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Rediff.com  » News » Despite Pak 'modifying harpoons against India,' US aid is assured

Despite Pak 'modifying harpoons against India,' US aid is assured

September 05, 2009 01:18 IST
The New York Times report that Pakistan illegally modified the harpoon anti-ship missile provided by the United States apparently to bolster its conventional weaponry against India, has embarrassed the Obama administration and Senators John F Kerry and Richard Lugar -- the chairman and ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- just as Washington is poised to provide Islamabad with a massive economic and military largesse of $ 7.5 billion over five years.

Kerry and Lugar are the co-authors of this massive aid bill to PakistanĀ  -- a clone of which was authored by Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- that has progressed through the Senate and House Committees and after a final vote in the two chambers is to be signed into law by United States President Barack Obama.

Aides to both the lawmakers contacted by rediff.com, refused comment beyond saying 'we are studying this report,' and waiting for 'the investigation to be completed,' before reacting to the New York Times story, but expressed confidence that they do not see the aid package to Pakistan being adversely impacted.

But, aides to Senators Carl Levin and Robert Menendez, both Democrats, with Levin being the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and Menendez, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee -- who have both expressed deep concern over continuing to provide Pakistan with massive amounts of aid since the Congress's investigative arm, the General Accounting Office, has in recent reports found that US military aid to Pakistan meant to fight the insurgency in Pakistan and the threat posed by the Taliban and Al Qaeda had been diverted to beefing up its conventional arsenal to target India -- and strongly expressed these fears during the Pakistan aid deliberations, said they would seek answers to this report and try to put a hold on the aid package, although however acknowledging doubts they would succeed.

But one aide told rediff.com, "Clearly, this report, it true, lends credence to our long-held concerns that Pakistan continues to misuse the security assistance that we provide for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations and is more interested in building up a stockpile for a possible conflict with India."

"We will certainly pursue the facts behind this very troubling report," when Congress reconvenes this week, the aide added, but reiterated that Kerry and Lugar had steamrolled their legislation (first proposedĀ  by then Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and now vice president Joe Biden along with Lugar) with strong support from the Obama administration eliminating several proposed amendments that would specifically condition this aid, and predicted that it was highly unlikely that the latest report of alleged Pakistani chicanery would throw a spanner in the works of a bill on the verge of signature by President Obama as vital to the efficacy of his Af-Pak strategy.

When State Department spokesman Ian Kelly was asked about the report of Pakistan's illegal modification -- which Islamabad has strongly denied with its Ambassador in the US, Husain Haqqani even going to the extent of alleging that it's all a part of an anti-Pakistan conspiracy by vested cabals--and India's concerns, he bristled, and retorted, "You'll have to talk to the government of India if they've had any reaction to these press reports."

He said, "We've seen these reports in The New York Times. We take the possibility of any potential of any violations of obligations entered into pursuant to the Arms Control Act -- we take these allegations very seriously."

Kelly, confirming the contention in the report that US intelligence had found such a violation and Washington had taken it up with Islamabad, said, "We have engaged the government of Pakistan at the highest levels."

"We recently negotiated an agreement in principle to establish mutually agreed inspections to address possible modifications to any arms that we've transferred, and we've notified Congress of potential violations of obligations entered in pursuant to the Arms Control Act to ensure that key leaders are provided information on US efforts to address them," he said.

When asked if the President's Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke during his recent trip to Pakistan had raised these questions with the Pakistani authorities, Kelly said, "First of all, I am talking in very general terms. I am not addressing theseĀ  -- this particular allegation. And I am not aware of any representations by Ambassador Holbrooke."

Between 1985 and 1988, when the Central Intelligence Agency and the Inter Services Intelligence were working in concert to train and equip the Afghan Mujaheddin fighting the erstwhile Soviet troops following Moscow's invasion of Afghanistan, the Reagan administration delivered 165 harpoon missiles to Pakistan.

In the wake of the NYT report, Congressman Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and the fiercest non-proliferation advocate in the US House, who also vehemently opposed the US-India civilian nuclear deal, fired off a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting information on the report saying "If (recent media reports) true, the modification of these would be a violation of the Arms Control Act."

"In addition," Markey, he founder and co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation, said, "This would be yet another provocative and destabilizing action which threatens the delicate relationship between India and Pakistan."

The lawmaker in his missive to Clinton argued, "The nascent nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan is extraordinarily worrisome, as both countries appear to be increasing their ability to manufacture nuclear weapons. It is for this reason that I opposed both the US-India nuclear deal, which will allow India to free up extra domestic uranium for nuclear weapons production if it chooses, as well as the construction of new plutonium production reactors in Pakistan, which could increase the size of Islamabad's nuclear arsenal."

Markey wrote Clinton that it is imperative that "the United States must discourage the development of destabilizing offensive weaponry by either country, such as the alleged modification of harpoon."

"In order to understand the facts and circumstances surrounding Pakistan's actions," Markey sought answers to specific questions on the reported modification of the Harpoon. The questions mentioned in the letter are as follows:

  • Did the United States government lodge a protest or otherwise communicate either formally or informally, with the government of Pakistan regarding that country's US-exported harpoon missiles? If so, what was the content of that protest?
  • Has Pakistan, as reported, allowed American officials to inspect Pakistan's harpoon inventory to determine if modifications have been made? If so, has that inspection taken place? Were all of the harpoon missiles exported by the United States to Pakistan inspected? Were any modifications made to the missiles?
  • Does the Department of State believe that the harpoon missiles in Pakistan's inventory can be armed with nuclear warheads? Does the Department of State believe that Pakistan has armed or intends to arm any of its harpoon missiles with nuclear warheads?
  • Does the Department of State believe that Pakistan has violated its commitment made under the harpoon export licenses? What repercussions are stipulated by the Arms Export Control Act in such a case?
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC