The scram­ble for arms

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Huma Yusuf

NOT con­tent with sham­ing US di­plo­mats, the Pak­istani press this week, un­der the cover of the Wik­iLeaks scan­dal, dragged In­di­ans into the mire too. News re­ports, which have since been re­tracted, cited fake leaked ca­bles in which US di­plo­mats de­scribed se­nior mem­bers of In­dia's mil­i­tary as ego­tis­ti­cal, geeky, and even geno­ci­dal, while In­dian politi­cians were ac­cused of main­tain­ing ties with Hindu fun­da­men­tal­ists. The pro­pa­gan­dis­tic use of the 'leaked ca­bles' oc­curred at the ex­pense of the lo­cal me­dia's cred­i­bil­ity, but in the pub­li­ca­tion of these false re­ports lies a vi­tal re­minder about Pak­istani for­eign pol­icy.

No­tably, re­ports about the fake ca­bles were sourced to an Is­lam­abad-based news agency that has been de­scribed in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia as hav­ing close links to the Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence ser­vices. Writ­ing in the Guardian , De­clan Walsh rightly pointed out that the readi­ness of news or­gan­i­sa­tions to pub­lish the false re­ports with­out ver­i­fy­ing their con­tent in­di­cates the Pak­istan Army's con­tin­ued in­flu­ence over the sup­pos­edly free me­dia land­scape.

The fact that Amer­ica's low­est moment in pub­lic diplo­macy and in­ter­na­tional per­cep­tion can be re­ori­ented as a cri­tique about In­dia in the Pak­istani pub­lic sphere is telling. The in­ci­dent re­it­er­ates what the Wik­iLeaks made clear, and what we all al­ready knew even be­fore the doc­u­ment dump: the coun­try's for­eign pol­icy - and the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about it - is be­ing care­fully mi­cro­man­aged by the army.

Few will have missed the fact that in ad­di­tion to dis­parag­ing re­marks, the fake anti-In­dia ca­bles are pep­pered with praise by US gen­er­als for Pak­istani gen­er­als, im­ply­ing a close, trust­ing re­la­tion­ship (which, iron­i­cally, the real Wik­iLeaks ca­bles about nukes and on­go­ing mil­i­tary ties to ter­ror­ist groups made clear is se­verely strained).

This added flour­ish can only be un­der­stood as an at­tempt at dam­age con­trol in the af­ter­math of the Wik­iLeaks dur­ing which Pak­istan's re­la­tion­ship with the US has been widely panned - terms de­ployed to de­scribe our coun­try in­clude ' lackey', ' client', ' stooge', ' ba­nana re­pub­lic', 'colony, ' satrapy', ' pup­pet', and those are the ones I can put in print. The rea­sons the se­cu­rity forces would want to mend the pub­lic per­cep­tion of this re­la­tion­ship, and try and de­flect some negativity across the east­ern border, are known.

The Pak­istan Army per­pet­u­ates the for­eign pol­icy nar­ra­tive about the abid­ing threat next door, which is bal­anced by strate­gic ties else­where abroad for the ad­vance­ment of its own in­ter­ests. As an in­sti­tu­tion, the army pri­ori­tises mod­erni­sa­tion, weapons pro­cure­ment, and ac­cess to cut­ting-edge technology and train­ing.

It re­mains in­vested in for­eign pol­icy is­sues be­cause con­nec­tions with western states are seen as a way for the army to ful­fil these in­sti­tu­tional goals. In the case of the Pak­istan, as in other poorly gov­erned coun­tries where the mil­i­tary is en­trusted with state sur­vival, the army's in­sti­tu­tional im­per­a­tives out­weigh the de­mands of democ­racy, diplo­macy, mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion. In the com­ing years, one can ex­pect to see more heavy-hand­ed­ness on the part of the se­cu­rity forces in re­sponse to re­gional mil­i­tary de­vel­op­ments. The fact is, Pak­istan finds it­self in the most rapidly mil­i­taris­ing neigh­bour­hood of the world.

In 2010, Chi­nese year-onyear de­fence spend­ing has risen 7.5 per cent; mean­while, In­dia's de­fence al­lo­ca­tion has grown by al­most four per cent. Ac­cord­ing to the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute (SIPRI), China was the largest arms buyer over the five-year pe­riod from 2005-2009, im­port­ing nine per cent of the world's to­tal; in the same pe­riod, In­dia came in sec­ond with seven per cent of the global arms im­port.

China cur­rently has the most ac­tive land-based bal­lis­tic and cruise mis­sile pro­gramme, and is heav­ily in­vest­ing in anti-satel­lite weapons and sur­veil­lance tech­nolo­gies, and boost­ing its cy­ber­at­tack ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Work­ing on the premise that the In­dian Ocean is the Silk Road of the 21st cen­tury, China is also seek­ing to trans­form its navy from a 'green wa­ter' to 'blue wa­ter' force in an ef­fort to se­cure mar­itime routes. The Peo­ple's Lib­er­a­tion Army Navy has there­fore in­vested in stealth sub­marines, anti-ship mis­siles and con­ven­tional war­ships.

For its part, In­dia's mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion plan com­prises a $100bn al­lo­ca­tion for weapons pro­cure­ment over 10 to 20 years. This in­cludes $11bn for a 126unit medium, multi-role air­craft com­pe­ti­tion and $12bn to ex­pand the In­dian navy to 160 ships by 2022 in an ef­fort to bal­ance China's in­creased naval pres­ence.

US re­sponses to China's ris­ing mil­i­tary might are ex­pected to add fur­ther im­pe­tus to In­dia's mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion plan (con­sider In­dia's pur­chase of 10 cargo planes dur­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama's visit to New Delhi in Novem­ber). This plan faces a va­ri­ety of prob­lems, in­clud­ing cor­rup­tion, en­tan­gled pro­cure­ment pro­to­cols and a lack of vi­sion and co­or­di­na­tion so en­demic that the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion's Stephen Co­hen and Su­nil Das­gupta have de­scribed it as "arm­ing with­out aim­ing". But no mat­ter.

In an ef­fort to bal­ance the In­dian Army's weapons pro­cure­ment and growth, the Pak­istan Army will seek to pur­sue and le­git­imise those for­eign poli­cies that yield the best real re­turns (read arms deals). The past week's fake ca­bles saga her­alds what shape that le­git­imi­sa­tion process might take.

And so it is that re­gional mil­i­tary de­vel­op­ments will ex­ac­er­bate Pak­istan's do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal turmoil.

As the Pak­istan Army's need to ac­cess to more weapons, technology, and train­ing be­comes ur­gent, the civil-mil­i­tary power strug­gle for con­trol over pol­i­tics, pol­i­cy­mak­ing, and the pub­lic sphere's per­cep­tion of these mat­ters will in­ten­sify. The army knows that its in­sti­tu­tional devel­op­ment de­pends on its for­eign pol­icy cre­den­tials and its po­lit­i­cal ca­pac­ity to emerge as a guar­an­tor of re­gional diplo­macy.

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