It is sad that American public never bothers about what happens in South Asia or what is Administration's policy towards South Asia or how contradictory President Bush's rhetoric and his policy is. The hope is about Media, which will remove this shroud. So far they have not, but there are couple of good articles in San Jose Mercury News by it's Asia reporter Daniel Snider. NY Times also wrote a good editorial about this.
Whichever way one looks at it, this development is very sad, cynical and definitely set back to India. Suddenly it shows the vulnerability of India. All said and done F-16 will provide an edge to Pakistan. Tough part is it can carry Nuclear weapons. India's government kind of failed to prepare Indian public for this development - it was writing on wall that America would offer these planes at any time to Pakistan. Further, knowing all these years (more than a decade) India did not prepare the alternative systematically and continued to kill literally many of it's pilots in the aging Mig 21s (so many of them die in test piloting those old planes). I do not believe French or Swedish fighter planes could be as powerful as F-16. The reason being overall except America and Russia to certain extent; fighter plane building industry has dramatically declined all over the world. There are no true competing alternatives in Europe (well, they do not want to spend on R&D of weapons and they do not need as well). So the only realistic viable option to get something of standard of F-16 is Sukoi from Russia. But India has not moved substantially on that part. It will be really risky to hold to America's promise of providing advanced F-16 to India as well. I think Congress approval is needed and it means lot of pork barrel politics and delay. Anyways the process will be long with danger of dropping the ball at any time. Some how this whole development does not leave a good taste and something ominous is suggested. It is bound to push India in the catch up game so politicians are engrossed in that and at least $3 to $5 Billions will be shelled out. Classic example of what happens when a country does not prepare itself for the strategic challenges knowing those are coming. If India sees a road without all these weapons, it needs to articulate that vision too. In absence of such a vision, India is at a risk in terms potential attacks and it's security vulnerable.
On this background, it is bit hard to imagine how there could be a confidence created in minds of other countries when India wants to stake the claim for a seat on UN Security Council. Here is a country which struggles to address it's own strategic challenges and we want it to play a leading peace keeping role in the world. It is same with Japan in a way, but Japan has firmly decided to play a second role to American Leadership in strategic matters and their claim for Leadership is more rested on their Economic might and the foreign politics of Aid. India needs to go after Strategic Independence since Economic development is a bit long road.
About Pakistan - not much can be said. That country has less and less chance and desire to come out of this vicious grip of Military based culture and politics. The rational approach for thinking Indians is not to expect anything from Pakistan and go about your own life. I guess same with America. You become so numb with such blatant contradictions in American Policy. Administration after administration (Democrat or Republican) have followed this policy of utter insensitiveness towards India that Indians get used to it. In fact lot of Rightist criticism in India is about how Indian governments from time to time fall for the empty charms of likes of Secretary Rice and sometimes one wonder may be there is a merit in this criticism.
San Jose, CA
March 30, 2005.