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A Patriot missile fired from a mobile launching pad: Neutering the Nukes

Panic Grips Pakistani Generals as US Agrees to Sell Patriot Missiles to India

By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Special to the South Asia Tribune

KARACHI, February 20: Panic has almost broken out in the Strategic and Planning Division of Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi as in the next 24 hours a top level team of US technical experts will land in New Delhi to brief Indian defence experts on US Patriot Advanced Capability-2 Anti-Ballistic Missile System which could shoot down any of the Pakistani nuclear missiles.

New Delhi made its first request to the US for this defence system in November 2002 and it is now that Pentagon has decided to begin the sale process in what the Pakistani GHQ believes would bring a virtual end to the Pakistani nuclear deterrence and tilt the power balance in India’s favor, despite Pakistan’s nuclear capability.

The Army strategists do not believe Musharraf’s closest ally and friend in the War against Terror, US President George W. Bush, could be doing such a devastating thing to Pakistan. “If India gets the Patriot anti-missile defence system, where do we go, because it would be almost impossible to penetrate with the indigenous Ghauris and Hataf missiles that we have,” one worried analyst said.

Indian Defence Ministry has confirmed that a four-member team, led by Edward Ross of the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), will be in New Delhi from February 20 to 24 to discuss the missile defence system.

The team will present a technical brief to the International Security division of the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Defence. Ross is second in command to General Koffler at the DSCA in Pentagon. Indian media reports say the Pentagon team will interact with officers of the Indian armed forces and the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) during their four-day stay.

The Bush administration gave clearance for a classified technical presentation of PAC-2 system as part of the Next Step in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) agreement signed between India and the US last year.

Surprisingly General Musharraf or his Generals have not yet raised any hue and cry in Washington about this escalation of the arms race in the sub-continent but once the General gets out of his slumber, he is going to make noise like a skeleton on a hot tin roof, according to analysts.

The first indication that Washington was willing to share technical data came after Indian Ambassador to US, Ronnen Sen, flew to New Delhi last November to discuss the missile defence issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee. It was then that the government gave clearance to Sen to proceed further.

While the Indian defence establishment is keen to have a look at the PAC-2 system, it has its eyes on the future because this opens the way to PAC-3, the latest upgrade of the anti-missile system developed by US defence majors Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

PAC-2 is a long-range, all altitude and all weather air defence system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft. The range of the missile is 70 km and it can climb to an altitude greater than 24 km. The minimum flight time — time needed to arm a missile — is less than three seconds and maximum flight time is just three-and-half minutes.

Patriots were first put to use by the Israelis in the first Gulf War when Iraqi missiles fired at Israel were intercepted during flight and destroyed. Ever since much advanced versions have been developed. Till date, Washington has shared this technology, updated in 1991, with key allies, including Israel, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.

PAC-3 was seen in action in Operation Iraqi Freedom and has a kill rate of more than 95 per cent. Neither China nor Pakistan have this type of anti-ballistic missile capability and the geo-strategic location of Pakistani missiles makes the Patriots more effective as any Pakistani missile could be intercepted in the air while in Pakistani air space or much before it could reach any major Indian city.

Analysts are still not sure why Washington would go for such an escalation but many believe it has lot to do with the intrinsic lack of trust in General Musharraf and his Army Generals, specially their double games and cover ups of the Dr AQ Khan nuclear sales network.

Pakistan defence managers have been claiming over the last few years that a level of deterrence had been achieved with the development of nuclear-capable long and short range missiles and it was this deterrence which prevented India and Pakistan from going to war during the 8-month long armed stand off of troops during the Vajpayee Government.

They concede that lack of spare parts and non-supply of new aircraft had left the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) almost crippled with just a few F-16 fighters after most of them were cannibalized. The US has consistently refused to consider Pakistani requests for new F-16 fighters, although Pakistan has been declared a Non-NATO ally and military sales have resumed to Islamabad.

These sales have so far been all on US terms and the latest goods in the pipeline worth $1.2 billion are basically 8 P-3C Orion reconnaissance aircraft which, many experts believe, Pakistan hardly needs in preference to strike capability F-16s or equivalent aircraft.

So while the official Pakistani media is spinning yarn about the latest CBMs with India and opening of a Bus Service to Srinagar, the GHQ strategists are in a state of semi-shock as all their levers vis-à-vis India have been neutralized and now Washington is willing to provide the Indians with the capacity to neutralize the nuclear deterrent as well.

Independent defence experts believe the Pakistanis lost much of their bargaining power in Kashmir when General Musharraf agreed to a ceasefire in Kashmir, allowed India to build the fence on the Line of Control and when India installed the latest and effective monitoring devices which almost completely stopped the infiltration of Jihadis from the Pakistani side.

Once India was satisfied that Pakistan was no longer capable of keeping the pot boiling inside Kashmir, it launched the political and diplomatic moves to ease tensions and allow more room to Kashmiris. It also announced symbolic withdrawal of Indian troops from Kashmir and agreed to the Bus Service, even dropping the condition of passports for Kashmiris.

Surprisingly within India there is a strong section of defence experts who do not want to acquire the Patriot Missile System from the US.

“There are disarmament fundamentalists who object to missile defence on the basis of obsolete Kissingerian arguments that missile defence will unleash an arms race. There are self-reliance fundamentalists who assert that India can develop its own missile defence technology and therefore does not need any US inputs. Thirdly, there are still veteran cold warriors who cannot forget the Enterprise mission of 1971 and continuing US support to Army-led Pakistani regime,” known defence writer K Subrahmanyam said in an article recently.

But he wrote: “If we act on our own ancient wisdom, in this globalizing and post-Cold War world, mindful of our own national interest and security, we should exploit every opportunity to augment them.”

“India particularly needs missile defence because we have adopted a ‘‘no-first-use’’ doctrine in respect of nuclear weapons. Therefore, a missile defence for our national decision-making center and some part of our retaliatory forces would make our ‘‘no-first-use’’ posture more credible. It would enhance the uncertainties of our potential adversary and act as a disincentive to his ready resort to nuclear weapons.”

Secondly, he wrote: “Pakistan is not in a position to engage in such an arms race without technological inputs from countries like China and North Korea and large scale financial help from Saudi Arabia. In the present international strategic environment, the probability of these developments taking place is not high.”

“The US willingness to share information on the missile defence under NSSP is an indication of America’s recognition of the realities of the globalizing world and India’s role in it…The US is well aware that neither in civilian commerce nor in arms purchases can Pakistan compete with India. The US-Indian technology bridge has no analogue in respect of Pakistan.”

Amid this tightening noose around the neck, the GHQ in Rawalpindi is depending wholly on the personal rapport and skills of General Musharraf and looking up to him whether he would be able to persuade President Bush not to create the huge imbalance in the sub-continent.

"If Musharraf fails, there would be a lot of angry and depressed faces in the GHQ and Musharraf will have to double his own personal security and cut down inter-action with many of his brothers in uniform. He will have to spend more time ensuring his survival," according to an analyst.

The writer is Pakistan Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online. He wrote this piece specially for the South Asia Tribune. Email: saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

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