Tension grows as leaders gear up for arms race

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 February, 1996, 12:00am

RELATIONS between nuclear-capable Pakistan and India are worsening as the two countries appear ready to launch south Asia's first arms race.

India raised the stakes last week by testing its longer range surface-to-surface missile.

Pakistan said it would give an 'adequate' response, hinting it would re-activate its advanced ballistic missile programme.

Artillery fire then broke out across the disputed line of control between the two countries in the northern state of Kashmir, leading to deaths on the two sides.

And both prime ministers, P. V. Narasimha Rao and Benazir Bhutto, announced that efforts were being made to maintain military preparedness at the 'highest possible level'.

Meanwhile, analysts said India was furious over a US$368 million (HK$2.84 billion) arms package to Pakistan from the United States.

The deal had been made despite a longstanding embargo on Islamabad over its nuclear weapons programme.

The ban - imposed in the late 1980s - was lifted temporarily under an amendment which received overwhelming support and which was proposed for a 'loyal ally'.

Pakistan will get three P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, engine upgrades for nuclear-capable F-16 fighters, night fighting capability for helicopter gunships and a variety of missiles, including 28 Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Indian military officials dismissed Pakistani claims that the US arms deal would not affect the region's security balance.

'The package comprises force multipliers which will make it incumbent on India to seek comparable hardware,' said a senior officer.

Military officials were particularly disturbed by the P-3C Orions whose 3,830-kilometre radius will render a huge portion of India's coastline and off-shore oil rigs vulnerable. Indian security officials were also worried by the absence of a national security doctrine or institution dedicated exclusively to national security issues and specifically to evolving a response to the US arms package to Pakistan.

Since independence, the Cabinet or the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs has dealt casually with security-related issues, leading to ad hoc decisions and knee-jerk reactions.

Committee members concede bureaucratic control over security issues has progressively isolated the military from the decision-making process on defence matters, leaving novices to deal with delicate security issues.

And though successive governments since the 1980s had been promising an independent National Security Council, no moves had been made to establish one, an analyst said.

'Until there is a co-ordinated approach to security matters, India's response to dealing with serious issues like the impending arms race in south Asia will, at best, remain confused and panicky,' the defence expert said.