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He Wants To Have His Cake After Having Eaten It!

He Wants To Have His Cake After Having Eaten It!

Author: Nayyar Zaidi
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: November 16, 2001

The Pakistani political and bureaucracy elite are proud of one thing: They do not read newspapers. Why? Well, there is nothing in newspapers that they already do not know.

I was told by many that President General Pervez Musharraf also does not read newspapers "regularly". This "quality" showed during his recent visit to the United Nations in New York. In an interview with The New York Times (November 10, 2001), the general asked United States for a "concrete gesture" to reassure the people of Pakistan because "visible gestures" from the United States would "help blunt public criticism". General Musharraf asked the Bush administration to "release" the 28 F-16s.

In December 1998, when he was only Chief of Army Staff, the then government of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, reached a settlement with the US government to resolve the F-16 issue for $500 million. It would require a separate column to explain the legal settlement and factors leading up to it. For the time being, let me simply explain the issue itself. In 1989, the then government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, ordered the purchase of 60 F-16 fighter aircraft at a cost of $1.2 billion.

On October 1, 1990, the administration of Daddy Bush applied Pressler Amendment to Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which prohibited all military sales to Pakistan. But the Pakistanis continued to pay and paid $658 million before the foreign office realized that they would pay the whole $1.2 billion and still not get F-16s.

So, the payments were stopped by the second Mian Nawaz administration in 1993. After a long battle, US agreed to pay $500 million in compensation. The deal was signed when Mian Nawaz came for an official visit to Washington on December 2, 1998.

Suddenly last year, General Musharraf became publicly critical of the agreement asking why Pakistan had accepted commodity credits in exchange for F-16 reimbursements. In December 1998, we were told that $327 million was cash and $130 million in commodity purchase credits and $32 million was service charge (probably to keep the money for five years).

Upon inquiry I found that Pakistan actually got roughly $100 million in cash while the rest was in commodity credits. Also, the terms of the credit should have been different because this is compensation and not real "credit" or loan. If it is US "assistance type of credit, it is actually looting by US vendors. The price is higher than the market and it must be shipped on US carriers who charge higher rates.

Since most of it was wheat and soybean (which Pakistan did not need during last two years) the compensation for F-16s was literally eaten by Pakistanis. Therefore asking for F-16s again was like trying to have your cake after having eaten it already.

What was amazing about General Musharraf's demand for release of F-16s was that he did not remember the settlement of 1998 when he was COAS. Secretary of State Colin Powell snubbed the demand next day by pointing out that Pakistan had been compensated. On Monday, November 12, 2001 a sort of half-hearted clarification was sent through government agency, Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), for Pakistani media. The position taken was that the general was misquoted by The New York Times.

If that was the case, it should have been realized on November 10 when the Times printed his story on front page. An immediate clarification should have been issued that the general was not asking for the "release" as such but giving the F-16 issue as an example of US conduct which creates mistrust among Pakistan. Such a clarification would have prevented Powell from issuing a public statement.

Is it possible that the general and his key advisers did not read the Times next day after giving the interview? There are other statements by him and his key aides which are alarming. For example, he told the Pakistani community at a dinner that the demonstrations against him were dying down. One aide said "there is no danger to Pakistan".

The demonstrations are steady and there is a great danger to Pakistan. It is all in the newspapers if they would only take the trouble of reading them.

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