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F-16s Before Butter

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By Farooq Sulehria

Hard to say who wooed who in the first place, but the Pak-US affair is as old as Pakistan itself. The rulers in Pakistan have always been ready to pay any price for this relationship. Pakistan's writers and poets, often proving more visionary than its leaders, however have had serious reservations about these relations. The year Pakistan formalised its relationship by joining SEATO, Sadaat Hassan Manto wrote his 'Third letter to Uncle Sam'. In this letter, penned on March 15 1954, Manto tells Uncle Sam (excerpts):

"As for your military pact with us, it is remarkable and should be maintained. You should sign something similar with India. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us, the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle."

"The American topcoats are also excellent and without them our Landa Bazar [second hand clothes market] would be quite barren. But why don't you send us trousers as well? Don't you ever take off your trousers? If you do, you probably ship them to India. There has to be a strategy to it because you send us jackets but no trousers, which you send to India. When there is a war, it will be your jackets and your trousers. These two will fight each other using arms supplied by you."

It is ironic, and tragic, that Uncle Sam's game plan to equip Pakistan with F-16s and India with F-18s unfolds in the year of Manto's 50th death anniversary. Uncle Sam's game plan will impose an arms race on Indian sub-continent thus sabotaging an ongoing process of mutual understanding, peace and friendship. Meanwhile, millions will go hungry as Islamabad spends over $60 million per F-16. And New Delhi will do the same, striking a blow against the peace activists labouring hard for a thaw in Indo-Pak relations. Meantime, Islamabad and Delhi will issue hypocritical, hollow statements lacking any substance.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz states Pakistan has 'no aggressive intentions against any country'. So who does he have in mind to use the military hardware against -- the tenants at Okara military farms? Wazirabad residents? Baloch nationalists?

Indian defence minister refutes Shaukat's claim with the statement that "The previous track record had shown that Pakistan had not fired a single shot towards any other direction, but against India". However, New Delhi is as unconvincing in its own assertions of wanting peace with its neighbours, given its own ambitious plans for Mirage 2000s.

If both countries are as sincere in their peace efforts as they claim, they should freeze their defence budgets. In this regard, New Delhi bears the major responsibility. But the Indian ruling class has dreams to become a regional, if not global, superpower. It is seeking a permanent place at the Security Council by treading a costly and dangerous path of militarisation.

But it seems a simple calculation is beyond New Delhi's comprehension. If India hikes its defence budget by seven per cent, Islamabad acquires F 16s. Agnis beget Ghouris. Pokharan leads to Chaghi. Above all, Washington will continue equipping Pakistan as an irritant for India. China will also slap Pakistan's back to encircle India if the USA equips India to contain China.

It does not need an Einstein to understand that this is a lose-lose situation in which when Pakistan gets the coat and India gets the trousers. 'There has to be a strategy to it' as Manto points out.

A Washington Post report on March 26 explains the strategy. Under the headline 'Pakistan's Order Lifts Lockheed F-16 Plant', WP staff writers Charles R. Babcock and Renae Merle report: 'The Bush administration's decision to sell F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan is likely to be as warmly greeted in Fort Worth as it is in Karachi. That's because Lockheed Martin Corp. has said it needs new orders for the jet before this fall, or it will have to take action to close the production line there that employs about 5,000 workers'.

The report reminds one of Ustad Daman:

Wahgay naal Attari dee nai takar

Na Geeta naal Quran dee aay

Nai kufr Islam da koi jhagra

Sari gaal aay nafay nuksan dee aay

(There's no clash between Wagah and Attari/It's not a matter of the Geeta or Quran/Nor is it a quarrel between Islam and paganism /It's all about profit and loss, stupid)

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