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Pakistan finds its salvation in defence

General Pervez Musharraf, the army chief who seized power in a coup last year, wants Pakistan to become a major arms dealer, writes Rory McCarthy

Friday November 17, 2000

Pakistan is a troubled country. The military are back in power again, the economy is sinking and Islamabad is internationally criticised for its support of the militants in Kashmir and the hardline Taliban in Afghanistan.

But General Pervez Musharraf, the quietly spoken army chief who seized power in a coup in October last year, has a plan. Unafraid of the effect it might have on his country's international image, he wants Pakistan to become a major arms dealer.

The pride of Pakistan's state-owned defence equipment manufacturers, from missiles to tanks to artillery shells, is now on display at one of the world 's largest arms shows, the "Arms for Peace" exhibition in Karachi.

"There is big money in defence and we need to enter into areas where developed countries are not competing," said Gen Musharraf, as he toured the exhibition.

"Pakistan offers a poor man's option to obtaining weapons in a cheap and economical manner. This will generate economic activity in Pakistan and we will plan more such ventures in the near future."

In recent years Pakistan has been a major defence importer, buying Agosta 90B submarines from France and Sea King helicopters from Britain.

Now the military regime hopes to become a competitive arms dealer itself. Exports of machine guns, rifles, anti-tank rockets, mortars and ammunition earned $30.2m (21.7m) last year.

First Pakistan will put into mass production its new Al-Khalid tank, which is armed with a 125mm smooth bore gun and equipped with auto-tracking and thermal imaging.

"We are indeed proud of this tank. Inshallah (God willing) it will be the main tank of the Pakistan Army," said Gen Musharraf.

15 Al-Khalid tanks are now being built in a pilot project with China and mass production is scheduled to begin next year.

Until now Pakistan has preferred to upgrade older tank designs, like the T-59 which has been modernised into the Al-Zarrar, rather than take on the expense and expertise needed to produce a new tank.

Gen Musharraf wants the Al-Khalid to be a direct rival to the Russian T-90S tank. Last month Russian President Vladimir Putin clinched a deal to sell T-90S tanks and Su-30 MKI fighter jets to India, Pakistan's archrival.

Islamabad will also set up a Defence Export and Exhibition Directorate in Rawalpindi, where the army has its main base, to show off defence equipment.

"We will soon expand our defence sales and exports appreciably," Gen Musharraf said.

His generals are negotiating the possible sale of their Super Mushak trainer aircraft to an unnamed Middle Eastern country and Agosta-90B submarines to Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. Pakistan bought three of the submarines from France under a technology transfer agreement.

The generals say that apart from India and perhaps Israel they have no qualms about selling weapons to any nation. Islamabad is hoping to target allies in the Middle East and poorer nations in Africa and south-east Asia.

At least 34 countries with a combined defence purchase budget of $20bn (14.3bn) sent delegations to the arms fair, including Zimbabwe, Rwanda, the Palestinian Authority, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Gen Musharraf is also hoping to use the skills of some of Pakistan's more traditional weapons manufacturers in his new endeavour.

Since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan 20 years ago, Pakistan has been awash with unlicensed weapons from Kalashnikov assault rifles to rockets and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

Cheaper copies of these weapons pour out of Darra Adam Khel in the lawless tribal areas of northern Pakistan, one of the largest unofficial arms markets in Asia.

In an attempt to tackle the daily shootings and regular bomb blasts that plague Pakistani society, the military want to regulate the Darra market, limit gun sales and hire the best gun makers to work for the state-owned defence industries.

For now the regime is meeting tough resistance from Darra and the tribal elders. But if he succeeds, Gen Musharraf will have found a unique way to improve security in Pakistan and at the same time bolster his troubled nation's sickly economy.

Related special reports
India and Pakistan

Related articles
August 23, 2000: Pakistani army squeezes out political parties
March 24, 2000: Pakistan's ruler announces elections ahead of US visit
October 16, 1999: Musharraf strives to soften coup image

Useful links
Times of India
Pakistan Today
India Monitor
CIA world factbook: India
CIA world factbook: Pakistan
South Asia citizens' network


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