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India fears Canadian arms sales to Pakistan

Globe and Mail Update

OTTAWA — India is raising concerns about Canada lifting a ban on arms sales to Pakistan, fearing the weapons would be aimed at them rather than at Taliban insurgents.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said this week that Canada is "contemplating" whether it will end the 11-year-old ban on selling military equipment to Pakistan, as the government in Islamabad engages in a major offensive against Taliban insurgents.

A senior diplomat at the Indian high commission to Canada said India is worried about any foreign military aid to Pakistan.

"On the broader issue of overall foreign military assistance to Pakistan, it has been the experience that it has only been used to bolster Pakistan's military capabilities against India -and therefore has been a legitimate cause of concern for us," the senior Indian diplomat said, speaking on condition his name not be used.

The official declined to say whether India will publicly oppose any Canadian decision to lift the ban on military exports to Pakistan. But when asked whether India objects, he said: "I think the conclusions to be drawn from this are fairly obvious."

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced similar concerns last month when he noted that military aid to Pakistan "has been used against us in the past," as the United States prepares to increase its military aid to Pakistan to $400-million this year.

Canada banned military sales to India and Pakistan in 1998, after both tested nuclear weapons, raising tensions on the subcontinent. The ban against India was lifted in 2003.

But Canada continues to ban conventional arms sales to Pakistan while the United States and Britain lifted the bans as they sought allies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Now, with Pakistan trying to wipe out the Taliban insurgents in the Swat valley and surrounding areas, after years of ambivalent efforts, the Canadian government is considering allowing arms sales - they cite items like flight simulators, night-vision equipment, drones, and components - to resume.

The United States, Canada and other Western allies consider Pakistan a key fault-line for international security and critical to efforts to defeat insurgents in neighbouring Afghanistan. But Pakistan's long-running tensions with neighbouring India have often gotten in the way.

Pakistan's army, the country's predominant institution, has always viewed India, not insurgents, as its main threat. There have long been concerns that the arms Pakistan buys or receives as military aid are for the Indian border, including weapons, like fighter jets, that are ill-suited to fighting insurgents.

The United States is now trying to lead a regional diplomatic initiative to secure Pakistan and Afghanistan, and a key goal is encouraging an ease of cross-border tensions with India so Pakistan can devote its efforts to fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda factions in the country.

"This is like throwing gas on the fire. Think about what this does in the region," NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said.

"The idea was to have some detente between India and Pakistan, to have India not distracted by Pakistan and Pakistan not distracted by India, so they can focus on the Swat valley, and the border regions with Afghanistan."

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae, however, said that resuming arms sales to Pakistan is something that Canada should consider, but cautiously, and after discussions with India and Afghanistan.

"There is certainly an argument that given our common interest in dealing with the Taliban, and what appears to be a renewed commitment from the Pakistan government, it's certainly very reasonable that we would be entering into discussions with their government at this point," he said.

However, Ken Epps of Project Ploughshares said history is littered with examples of regions being destabilized by arms trades that had logical, but short-term justification.

"This would be a classic case where by assisting the Pakistan government with equipment, it would make India more nervous, and then it would call on its suppliers to provide more equipment, and we'd have a regional arms race."

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