Indian folklore is replete with stories about amoral kings pandering to every desire of their equally amoral favourite queens, and then making up to their favourite concubines in high dudgeon by promising better, and more expensive, gifts. In the end, of course, queens were left with pearls and rubies, while concubines had to console themselves with tinsel and baubles.
Such, then, is the story that has been unfolding ever since Pakistan was accorded the vaunted status of 'Major Non-NATO Ally' of the United States of America in March this year. That was only one of the gifts showered on Islamabad by Washington. The US has happily written off $4 billion owed by Pakistan and promised another $3 billion in aid and assistance.
After all, General Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan and chief of that country's armed forces, is America's blue-eyed boy in this part of the world. Therefore, when the Pentagon officially confirmed what has been known for long, that America would resume supply of weapons and weapon systems to Pakistan, starting with a big $1.2 billion package, it did not come as a surprise.
The US Congress is yet to clear the three separate deals, including the P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft (valued at $970 million), six Phalanx close-in weapon systems and upgrades ($155 million) and an ammunition complement of 2,000 TOW-2A missiles and 14 TOW-2A Fly-to-Buy missiles ($82 million) and, theoretically, could raise objections. But that is unlikely to happen, specially now that President George W Bush has won a second term in office.
Pakistan is also likely to get the F-16s, which have been grounded for nearly a decade-and-a-half. The American Administration had agreed to provide Pakistan with 40 F-16s as a reward for backing US efforts to force Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. But in 1990, the US Congress adopted legislation that scuppered the delivery of these fighter jets because of Pakistan's covert nuclear programme.
Pakistan's bomb is no longer hidden in the basement. Not only is Pakistan now overtly nuclear, it has been found hawking bomb-making technology, surreptitiously and disingenuously gathered in the first place, to North Korea, Iran and Libya. The CIA's recently declassified documents detail Dr A Q Khan's nefarious role in nuclear proliferation, something which he could not have done without the knowledge of, and sharing the booty with Musharraf.
Cockily confident that he has both the US State Department and Pentagon wrapped around his little finger, Musharraf has demanded that the parked F-16s should be upgraded with state-of-the-art gadgetry and armed with top-of-the-line air-to-air missiles. When the F-16s take off for Pakistan, they will meet these, and perhaps more, requirements.
For the past decade, especially during the years when the National Democratic Alliance was in power, India was able to block the supply of US arms to Pakistan through skilful diplomacy and with the help of professional lobbyists. Also, the India Caucus in the US Congress played no insignificant role in refashioning Washington's indulgent attitude towards a wayward Islamabad and in generating greater sensitivity towards New Delhi's concerns. It now increasingly appears that status quo ante shall once again prevail, notwithstanding the 'Next Step in Strategic Partnership' dialogue that has entered phase two.
The US justification for granting Major Non-NATO Ally status to Pakistan and resuming the supply of sophisticated weaponry is, at best, specious. Washington may claim that Islamabad has been a loyal ally in the fight against terrorism, but has little to show as evidence to back up this spurious claim. No less deserving of scorn is the American claim that the P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft, Phalanx close-in weapon systems and Fly-to-Buy missiles (as also the F-16s that are likely to be delivered) are meant to help Pakistan fight terrorism.
There is also the misplaced view, shared by both neo-cons and liberals, that by pumping in money and arms, the US will strengthen 'moderate Islam' and weaken 'fundamentalist Islam' in countries like Pakistan. Hence, the military is preferable to mullahs. Apart from the fact that it is facetious to set apart 'moderates' from 'fundamentalists,' this view, like most American policies, is utterly silly and mendacious -- the mad mullahs of Pakistan did not appear, genie like, from thin air, but are monsters created by that country's military and generals like Pervez Musharraf and Zia-ul Huq who have used Islamic fanaticism to further their political ambition.
India, understandably, is disturbed by the resumed inflow of sophisticated American weaponry into its neighbourhood. Not only will it add to Pakistani belligerence towards India, but also trigger a fresh wave of competitive spending on conventional arms. New Delhi has conveyed both concern and apprehension to Washington, but without any apparent success in dissuading the Americans from embarking on a patently disastrous misadventure that would be no different from its previous flawed policy of providing military aid to Pakistan that ultimately resulted in Taliban taking over Afghanistan and was largely responsible for cross-border jihadi terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.
Yet, the US realises that in the post-9/11 world India is as much a valuable ally as Pakistan. Economic commonsense based on emerging market realities is only one of the considerations weighing heavy on the American administration. The other centres round India's importance as a regional power and its expanding strategic relations both in the west and the east. Moreover, the US would not want to be seen as the hand that rocks the cradle of terrorism.
So, we have carefully planted news stories, a week before US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld's visit to New Delhi on December 9/10, about how the US is willing to provide India with top-of-the-line military hardware including the Patriot anti-missile system, C-130 stretched medium lift transport aircraft, P-3C Orion 'Plus' maritime surveillance planes", and, 'even F-16 fighters.' Media has been selectively used to pass on the information that US weapons systems manufacturer Raytheon may be making a formal presentation soon. So, India need not sulk and grudge Pakistan the gifts being showered on it.
If most of the world believes, perhaps unfairly, that the Americans are stupid, then Indian policy-makers and those in the government of the day are not known for extraordinary intelligence, either. The very fact that the American 'offer' has not been officially either repudiated or outright rejected shows how easily South Block can be placated with placebos.
A sly reference has also been made in the selective media leaks as to how Rajiv Gandhi was able to secure engines and flight control systems for the LCA from the US in the 1980s despite the Cold War that still raged and India was nowhere in America's good books. The truth is that the Americans subsequently reneged on the deal and the LCA project suffered on account of that. The American administration and GE should know about this, as should those in New Delhi who have been preening over the US offer.
There is more. Even if the US were to actually supply India all this weaponry, Pakistan would still score higher. With its exalted status as America's Major Non-NATO Ally, Pakistan is entitled to bid on contracts for repair of American defence equipment, participate in American research and development projects to improve conventional defence capabilities, American financing to underwrite the sale or long-term lease of defence equipment and services to that country, US-owned war reserve stockpiles on its territory and obtain US foreign assistance to purchase depleted uranium ammunition.
Meanwhile, India's traditional and loyal friends are watching Washington's moves and counter-moves with perhaps greater interest than New Delhi. If India were to step into the spider's parlour, France would take a second look at its options, as would Russia.
In fact, the Russians have already raised the issue of signing a pact on protecting intellectual property rights as a condition precedent for further supply of high-technology defence equipment. If India's policy-makers and the UPA government were to ignore the all important reliability factor and be naïve enough to be seduced by the American pie, then Russia would be smart enough to look for new buyers, Pakistan included, for its weapons and weapon systems.
It's clearly a case of pearls and baubles, rubies and tinsel. There are no prizes for guessing who's the favourite queen and who's the favourite concubine of King America.