US Not Foolish to Sell F-16s to Pakistan

I would like to comment on the opinion-page article ``A Fool's Errand in S. Asia,'' March 30, regarding the Clinton administration's recent proposal to lift, on a one-time basis, the Pressler Amendment prohibitions on military sales and assistance to Pakistan.

The author argues that Pakistan's nuclear course is unlikely to be rolled back by the offer of 38 United States F-16 fighter planes. There is reasoning to the contrary, however. It is not implausible that Pakistan might one day agree to cap its nuclear program - as long as this does not mean the elimination of the weapons-grade material it has already accumulated. While the Clinton proposal is perhaps geared more toward arms control than proliferation prevention, there is considerable merit in attempting to stop a spiraling nuclear race in South Asia.

The author again correctly asserts that ``there is little evidence that [Pakistan's] military establishment has abandoned its nuclear quest.'' However, it is exactly this reticence that the F-16 proposal is attempting to address. Pakistan's Air Force already possesses a nuclear delivery system: older F-16s and other aircraft types. Pakistan's Army will also soon possess Chinese-assisted nuclear capable ballistic missiles with ranges of several hundred kilometers. Additional F-16s would not provide Pakistan with a significantly greater delivery capability, but perhaps would upgrade its conventional forces sufficiently to tempt Pakistan's generals into capping the production of bomb-making material and allowing necessary international inspections.

As for Pakistan's supposed unwillingness to cooperate with India, it is rather India's traditional unwillingness to view Pakistan as a strategic equal or to negotiate the issue of Kashmir, as well as India's own nuclear rivalry with China, that are more likely sources of Indo-Pakistani noncooperation. The present proposal helps to gain India's attention, offers a tangible reason for Pakistan's military to accept nuclear restraint, and could further US foreign-policy aims by forestalling a nuclear-arms race. Cameron Binkley, Stanford, Calif. Center for International Security and Arms Control, Stanford University

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