Hunt for tangible sweeteners

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  • Published 27.03.05

New Delhi, March 27: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to iterate his unhappiness and unease at the sale of F-16 fighters to Pakistan when he meets President George W. Bush in Moscow in May, official sources said.

Singh is expected to restate the four points he made to the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, when she broached the subject in her meeting with him recently in Delhi.

The four points are:

Pakistan does not need F-16s to fight terrorism and there were other ways of ?rewarding? it

The sale would have an adverse impact on the security environment in the subcontinent

The sale would divert attention as well as resources to arms acquisition when bilateral relations are improving the focus is on development

?Mere words? to sweeten the deal for India will not be acceptable

India, the sources said, was not ?taken in? with the advanced aircraft offer because the air force considers the French-made Mirage a more ?attractive? option.

?At the end of the day, Pakistan has got the planes and India, loads of sweet assurances,? the sources said, referring to the offer of cooperation in nuclear technology and co-production of some defence items.

The sources added that while some of the promises may become tangible realities at a later stage, the Prime Minister was not inclined to give the benefit of doubt to the US right now.

?Only tangible outcomes count, and that is the transfer of planes to Islamabad,? one of the sources said.

However, the sources said, if Rice?s offer of nuclear technology cooperation was a ?serious, considered and realisable? one, it would signal a major policy shift on America?s part towards India.

Politically, South Block is wary of how the F-16 sale will play out in the country.

The BJP is expected to give its ?considered? view tomorrow. The Congress, which was supposed to have released a statement today, has put it off until tomorrow.

It is believed that the Prime Minister spoke to Congress president Sonia Gandhi after Bush called him on Friday evening. The Congress is said to be not too happy with the sale.

The BJP, said sources, will labour the point that although the US was bound to ?redeem? its pledge of selling the F-16s to Pakistan sooner or later, the Vajpayee government, through ?its superior knowledge and use of statecraft?, was able to prevent it.

The CPI came out strongly against the US move and warned that India should not fall into Washington?s ?trap? and accept its offer of aircraft.