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F-16s’ debilitating conditionalities
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30 Jun 2010
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The PAF and the Americans certainly tried to create the perfect photo op with the US Viceregal ambassador Ms Patterson and the Air Chief Rao Qamar smiling for the cameras at Jacobabad air base – once Pakistan’s sove-reign territory but now controlled effectively by the US military.

All this apparent bonhomie was the delivery of the first three F-16s to the buyer – the Pakistan Air Force from the US manufacturers.

The official press release was almost nauseating in the expression of goodwill towards the Americans and the joy the PAF felt at getting these planes. But behind this entire facade, many things are amiss and all concerned Pakistanis should seriously be worried.

To begin with, let us remember that we have paid a hefty price for these planes – $1.4 billion along with another $1.3 billion for the upgrade of our existing fleet of F-16s – the few we did manage to get delivery of and for which we have had to scour the globe for spares since the US refused.

Luckily we still have a few gutsy and committed allies! So far only three planes in the new order have been delivered though the official spin is four! Let us hope we get all 18 but the past record is certainly dismal. After all, not only did the US keep our money and refused to give us the planes, the manufacturer had the audacity to charge us parking fees and then all we landed up with was wheat and soya beans – not much to bolster our defences on, but certainly a healthy contribution to the US farmers’ pockets! Why should it be any different this time? So far the US track record has not shown a change for the better – given how they are still holding up our dues in connection with the Coalition Support Fund.

That too is not aid but payment for services rendered unquestioningly to US goals by the Pakistani state – and at great cost to the Pakistani nation. So let us hope the Pakistan Air Force has learnt some lessons from the past and built in some cast-iron guarantees but it would be worthwhile for our parliamentarians to demand access to the new F-16 purchase agreement.

If there are no firm guarantees of supply, we may be seeing a repeat of our past F-16 history all over again. After all, the deal at the time was also made when we were the frontline state for the US in another war in Afghanistan!

Nor is it just fears of whether we will once again lose our money and end up lining the pockets of some marginalised but politically powerful US lobby such as farmers! A much bigger issue is the terms and conditions which the US insists are attached to the new sales agreement and which our Air Chief denies when he declares that the PAF can use these planes as it sees fit – in other words against any contingency and any enemy.

Unfortunately, while expounding on how these new planes will add to the PAF’s capability, the Air Chief focused primarily on the war against “extremists” – something the US also continues to say when explaining the sale of these planes to Pakistan.

In fact, the US Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Blake, went especially to New Delhi recently to inform the Indians that the new F-16s will not be used against India.

Now how can the US give this assurance unless the Pakistanis have made some foolish commitment in writing to this effect? After all, if there is a conflict with India why would we not want to use our most efficient weapon systems? Have the Indians given any similar commitments vis-à-vis Pakistan in terms of missile defence systems they are acquiring from the US? Of course not! And the US has not assuaged our fears on this count either.

Why the Pakistani nation should be concerned is because there have been reports that the US is sending along its own technicians who will ensure that these planes are not used anywhere except against our own people – the “extremists”.

TheNation had published this news story (which the US has not denied) and aroused the wrath of the PAF and its PR man who now refuses to answer any questions on the F-16s for us – which he does not seem to realise is his loss not ours!

As it is, according to Indian and US sources, during last month’s Indo-US strategic dialogue the US administration made it clear that the US would deliver the F-16s to Pakistan under tough conditions which including assurances that these planes would not be used in any conflict against India.

With the F-16s US Air Force personnel would also arrive and supervise not only the air base where these planes would be deployed but also the operations carried out by the PAF against “Taliban” and “Al-Qaeda” – as if the ordinary inhabitant of the FATA has his political identity displayed on his forehead! According to reports the logistics, management and control of these F-16s would be with US personnel.

So why have we paid for these machines if the US will control them? Clearly the PAF needs to prove this is not the case and that can only be done if the actual agreements are made public. After all, this is a lot of our taxpayers money and we have a right to know what deals are being made with it – especially since it involves our security from the external threat.

Under these circumstances, it is also worrying to think that all these fighting machines will be used for bombing our own territories and people – and who will then identify how many “extremists” have been killed and how many innocent civilians. Surely our military should realise that indiscriminate killings merely create more resentment and extremism and the reaction to the drones should be a lesson for the PAF.

