Amitabh Pal / The Progressive – 2005-04-04 09:08:47
(March 30, 2005) — The New York Times has made my last few days miserable. As soon as I glanced at the front-page lead story on Saturday morning, I became sad and angry, and these feelings haven’t left me since.
“US is Set To Sell Jets to Pakistan,” the headline announced. The story detailed how the United States was going to hawk two dozen or more F-16 fighter jet planes to Pakistan. The deal is said to be yet another sign of the strengthening alliance between the two countries, with the aircraft ostensibly to be used to hunt down terrorists on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. (Yeah, right.)
So this is how the Bush Administration shows its friendship, by selling expensive hi-tech weaponry to a nation that is too impoverished to provide even basic education and health care to its people. And that’s what the Pakistani people really need: more weapons for their military rulers.
I’m aware there’s a job angle in there somewhere. The deal is good news for the 5,000-strong Lockheed Martin plant at Fort Worth, Texas, that manufactures the f-16s. As a friend of mine remarked cynically, “If the United States didn’t export arms, what else would it export?”
Exports and jobs? But at what cost?
This is not to mention the arms spiral that will result from the deal. In response to India’s concerns, the subhead of the New York Times story offers a solution: “Bush tells New Delhi That it May Discuss its Own Purchase of Aircraft.”
Parody becomes unnecessary here. That’s the solution: Both nations can give over their scarce resources to Lockheed Martin in exchange for shiny new air toys. And if they still feel insecure, there’s more military hardware available. I hear the sound of Lockheed executives laughing all the way to the bank.
India and Pakistan are already among the biggest spenders on defense in the world. In a superb analysis in the (South Asian Journal) last year, C. Rammanohar Reddy pointed out that India has the third largest defense budget on the planet, calculated in terms of the purchasing power of its currency.
India currently spends more than $100 billion on defense every year, taking into account expenditures such as defense-related nuclear and space spending, armed forces pensions, and public-sector munitions manufacturers. Pakistan’s defense spending, albeit smaller in total terms, is bigger per person and as a share of its economy, making it the fifteenth-biggest defense spender in the world.
The rankings of the two countries on international comparisons of social well-being is not quite so high, however. The United Nations Development Program’s 2004 Human Development Report (hdr.undp.org) places India at number 127 out of a total of 177 nations, while Pakistan is at an even more dismal 142.
I could cite a litany of depressing statistics from the report on the achievements (or lack, thereof) of both nations on the education, health care, nutrition, and sanitation fronts, but I won’t. It suffices to say that they don’t make pleasant reading. And this is what the Bush Administration comes up with: An offer to sell F-16s costing between $30 million and $40 million each to both countries?
I haven’t yet gone into the horrendous nuclear implications of the F-16 deal. While both Pakistan and India have missiles capable of reaching the other’s territory, the F-16s provide yet another means of delivering nuclear warheads to the other country. (I know, I know, relations between the two nations are better than in the recent past, but with the central issue of the status of the Jammu and Kashmir region still unresolved, it won’t take much for relations to deteriorate again.)
The consequences of a nuclear exchange would be almost beyond imagination for South Asia. A nuclear war would kill at least 2.9 million people in the 10 largest cities in India and Pakistan, according to a study by Zia Mian and M.V. Ramana of Princeton University, A.H. Nayyar of Quaid-i-Azam University in Pakistan and Matthew McKinzie of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
And these are only the short-term casualties. “There is also the loss of key social and physical networks that make daily life possible: families and neighborhoods would be devastated, factories, shops, electricity, and water systems demolished; hospitals, schools, and other government offices destroyed,” the authors write. “Nothing would ever be the same again.” Why would the United States knowingly increase the chances of a nuclear holocaust?
The Bush Administration is perfectly content with the situation, since it has good relations with both countries. It can use Pakistan in the “war on terrorism,” and India as a junior partner against China, a role India seems to be willing to be employed in as long as the United States assuages its ego by referring to it as a “world power.”
That’s why the reaction from India hasn’t been as strong as in the past. In fact, in a sorry indication of the arms competition triggered by the F-16 sale, Lockheed Martin is offering to sell the Indian government an “exclusive” version of the F-16, a deal that may involve more than 100 planes.(htt[://www.economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1063437.cms).
So the Bush Administration fulfills its geostrategic aims, while U.S. arms manufacturers rake in the moolah. The only losers in this scenario are the Indian and Pakistani people.
One of the greatest military heroes of all times, Dwight David Eisenhower, said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” If he could realize this, why can’t the leaders of the United States, India and Pakistan?
Amitabh Pal is Managing Editor of The Progressive.
© 2005 The Progressive
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