Thursday, June 26, 2003

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf yesterday said he hopes the United States will sell his country sophisticated military hardware for its defense needs, including F-16 jets and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles, but if the request is denied he will seek weapons from other countries.

“Pakistan will not compromise on its strategy of minimum deterrence,” Gen. Musharraf told editors and reporters during a luncheon at The Washington Times.

“So we obviously will look everywhere to maintain the strategy of minimum deterrence. Wherever it may be in the world, we will look for it.”

Gen. Musharraf, who earlier this week received a $3 billion aid package from the White House, said Pakistan’s security is being threatened by India’s growing military power. The aid will be divided equally between economic and military assistance, White House officials said.

The request for Predators joins a military relationship including a long dispute over delivery of 60 F-16s blocked from export by the United States’ nonproliferation legislation in 1992.

Gen. Musharraf said the Predator is needed to help Pakistan in its intelligence-oriented war against al Qaeda terrorists.

“We have 500,000 troops in our army and we know how to fight,” Gen. Musharraf said. “Just give us technical assistance. Tell us where these people are. Locate them for us. Locate them with your satellites; use your UAVs; give us the UAVs. Give us the eyes and ears and we will act.”

To date the United States has not exported Predators. It is considered one of the U.S. military’s leading-edge tools. The Predator drone comes in two versions, one limited to intelligence-gathering and one equipped with Hellfire antitank missiles.

Predators were used to track and attack fleeing Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan in 2001, and saw action in Iraq this year. A missile-armed CIA Predator hit a car full of al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen in November.

“I won’t reiterate the requirement for F-16s,” Gen. Musharraf said. “It has been said so many times. When you ask a Pakistani in the street, he will tell you about the F-16s. For the man in the streets, he will talk of either F-16s or Kashmir.”

Pakistan purchased 40 F-16 jets between 1983 and 1987. An additional order of 60 was blocked by an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act in 1992. The legislation prohibited U.S. arms sales to Pakistan unless the president could certify that country did not have nuclear weapons.

Some of the fighters had already been paid for with about $280 million in advance payments.

Regarding Pakistan’s ties to North Korea, Gen. Musharraf said he has seen no proof that previous Pakistani governments helped the communist state on nuclear weapons, and insisted that during his rule, which began in 1999, no Pakistani nuclear technology was sent to North Korea.

“Let me say for a surety as far as my government is concerned, in the past three years there were no such contacts, and there was no such collaboration,” Gen. Musharraf said.

Pakistan purchased shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles from North Korea during the recent 10-month period of tensions between India and Pakistan, he said.

“We realized that there is an imbalance in the air especially,” he said. “And we thought that can be neutralized by having more surface-to-air missiles, shoulder-fired, conventional, which we purchased for our own security.”

Gen. Musharraf also said there have been no discussions with China on Beijing’s use of the deepwater port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea coast of western Pakistan, as a naval base.

China is helping to build the port, which is strategically located near the Persian Gulf and eventually will be a major terminal for gas and oil piped from Central Asia, he said.

“We have never once discussed with China the use of this facility for military purposes,” Gen. Musharraf said. “Never has it been discussed. This is putting ideas into the minds of people that this is a Chinese naval base.”

Gen. Musharraf said Gwadar is strictly an economic benefit to Pakistan. China was asked to help build the port by providing financing and technical expertise, he said.

Pakistan also hopes the port will be a tourist attraction. It juts out from the coast like a hammerhead and is an ideal deep-water facility.

China has raised alarms among some in the Pentagon by its efforts to secure port facilities near major strategic waterways, including both sides of the Panama Canal.

U.S. officials say China in the mid-1990s provided key design and components for Pakistan’s nuclear arms. But Gen. Musharraf insisted that Pakistan’s arms scientists are completely self-sufficient.

Pakistan has had a defense relationship with China for decades “based on a threat perception” regarding India, he said.

“I think the feeling that we needed to have a strategic relationship for our own security was an answer,” he said.

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