The Obama administration is sharply expanding American weapons transfers to both India and Pakistan, longtime rivals about to sit down for peace talks Thursday.
The U.S. has sought to remain neutral in the thorny relationship between the nuclear-armed neighbors. But Washington hasn’t been shy about pursuing weapons deals in the region, which officials say will lead to closer ties with each country while creating new opportunities for American defense firms.
The U.S. has made billions of dollars in weapons deals with India, which is in the midst of a five-year, $50 billion push to modernize its military.
At the same time, American military aid to Pakistan stands to nearly double next year, allowing Islamabad to acquire more U.S.-made helicopters, night-vision goggles and other military equipment. The aid has made it easier for Pakistan to ramp up its fight against militants on the Afghan border, as the U.S. tries to convince Islamabad that its biggest security threat is within the country, not in India.
During a late January trip to Islamabad, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. would for the first time give Pakistan a dozen surveillance drones, a longstanding Pakistani request.
But India and Pakistan have each been irked when the U.S. made big-ticket weapons sales or transfers to the other. India lobbied against recent U.S. legislation giving Pakistan billions of dollars in new nonmilitary aid; the measure passed. A top Pakistani diplomat warned last week that a two-year-old civilian nuclear deal between the U.S. and India could threaten Pakistan’s national security by making it easier for India to covertly build more nuclear weapons.
Washington’s relationships with the two nations are very different. India, which is wealthier and larger than its neighbor, pays for weapons purchases with its own funds. Pakistan, by contrast, uses American grants to fund most of its arms purchases. A new U.S. counterinsurgency assistance fund for Pakistan is slated to increase from $700 million in fiscal year 2010 to $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2011.
“We do straight commercial deals with India, while Pakistan effectively uses the money we give them to buy our equipment,” said a U.S. official who works with the two countries. “But we think that’s ultimately in our national interest because it makes the Pakistanis more capable of dealing with their homegrown terrorists.”