By Farooq Sulehria
Patience fellow Kashmiris. Islamabad is buying six high-tech Saab
2000 jets to help you out. 'Why the heck high-tech jets instead
of helicopters if Islamabad has Kashmir in mind?' fellow Kashmiris
might wonder. Because, the Saab 2000 turbo-propelled aircraft
will be fitted with a land surveillance system 'that could have
been useful in emergency operations arising from the earthquake
True, the system will also help Pakistan face 'different threats'
but Islamabad's prime concern was Kashmir since the deal was struck
exactly a week after the earthquake hit Kashmir. Costs? What does
costs matter when such noble intentions are drawn in. But to satisfy
the curiosity of fellow Kashmiris and unpatriotic Pakistanis,
one better lay bare the facts. The surveillance system, to be
provided by Ericsson, will cost hardly three billion Swedish crowns
(SEK 1= Rs. 8). Since the Ericsson surveillance system Erieye
operates aboard a Saab 2000 turbo-propelled aircraft, Islamabad
is therefore compelled to buy six Saab 2000 worth eight billion
Swedish crowns. The figure appears big in Swedish currency. We
better do a dollar count. In US dollars, it is merely one billion.
The deal was made public by a mainstream Swedish daily Aftonbladet.
Saab/Ericsson would have hushed it up. Aftonbladet, exposing the
deal, questioned its relevance since the deal not merely violates
Swedish guidelines for arms export but also violates the promise
made by ruling Social Democrats back in 1998. Following the nuclear
blasts by India and Pakistan, Swedish trade minister Leif Pagrotsky
made a public commitment not to sell weapons to India and Pakistan.
But even more important is the violation of Swedish guidelines
for weapon export, which forbids arms exports to countries running
conflicts with other countries or having bad human rights record.
Ironically, the Saab press release issued on October 19 in the
wake of Aftonbladet criticism, besides contradicting the prices
quoted in Aftonbladet's story, explains how useful the radar system
is in situations like the earthquake: 'In the aftermath of the
severe earthquake, the system would have been able to play a significant
part in the search and rescue operations'. Earlier Saab's statement,
issued on October 18, stressed the use of the radar system in
The deal was being negotiated for years. One wonders if Islamabad
or Saab knew in advance that General Musharraf would be fighting
'terrorism' in Waziristan or that an earthquake would hit Kashmir
and 'the system would have been able to play a significant part
in the search and rescue operations'.
The Saab statements were meant for domestic consumption. Because
an article published on Pakistan government's website infopak.gov.pk
'clarified' that the Kargil conflict long ago convinced Islamabad
of Erieye's need. A Reuters story (July 14, 2020) headlined, 'Government
seeks Swedish radar system to match India', leaves no doubt regarding
the 'humantarian' and 'anti terrorist' use of Erieye. Datelined
Islamabad, Reuters report says: 'Government, concerned over India's
plans to acquire a strategic radar system from Israel, is seeking
a similar system from Sweden. Air Commodore Sarfraz Ahmed Khan,
spokesman for the Pakistan Air Force, said talks were underway
with Sweden over the purchase of an Airborne Early Warning System,
but no final decision had been taken. A Swedish embassy spokesman
confirmed that the matter came up for discussion when President
Pervez Musharraf visited Stockholm. He said a Swedish parliamentary
commission, which handles defence-related deals, had approved
the sale of the radar system and it was now up to the Pakistani
authorities to decide. "I can't say what stage it's at, but
the negotiations have been going on for quite some time,"
he told Reuters'.
To water down the domestic criticism, Saab/Ericsson and Swedish
authorities are trying to propagate the 'civil' use of Erieye.
But the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS) has another
explanation regarding the sale of Saab 2000 and Erieye. The Swedish
Peace and Arbitration Society has been, for years, closely following
the negotiations and opposing the deal. The September 2004 issue
of Pax, SPAS newspaper, asserted: 'Erieye is categorised as airradar
and warning system and such systems have been used in many wars
across the world'.
Suppose Pax is wrong. Suppose Saab-Islamabad deal is well intentioned.
Still, one speculates if it is six Saab jets fitted with Ericsson
radar system, worth one billion dollars, that Kashmir needs to
recover from the earthquake.