France, Germany vie to sell Pakistan subs

July 22, 2009

BERLIN (UPI) - Pakistan appears to be losing patience with Germany over a deal worth some $1.5 billion to boost its 10-strong fleet of submarines, or it is playing a reluctant Berlin administration against Paris.

An agreement to supply three U-214 U-boats reportedly has been awaiting a final German signature since details were worked out in a visit to Germany by a Pakistani navy delegation in April. Quoting Pakistani government sources, the Financial Times Deutschland says President Asif Zardari may overrule his military's preference for the German subs to take up a “better offer” from France.
The French have reportedly offered to supply three submarines and to sweeten the deal by upgrading and overhauling older submarines that are already part of the Pakistani fleet. Two years ago French President Jacques Chirac reportedly wrote a personal letter to Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, urging his administration to buy French and offering the prospect of French government support and finance for new hotels and a car manufacturing plant.
The German subs on offer would be built by ThyssenKrupp at its Howaldtswerken shipyard in Kiel. The sale, which would attract low-interest finance from the state-owned KfW, is politically controversial and requires the approval of the German National Security Council, which vets the sale of sensitive military and other equipment, especially to areas of actual or potential conflict and instability.
In response to a preliminary inquiry in 2006, the Council gave a further sale of submarines to Pakistan a tentative green light. That approval raised a storm of political protest for fear that such a sale would add to the existing arms race between India and Pakistan. Last year a number of non-governmental organizations protested the supply to Pakistan of Drone aircraft and torpedoes. Pakistan is also interested in acquiring further German-made tanks and armored vehicles.
In Germany, concerns about supplying arms to Pakistan -- a nuclear power -- are increasing, attracting fears that the country could be destabilized by or even fall into the hands of militant Islamists. There are worries over the reliability of the armed forces with some element of the army said still to be sympathetic to the Taliban.
The issue is potentially divisive even within the governing coalition of Angela Merkel. In 2005 the Defense Ministry led by Franz Josef Jung -- a member of Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats -- negotiated a wide-reaching agreement with Pakistan to cooperate on armaments. A corresponding declaration of intent by the German government was blocked after opposition from Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat and his party's candidate to be chancellor at forthcoming elections, due on Sept. 27.
With weapons for Pakistan currently a hot political potato -- and only likely to get hotter -- the Federal Security Council has deferred taking any decision on the sale, pending the election.
Meanwhile India is in the process of acquiring a nuclear submarine fleet using technology from France, joining the select club of countries with submarine nuclear capability. Currently, they are the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council: the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom.