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Old Thursday, February 18, 2016
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Default The F-16s sale and Indian ‘patriotism’

The F-16s sale and Indian ‘patriotism’

On February 13 the US Administration finally cleared the sale of eight state-of-the-art F-16s Block-52 fighters to Pakistan and the US Department of Defense’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced their delivery.

The DSCA noted the sale was necessary to support Pakistan’s CT operations and that the “proposed sale contributes to US foreign policy objectives...” This did not seem a big deal until Indian dismay hit social media. Before the deal was announced there was some lobbying in mainstream and digital media in the US against the sale of these F-16s. The main refrain was that Pakistan was not sufficiently targeting the Haqqani Network.

Pakistan had repeatedly sought these F-16s for counterterrorism and counter-insurgency operations. We know counter-insurgency is about much more than just military operations but equally we know that the level of entrenchment, sanctuaries, training and weaponisation included requires air power. Deployment of air power can also often mean loss of innocent lives but such is the tragedy of undoing the wrongs of state policies.

Every option we exercise to undo a policy blunder has a price tag attached to it yet use of air power is unavoidable. F-16s have high endurance deployment, exceptional ground surveillance and mapping sensors, all required for effective anti-terror ops.

This is not a low-priced aircraft. The total deal is reportedly for $699 million, to be paid for jointly by Pakistan and by the US under the military support programme. Indeed an expensive but unavoidable way to clean up past blunders. And it doesn’t matter how much we blame other countries that partnered with us in our blunders. And of course the original sin of the eighties was committed by the then Soviet Union via the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.

Fast forward to where we now stand. After several rounds of Pakistan-US dialogue on the current strategic environment, on our respective convergences and divergences on the security situation within and beyond our region, the US understood among other factors, Pakistan’s need for the F-16s. Pakistan’s long and hard battle against terrorism is now obvious to its worst critics. There is difference of opinion even within Pakistan on the speed with which CT operations must be conducted, on the urgency with which police reforms are required, on how rapidly cross-border terrorism must be addressed, on how soon the Rangers operation must be begun in Punjab. Also internal debate as well as external dialogue especially with Afghanistan, China and the US on how best to deal with the Afghan Taliban while supporting Kabul’s call for peace in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan peace and reconciliation effort has now drawn the four key countries linked to peace in Afghanistan to a common platform via the Quadrilateral dialogue. Consequently, beyond all debates and differences and indeed greater expectations from Pakistan, also lies a consensus that never before have Pakistan’s state institutions engaged in CT operations with this level of commitment and consistency.

But the view in Delhi, despite continued Nawaz-Modi engagement, appears to be unrelenting in any triangular setting that involves India, Pakistan and a third country. Hence soon after the DSCA announced the sale of the F-16s, the Indian government’s chronic criticism surfaced. It began with the February 13 tweet of Vikas Swarup of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. “We are disappointed at the decision of the Obama Administration to notify the sale of F-16 aircrafts to Pakistan. We disagree with the rationale that such arms transfers help to combat terrorism…The US ambassador will be summoned by the Ministry of External Affairs to convey our displeasure”. And he may have been.

While no Indian protestations can undo this no-big-deal F-16 sale, the reaction beyond the official India is also interesting. For example C Raja Mohan is India’s pride strategic affairs writer. Browsing through Twitter, I came across his latest piece on the sale of F-16s to Pakistan. His punch-line was: “What really bothers Delhi are the negative political consequences of US military assistance to Pakistan – the promotion of the army’s dominance over Islamabad’s national security policy, the continuing destabilisation of Afghanistan, and the persistent support to anti-India terror groups.” This is linearity carried to poetic levels – having more to do with the sentiment of patriotism and less with hard analysis.

As Mohan traces India’s decades-long objection to the US sale of F-16s to Pakistan, he links every possible development in Pakistan’s conventional and nuclear build-up with US military support to Pakistan. In his long list he includes Pakistan’s support of militancy, its support to “separatist groups in Punjab and in Kashmir”, Zia’s “Islamisation” and the development of a “nuclear armoury” and “expansive cross-border terrorism.” A critique of Indian policy towards Pakistan by Mohan is completely missing.

Clearly it’s the binary view that inflicts best-intentioned individuals studying security affairs and leads us to distort facts and weaken analysis. For decades many of us in India and Pakistan working on security issues have been adopting the binary world view in explaining the security problems. The ‘all is good with our own state’ syndrome has reduced so many of us to mandarins parroting the views of blundering states and governments. It must take a lot of linearity in analysis for Mohan to conclude in his February 16 piece that: “Although hailed in Washington as a key partner in the great war on terror, the Pakistan army had no interest in ending its support to violent extremism in Afghanistan and India. Delhi, therefore, finds Washington’s argument that the F-16s will help Pakistan counter terrorism in the region somewhat incredulous.”

Linearity in this case may flow from a section of Indian officialdom that wants to remain blind to how Pakistan is battling terrorism. Indeed an independent analyst must acknowledge Pakistan’s CT efforts but raise the valid question regarding Pakistan’s handling of the Pathankot investigations. Equally Mohan remains mum on Indian oppression in Indian Held Kashmir, on India’s tacit support of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, on the rise of Hindu extremism etc.

Instead Mohan seeks US indulgence to ‘manage’ Pakistan for India! Without wanting to take credit for this formulation, he hides behinds ‘realists’ and writes: “Realists in Delhi do understand that the F-16s are a part of the price that Washington pays to keep Rawalpindi in good humour.” He chides the Obama Administration for deviating from the Bush Administration’s “de-hyphenate the relationship with India and Pakistan, stay out of Kashmir and step up strategic cooperation with Delhi” and instead “betting that the route to peace in Afghanistan is through Kashmir, or more recently, with the idea of a separate nuclear deal for Pakistan.” Not true, of course!

When will defence strategists learn – in India or in Pakistan – that blind patriotism, which externalises all problems and sees the ‘other’ as the cause of all strategic instability guarantees instability and chaos – which we can ill-afford. In Pakistan, the increasing threat of terrorism-triggered bloodshed has pushed the debate that criticises state institutions for use of proxies, for mentoring militants, for the blunders committed in the India policy and for the troubles created in Balochistan etc into the mainstream. The sooner India’s prized strategists opt to reflect on India’s own blunders, the sooner we will have lasting peace in South Asia and beyond. The route to the much-needed improvement in Pakistan-India relationship is not Washington – instead, it is the bilateral route.

Published in The News Feb 17, 2016.
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