Strategic system preferred over balance in arsenal

Posted in Broader Middle East | 07-Feb-05 | Author: Anwar Iqbal| Source: (Pakistan)

Washington is still considering Pakistan's controversial request to buy F-16 fighter aircraft.
WASHINGTON, Feb 6: Pakistan is no more seeking to match India's conventional weapons and instead is focusing on strengthening its strategic systems, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

According to these sources, since the signing of the $3 billion aid package at the US presidential resort at Camp David two years ago, Pakistan and the United States have been engaged in intensive discussions over US assistance to strengthen Pakistan's defence capabilities.

"But contrary to the general belief, at these talks Pakistan never said it wishes to match India's conventional arsenal," said a source privy to these talks. "They realize that they cannot compete with India in conventional weapons and they do not need to".

The sources explained that since the May 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistan has developed a new defence strategy of meeting the Indian threat with the help of "strategic systems, not conventional weapons". They said that the decision to acquire eight P-3 Orion reconnaissance planes from the United States was part of this strategy.

The planes would help Pakistan prevent a possible naval blockade of Karachi, which India had successfully enforced during the 1971 war. "The Orions can warn you that ships are coming and you can launch your submarines and aim your missiles," said a defence expert. "This will blunt the huge strategic advantage India had in 1971".

The sources explained that while Pakistan would still like to acquire F-16 aircraft from the United States, "those are not the only weapons Pakistanis are focusing on," said the defence expert.

In the 1980s, when Pakistan acquired the first batch of F-16s, Islamabad needed a delivery system for its strategic weapons but since 1998 it has developed an alternative delivery system and is not dependent on the aircraft, the sources said.

They pointed out that during the last six years, Pakistan has regularly tested several medium and short-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and is satisfied that it possesses a reliable weapon-delivery system. But despite this satisfaction, Pakistan still wants F-16s because it needs an effective air force and the restrictions imposed on it in the 1990s has greatly depleted its air power.

Pakistan wants the F-16s also because it is familiar with the system and has developed an infrastructure that includes trained pilots and maintenance and servicing facilities. If it acquires another set of similar aircraft, it will have to rebuild a new infrastructure which will be costly and time consuming.

But the experts said that the recently concluded meeting of the US-Pakistan Defence Consultative Group in Islamabad was not the appropriate forum for discussing Islamabad's desire for buying the F-16s. "Although this issue must have been raised, this was not the focus," said a diplomatic source.

The sources said that F-16 is one of the several systems Pakistanis are pursuing with the US and other countries. Pakistan, they said, is also buying new weaponry from the United States as part of a $1.3 billion defence package announced late last year.

The United States is also upgrading the weapon systems Pakistan purchased from Washington in the 1980s. Besides, Pakistan is acquiring eight, refurbished C-130 aircraft from the Americans. Seven of these aircraft will be used for active service while the eighth will be "cannibalized" for providing spares for these planes.

"The bottomline is, Pakistan is seeking to build up an effective defensive mechanism, not an aggressive weapon systems," said a diplomatic source.