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The French were serenely confident of selling just about anything in their erstwhile colonies in Africa. If a product were damaged, it could be sold as an antique, if non-functional it could be sold as a sample for “experimentation,” if barely functional, of course it was the “latest rage.”

Apocryphal or not, the phenomenon could well capture the blossoming relationship between American defense manufacturers and the Indian military establishment. There is a reasonable chance that the Indian propensity for “store wars” and later day versions of “Star Wars” could well come together to recreate the above phenomenon.

Indians are smitten with “store-wars”—namely the acquisition of the “latest, best” gizmo from the U.S., even when there exist no chances of utilizing the item in India. It is not uncommon to see parkas replete with fur being lugged to sweltering Chennai or grandmothers clutching the latest Barbie dolls or teddy bears only to store them in some trunk hidden in an attic.

The Indian government is not immune to the phenomenon. Rumor has it that governmental departments burnt a big hole in their pockets either acquiring “state of art” computers from the U.S. in the early nineties, precluding the purchase of compatible printers. The computers reached India without the printers and sat on the tables gathering dust while rickety, old typewriters continued to turn out documentation. Everybody was thrilled that they weren’t far from the last word in technology.
Juxtapose on this mentality the American defense industry’s propensity in responding to every national crisis by producing a surfeit of missiles and advanced weaponry, usually with the approval and approbation of Republicans at the helm of affairs. In the 1980s, Reagan embarked on semi-fictional crusade against the “Empire of Evil” and the defense industry responded by churning out weapons whose breathtaking range was paralleled by an equally breathtaking variance in quality.

When George Bush Sr. faced a far more realistic threat in 1991, the defense industry boasted about manufacturing missiles advanced enough to pinpoint targets from 6 miles above the surface. While some were unerringly accurate, it is difficult to forget those that hit Iraqi hospitals instead of military installations, nor the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1995. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 have provided a legitimate cause to defense industries, to go into overdrive and upgrade existing weaponry and accessories—from the humble night goggles to missiles capable of penetrating rocks and hitting the correct target.

The sheer cost and volume of weapons churned out leaves manufacturers of weapons competing for markets to dispose their products. Today, fewer markets can prove more fertile than India.

The fact that India faces a realistic and valid threat from terrorists with connections to an expansionist Pakistan lends validity to the need for weaponry. This could result in a gold rush for defense industry vendors when the gullibility and greed of India’s top military brass, painfully evident in last year’s Tehelka episode, is taken into account. The conditions are therefore propitious for an American defense manufacturer mela—to paraphrase American ambassador Blackwill “major American armament firms are all set to make a beeline to India.”

Wouldn’t a discussion of how useful the weapons would be pertinent before the weapons are bought, stored and never to be used because of their sophisticated nature?

The mountainous terrain of Kashmir would hardly allow for these weapons to have any efficacy. Advanced weaponry certainly played no part in ensuring American supremacy over Afghani skies, the key to the fall of the Taliban. Indeed, the humble night-goggles have proved to be far more efficient to forces hunting Osama than technological advanced weaponry. Technological advantages are meaningless in guerilla warfare, a fact painfully evident in the drubbing received by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) from a technologically inferior Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1987.

And how permanent would be the advantage, if one did exist? Temporary at best, more likely ephemeral. Vendors, manufacturers and trainers are not bound by loyalty to any country or nation. The Israeli Mossad for example, trained the LTTE in guerilla warfare and the rival Sri Lankan army in counter-terrorist activities. Just as the withdrawal of sanctions has prompted a veritable flood of armament manufacturers to descend on India, a withdrawal of sanctions against Pakistan will result in the same manufacturers vying to sell products to Pakistan. For every “offensive” weapon sold to India, what prevents the sale of a corresponding “defensive” weapon to Pakistan?

The Government of India probably feels that it can gain political favors from the White House through patronizing sources close to the latter. While the Chinese may have successfully pushed the Tibet issue onto the backburner through assiduous cultivation of major businesses close to Washington, India has historically been unable to use this route to gaining political favors. Overtures to the once powerful Enron (i.e. the Dabhol project) earned it the scorn, not the approbation of Washington. There exists a very slim chance of this strategy resulting in long term gains for India.

India will best contain the menace of terrorism in Kashmir through a slow counter-infiltration and reshaping of attitudes at the madarassa-mosque level. The Punjab police’s notable successes in breaking the back of the Punjab terrorist movement through an astute manipulation of inter group rivalries in the 1980s should inspire India to look for explore similar strategies in Kashmir. The terrorists succeed because of the support, overt and covert, supported by the local population.
If the same support were available to the Indian army, terrorism in Kashmir would disappear faster than snow in summer.

The acquisition of weaponry will turn out to be a magic wand that can help win a battle at best. Winning the war against terrorism is possible only through a slow and steady winning of the hearts and minds of the local population.

S.Gopikrishna lives in Toronto and writes on topics pertaining to India and Indians.

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