Musharraf ruined PAF project, says ex-air chief

  • Thursday, April 23, 2009

    By Ansar Abbasi

    ISLAMABAD: Former chief of the Pakistan Air Force Air Chief Marshal Saadat Kaleem has accused the ousted dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, of ruining the PAF’s $1.2 billion Saab Surveillance System deal for possible kickbacks.

    Kaleem said that despite the PAF’s opposition, Musharraf put pressure on the air force to modify the contract to the extent that the number of systems to be purchased from Sweden was reduced from six to four to include two Chinese systems. The $1.2 billion contract was originally meant to acquire six surveillance systems and one Saab 2000 aircraft as VIP version from the Swedish company.

    Talking to The News from his residence on phone, he said General Musharraf personally exerted pressure on him to modify the contract but he, as the PAF chief, was opposed to this because of the objections raised by the PAF experts purely on technical grounds.

    He, however, said that after he retired in March 2006, the contract with the Swedish company was modified to include two Chinese systems. ìIt was done with mala fide intentions,î the former PAF chief said, adding such modifications were usually made due to some motivation factor.

    He said the Pakistan Air Force had cautioned in advance that the Chinese system was inferior to the Swedish system and the two systems were incompatible. Also, one of the systems was superfluous.

    This mix-up of the two different technologies, he said, was bound to create more problems instead of serving the purpose for which the project was conceived. He explained that the two systems could not be integrated so it was better to cancel the Swedish contract altogether and go for the Chinese option.

    He explained that the Swedish system contained electronically scanned antenna while the Chinese system had rotating dome antenna. The former, he said, is far superior to the latter. He said that the Pakistan Air Force had initially decided to buy the Swedish system following the recommendations of its operationís branch, which was not in favour of the modification of the Swedish contract for including the Chinese technology due to technical objections.

    He recalled that once General Musharraf called him to the Army House and directed to modify the contract to include two Chinese surveillance systems but when he opposed it, Musharraf snubbed him by saying, ìWhat is the problem with you?î

    Kaleem said he had told Musharraf that it would be a disadvantage to have two technologies but Musharraf wanted to give a $250m contract to a Chinese company, citing ìstrategic relationsî with the friendly country. He said he had also pointed out that the PAF was already procuring defence equipment worth $6 to 7 billion from the Chinese firms, so another contract of $250 million would not make much difference.

    He said that he had also argued that even if the Chinese system was provided free of cost, it would be a burden on the Pakistan Air Force because it had to train its pilots, give technical training to others and create a separate specialised team of experts to deal with it. The former air chief said that he was prepared to appear before any commission to submit what he had gone through on the issue.

    The PAF had been looking for a surveillance system since long. The project called ìProject Horizonî by the PAF and negotiated between the Saab/Ericsson MW team and the Pakistani authorities continued for over two and a half years. On Oct 15, 2005, the $1.2 billion contract for six surveillance systems and one Saab 2000 aircraft as VIP version was signed. The Government of Pakistan also negotiated and signed a loan agreement with the Swedish government agency, SEK, to finance this project.

    But later the number of systems to be purchased from the Swedish company were reduced from six to four following Musharrafís orders. According to a source, Saadat Kaleem favoured the Swedish company, a charge Kaleem flatly denied and insisted that the Swedish systems were the best available choice for the Pakistan Air Force.

    He, however, admitted that the Saab office, situated in Islamabad, was housed in his house, rented out to the Swedish company after his retirement for $5,000 per month. When asked if this was not a clear case of conflict of interest, Kaleem said it was not, insisting that another house in his neighbourhood was rented out to a foreigner for $4,500 per month.

    According to a source, a PAF officer, who was a member of the PAFís project team, was offered a lucrative salary package after his retirement by the same company, which had also created an office for the officer but the PAF refused to give the officer NoC to take up this job. Kaleem said that he was not aware of this case.