by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Angel Fire, N.M.
July 2, 2008
OBAMA, YOU'RE LOSING ME!
WASHINGTON, June 30, 2008 -- The interests of the U.S. military-industrial complex appear to take precedence over U.S. national interests and human rights concerns, a recent transfer of fighter jets to Pakistan shows.
From behind the ivory tower called the White House on New Year's Eve, even as the ground in Rawalpindi - headquarters of Pakistan's military - was wet with the blood of twice-premier Benazir Bhutto, the Bush Administration okayed the delivery of deadly F-16 jets to Pakistan worth nearly $500 million.
The manufacturer in question, Lockheed Martin has had a history of bribing foreign officials for arms purchases and though a special law was enacted to quell such bribery three decades ago, the practice seems to still be continuing vis-à-vis Pakistan, an elected official in that country said.
The lone voice of protest to the arms sales was that of Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations on the grounds that it was okayed prior to the general elections. Biden called the move "reckless."
Pakistan, with a population of 165 million, despite being rich in resources is one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking around 135 on the Human Development Index. Still the military generals in the South Asian country are filthy rich thanks to corruption and bribery, a big chunk of which comes through arms purchases from the United States.
Pakistan spends most of its $10 billion annual budget on its military on a plea of deterrence against arch-rival India, from which it was carved in a bloody war of independence that opitted Muslims against Hindus when the British left the Indian subcontinent in August 1947.
The country was formed by slicing off Muslim majority areas in the northwest and southwest portions of India. At the time of its formation, Pakistan had two parts, each separated by 1000 miles of Indian territory, called East Pakistan and West Pakistan. After the 1971-72 Indo-Pak War, East Pakistan became Bangladesh, a nation that has foundered in corruption, political chaos, natural disasters and poverty ever since.
Since its founding, Pakistan's main focus has been developing its military, which now ranks fifth in the world in size - just one step behind the U.S. - leaving its growth as a modern society stymied. Ironically, after assuming the leadership role of the so-called Free World after World War II, for more than a half-century now, the United States has nurtured Pakistan's military fotrces in the name of its own vital interests.
According to official U.S. thinking even to this day, Pakistan's military is "the greatest single stabilizing force in the country."
According to the World Bank, Pakistan's social indicators still lag far behind countries with comparable per-capita incomes - now less than $2 a day. Poverty rates, which had fallen substantially in the 1980s and early 1990s, have started to rise in the last 10 years. Among the most vulnerable are the poor in rural areas, where only 2 out of 10 girls and 4 out 10 boys complete their education. Less than half of the overall population is considered literate, but in the far-flung countryside the literacy rate plunges as low as 10 percent, thus providing fertile grounds for Islamic militancy.
Pakistan joined the World Bank in July of 1950 and by 1954 was a member of U.S.-lead aggressive military pacts called SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organization) and CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) in the name of fighting the global communist threat. It was around this time Islamabad began purchasing huge arms caches from the United States. Today, Pakistan owes the World Bank $10 billion, a sum that, not astonishingly, is equal to that of its arms purchases from the U.S.
Pakistan has been ruled directly by U.S.-supported military dictators for 33 years of its "independent" existence. The first military coup leader Gen. Ayub Khan ruled from October 1958 to March 1969; his successor Gen. Yahya Khan from March 1969 to December 1971.
Gen. Ziaul Haq, like Ayub Khan was a coup leader, was the third military dictator who ruled the country from July1977 to August 1988. The latest among coup leaders is Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in October 1999 and is still the president.
In the backdrop of Cold War, the U.S. arms manufacturers saw an opportunity in Pakistan's paranoid behavior towards India and began pumping arms into that country. Pakistan was designated most "allied ally" of the U.S., or for lack of better words, a client state.
Officials in Washington defend Pakistan's right to arm itself to the teeth. "I think it's the right of every country to modernize its army," said William B. Milam, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. Milam said he had heard "rumors" about corruption in the Pakistan army leadership. "If that it's true or untrue I can't say for sure because I do not have conclusive proof," he added.
Milam also ruled out any possibility of Lockheed Martin giving bribes to Pakistan generals for the F-16 sales saying such a practice violates U.S. laws. "If this was true they would be in jail," he said.
