The troubling news on Friday that the U.S. is finally agreeing to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan caught everyone by surprise, and with good reason. Apparently, the reversal of a fifteen-year ban is a reward to Pakistan for being an ally in the war on terrorism. This is President Bush's way of "scratching the back" of Pakistan's autocratic ruler, Gen. Perves Musharraf, after being on the receiving end of favors in the past few years.
I strongly question Bush's decision for numerous reasons. The first would be to counter the principle rationale for this deal--that Pakistan has been very helpful in anti-terrorism operations after September 11, 2001. While this may be true, Bush is too easily discounting Pakistan's contributions to the other side. A.Q. Khan's nuclear proliferation network aided some of the worst enemies of our country--Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea. Yet his actions, and their potentially serious consequences, have not factored it into Bush's assesment of Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to do nothing to rein in terrorists in its portion of the disputed region of Kashmir, leaving those groups unmolested and free to attack India.
Which raises my second argument against Bush's staunch support of Pakistan. Obviously, Pakistan's neighbor and rival, India, is displeased with the decision. The largest secular democracy in the world appears to be the Rodney Dangerfield of Asia in that it "don't get no respect." As my dad pointed out, it appeared earlier this week that this was finally about to change. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, former ambassador Robert Blackwill argued for "A New Deal for New Delhi", to recognize the "congruent vital national interests" of the U.S. and India. Blackwill readily proposed that Pakistan be sidelined.
On the same day, the New York Times featured an argument by former senator Larry Pressler entitled "Dissing Democracy in Asia". Pressler proved the need for a "fundamental policy shift" to a "robust pro-India stance" by constrasting, as Blackwill did, India's free, open, peaceful nature with Pakistan's opposite characteristics. Part of Bush's "expansion of freedom and liberty" should include choosing "free" India over "dictatorship" Pakistan, said Pressler. He even went so far as to suggest that the U.S. strengthen its alliance with India so as to offset a rising China, a move I heartily endorse.
The Bush administration announced that it is willing to sell lots of fighter planes to India as well, if India desires. Small comfort. Has he forgotten that India and Pakistan--nuclear powers, both--came to the brink of war in 2002? Having already sold out to Pakistan, the quick fix for the U.S. is to up the ante in India's favor. Yet the only real winner from all of this is Lockheed Martin. For the future, Bush would do well to choose his friends wisely, and always err on the side of freedom.