Washington, June 1: After three months of intense debate within the Bush administration over General Pervez Musharrafís inability to deliver Osama bin Laden or his deputy to the Americans, Washington has finally decided that the answer to Pakistanís double-dealing is to shower its military junta with more gifts and incentives.
Yesterdayís announcement here that Pakistan will get a new package of military goodies worth $370 million is the latest in a string of efforts by the Bush administration since September 11, 2001, to mollycoddle the Pakistani dictator, who has proved to be more than a match for Washington.
The latest package will enable Pakistanís men in uniform to acquire 130 Block II Harpoon missiles, five Encapsulated Harpoon Command Launch Systems, 115 containers for the systems, missile modifications, training devices, spare parts, technical support, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, technical data and publications, US government and contractor engineering and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support.
What is different about this proposed sale is that most similar recent transactions between Washington and Islamabad involved military equipment required by Pakistan to fight the Taliban and al Qaida.
In December last year, the US announced the sale of 115 Howitzers to Pakistan and in May 2005, a deal for 300 Sidewinder missiles was announced.
But it was expressly mentioned that these were meant to support US-led coalition military operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and to control Pakistanís terrorist-infested tribal areas.
The sale of F-16s was an exception since it was an issue of prestige for the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi, having been denied the planes earlier after Islamabad paid for them.
It now appears that a sale of 60 Harpoon Block II missiles last time was a trial effort. India did not actively protest against the sale then.
The Harpoons cannot be used against followers of bin Laden or Talibanís Mullah Omar. They can only be used against India.
Fifty of the new missiles can be launched from submarines, 50 from ships and 30 from aircraft. These missiles are expected, in part, to be Pakistanís answer to the rapid modernisation of the Indian navy.
When Pakistanís defence secretary, retired Lt. Gen. Tariq Waseem Ghazi, came to Washington in early May and met Eric Edelman, the US under-secretary of defence for policy, for two days of talks under the umbrella of their joint Defence Consultative Group (DCG), Ghazi is understood to have minced no words about Islamabadís disappointment with the US over defence procurement.
Ghaziís meetings were preceded by intense wrangling at a session of their joint Military Cooperation Committee on May 1 and a Security Assistance Working Group on May 2. Complementing these meetings was a review at their joint counter-terrorism working group on May 3.
Since Bush returned from Islamabad in March, his administration has been in the throes of a debate whether Musharraf is really doing all he can against the Taliban and al Qaida within Pakistan.
The latest military sale is a signal that this debate has ended with the conclusion that Washington has no option but to play along with the wily general.
Last month, a US official said in Islamabad that legislation would be introduced in Congress to establish Economic Opportunities Zones in Pakistanís terrorist-infested tribal areas. Goods produced in these zones will be given duty-free access to the US market.