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`Sale of F-16s will fuel arms race in South Asia'

By Our Diplomatic Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MARCH 30. The New York Times has criticised the Bush administration's decision to supply F-16 aircraft to Pakistan and offer F-16s/F-18s to India, saying that this would encourage the two countries to engage in a new, American-fuelled arms race.

In an editorial titled "Fuel for South Asia's Arms Race", the newspaper said, "The United States has far better ways to reward Pakistan for its helpful but selective pressure on al-Qaeda and the Taliban than President Bush's decision last week to break with 15 years of policy and sell Pakistan high-performance fighters whose only plausible use is to threaten India. Balancing those sales by offering New Delhi the chance to purchase, and perhaps build similar planes doesn't lessen the damage of the Pakistan sale. It compounds it.

"The United States does have a compelling strategic interest in helping Pakistan. But the right kind of help does not consist of selling Pakistan's armed forces, led by the country's military dictator, President Pervez Musharraf, prestigious, expensive and dangerous weapons systems. Decades of swollen military budgets have virtually bankrupted Pakistan, leaving its government unable to afford adequate spending on education and job-creating economic modernisation. Instead, its leaders have fed the Pakistani people a diet of belligerent nationalism and projects like nuclear weapons that are designed to enhance a sense of prestige," it stated.

Reviewing the new Pakistan arms sale policy, the U.S. Congress should think hard about the message the United States wants to send to future proliferators. "Pakistan developed nuclear weapons of its own after refusing to sign international non-proliferation treaties. Worse, it has spread nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea, Libya and who knows what other countries, through the rogue network that was run by its top government nuclear scientist, A. Q. Khan. When Dr. Khan's activities became public a little over a year ago, he was pardoned by Pakistan's Government, which conveniently avoided embarrassing revelations about any help he might have received from allies in the Pakistani military," the editorial said.

"Advocates of these military sales will argue, as they always do, that if the United States did not sell Pakistan and India advanced fighter jets, other countries would. That is probably true, but it is not a justification for fuelling an arms race. One big reason both governments want to buy American planes is to advertise to their own people and the world that their costly military spending enjoys the full backing of Washington. That alone is reason enough to regret Mr. Bush's decision."

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