But bribery is not a new thing for Lockheed Martin Corporation . The nearly 100-year-old company, which was once called Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company, got mired in bribery scandals that made international headlines in the mid 1970s. At that time the corprotation earned infamy for what was called the "Deal of the Century" - it was revealed that board members had bribed officials in West Germany, the Netherlands, and Japan starting from the late 1950s to the 1970s in the process of negotiating aircraft sales.
Pakistan might have missed mention, an interesting episode from the late 1990s reveals. At that point of time in the wake of Pakistan's nuclear program, the delivery of 28 F-16s for which Pakistan had paid the monies was canceled under the Pressler Amendment, which forbade U.S. arms sales to countries engaged in clandestine nuclear weapons program.
Though the Pentagon was willing to reimburse the monies, a problem cropped up on how to account for the commissions that were given to generals close to coup leader Musharraf's predecessor, Gen. Ziaul Haq.
"One of Zia's closest generals, the late Gen. Fazle Haq, had got his commission and was dead and there was no way to give back those monies," Mir Hasil Bizenjo, secretary general of the National Party told this correspondent. During his lifetime Fazle Haq, who was also known as "Pakistan's Noriega", had unabashedly told the New York Times at a news conference that under Zia he "could get away with blue murder."
Enriched through corruption, Pakistani generals who ruled the country under direct U.S. tutelage for more than three decades , have left all democratic institutions, including the judiciary, destroyed. Instead, they promoted the military as a national institution. "This is strange. In my civic lessons I learned there are three institutions - legislature, executive and judiciary.
The army is supposed to be an organ of the executive not an institution by itself," says Senator Javed Laghari, a close confidante of slain premier Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated on December 27 last year. There is widespread suspicion that intelligence agencies related to the army had a hand in Bhutto's slaying.
Since its very inception, the masses in Pakistan have been fed on the opium of Islam to counter centrifugal nationalist tendencies. Pakistan has the dubious distinction of being the world's only Muslim country with nuclear weapons. Headquarters of Al Qaeda following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, in the rural countryside of the most populous Punjab province - stronghold of the army - Bin Laden is a folk hero called "Baba."
Pakistan's military also has refused to hand over the world's worst nuclear proliferators, father of the Islamic Bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan for international interrogation. U.S. media reports have belatedly cited Pakistan as one of the most dangerous places on earth.
According to the Arms Control Association, Pakistan is estimated as having an arsenal of approximately 60 nuclear warheads. Available delivery vehicles include ground-launched ballistic missiles and dual-use fighter aircraft, reportedly including U.S.-origin F-16 fighter jets. The fighter jets were not transferred for the purpose of delivering nuclear bombs, but Pakistan is believed to have modified the planes for that mission, the ACA believes.
The association says Pakistan continues to produce fissile material for weapons purposes and is seeking to expand its production capacity by building additional nuclear facilities, including a heavy water reactor. Pakistan is currently estimated to possess approximately 1,300 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and 90 kilograms of weapons plutonium.
Interestingly, the arms manufacturing lobbies in the U.S. appear to be in a position to continue to pump in arms in spite of the many threats emanating from Pakistan and its continued support to the Taliba'an. Casting aside diplomatic silence, both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and commanders of the International Security Assistance Force have come out openly against Pakistan in recent days.
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. instead of putting Pakistan on a watch list for its Al Qaeda ties, the U.S. lifted the arms embargo that was put in place after Pakistan came out of nuclear closets and tested nuclear bombs in May 1998.
Since 9/11, the country has ranked among the top recipients of U.S. military equipment and received $1.5 billion in Coalition Support Funds, which is reimbursed as cash to partake in the war on terror with very little congressional oversight, according to the Center for Public integrity. A new installement of nearly $400 million was released Monday though the death toll in Afghanistan surpassed those in Iraq in the month of May. US officials said 18 coalition troops were killed in action last month in Afghanistan, compared with 16 killed in Iraq.
Human rights activists in and outside Pakistan fear the U.S. military supplies - in spite of Pakistan's Al Qaeda links and its blossoming nuclear weapons program - in the name of fighting terrorism , are being used against the area-wise Baluchistan province, bordering Iran and Afghanistan.
