Defence & Diplomacy: A PTV talk moderated by S M Hali

By Raja G Mujtaba

It is an established fact that no country can fight a war or defend itself with foreign weapon systems. These days especially America that is an undisputed technology leader, does not sell, lease or gift weapons without political and economic strings. Pakistan has suffered numerous times at the hands of the Americans right from 1965 war with India.

After the Korean War, America equipped almost entire Pakistan Army and Air Force. Pakistan a nascent country felt that it would save it lots of economic burden by opting for this American ‘Aid’ but in fact it burdened Pakistan with economic costs, humiliation and acceptance of American dictates like a slave.

The 1965 War the way it was progressing, Pakistan would have not only liberated Kashmir but also developed into a powerful nation in the comity of the nations. Here it would not be just to place the entire blame on the US but some of our own defective thinking and point scoring was also equally instrumental in losing an opportunity.

When Pakistan was on the verge of a total victory where it stood poised to liberate Kashmir by cutting off Akhnur and also taking district of Ferozepur and part of Gurdaspur, the districts that were initially part of Pakistan, the US CENTCOM sent a message to stop and not go any further came as a big blow in the process of a complete victory. This the US could only do because they had not only equipped over five divisions of Pakistan Army but had also equipped the entire Pakistan Air Force with the American aircraft and the training programs. Even the military bases were built by American funding.

Why did the Americans apply this embargo was for one single factor; they saw India fitting into their global plan at later stages but Pakistan was only used as a pawn against the communist regimes. Once Pakistan developed close diplomatic and trade relations with China, this was not acceptable to the Americans although at a later stage, America using Pakistan developed its relations with China when Henry Kissinger flew to China from Islamabad. This breakthrough was a turning point and the American companies including the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ rushed into the Chinese market. But again Pakistan was not paid back for this when again in 1971 War with India, the US stood away from Pakistan and let it to be dismembered through a sinister move of India that was fully backed by the Soviet Union through its treaty of friendship that was signed in 1971.

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The 1965 embargo was in fact sounded in 1962 when the Chinese had mauled the India intrusion into their territory and handed them a very humiliating defeat. Since then, Pakistan was on warning that actually was applied in 1965 that left Pakistan high and dry. At this critical moment, Pakistan turned to China and France for meeting her defence needs. French were open to sell anything but wanted their price and the Chinese were willing to give anything and was free of cost to begin with. French technology was highly advanced, almost matching the American technology in the weapons systems but the prices were exorbitant that Pakistan could ill afford but had no option and went in for Mirage aircraft and naval submarines.

China had opened its gates for Pakistan to take anything that was needed; in some cases they withdrew the equipment from their formations to meet Pakistan’s needs. Chinese equipment was old Russian technology but was new therefore had more operational life. Pakistan acquired T 59 tanks and F 6 (MIG 19) that was later constantly improved upon by Pakistan Air Force with more advanced avionics, breaking systems, ejection seats and weaponry etc. T 59s became the main stay of Pakistan Army that was later upgraded and modified with heavier gun engines to enhance its operational life.

When Pakistan’s military delegation went to China, Chairman Mao granted them an audience as a brotherly gesture. During the conversation, the Chairman emphasized that relations between nations never remain on the same keel, with the change of interests, the relations also change. He cited an example of Sino-Russian relations that at one time were the closest but then they also had a border clash. In this context he stated that Pakistan id free to take anything from China but must develop her own capabilities to manufacture and be self-reliant. He said make your own tanks even if these are of wood, those would be yours and no country would be able to dictate it to you. This was a very wise and sincere advice from a great leader that the modern world has seen.

F 7, T 59 and French submarines became the platforms for Pakistan’s defence industry that embarked upon self-reliance from ground zero. Aeronautical Complex was setup at Kamra near Islamabad and Tank factory, the HIT near Taxila in the close proximity of Pakistan Ordnance Factories that were established soon after Pakistan’s independence.

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The missile technology that has been completely developed by Pakistan has one of the best guidance systems that can bring it to the bull's eye. Pakistan has done extremely well in developing missile program and then in an environment when strict sanctions were imposed by the USA. 

Now Pakistan has come on the world map of those countries that produce quality weapon systems comparable with rest of the world. Pakistan’s technological base may not be as wide and deep as those of the countries in the West but certainly in certain given areas it has acquired competiveness to a great degree. Today the UAVs that Pakistan is producing as its own designs and there are over dozen or so that are being produced are also being exported to countries like the USA, Spain, Italy and many more around the world. When seeing this performance of our products, it’s very encouraging to know that our capabilities can match any competition with necessary direction and input of other resources.

Today JF 17 is stealing the show in any international exhibitions and displays. Farnborough; the most prestigious air shows declared JF 17 as the show stealer. It took fancy of almost the entire world. If handled properly, JF 17 can single handedly become the economic backbone of Pakistan.

MBT Al-Khalid that was again developed in a record time took a start much after the Indian MBT Arjun. Arjun got bogged down under its own weight while Al-Khalid being a much lighter and agile tank is floating like a butterfly to sting like a bee. In certain respects, it has performed better than the most dreaded American MBT Abraham that is far more expensive and again shrouded in all sorts of strings, shackles and chains.

Pakistan Navy has always remained the unseen and unsung warrior of Pakistan. But the progress that it has made in self-reliance is very encouraging and substantial. When talking of self-reliance, Pakistan Navy was the first among the three services that took on rebuilding of its fleet at Karachi Dockyard. They began with Daphne, the French submarines in 1966. At that time, Pakistan Navy was the only organization East of Suez that undertook projects of that magnitude. Then later when Agosta submarines were inducted, their rebuilding was also undertaken in Pakistan. This not only saved us time and money but also built confidence in the people that they are capable of undertaking such ventures with confidence.

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In maintenance, the major hurdle was absence of a floating dock, that could enable the repair and inspection of the submerged parts of the Naval vessels. For this purpose, first a 1500 ton floating dock was fabricated at Karachi Shipyard to repair the submarines and then about a 4000 tons for bigger vessels was also built locally. Such initiatives gave lot of confidence and encouragement to build the systems locally.

Pakistan Navy also undertook to build and improve the weapon platforms and systems. Gun boats, missile boats, frigates and now submarines are all being done locally. Even the Naval Aviation is also all being done at Karachi. The most challenging was when Pakistan Navy, installed the Harpoon Missiles on its submarines within its own resources. This shocked many around the world.

Self reliance cannot be achieved without the active participation of the private sector. Most of the equipment or technologies that are developed have a strong commercial potential also. Thus the private sector must be involved to exploit its commercial potential like it’s being done in the West. If Pakistan can manufacture fighter jets, applying the same principles it can also manufacture commercial or executive planes, the electronics could have heavy usage in the private sector. Commercially, the export potential could be exploited. To make foreign sales, one would need to play according to the rules of the game. Only a professional from the private sector would be able to make the sales pitch and know the rules. Man in uniform would have many constraints that he may not be able to overcome.

Charles DeGaule, the former French president built the French economy around its Mirage aircraft and defence industrial complex. Likewise Pakistan can also learn from the experience and not only build its Armed forces but build the economy by selling the weapon systems to other countries.