Gunning for peace in South Asia
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Gunning for peace in South Asia

Asia Times | August 11, 2005
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - Two recent defense-related happenings in India and Pakistan are of note. Pakistan has test-fired its first cruise missile, which India believes cannot happen without the help of the Chinese.
Pakistan fires new cruise missile

Second, there are revelations of a quiet but steep climb in India-Israel defense relations, despite stiff competition from Russia, France and United Kingdom, the traditional big suppliers to India. The US, which has opened its arms arsenal to India, is expected to give Israel stiff competition.

The two developments in Pakistan and India are inter-linked. They show that despite confidence-building measures, peace talks, synergies in the Iran-Pakistan-India oil pipeline and the recent breakthroughs in trade-related matters, India and Pakistan continue to stockpile arms, and suspicions refuse to subside.

While some of the sources of defense inputs and material to Pakistan may be unknown (with indicators pointing towards China and North Korea), India is not averse to finding new partners and upgrading its weapons systems. The Israelis are known for cutting-edge equipment and fit the bill to modernize the Indian armed forces.

Many experts believe that Pakistan wants to quickly upgrade its weapons systems in response to India's burgeoning defense relations with Israel and the US, with their state-of-the art weapon system. The Chinese are more than willing to oblige as they are never comfortable with India rising militarily without an effective check by Pakistan. China's fears have been compounded by the new-found bonhomie between India and US.

The share of India-US arms relations is expected to pick up in the future as discussions have only begun. In June, a 10-year defense agreement titled the "New Framework for the US-India Defense Relationship", was signed between Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his counterpart Donald Rumsfeld. The US has offered joint production of weapons, apart from sales, that sets the tone of a long-term relationship.

India miffed
India is predictably miffed with Pakistan successfully test-firing its first cruise missile this week, joining a select band of nations that have developed the ground-hugging projectiles. President General Pervez Musharraf hailed the launch of the Hatf VII Babur, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads, as a "major milestone" in the country's defense program.

Experts in India insist that Pakistan does not have the know-how to build cruise missiles which, unlike ballistic missiles, do not leave the atmosphere and are powered and guided throughout their flight path. In an interview, former chief adviser (technology) of the Defense Research and Development Organization, K Santhanam, said: "China is peddling at least two types of cruise missiles in the international market ... My assessment is that this Pakistani missile is of Chinese origin, with a label change."

The US-backed Missile Technology Control Regime prevents the proliferation of missiles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload over distances of 300 kilometers and more. Although Musharraf hailed his scientists and engineers who "have once again done the nation proud by mastering a rare technology", experts in India believe that Pakistan's missile program has the secret backing of China and North Korea. The 750-kilometer range Shaheen-I and 1,500-kilometer Ghauri-I ballistic missiles are believed to be derivatives of the Chinese M-9 and North Korean Nodong missiles

But it is clear that Pakistan's bid to induct cruise missiles as well as pile up ballistic missiles is an attempt to balance India's declared intentions to incorporate a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system either from Israel or the US. India is already examining offers for the American Patriot-3 and Israeli Arrow-2 anti-ballistic missile systems. The BMD system can be effectively checked by cruise missiles.

Apart from inducting the Agni-I (700-800-kilometer range) and Agni-II (2,000-kilometer-plus range) ballistic missiles, India has its own cruise missile BrahMos, with a 300-kilometer strike range. The Indian navy is already inducting the BrahMos, which is believed to be similar to the American Tomahawk cruise missiles widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Curiously, Pakistan did not give any prior warning to India of the cruise test, despite a recent agreement between the two to notify each other before missile tests and to set up a hotline to prevent an accidental atomic exchange. The deal only referred to ballistic missiles and not to cruise missiles, for which there was no agreement, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Naeem Khan said.

The India-Israel nexus
There is reason for Pakistan to modernize its weapons systems, by any means. It is estimated that India will purchase arms to the tune of $15 billion over the next few years. This will include fighter jets, submarines, tanks and technological advancements.

This week, Mukherjee put a figure to the rising defense ties between India and Israel. The fillip to India-Israel defense relations happened under the previous Bharatiya Janata Party administration of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but the current dispensation under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has kept up the tempo. Israel has now overtaken France, the UK and other countries to become the second-largest defense supplier to India. The value of military arsenal works out close to $1 billion each year for the past three years.

Russia remains India's biggest defense partner, notching over $1.5 billion every year due to the deeply entrenched relations between the two countries that hark back to the Cold War era. Three-quarters of the equipment in use by the armed forces is of Russian origin, requiring spares and maintenance. However, it is increasingly becoming apparent that the breakup of the Soviet Union has had its impact, with Russia unable to keep up with the latest upgrades in technology.

This major chunks of the modernization efforts of the Indian armed forces are now being sourced from Israel. One of the biggest deals has been the $1.1 billion contract signed in March 2004 for three Phalcon early warning radar and communications systems to fulfill the air force's long-standing demand for AWACS (airborne warning and control systems). Israel is supplying the latest technology that ranges from Green Pine radars and Barak anti-missile systems to Searcher-11 and Heron UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and ship-borne electronic warfare systems. A major project is in place to modernize the Indian army, which includes night-vision capabilities, Tavor-21 5.56mm standard assault rifles, Galil 7.62mm sniper rifles and advanced VHF radios.

The Mukherjee-Rumsfeld agreement in June this year is also expected to open up new vistas for India. The deal is extremely vast in scope and envisages a broad range of joint activities, including engaging in multi-national operations, strengthening the two militaries to promote security and defeat terrorism, and deepening capacity to take on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. A new panel called the defense procurement and production group has been established to oversee defense trade and a joint working group will carry out a mid-year review to be overseen by the US-India defense policy group.

Peace may be the motto of the Indo-Pakistani talks, but there is no letting up on the arms race.

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911:  The Road to Tyranny