Pakistan acquired the Perry-class frigate Alamgir in 2011, but hopes to obtain additional ships have been unrealized. (Christopher P. Cavas/Staff)
ISLAMABAD — Despite close defense ties with China, Pakistan still relies on the US to help it upgrade key defense areas. However, hostility from US lawmakers has effectively halted progress in some areas with Pakistan’s Navy particularly hard hit.
For a decade Pakistan’s Navy has pinned hopes on acquiring surplus US Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates to replace its six now 40-year-old ex-British Type-21 frigates. This met with some success when the Perry-class frigate McInerney was renamed Alamgir and transferred in 2011.
However, three proposed for Pakistan last fall have effectively been blocked as the proposed bill continues to languish in committee without being put to the full US Senate.
Neither Pakistan’s Defense Ministry nor the Navy replied to any request for comment on the issues surrounding the Perry acquisition plans.
Former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, said conditions attached to their transfer “were deliberately made impossible.”
These were linked to cooperating with the US on counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, not supporting terrorism against US force in Afghanistan or elsewhere, releasing Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden, moving to dismantle IED networks, allowing humanitarian groups access to detainees, and ensuring Pakistan’s military and intelligence services do not interfere in judicial and political processes.
“Obviously there can be no certification about ‘taking steps to dismantle improvised explosive device networks’, just to pick one condition. This is a farce,” Cloughley added.
Cloughley said such actions, which he describes as “one more example of a totally dysfunctional Congress,” are seriously harming Washington’s relations with other nations, and leaving Pakistan with no options.
“The [Pakistan Navy] is going to suffer, as I don’t think there will be approval for such a transfer. Alamgir is a good training ship, but that’s about all,” he said.
The ship lacks ASW helicopters, missiles and a towed array sonar, effectively making it little more than a long-range patrol vessel.
Analyst Usman Shabbir said that essentially, Pakistan’s only alternative is turning to China.
“The only reasonable option seems to be more F-22P frigates. The Type-21s are well past their prime and need to be retired yesterday,” he said.
However, though an agreement was reached with China for an improved batch of F-22P frigates in 2012, no deal has yet been signed.
The main sticking point is likely financial, because unlike the transfer of Perry frigates, Chinese warships would still have to be paid for.
However, the latest International Monetary Fund figures show Pakistan is unlikely to be able to make a dent in paying off its debt, and Islamabad last week borrowed $2 billion only by accepting excessive interest rates. According to figures from the State Bank of Pakistan, the national debt grew during the first eight months of the fiscal year, and other predictions have debt remaining at 62.4 percent of GDP for FY2014-FY2015.
Thus even the Chinese option looks unlikely, and so the damage done by the non-transfer of the Perry frigates is all the more obvious.
Claude Rakisits, director at Politact, a Washington-based advisory firm that focuses on South Asian issues, says Congress has effectively hamstrung the administration in this case.
“I suspect that it would be politically difficult for the Obama administration to bypass Congress on this issue given that only a couple of weeks ago the House Committee on Foreign Affairs decided to cut $10 million from its aid budget to Pakistan [under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman act 2009] to pay for the aid Congress wants to give to Ukraine,” he said.
“While that only represents about 0.6 percent of the annual US aid to Pakistan, it does show that Pakistan is not a top priority and that the focus is beginning to shift away from that region as the US continues to draw down in Afghanistan,” he added.
He also highlights that until recently, at least, there was the possibility of transfer of surplus US mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles to Pakistan.
“While a final decision has yet to be taken; it would appear that this option is fast losing popularity in Washington. It would appear that Pakistan being a Major Non-NATO Ally since 2004 doesn’t mean too much in the Obama administration these days.” ■