests in such major defence deals clearly indicates that they will try to throttle India’s regional power ambitions by keeping them engaged in South Asia.

Author Note
The author is a defence analyst based in New Delhi. Views expressed here are his own