Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Selling Arms to India and Pakistan: Explosive Business ; Russia and China Are Main Suppliers, but US and British High-Tech Weapons Sales May Also Be Fueling an Arms Race

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Selling Arms to India and Pakistan: Explosive Business ; Russia and China Are Main Suppliers, but US and British High-Tech Weapons Sales May Also Be Fueling an Arms Race

Article excerpt

When India began a pullback last month of tens of thousands of troops along its 1,800-mile border with Pakistan, diplomats in Washington and Europe chalked it up as another victory for quiet diplomacy.

But India and Pakistan say the conflict is far from over. On the contrary, the disputed territory of Kashmir remains volatile, and both countries are engaged in a quiet but substantial arms race, preparing themselves for an almost inevitable next war.

Ironically, some of the same countries that are taking credit for talking India and Pakistan away from the brink of war are the ones arming both sides.

US policymakers defend arms sales as a way to secure a growing relationship with India and Pakistan. The key, they say, is to balance the short-term goal of working with Pakistan's military to rout out Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan with the longer-term goal of building close ties with both India and Pakistan.

But here in South Asia, as elsewhere, building ties means selling weapons to friends, and experts say that adding arms to this already unstable region risks unintended and undesirable effects.

"Any provision of weapons to either country is regrettable, mainly because they will use them only against each other," says Brian Cloughley, author of "The Pakistan Army: Nuclear Risk- Reduction in Kashmir." "Both nations are spending far too much on arms, but nothing that anyone can say will stop that happening."

The buying spree has indeed been staggering. India has purchased $8.2 billion worth of arms over the past decade. Over the same period, Pakistan has spent nearly $1.7 billion on jet fighter aircraft, artillery guns, armored vehicles, battle tanks, and surface-to-air missiles.

While the US is the largest arms supplier in the world - it sold $281 billion worth in 2001 - Russia and China provide most of those used in South Asia. Russia supplies 72 percent of India's imported weapons, and China supplies nearly one-third of Pakistan's weapons imports.

Still, some experts on arms transfers say that the US and Britain, by selling even a modicum of high-tech weaponry in South Asia, may be unintentionally fueling the arms race. The British government recently admitted plans to sell its Hawk trainer aircraft, which can be retrofitted to become full jet fighters. Some Hawk components are produced in the US, which gives the country the right to veto the aircraft's sale to a particular nation; so far it has not.

Instead, last week the US announced that it has eased its restrictions on selling weapons to India; US officials also say they have begun a long-term program to train Pakistani troops in counterinsurgency, and to transfer high-tech hardware for use in the war on terrorism.

For years, US policy in South Asia has tilted toward Pakistan, the smaller of the two nations created after British colonial rule ended in 1947. Pakistan was seen as a strategic bulwark against Soviet expansion in Central Asia. India, led by the socialist- leaning Jawaharlal Nehru, was kept at a distance.

Even into the 1990s, the US favored Pakistan, selling some $405 million worth of arms to Islamabad over the past decade; New Delhi has received a paltry $10 million worth.

Still, over the past decade, the US has improved economic and strategic relations with India, a country that it used to see as a hostile Soviet ally. Over the same period, the country has cooled relations toward Pakistan, which it has begun to see as a corrupt Islamist state.

History has made this transfer of alliances less than smooth. In 1998, both India and Pakistan defied international advice and tested nuclear weapons. …

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