To fight extremism you need paramilitary forces for law and order and politico-economic strategies for isolating these terrorists from the rest of the population. For $1.4 billion the poor citizens expect a more credible nuclear deterrence and protection against the external threat.

To hear the Air Chief, Rao Qamar simply go on and on about adding to the capability for fighting extremists and hardly utter any word about the enhancement of delivery systems against the external enemy was distressing and frankly unacceptable.

If the new F-16s are to be used primarily against our own territory and people, then the $1.4 billion would have been better spent in development projects for the FATA which would have given far quicker and better results against extremism. Or are we so fearful of the Americans that we cannot speak plainly about our defence and strategic needs?

The symbolism of receiving the planes at Jacobabad air base, which the US military still controls, has not been lost on the rest of us Pakistanis. It seems they are already under US control on Pakistani soil.

As if to appease us, the US has given out that it will provide fresh water and other facilities for the local people – but that also means to continue its control of this base – which one was told the US had vacated! Are we Pakistanis so easily purchasable by the US?

Meanwhile, India continues to update its air force with no conditionalities being imposed by any of its foreign suppliers. It is planning to upgrade over 50 of its forward airbases – primarily targeting Pakistan but also China.

The Indian Air Chief Naik recently revealed the jointly produced advanced stealth bomber being built with the Russians. It is also planning to buy 126 multirole fighters and has earmarked $11 billion for this purpose.

And no one is limiting India’s use of these systems. Only Pakistan falls prey to these debilitating condi-tionalities. Unless some concrete and written texts of agreements are made public, one can sadly say the PAF has once again fallen prey to US dikta

A costly hesitancy
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21 Apr 2010
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Shireen M Mazari

As one sees developments in Pakistan and Iran today, it is sad to note the inability of Pakistan to get out of its mindset and attitude relating to Iran formulated in the recent past, despite a highly altered environment that came into being post-9/11. The result is that Pakistan is unable or unwilling to take advantage of the new outreach by Iran towards Pakistan – be it the offer to supply electricity on to the national grid or the IPI pipeline project which may have been inked but still awaits operationalisation. And there are other potential projects that are being ignored, even though Iran, like China, offers viable alternatives of cooperation to the rather costly US relationship. In order to overcome the psychological barriers and hesitancy to act, we need to understand our decision-makers mindsets on this vital issue.
Pakistan-Iran relations have been on an uneven keel since the Revolution in Iran and the advent of General Zia in Pakistan. Having looked into this issue for over 10 years now, some major points that have prevented a closer and more mutually beneficial relationship from evolving, can be identified. But the problem is that while the environment has altered, Pakistan remains stuck in an earlier period of mistrust and suspicion regarding Iran. The irony is that it is the Iranians who have had more cause for continuing with these suspicions and mistrust, for a number of reasons touched on below, but they have moved beyond far more than our bureaucracies in Pakistan. And, at the end of the day, the civil and military bureaucracies have a much larger say in foreign policy making than we realise – partly because this field draws little interest from the elected leaders beyond the freebie travels; and for another most are not well-versed in the facts.

From a Pakistani perspective, the Revolution in Iran raised question marks in Pakistan because General Zia’s own religious proclivities and the encouragement of a particular sectarian brand of thinking that was being inculcated within the Establishment. Also, the US factor added to the distancing from Iran, because we were about to plunge into a US-led and funded war to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Again, given the closeness of the Pakistan Establishment to the Shah’s Iran, the Revolutionary regime was not understood by them nor did they feel comfortable with it. That Pakistan was also to become a proxy battleground for sectarian wars being funded from outside further added to the cooling of Pakistan-Iran ties. Finally, Revolutionary Iran itself did not show any warmth towards Pakistan. Perhaps, the final nail in the coffin of close Pakistan-Iran relations was our devoted support to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

