Tuesday, March 14, 2006

India, Pakistan and The Real Deal

[x-posted at The Bonehead Compendium]

Some deal making came out of Bush's visit to India and Pakistan. What was it really all about?

Follow the money.

That phrase is now part of the American political lexicon and, despite its brevity, proves time and again to be advice that should well be taken, especially when looking at political maneuvering of the kind we saw George Bush engage during his recent trip in to India and Pakistan. While Bush's rhetoric was filled, as it often is, with his pat feel-good words and phrases like "democracy," "hopeful future," and "strategic partnership," there is a money-soaked meaning behind those duplicitous locutions. Could we expect anything less?

A year ago, George Bush announced that, as reward for Pakistan's co-operation in the War on Terror, the US government was awarding that country a passel of F-16s. Though initially the deal would be for two dozen advanced fighters capable of delivering nuclear payloads, the White House indicated that "there would be no limits" on how many fighters Pakistan could acquire. To facilitate the deal, the Bush administration further offered funding -- US taxpayer funding -- to help Pakistan purchase the planes. In 1990, George HW Bush had previously banned the sale of such aircraft to Pakistan after revelations broke that the country had secretly developed nuclear weapons technology. And despite the fact that Pakistan proved to be the source of black market nuclear technology that is found in countries the Bush administration is now fretting about (Iran, North Korea), Bush sees no inherent problem with selling advance, nuclear-capable fighters to the source of illicitly distributed nuclear technology. Even if Bush could recognize the issue here, it is clear that it would take a backseat to the special corporate interests of Lockheed Martin, which will build those freedom and democracy fighters at its factory in Texas.

It was easily expected that India would not react well to this offer. And, indeed, they did not. Despite incredibly dense statements by Condolezza Rice that India and Pakistan are not in a "hyphenated relationship," apparently ignoring the fact that the two countries have been historically engaged in mortal combat for decades, (nearly going to war again in 2002 over the long disputed Kashmir region), India did indeed react quite negatively:
We're greatly disappointed to hear the news. This is probably going to have negative consequences for Indian security and the security environment.
This clearly worded statement demonstrated for all that either Rice was clueless or was simply more invested in the arms sale advocated by Bush than she was in regional security. This is not an endearing quality for a Secretary of State.

It was believed by the White House that the sale of the F-16s to Pakistan would prompt India to engaged in its own arms buying spree and that the likely beneficiaries of such a reaction would be American arms manufacturers. India's reaction was swift -- not in the way the White House had imagined, of course -- and India immediately embarked on a program of defense orders from Russia, Germany, Italy and Israel. Indeed, many countries' armaments were being sought, none of them American. Almost everyone expected such a reaction. Everyone, that is, but the White House.

The White House found itself in an awkward situation, what with India then set on acquiring non-US weapons systems and doing so out of acrimony. As usual, much of that situation was of its own construction and was squarely up against an Iran that was determined to make friends in central Asia just as White House missteps had and were creating ever greater enmity.

During this past year and as the situation in Iraq devolved grimly into sectarian violence, unease was growing throughout central Asia and Iran was promoting itself as the petroleum benefactor to a number of countries in the region. Indeed, Iran had signed pipeline and refinery service deals with both Pakistan and India, much to the chagrin of the White House. Iran's effort was clearly meant to positively engage regional neighbours while US mismanagement in Iraq created an increasing restive climate. As Iran was doing this, Washington embarked on a program to vilify Iran in the eyes of the international community by claiming that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program, something for which there was and is no evidence. This effort has only been intensified in recent months despite the fact that the IAEA recently reported that, after a three year investigation, no evidence of such a program has been found. Naturally, news of this report appeared nowhere in the mainstream American press.

While such arms deals would be boon for home-grown defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, the deal was also seen within the context of this Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline agreement. The Bush administration was not at all happy with the arrangement and, back then, made their opposition to it well-known. The offer of arms was part of a bid to quash the deal, which it did not do and, instead, the bungled handling of the Musharraf F-16 deal further entrenched the position of India. As quickly as India's economy was growing, new sources of energy were crucial and Washington had no real response to the Iranian pipeline arrangement. New weapons were hardly going to suffice as a crucial energy supply. Publicly, Condolezza Rice had nothing to offer India in this regard but merely said the Bush administration would engage in "a broad energy dialogue". The nuclear agreement with India is what came out of this broad dialogue and it was specified a year ago that any nuclear arrangement would be reached only if India backed out of Iranian pipeline deal. It is, of course, interesting to note that then External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh said that India had "no problems of any kind with Iran."

India and Pakistan were both loathe to openly disparage Iran on the nuclear issue. They were much in need and want of the Iranian petroleum services. It was India's position that Iran had the right to develop civilian nuclear technology under the NPT, which is true. India was hardly in a position to criticize a country that had fully abided the NPT, while they themselves had never been a party to it and had developed nuclear weapons outside the jurisdiction of the international treaty.

