KARACHI – Alarm and dismay have been the general reaction in Pakistan to news of a framework agreement on defense cooperation signed between India, its long-standing rival in South Asia and the United States which, only a year ago, accorded this country the status of "major non-NATO ally."
Many said the agreement signed late June cast a long shadow over a peace process that the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors have been engaged in since January last year and that has already seen resumption of road services between the Indian and Pakistan controlled parts of Kashmir, more than half a century after the territory was carved up by the two countries.
Said Mairaj Muhammad Khan, senior politician and former minister of a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government said: "By this agreement, the U.S. is queering the pitch for both India and Pakistan. The peace process cannot but be affected because the first consequence of this agreement an intensification of the arms race now underway between India and Pakistan will enhance mistrust between them."
The new "Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship" envisages the outsourcing of military functions to India, including joint operations in third countries, patrolling of sea lanes, and disaster relief operations.
Besides, the two countries have also agreed to collaborate on ballistic missile defense and other research and development efforts, and to enhance "capabilities to combat" proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to pay a state visit to the U.S. starting July 18 when the true contours of the 10-year agreement are expected to become clearer.
Khan thought that the net effect of the Indo-U.S. agreement would be that "both countries would now have their attention diverted from social sectors and worsen the problem of widespread poverty they both face in order to find ever more resources for military spending."
"The importance of the Indo-Pakistan peace process, newly endangered, is significant not only for the people of India and Pakistan but also for the region as a whole which has a stake in the normalization of the situation in South Asia," the elder statesman said in an interview with IPS.
There were fears that the Indo-U.S. agreement would result in the destabilization of the minority Congress Party-led coalition government of Manmohan Singh, which draws critical support from communist allies that have already expressed opposition to the military deal.
B.M. Kutty, information secretary to the National Workers Party said he could not see how India’s communist parties would reconcile themselves to the defense arrangement.
"They [the communist parties] would argue that the development is bad for the Indian people and see India’s entanglement with America’s imperial designs in Asia as something inherently undesirable, and this would be unpopular throughout South Asia."
Among other things, the new deal would see the sale of 1970s vintage defense platforms, such as F-16 fighter planes, to both India and Pakistan in a situation that can only benefit its U.S. manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
Kutty said he saw Manmohan Singh’s secular government, which came to power last May, as a "hopeful development" but one that could "come unstuck because of this new agreement because India is gravely threatened by Hindu nationalist forces that are a threat to India’s long-term peace and stability."
Rahat Saeed, the noted commentator and literary figure, said he believed that in the long run the Indo-U.S. deal would have a detrimental effect "for hopes of democracy’s return to Pakistan while not strengthening democracy in India."
"The relations between a less developed and more developed country are always tilted in favor of the latter. The net effect of this agreement would be to strengthen the local versions of industrial-military complexes in India and Pakistan, mostly bureaucratic though they are in both countries but that does not reduce their strength or capacity for mischief," Saeed added.
Like others, Rahat Saeed also predicted that "social inequalities and strengthening of pro-military lobbies would weaken the peace process between India and Pakistan."
Saeed, who is organizing a "Pen-for-Peace" conference (of writers from India and Pakistan) later this year to discuss the dangers from nuclear weapons, said he was particularly worried that anti-missile defense is likely to be a major constituent of the Indo-U.S. agreement. "That would be bad for South Asia as a whole," he said.
The Pakistan government has merely emphasized that acquisition of more military strength by India will destroy the balance of power between the countries, which, in its view, is bad for peace and progress.
But after initial criticism, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid M. Kasuri told reporters on July 3 that "there was no need to panic," and that Pakistan was not about to get into an arms race with India, though it would take care to "maintain credible deterrence" to ensure its sovereignty. President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz have already declared that Pakistan would continue to work hard to maintain a meaningful balance of power with India and that Islamabad would do everything in its power to remove any imbalance. Some analysts said such comments were an indication of what is likely to be the first consequence of the Indo-U.S. agreement that it would lock India into Washington’s designs over Asia and make the whole region uneasy and fearful.