The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pakistan spills Indo-US air games secret

Washington, Jan. 28: Unlike several of his soft-spoken predecessors, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri believes that offence is a tool of diplomacy.

On his first visit to Washington as Pakistan’s new foreign minister, Kasuri has stirred up a storm by revealing a hitherto secret Indo-US military exercise with fighter aircraft for 2004, which threatens not only to pit the Russian defence establishment against South Block, but also upset backers of General Pervez Musharraf in the Pentagon.

Thanks to Kasuri’s tactic of conducting diplomacy through the media, the US Air Force was forced to admit yesterday that the proposed exercise was designed for US pilots to engage Russian-built state-of-the-art Sukhoi aircraft now with the Indian Air Force.

Returning the favour, IAF pilots flying Sukhoi-30s will engage USAF pilots in F-15-C planes that are superior to F-16s, which would be one of Pakistan’s vehicles for dropping nuclear weapons on India if it ever comes to that.

Kasuri’s account of the planned Indo-US exercise, which he revealed at a meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Post was very subtly presented at that meeting as a threat to Musharraf’s stability instead of a factor undermining Pakistan’s security.

And to whet the news appetite of the Post reporters, Kasuri let it slip that he would be talking about it to US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of the most influential men in the George W. Bush administration.

As soon as the meeting with Kasuri was over, the newspaper’s reporters rushed to the US defence department for details of what was planned with India.

What aroused their interest was the unprecedented opportunity for the USAF to test its skill against Sukhoi-30s or Sukhoi-27s.

Confronted with the beans which Kasuri had spilled, Major James Law, spokesman for the USAF’s headquarters for Pacific operations said: “We requested those aircraft because the USAF already participates in exercises with countries that have the Jaguar, Mirage, and MiGs”, other aircraft flown by the IAF.

Law tried to underplay the secrecy behind the military plans with India by arguing that “we are still in the early planning stages of this exercise”.

It is not clear where the idea of pitting Sukhoi fighters against F-15-Cs originated. But there is speculation that it may have been proposed by India instead of the other way round.

This is because in the 1990s, India proposed military exercises with Iran in which the two sides used Russian-built Kilo class submarines and US-made PC-3 Orion planes.

At that time, Pakistan was in the process of acquiring these aircraft from the US. Powerful sections of the Indian establishment were opposed to the exercises with Iran lest it upset New Delhi’s ties with the US and the Gulf states.

But the argument was that the IAF needed to engage the PC-3 Orion and test the Kilo submarine’s performance in warm waters instead of the severe cold in the Russian north where they are built and usually deployed.

Defence analysts here believe the exercise planned for next year will be crucial for India since they could open the eyes of IAF pilots on how to counter Pakistan’s ability to use aircraft — instead of missiles — to launch nuclear weapons against India.

The proposal is certain to upset Russia, which would be opposed to USAF pilots coming to grips with the Sukhois, which are considered the best fighter planes yet made by Russia.

In revealing the exercise Kasuri may have also smoothened the path for Musharraf, who is to shortly visit Moscow.

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