A bloody armed insurgency - the fifth of its kind - in Baluchistan over the last three years has left thousands killed, including former chief minister Nawab Akbar Bugti and a member of provincial assembly and guerilla leader Mir Bala'ach Marri, called Baluch Che Guevara. Baluchistan nationalists insist that their homeland was coerced into merger with Pakistan against the wishes of its people in March 1948.
London-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell denounced the F-16 jet sales to Pakistan. He told The American Reporter, "President George W. Bush is complicit in the war crimes, torture and other crimes against humanity being perpetrated by Musharraf's army of occupation in Baluchistan."
Dr. Wahid Baloch, founder of the Baloch Social Organization of North America, a group aimed at protecting human rights in Baluchistan, also deplores the continued U.S. arms dealings with Pakistan.
Baloch said the arms supplies escalate "collateral damage" in his home province of Baluchistan.
"The Pakistani Air Force Chief has acknowledged that fighter jets have been used in Baluchistan against 'the insurgents'," he adds. He said Pakistan's army has ruthlessly dealt with its national minorities, and drew a stark parallel between what is happening in Baluchistan to the bloodshed unleashed by Pakistan's army in the former East Pakistan. There, the army was justly accused of massacring hundreds of thousands of Bengali fighters in 1971.
Baloch cited published reports that claimed that the weaponry being used in Baluchistan includes American-supplied helicopter gunships, fighter jets, heavy artillery and missiles.
"Civilian concentrations have frequently been targeted. Many innocent civilians, including women and children, have been killed or have 'disappeared.' Exact numbers are hard to find given the complete clampdown on reportage and information from Baluchistan," he said.
A former member of Pakistan's National Assembly, Rauf Mengal, said people in Baluchistan were helpess before the army's offensive. "Many are still languishing in prisons," he said on phone from Quetta, capital of Baluchistan.
"U.S. arms sales have propped up the Musharraf dictatorship and facilitated Pakistan's murderous war against the people of Baluchistan," Tachell said from London. "The U.S. fought a war of independence to secure self-determination and self-rule. Yet, as Baluchistan mourns its 60 years of forcible incorporation into Pakistan, Washington is aiding the neo-colonialists in Islamabad," said Tatchell, who recently "ambushed" Musharraf's limousine in London with other demonstrators.
A new government assumed office in Pakistan in March, under Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. It has set up a reconciliation commission for peace in Baluchistan, but Baluchi nationalists have taken the move with a proverbial grain of salt.
"Unless both the military's budget and its dominant role in Pakistan politics is cut drastically, nothing will change," said Baloch.
One dimension of the arms supplies is that the dangers they pose go far beyond Pakistan's borders, as these weapons could further destabilize the security environment in an already fragile South Asia. Pakistan has fought three wars with India, and fears still loom large that Pakistan's new nuclear-ready F-16s would be used against India. Pakistan has made it amply clear it would not shy away from being the first to use nuclear weapons.
"I would simply say there are two aspects of the U.S. military aid to Pakistan since 9/11 that raise questions," said Selig. S. Harrison, veteran journalist and Asia Director of the Center for International Policy. "One of them is the fact that much of the military equipment transferred to Pakistan in the name of war on terror is more suited to conventional warfare against India than to counter terrorism operations.
"The other is that the so-called Coalition Support Funds dispensed in cash to Pakistan armed forces - nominally as reimbursement for counterterrorism operations - which have amounted to nearly $6 billion dollars since 9/11, are not subject to strict accountability. In addition to the possibility of large-scale corruption, this lack of accountability also raises serious questions concerning the use of these funds to build capabilities relating to India."
A regrettable aspect of military equipment sales to Pakistan is that many of the 16 members on the Lockheed Martin board are on the board of key centers of learning, like Stanford and Harvard universities, and at least two of them are associated with the U.S. media.
One of the officials is Douglas H. McCorkindale, a former chairman of Gannett Co., Inc. who is now on the board of directors of the global U.S.-based news service, the Associated Press.
A second board member is Frank Savage, who serves on the board of the global Bloomberg, L.P., news agency. It might be these kinds of links that have led many to criticize the U.S. media of playing cheer leaders to the Pentagon - key issues like arms supplies get scant mention in mainstream U.S. media. Ahmar Mustikhan is a freelance journalist, now based in the Washington D.C. area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.