Jackals of war
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While ostensibly promoting peace in the subcontinent, the US and the UK
BY CONN HALLINAN
As tensions between In dia and Pakistan began building late last year, high level delegations from the US and Britain flew in and out of New Delhi and Karachi, lobbying for peace. It turns out that is not all they were lobbying for. With the scent of blood in the air, the arms jackals have poured into South Asia, sometimes in the suits of leading government officials.
When British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited India in January, ostensibly it was to calm troubled waters. But according to Indian defense minister George Fernandes, Blair was also pushing a $1.43 billion deal for India to purchase 66 Hawk fighter–bombers, made by Britain’s BAE Systems.
The Hawk deal — temporarily on hold while the parties haggle over the price tag — is part of a drive by British arms manufacturers to make a killing from the crisis. London is also selling the Indians Jaguar bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, as well as tanks, artillery, anti–aircraft guns, small arms and ammunition.
The British are not alone in this seamy business. In February, Gen. Richard Myers, chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, went to New Delhi to officially remove the US ban on arms sales to India imposed in 1998, following the latter’s nuclear weapons tests. Shortly thereafter, the US arms maker Raytheon closed a $146 million deal to sell the Indians counter-artillery radar. The US has approved 20 other defense agreements, including submarine combat systems, helicopter spare parts, and a contract for General Electric to build engines for India’s multi–million dollar Light Combat Aircraft project.
"We are still at the dating stage," says Bad Botwin, director of strategic analysis for the US department of commerce, "but we like what we see."
US technology is also slipping through the backdoor via arms agreements between Israel and India. New Delhi is buying the $1 billion Phalcon airborne radar, which is based on the US AWAC system, and is negotiating to buy the Arrow anti–missile system jointly developed by the US and Israel. Boeing makes 52 percent of the Arrow’s components. "India realises it needs to be as close to the US and Israeli technology as possible if it is to modernise its armed forces," Indian defense analyst PR Chari told the Financial Times.
Buyer and seller are roughly matched in scale. India is one of the biggest arms markets in the world, with an annual budget of $14 billion. The US is the world’s number one arms dealer with $18.6 billion in arms sales last year.
But is pouring massive amounts of sophisticated arms into what is undeniably the most dangerous flashpoint on the globe a good idea? It has certainly scared the Pakistanis. "We are alarmed by India’s relentless pursuit and acquisition of defense equipment that is far beyond India’s genuine needs," said Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman, Aziz Ahmed Khan.
With 35 percent of its budget already devoted to the military, Pakistan is certainly in no position to match the Indian arms buying spree. But as Pakistan falls further and further behind in the conventional sphere, the Pakistanis have made it clear that they will counterbalance that weakness with nuclear weapons.
India has rationalised its military build-up as part of a "war on terrorism," and has successfully hung a "Muslim extremist" label on Pakistan. But people should keep in mind that the present Indian government has an extremist streak of its own. In the recent inter–communal riots that saw more than 1,000 people killed, the ruling BJP Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee blamed the violence on Muslims, who he claimed "do not want to live with others." Narendra Modi, local BJP leader in Gujarat, epicentre for the riots, said the anger of Hindus was "understandable."
The BJP is closely tied to the RSS, a shadowy Hindu extremist group associated with the assassination of India’s founder, Mahatma Gandhi. The RSS runs more than 20,000 private schools in India to pursue its goal of "Hindutva" or creating an all-Hindu society. The RSS, and its close ally, the World Hindu Council, led the inter-communal riots that destroyed the Babri mosque at Ayodhya in 1992 and led to tens of thousands of deaths across India, the vast bulk of them Muslims. The present home minister (now also dy. prime minister), LK Advani, led the movement to destroy the mosque and build a temple to Hindu god Ram in its place.
In short, this is not as simple as "civilised good guys" vs. "terrorist bad guys."
The solution to reducing tensions in South Asia is not more weapons, but a serious international effort to resolve the 55–year–old standoff between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Reducing that complex business to black and white "end terrorism" formulas, and feeding an arms race on the sub–continent, could end up getting an awful lot of people killed.
(Courtesy: San Francisco Examiner, June 28,2002)