Given that neither India nor Pakistan -- especially Pakistan -- were likely to be persuaded to engage with the US on a diplomatic assault over Iranian nuclear development, the White House has now swung completely around on the pipeline agreement and dropped any opposition to it.The Indians appear to be tough negotiators, getting everything they wanted from the US and keeping their agreement with Iran for the natural gas pipeline. And the White House comes away having merely brokered a deal for American defense companies. Of course, this is not an unusual position for this White House, which probably regards the use of taxpayer dollars to fund the purchase of American weaponry for Pakistan as a "pro-business" environment and sees itself as an agent of globalisation.

With arms deals in hand, Bush went to India and Pakistan to not only assuage India's concern about Musarraf's F-16 deal, but also to appeal to those governments to back the US position against Iran. Though opposition to the Iranian pipeline had been dropped, it might still be possible to get India to back the White House on Iran's nuclear ambitions. Ironically, he would do this by selling a veritable nuclear farm to India as well as a cornucopia of conventional weapons systems. That this would be done by using US taxpayer money to assist with the purchase of a vast array of weapons systems and platforms is merely par for White House course. India is now slated to acquire quite an arsenal. This was seen for what it really meant by Wall Street, which promptly began to send defense contractor shares ramping upward.
Armaments major Lockheed Martin, in the race to supply 126 combat jets to India, is eyeing several other opportunities to sell aircraft and hardware worth bns of dollars to the country's armed forces.

The US firm will bid for an Indian Navy proposal to acquire some 30 submarine hunter helicopters, the Indian Air Force (IAF)'s plan to buy 80 medium-lift helicopters and an Indian Army programme to acquire tactical missiles.
While no nuclear deal would be forthcoming for Pakistan -- that would be just too insane, even for Bush -- the Pentagon and various American defence contractors had lined up under the auspices of Bush's promotional tour to offer Musharraf a smorgasbord of armaments as well, with much of the cost being initially footed by the US taxpayer.
The United States is committed to a long-term partnership with Pakistan. Pakistan currently is one of the largest recipients of U.S. security assistance. The United States has pledged $1.5 billion of Foreign Military Financing to Pakistan from 2005-2009.

The United States supports Pakistan’s defense needs through sales of advanced systems (recent sales include TOW 2A missiles, P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, AH-1 Cobra Helicopters, and Harpoon missiles). Last year, the President also announced the U.S. intention to move forward with the possible sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan.
It is always fascinating to examine public White House documents pertinent to such agreements. Their "fact sheet" regarding the India agreement, a paper released during Bush's visit there, describes this bountiful arms deal under a rubric of international comity and commitment to security and democracy:
Defense Trade: The United States reaffirmed its goal to help meet India's defense needs and to provide the important technologies and capabilities that India seeks.
Also rubbed in the warming balm of such feel-good verbiage, the US -Pakistan deal is similarly presented, not as a blockbuster arms sales boom for American defense contractors, but as simply a way to be secure in a dangerous part of the world, especially now that India is going to be boasting a whole new generation of American arms technology.
- Continue robust U.S. security assistance to meet Pakistan's legitimate defense needs and bolster its capabilities in the war on terror.

- Deepen bilateral collaboration in the fields of defense training, joint exercises, defense procurement, technology transfers, and international peacekeeping.
The White House appears to have failed in any of its diplomatic goals to engender support in its bid to demonized Iran, to prevent the Iranian pipeline deal, or to even cause some friction in what is generally seen to be good relations between Iran and Central Asia. Iran has pursued their position with India and Pakistan quite purposefully and did so before the Bush administration apparently even knew what to do about it. There may have been nothing they could have done, given the incredible growth of the Indian economy and tightening supplies of petroleum resources, something that has only been aggravated by Iraq's diminished production capacity; yet another ironic result of the US invasion.

Just what has the White House accomplished with Bush's trip? Despite George Bush telling us that these agreements are about supporting and nurturing democracy, the real "success" would appear to be that it calmed India's ire with nuclear technology, steered that country to a "buy American" arms policy and assuaged their concerns over the F-16 sale to Pakistan, which will now likely go forward. These are two profitable arms deals in a region of the world that will only grow more at odds as a result.

Which is perfectly consistent with a foreign policy that claims to bestow democracy upon others and does so with the barrel of a gun.

Update: Siddharth Varadarajan at Reality, One Bite At a Time, has an interesting piece up regarding the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and argues well that, in fact, the White House is still very much against it.
Though virtually everyone in the Indian media wilfully or foolishly misinterpreted this clever remark to mean the U.S. no longer had a problem with the pipeline, senior U.S. officials responsible for the day-to-day conduct of policy are clear that the Iran-Pakistan-India project is still verboten.
Though this would not change the direction of this piece much, other than to restate that the White House had not necessarily back down on the pipeline deal, it just wasn't a deal-breaker in the sales of billions in US armaments. The White House may simply be reserving a later date for a fight. And this is also not to say that India won't stand up for their participation in the project. All this really boils down to is that rumours of White House flip-flopping on its opposition to the Iranian pipeline have been greatly exaggerated.


Blogger Vijay said...

Fantastic analysis

My Blog : http://India-IT-Pulse.blogspot.com


9:00 AM  

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