A friend, usually upbeat about India-US relations, sent me an angry mail over the weekend after President George Bush called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the evening of March 25 to inform him that the US had decided to supply F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an interview to The Washington Post, "dismissed concerns" about the fallout of the American decision. The mail reads:
"lovely easter gift to india from the us.moral: proliferate nukes, threaten us interests everywhere, be terror hub, and get rewarded for it. this has been north korea's experience, china's experience, saudi arabia's experience, and pakistan's experience. suck up to the us, desperately crave its goodwill, allow its odious conversion machine to dictate terms to you, and get slapped on the face. this is india's experience. simple solution for india: proliferate nuke and missile technology to anybody who wants it, especially taiwan and japan. this will immediately get american respect, much as pokhran-ii did."
The issues that arise from USA's decision to strengthen Pakistan's strike power, I feel, are much larger than merely seeking or getting "American respect." A nation whose civilisational history stretches back to 5,000 years, that is more than Americans can count without a Texas Instruments TI-83, and whose billion-plus population is not dependent on American wheat surplus of the PL 480 variety, can do without "American respect." Thank you very much, but America is welcome to stuff its "respect" in a hot dog.
The larger concerns are two-fold. First, Washington's mollycoddling of Pakistan, a rogue state that has not only proliferated cross-border jihadi terrorism but also spawned an underground bazaar where it has been hawking weapons of mass destruction to other rogue states. Second, the arms race that will follow America's dubious deal, with both India and Pakistan upping their defence expenditure at the cost of social welfare spending.
A third aspect that merits comment is the glib manner in which Rice, during the joint press conference she addressed along with Minister for External Affairs Natwar Singh during her brief stopover in New Delhi earlier this month, waved away any 'announcement' of an American deal on F-16s for Pakistan in the immediate future. Perhaps time and space are extremely elastic for those who wax eloquent on "absent morals" of others.
It is immaterial whether or not Pakistan has been assisting the US in pursuing its "war against terror" -- ask those who are involved in the war, including intelligence operatives, and they will tell you Islamabad has been leading Washington down the garden path -- what is material is that India must protect its own national interest. There is little evidence to show that Pakistan has given up the path of terror; nor is there reason to believe that Islamabad is genuinely interested in peace.
If you have any doubts, look at the daily acts of terror in Jammu and Kashmir; the insidious growth of ISI modules in the Northeast; and, the export of jehadi fundamentalism to India via Nepal. Nothing has changed in the last one year, never mind peaceniks who are making silly asses of themselves.
The absurd claim put out by unnamed sources in the US State Department that the F-16s form part of American assistance to Pakistan to wage war on terrorism is as laughable as the lollypop of advanced fighter jets (F-18s, no less) and nuclear power reactors that has been offered to India. "What the Americans have announced is the actual, physical delivery of F-16s to Pakistan and a bunch of nice promises for India," a foreign office official in New Delhi has said underscoring the absurdity.
No less absurd is the claim made by "senior administration officials" at a background briefing for "select journalists" that the military assistance to Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf was aimed at ensuring "a fully democratic, economically promising Pakistan, that feels secure and is thus at peace with its neighbours."
The officials might as well have added that it is inconsequential the US's favourite tin pot dictator is to blame for the runaway basement bomb programmes in North Korea, Iran and Libya, among others. Boys will be boys, you see, naughty and mischievous; what's a component here and a blueprint there?
Those nations that have committed the mistake of trusting the US have come to grief, and how. It will be disastrous if India makes a similar mistake. If the UPA government believes in what it says, that India is a sovereign nation free to make its own choices, then it should not touch the American promise with a bargepole.
The Pakistanis can seek satisfaction in saving 5,000 jobs at Lockheed Martin Corp, Indians need not lose sleep over the plight of unemployed workers in Texas. In fact, it will be fun to watch Bush and Rice squirm, which they shall, if Manmohan Singh and his team look through their alleged offer and go ahead with selecting the next generation, multi-purpose jets from what has been offered by the French, the Swedes and the Russians.
If they choose to be charmed by the Americans, then India might as well say goodbye to its sovereign identity and become another client state of the US like Pakistan has become.
PS: At the launch of journalist Wilson John's book Pakistan's Nuclear Underworld: An Investigation, a devastating expose of how A Q Khan and his bosses in khaki went around hawking nuclear know-how for a fistful of dollars, in New Delhi last week, a former foreign secretary, mindful of the presence of two diplomats from the US mission in the audience, charged the Americans with "doubletalk and duplicity" on illicit nuclear proliferation by the Pakistanis.
Later, one of the American diplomats, fuming over being shown up so bluntly, accosted him and told him that he had been "offensive and insulting to my country" and "you could have been more nuanced without being inaccurate." Retorted the former diplomat: "We are a free country. We can say what we want I couldn't care less for pretensions of the American empire."
Let's order a second hot dog!