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Saturday, 12 January, 2002, 02:13 GMT
Britain 'pushing arms to India'
Hawk trainer jet
The Hawk deal is worth about 1bn
Britain is reported to be pushing arms sales worth 1bn to India, despite fears that its dispute with Pakistan could spill into war.

Saturday's Guardian newspaper says government ministers have been pressing India behind the scenes to sign a 1bn contract with Britain's BAE systems, for 60 Hawk jets.

And it says Britain will have a large presence at an arms fair in Delhi next month, with about 30 British companies expected to be present - financially backed by the government-funded Trade Partners UK.

The news comes only a week after Prime Minister Tony Blair visited India and Pakistan in an attempt to defuse tensions between the two countries, centred around the disputed region of Kashmir.

Pakistan soldiers in a bunker along the border between Pakistan and India on Friday
Tensions are high between India and Pakistan over Kashmir

The paper claims Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has been encouraging India to accept the deal, while Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is said to be expected to raise the matter on a visit to India next month.

The Pakistan high commission in London told the newspaper any build-up of Indian equipment would "aggravate" the situation by further tipping the military balance in favour of India.

And a commission spokesman said a British arms embargo on Pakistan, imposed three years ago, was still in place - although the US had lifted its ban in response to Pakistan's help in its war against terrorism.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman told the paper: "We have one of the toughest export licensing regimes in the world. We will continue to judge all applications for Pakistan and India against its stringent criteria."

15-year deal

BAE Systems has been negotiating with the Indian government for almost 15 years to sell it Hawk jets, and was named as the preferred bidder in 2000.

But the deal has since suffered several hold-ups - some reportedly because of difficulties over the price, and one because of an arms bribery probe.

In November BAE Systems announced that it was cutting 1,700 jobs in its civil aviation business, at plants in Preston, Bristol and Manchester in England and Prestwick in Scotland.

It said its defence business - which accounts for about 70% of its trade - would not be affected by the cuts.

'Ready for war'

Tension between India and Pakistan - both nuclear powers - has been high ever since a suicide attack on the Indian parliament in December, which Delhi blamed on Pakistani-based Islamic militants.

On Friday India's army chief said his country was "fully prepared" for war with Pakistan and described the situation on the border as serious.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan warned on Thursday of the danger of a war breaking out by accident because of the massive build-up of troops on the border.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir in a dispute which has been ongoing for more than 50 years.

See also:

11 Jan 02 | South Asia
India 'ready for war'
07 Jan 02 | South Asia
Blair urges Kashmir dialogue
09 Aug 01 | Business
BAE 'confident' of securing 1bn deal
11 Dec 00 | South Asia
UK moves to close India jet deal
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