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Pakistan F-16 Package: US Fooling Whom? – OpEd

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The Pentagon said the proposed sale “greatly improves Pakistan’s ability to support counterterrorism operations through its robust air-to-ground capability”. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar took a sharp dig at the US deciding to send the F-16 fighter jet fleet sustainment programme to Pakistan earlier this month to meet ‘current and future counterterrorism threats’, he said “you are not fooling anybody by saying these things”. On F-16 aircraft he said, “For someone to say I am doing this because it is all counter-terrorism content and so when you are talking of an aircraft like a capability of an F-16 where everybody knows, you know where they are deployed and their use. In 2019, Pakistan had used the same aircraft to target India after the Balakot strike and used American supplied AIM-120 C-5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile), to shoot down then Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s MiG 21 Bison.

The US first mooted the supply F-16s to Pakistan in the early 1980s. President Ronald Reagan exercised executive authority, despite opposition from Congress, to agree to the sale of F-16s in return to Pakistan’s assistance to the US in Afghanistan. Pakistani F-16s shot down at least 10 Afghan and Soviet jets, helicopters, and transport planes. However, with the Soviet Union’s defeat in Afghanistan in 1989, US reliance on Pakistan quickly waned.   Pakistan’s undeclared nuclear weapons program resulted in the cancelation of the supply of 30 F-16s that Pakistan had already paid around $658 million. 

The 9/11, terrorist attacks refocused US interests in the region re-established Pakistan as a central conduit in the war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Bush administration agreed to release the previously blocked F-16s to Pakistan and sell Pakistan new F-16 Block-50/52 aircraft worth approximately $3 billion.

This is the first American military assistance package to Pakistan after the Trump Administration ended defence and security co-operation with the country in 2018 after accusing it of giving only “lies and deceit” for the billions of dollars that the US had “foolishly” given it.

Despite considerable strategic convergence between the US and India of late in the Indo-Pacific through QUAD, the announcement by the Biden administration at this stage, however, approved a $450 million F-16 aircraft  fleet sustainment programme for Pakistan sends confused signals. The US government led by President Joe Biden decided to overturn the decision of his predecessor Donald Trump to suspend military aid to Pakistan in lieu of it providing safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network. 

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at his daily news conference in response to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s statement; “We look to both as partners, because we do have in many cases shared values. We do have in many cases shared interests. And the relationship we have with India stands on its own. The relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own.” 

US government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet aircraft   sustainment programme includes modifications and support of aircraft and engine hardware and software as well as repair and return of the jets and engine spares, classified and unclassified software and software support among others. The Pentagon statement also said that the proposed sale will continue the sustainment of the country’s F-16 fleet, which “greatly improves Pakistan’s ability to support counterterrorism operations through its robust air-to-ground capability”.

Reasons for US F-16 support:

Among the major speculated reasons for the Biden Administration’s reversal of Trump’s policy on Pakistan, one revolves around the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul. Questions ;who provided the intelligence for the drone strike that killed the al-Qaeda chief in a posh house that belonged to Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Imran’s allegations of a US hand in his ouster did not prevent the Shehbaz Sharif government from repairing ties with the Biden Administration. Both Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI head Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum have been in active touch with their US interlocutors. Anjum visited the US in May, and Bajwa reportedly asked for help secure an IMF package for Pakistan, which has been granted. Other likely Reasons:

  • The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
  • Gen Bajwa in a secret deal has been supplying ammunition in support of Ukraine’s war effort in British aircraft.(ANI 20 Sept 2022)
  • US is trying to break China’s hold on Pakistan which has significantly drifted into China’s lap.
  • The fact is that Pakistan desperately needs spare parts for its ageing F-16 fleet.
  • India possibly not siding with the US and West on the war on Ukraine.
  • India not standing against Russia.

Imran’s recent comments in an interview to a Pakistani TV channel that he is, in fact, not anti-US, and that he has been in touch with various US officials, suggest that the new U turn in US-Pakistan relations was inevitable. All players, Pakistan’s military, its ruling and opposition politicians, and the US all know that they need one another. The gesture to Pakistan could have been intended to convey that disapproval in concrete terms to India’s “neutrality” in the Ukraine war and its attitude to the sanctions against Russia and trying to pull away Pakistan from China. The history of the US-Pakistan relationship has been a mix of blow hot and cold relations and disastrous at times. 

Eventually all the American Presidents and the Pentagon has been trying to fool with the logic of their proposed sale to Pakistan that the F16s will “Greatly improve Pakistan’s ability to support Counterterrorism capability”. It is not the Americans who are to fight terrorism on foreign soil so that their F16s can strafe the area. Pakistan is fighting its own people on its soil and is not likely to use such heavy armament fitted F16s against its own people. Pakistan will use these F16 fleet against India as has been seen in 2019.This basic air-to-ground capability is a mockery being played on the sophisticated fighter jet F16 as an excuse to sell the F16 fighter to Pakistan.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

One thought on “Pakistan F-16 Package: US Fooling Whom? – OpEd

  • September 29, 2022 at 6:37 pm
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    Feb 27th , 2019 was indeed a sad day for IAF & Modi govt. Pakistan airforce not only shot down IAF jet but also dominated the Electronic warfare engagement. That is quietly stated as one of the reasons that SU 30 & IAF mirages could not fire missiles & Indian air force shot down its own Mi17 helicopter as the Friend Foe systems had been jammed. Pakistan claims that it’s JF 17 & Mirages had bombed 06 locations in Indian Kashmir where as IAF claims it was American made F 16 , what ever the truth may be the fact remains that IAF could not retaliate back !!!

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