US hopes to regain a friend in Pakistan
Less than three months after Muslim mobs sacked the United States Embassy here, President Carter's National Security Adviser is arriving to bolster Pakistan's morale, economy, and defenses.
In the wake of the Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan, a heavy Western investment in this country has suddenly become what one American official terms "in our global interest."
And Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq, despite his ridicule for the initial US military aid package, is thought by Western diplomats here to have decided to throw in his lot with the US -- even while publicly maintaining the image of a truly nonaligned leader.
"Pakistan has to rely for its security on one of the superpowers," one senior diplomat here said. "It has now seen what accommodation with the Soviet Union amounts to and is therefore looking to the United States."
Military experts here contend that the US and its allies now are ready to go a long way toward shoring up Pakistan's tattered defenses and sagging economy. The latter, in particular, is expected to figure prominently in the talks between President Zia and the two Americans, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who were scheduled to arrive here Feb. 1.
The aid package, according to the military experts here, has these elements:
* The United States is said to be ready to deliver anti-tank, antiaircraft, and infantry weapons.
* West Germany will deliver 300 M-48 tanks, dieselized, gun-stabilized, and improved with infrared equipment at a cost of $70,000 per tank.
* China is selling small arms to Pakistan and might provide an improved version of the MIG fighter.
* Great Britain is supplying radar equipment and night vision devices.
* Saudi Arabia is willing to finance a major part of Pakistan's defense needs.
Pakistani officials argue that this is not enough and that they are in desperate need of $2 to $3 billion of aid. President Zia himself scoffed at the original $400 million US military aid offer as "peanuts."
Military experts fear that the issue of warplanes will be the major problem. President Zia is demanding 60 F-16s in order to establish three newly equipped squadrons. It is believed, however, that Pakistan will not be able to handle such sophisticated equipment and should therefore receive the F-5E.
"The Pakistanis should receive arms which they can handle and which serve their essential defense needs," said one Asian military expert. He added that delivery of highly sophisticated military equipment to Pakistan would imply the stationing of Western advisers here.
Asian diplomats in Islamabad fear that this might lead to a renewed arms race between Pakistan and India, which, in turn, would draw the subcontinent even deeper into the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Moreover, these diplomats point out that a stable domestic situation is a condition for a country's defense. "President Zia's international standing has been bolstered by the Soviet march on Afghanistan, but this does not consolidate his domestic popularity," one Asian diplomat said.
The diplomat added that "Pakistan is one country on the subcontinent without a middle class. The rich become richer while the living standards of the poor are not raised."
The islamic ban on interest on loans has frightened off many foreign investors. Poverty is so pervasive that food costs are a prickly political issue. Saudi Arabia and the International Monetary Fund are said to have been forced to bail President Zia out last year when the country's foreign reserves were hardly enough to finance two weeks of imports.
Western diplomats here feel that President Zia's warning that "you take Pakistan out of the region and you will find that you have not one inch of soil where America has influence - right from Turkey down to Vietnam" must be taken seriously.