Pakistan's strike at India's recent purchase of air defence system is misplaced, country has long benefitted from US aid and military equipment

  • Pakistan’s relationship with the US was set on a new course in the 1950s, culminating in the military alliance and treaties.

  • Both the countries signed the Mutual Defence Assistance Treaty in 1954, which was followed by two US sponsored regional security alliances.

  • These arrangements facilitated American arms transfer to Pakistan and a military personnel training program.

Pakistan on Friday accused the American government of "destabilising" the South Asian region because it approved a military sale to India of Integrated Air Defence Weapon System (IADWS), worth an estimated $1.867 billion. Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aisha Farooqui called the decision "disturbing", notwithstanding, the regular stream of advanced weaponry flowing into Islamabad, courtesy US and China.

Farooqui said the sale "of such sophisticated weapons to India will disturb the strategic balance in south Asia".

"The US decision would disturb strategic balance in south Asia with serious security implications for Pakistan and the region. These growing defence ties, including purchase of arms, between India and the United States would contribute towards further destabilisation of peace and security in the region," said the Foreign Office spokesperson during a press briefing in Islamabad.

Before nosediving into Pakistan’s concern in the growing defence ties between India and the United States, it is salient to recall how Pakistan built its military strength depending on the US.

 Pakistans strike at Indias recent purchase of air defence system is misplaced, country has long benefitted from US aid and military equipment

A Pakistani-made Al-Zarrar tank demonstrated its capability during a four-day international defense exhibition in Karachi on 22 November. AFP

Looking back at 1950s

Pakistan’s relationship with the US took a new course in the 1950s, culminating in the military alliance and treaties that imposed far-reaching and unilateral commitments on Pakistan to subserve US purposes.

Both the countries signed the Mutual Defence Assistance Treaty in 1954, which was followed by two US sponsored regional security alliances – SEATO and CENTO. The Mutual Security Pact in 1959 became the fourth security deal between the two nations.

These arrangements facilitated American arms transfer to Pakistan and a military personnel training program. An American military advisory mission was based in Pakistan Army headquarters for some years.

US, Pakistan form military alliance

Since 1948, Pakistan has historically been among the top recipients of US aid – the country received more than Euro 30 billion in direct aid, The Guardian reported.

A propagandist view of the newly formed US-Pakistan military alliance was that it was intended to strengthen Pakistan vis-à-vis India. But the rhetoric provided by the US leaders about the pact was contradictory. Their argument was that the alliance was formed to bolster Pakistan as a first line of defence of south Asia against Soviet expansionist designs in Afghanistan. The reasoning was calculated to allay India’s fears.

The US was building Pakistan military’s strength as part of its strategy for developing regional security networks to contain the Soviet Union and the spread of communism.

But for Pakistan, the sole aim of strengthening its armoury was to gather weapons for use against bigger military power, India. What Pakistan wanted is to toughen its security against this perceived Indian threat; it never had a problem with the Soviet Union.

Pakistan bolsters military equipment

In 1981, the US announced a six-year $3.2 billion package for Pakistan which was equally distributed between economic assistance and credit for military sales. In the following five years, the US provided 40 F-16 fighters, 100 M-48 tanks, 64 M-109 155 mm howitzers, 40 M-110 203 mm SP howitzers, 75 towed howitzers and 1,005 TOW anti-tank missile system, all of which made Pakistan supersede its defence capability.

The aid rose from around $60 million in economic and development assistance in 1979 to more than $600 million a year in the mid-1980s. In total, the United States gave $2.19 billion in military assistance from 1980 till 1990. The military aid was in addition to the $3.1 billion economic assistance for Pakistan.

Despite its economic challenges, including spiraling debt and rising cost of imports along with low government revenue, Pakistan has maintained progress on critical modernization programs to strengthen its conventional military forces.

George Bush administration

After the United States spent more than $ 5 billion in proposed combat aircraft sales to Pakistan in 2007, the George Bush administration faced flak for its failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units, The New York Times reported.

Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.

Obama administration

America's relations with Pakistan suffered a setback after the US raid killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in May, 2011. The Barack Obama administration had issued warnings to Pakistan’s security establishment to mend its disruptive behaviour. However, coming under increasing pressure to justify US aid spending in Pakistan, the administration in July, 2011, had suspended more than one-third of all military assistance to Pakistan.

Robert Gates, the defence secretary from 2006 to 2011, in his memoir conceded when the operation to kill Laden was being planned, he was worried that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) was aware of bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Ahead of the raid, no one in the Obama administration considered seeking Pakistan’s help in killing bin Laden, as past experience showed that "the target was forewarned and fled, or the Pakistanis went after the target unilaterally, prematurely and unsuccessfully," whenever intelligence about them was shared.

Trump vows to end military aid to Pakistan

In the early days of the Donald Trump administration, the White House talked tough on Pakistan, vowing to apply more pressure on Islamabad in its efforts to crack down on terror groups on its soil.

Trump thundered in an August, 2017, speech laying out his south Asia strategy. "We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials," he had said.

Coming down heavily on Pakistan, again on the first day of 2018, the US president accused the country of deceiving the United States and declined the funding in military assistance due to its continued support to the Haqqani network and the Taliban.

Alleging that Pakistan had been harbouring terrorists, Trump slammed the previous US governments for supporting the country. He claimed that the US 'foolishly' gave more than 33 billion dollars to Pakistan in aid and said that in return, Pakistan considered American leaders fools.

In August, 2019, the Trump administration notified Congress that it was putting $ 255 million in military assistance to Pakistan into the equivalent of an escrow account that Islamabad can only access if it does more to crack down on internal terror networks launching attacks on neighboring Afghanistan.

As opposed to Pakistan Foreign Ministry's claim that approval of the Indian request to purchase IADWS comprising dozens of AMRAAM missiles is “disturbing”, it can be argued that it is in fact Pakistan that has always tried to develop a strategy to destabilise south Asia, specifically India, empowered by military equipment from the United States.

One such example was seen in February 2018, when India provided proof to the US that weapons like the US TOW-2A anti-tank guided missiles given to Pakistan to combat Taliban forces were being used against the Indian Army.

According to media reports, nine Indian soldiers lost their lives in 2018 during Pakistani ceasefire violations and fire assaults directed against Indian Army positions along the Line of Control (LoC).

Pakistan had purchased TOW 2A anti-tank missiles for "self-defence" and showcase support to US operations against terrorists in Afghanistan. The sale of 2000 anti-tank guided missiles to Pakistan was cleared by the US Congress in October 2007.

Flagging the misuse of the missiles with the US is part of India's policy to isolate Pakistan in the global arena. In past, India has objected to sale of lethal weapons to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, as Pakistan continues to bolster its infantry anti-tank capabilities, Author, analyst and former defense attaché to Islamabad Brian Cloughley told Defense News that emphasis on heavy armor indicates Pakistan’s "preparedness for conventional war." He also added, "it seems that the riposte is alive and being refined in direct answer to India’s overwhelming numerical superiority."

Cloughley said the government may have realized the use of tactical nuclear weapons would spark an uncontrollable escalation, and so it is focusing on other capabilities. However, "this by no means indicates that tactical nuclear [surface-to-surface missiles] are not a most important asset — simply that Pakistan has been considering all options and appears to have concluded it had better maintain and develop conventional forces, concentrating on armor," he added.

Pakistan's history of misusing foreign aid and loaned defence equipment against India is no secret. Thus, by making such statements against a legit defence deal between India-US, it's making a mockery of itself.

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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2020 11:44:35 IST