From the Iranian side, of course, relations with Pakistan deteriorated further over the years because of the violence inflicted on Iranian citizens – from students to diplomats – in Pakistan and the failure of the Pakistani state to deal effectively against the perpetrators of this violence against Iranian citizens in a supposedly “brotherly” Muslim state! Unlike Pakistani governments and its Establishment, the Iranian state lays great value on the lives of its citizens. Until the hanging of Ganji’s killer by Pakistan, the only issue Iranians were interested in discussing with Pakistanis was the violence against them that was taking place in their country. Economic impediments were placed in Pakistan’s way in terms of export of fruit and rice and the positioning on both sides was hardening as was evident to anyone having to deal with the other side. But these moves were a symptom of the problem only; the problem was far more deeply embedded on both sides.
Meanwhile, while the pragmatic Iranians have certainly moved away from their earlier hard line posture evident in their outreach to Pakistan recently, institutional positions on the Pakistani side have hardened over the years. So, there is today still a pervasive, in this scribe’s experience, if not an anti-Iran than a suspicious-of-Iran mindset that dominates the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and some of the intelligence set-ups. References are constantly made to the difficulties the Iranians put up in the way of export facilities across to Central Asia and how the Iranians play hardball. The hostility is not difficult to fathom but it has been most destructive of Pakistan’s interests. And now the US factor has once again become a critical impediment also. The Establishment and MFA’s positions are so strong that individual institutional and political leaders have not been able to make much headway even when they have sought to! And whenever one raises the Iran issue with members of the MFA or the intelligence set-ups, one gets a tirade that relates more to attitudes than anything substantive and there is always a focus on “arrogance” of the Iranians. While this trait is certainly correct and we have all experienced it at some time or the other – the urge to be “imperial” towards Pakistanis, have our civil and military bureaucracies never put themselves in the Iranians shoes and tried to see how they have felt in seeing Pakistanis kill their diplomats, kidnap them and kill their students. Despite all this, there has been no counter violence against Pakistanis in Iran. Should that not be commended?

Also, we open ourselves to mistreatment because of our visible subservience before so many external actors. Why do we allow the US to mistreat and abuse us on many fronts, make unreasonable demands on us and even tick us off regularly, and then get touchy when the Iranians adopt an imperial posture towards us? Our bureaucrats continue to grumble about Iranian attitudes but the same people smile meekly when they are roundly abuse by the Americans!

Even our present ambassador is frustrated by a lack of positive response from his government. For instance, the Iranians have built a rail and road link right up to Taftan – the border with Pakistan. But there is nothing on our side in terms of these communication means which would allow us access across into Central Asia and Europe. Apparently the Iranians would gladly help fund the road network from Taftan into Pakistan but our side is silent on this – after all the US fear still prevails. The electricity issue has already been reiterated in the media but our leaders are unresponsive. Our leaders are so fearful of paying an official visit Iran that neither the PM nor the president have gone – the latter having only gone to an ECO Summit and only after he was reassured that the Turkish president would also be attending – to visit this most important neighbour with whom we have no conflict and have cultural and historic ties. How many times have the same leaders hopped off to Europe and the US and what have they gotten for all these trips?
Then we wonder why India has slipped into the vacuum and now everyone in Iran eats “Indian” food and listens to Indian music. Even the musicians in the restaurants know only “Hindi” songs! Yes, the Iranians are difficult and drive a hard bargain – but they look out for their interests – and we can do the same even as we reach out to them. Two strong Muslim neighbours could become a strong community of power. Instead we continue to undermine our real interests as our leaders kowtow to US imperialist demands.

Beware and play hardball
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24 Mar 2010
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The much awaited – primarily by Pakistan – Pak-US strategic dialogue will begin today in Washington. The major players, including the COAS of Pakistan, are already gathered in that capital and are being feted like never before. The Americans are being clever by laying out the red carpet for their main Pakistani guests, including not putting them through the notorious scanners but getting their immigration done while they were still in the plane! Now that really is a first for the Yanks. The COAS is especially being softened, with Petreaus being a welcoming host offering military-style entertainment. The ridiculous grin on the face of one of the Pakistanis accompanying General Kayani in the official picture released by the US military says it all – and explains why the Americans think that if they make all the right PR moves before the dialogue, the Pakistanis will have been softened enough to take US dictation. And there will be plenty of hard demands put before the Pakistanis again – let us make no mistake on that count.
The issue for us, though, is that are the Pakistanis prepared to stay the course and stick to some basic demands that they need to make, or will we have a repeat of the Kerry-Lugar drama where our foreign minister effectively became an apologist for the Americans and sought to justify a most demeaning and intrusive piece of Pakistan-specific legislation? So what are the main issues Pakistan needs to focus on and demand a positive response from the Americans?
First, and a basic issue is for the US to deliver on all past outstanding commitments, some made immediately after 9/11 when Musharraf committed this nation to the US’s debilitating and erroneous “war on terror”. Amongst these unfulfilled commitments are: access to US markets especially for our textiles, payment of the Coalition Support Fund for services rendered primarily by the military and the whole ROZ drama which may actually be more costly for Pakistan in terms of conditionalities, so perhaps we need to do a rethink on this since the Americans have not moved yet on this project.
Second, an end to the drone attacks – including a decisive withdrawal of the permission which the US claims successive Pakistani governments have given them. Here the Pakistan military must make its position clear also. Given how for decades we have done quite well without US military weapon systems, why should the army suddenly feel so desperate for these knowing what happens in terms of spares and so on if we fall out of synch with US demands and expectations?

