OPINION

What the U.S. is doing to Pakistan



Amit Baruah

Washington's influence in "core" areas of Pakistan's security seems to be growing. And this is not restricted to mere cooperation in anti-terrorist actions.

NEW STRANDS in an emerging "strategic" relationship between Pakistan and the United States, carefully crafted after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, demand the attention of all those interested in South Asian dynamics. The 9/11 attacks were a wake-up call for Washington and the West: the cost of abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban and the growth of an extremist polity in Pakistan was too high a price for the U.S. to pay.

Apart from cracking down on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the U.S., after publicly "busting" the A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring in January 2004, has shown that nuclear non-proliferation is a key objective of American policy towards Pakistan. Soon after 9/11, the then U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, put Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on notice you are either with us or against us. The General had little choice in the matter: he had to be "with" the Americans.

In the past four years, American influence in "core" areas of Pakistan's security seems to be growing. This, clearly, is not restricted to mere cooperation in anti-terrorist actions or using Pakistan as a logistical base for Afghan operations.

Indication of true goals

The clearest intention yet of American goals in Pakistan was demonstrated during a hearing of the U.S. House International Relations Committee on July 20, in which John Hillen, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs in the State Department, was a witness. Mr. Hillen makes no secret in his testimony that the U.S. believes in manipulating Pakistan in a direction that Washington believes is desirable and would result in an overall increase of American comfort levels in a country, which has been proud of its sovereignty and independence.

Answering questions about the proposed sale of 36 F-16 aircraft to Pakistan, Mr. Hillen said an "unprecedented" security plan had been agreed to by Islamabad: "We, of course, have had a U.S. government security survey of their bases and facilities. We've put into the deal that they must comply with the approved security plans for their F-16-related bases and facilities before we'll release any systems in the sale. We will have a U.S. presence to monitor compliance with the security plan requirements, a very enhanced and end-use monitoring program[me].

"Routine access to F-16 aircraft equipment and munitions is in restricted areas and limited to Pakistan air force personnel that are pre-approved for such. There is a two-man rule, so to speak, for access to this equipment and restricted areas, and F-16 flights outside of Pakistan ... must be approved in advance by the United States government."

In effect, the American official is saying that any flight by these 36 F-16 aircraft, say, hypothetically, against Afghanistan, must be approved by Washington. Islamabad will have to submit to American controls on how these aircraft are used despite paying for them! And, that is not all. Mr. Hillen says clearly that these F-16s will not be able to deliver a nuclear weapon. Asked how the Bush administration would be able to prevent another A.Q. Khan from appearing, the U.S. official said: "... as we get into closed session, I'll get in even to more detail on the security plan, but I would note that we have for precisely to combat unauthorised proliferation, we have this extraordinary security plan put into place."

The American official is blunt in his comments. "We place all sorts of conditionality onto getting arms sales from the United States that protects American security interests and that protects exactly the sort of proliferation problem you alluded to. So I think this [F-16] sale works to exactly the opposite.

"I think it will give us access and influence in a country and in which we'll be able to see if there are any dynamics of that sort and be able to be involved in a leadership position, rather than just standing by if this happens," Mr. Hill told one of the House Committee members.

The ultimate fear that seems to be driving the U.S. is the following: what happens to Pakistani nuclear weapons in case an extremist, Islamist leadership was to capture power in that country? From time to time, there have been suggestions that the Americans want to be in a position to "secure" these nuclear weapons. Mr. Hillen's comments only go to confirm that the U.S. wants to be in a position to tackle any "unauthorised proliferation" in Pakistan.

Mr. Hillen's remarks are of a piece with what U.S. officials have been quietly telling the Indian side about Pakistan's nuclear weapons that they have access to strategic sites and are also in a position to monitor three-fourths of Pakistan's air space.

Whatever be the actual situation, India's relaxed response to the F-16 sale is predicated on the conditionalities built into the transfer. With the U.S. enticing Pakistan into a security structure that involves direct involvement by American personnel, there are clear implications for India-Pakistan relations as well.

The Americans are attempting to be in a position to take on a "leadership role" if a proliferation problem were to take place once again in Pakistan. Is this the price that Washington has been able to extract in lieu of letting off the Pakistani military in the nuclear supermarket run by A.Q. Khan? That certainly seems to be the case.

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