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India Criticizes US Decision Granting Pakistan 'Special Military Status' - 2004-03-21

India has criticized a recent decision by the United States to give Pakistan special military status, saying it could hurt ties between the two countries.

India's reaction to the U.S. decision to designate Pakistan as a "major non-NATO ally" came in a brief statement in New Delhi by foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna. "We are studying the details of this decision, which has significant implications for India - U.S. relations," he said. "We are in touch with the U.S. government in this regard."

Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the special military status for Pakistan in Islamabad two days after he held talks with Indian officials in New Delhi. The announcement surprised Indian officials.

The special designation puts Pakistan on a par with a handful of nations such as Israel, Australia, Japan, and Egypt, which are eligible for priority delivery of defense materials.

Mr. Sarna said Indian officials were disappointed that they were not informed beforehand about the U.S. decision to elevate military ties with Islamabad. "While [Mr. Powell] was in India, there was much emphasis on India - U.S. strategic partnership," said Navtej Sarna. "It is disappointing that he did not share with us this decision."

Ties between India and the United States have improved significantly in recent years, but New Delhi has watched warily the growing relationship between Islamabad and Washington following the U.S.-led war on terror.

U.S. officials have tried to calm Indian concerns about its ties with Pakistan, and have emphasized Washington's desire to have good relations with both India and Pakistan.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars, and came close to a fourth one two years ago. A tentative peace process is now in place between the nuclear rivals.