Third, an end to the continuous raising of the proliferation issue which has become a tool of pressure on Pakistan, despite the fact that the US knows that all our safeguards and legislation in this regard are not only in place, they are far more stringent than anything the US or India have in place. The A Q Khan issue must end with a firm commitment on the part of the US, because keeping this issue alive is pushing him to the edge with the sort of disastrous consequences to our national security in terms of “confessionals”. Given the US’s ongoing proliferation to Israel, and now to India through the 123 Agreement, it is hardly in a position to berate Pakistan and its citizens on this count. The Pakistani state must also stop going on the defensive, given how the reality is that neither it nor any of its citizens actually did anything illegal. As for issues of command and control, it is the US that continues to have problems as the world witnessed when two US bombers flew off with live nukes with no authorisation and no one knew where they were headed!
Fourth, Pakistan also needs to demand from the US a civil nuclear deal similar to the one signed with India – and then Pakistan can study it and see whether it is actually in their interest to accept such a deal. The Indians are already hysterical at even a hint that Pakistan may be offered such a deal, quite forgetting their own rather dismal past proliferation record which is public knowledge. Nevertheless, regardless of Indian histrionics, Pakistan should be cautious about a US offer in the nuclear energy field, and first ensure that it will not operationalise the unacceptable and highly intrusive conditionalities of the Kerry-Lugar Act. But all these issues will only come up when the US shows its intentions of offering us a civil nuclear deal similar to the Indian one. That will show the intent of the US towards Pakistan – as a strategic partner or a vassal state. But the US cannot be allowed to hold a nuclear agreement as bait or a lure for us to do still more of their bidding which goes against our own interests.
Pakistan also needs to put an end to the free run the US has gained in Pakistan with all manner of private contractors and covert operatives proliferating through the length and breadth of the country. It needs to make clear to the US that it cannot have immunity in terms of its activities being exposed in the press either. No one can be above the law, and certainly not foreign intruders up to all manner of harmful antics. As for the US intent of putting in money in the fields of education and development, the schemes they come up with need to be studied very carefully to examine the costs to Pakistan in non-financial terms and the usual conditionalities. As the US never fails to point out: there is no such thing as a free lunch! But the US has been lunching and dining free in Pakistan since 9/11, thanks to the pusillanimity of our successive leaders.
The Pakistanis also need to come clean on Dr Aafia and demand the US return her to Pakistan as well return her children if they are still alive. The fate of these innocent Pakistani children needs to be known.
As for US demands on Pakistan – they should not be making any, since these and our willy nilly compliance have already destroyed our country. We need to ensure that we extricate ourselves from the present debilitating alliance with the US before it proves completely fatal for us – which may be the end goal of the US in any case if one is to believe their analysts writing in official publications.
Finally, what should be our red lines if the US does not meet our demands? We certainly should not end up begging again in Washington – they need us more than we need them right now so let us make this apparent to them. Apparently the prime minister has actually been having discussions on our post-dialogue policies and actions if we do not get what we seek. One does not know what red lines the PM has formulated, but in case the dialogue has no substantive results for Pakistan, we should make some hard decisions including: delinking clearly and visibly from cooperation in the so-called “war on terror”; cutting down on the US access in Pakistan and in terms of the numbers of US personnel present in the country; halting of all NATO supplies into Afghanistan; and revaluating the whole gamut of Pakistan-US relations. It is time we played hardball with the Americans who are in a quagmire in this region. This is a rare opportunity which we must recognise and exploit instead of always putting ourselves up for abuse by the Americans.

Izet Ka Lasha
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23 Jan 2010
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Mamla Khetam
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16 Jan 2010
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