The United States State Department on Wednesday that the recently-announced upgrade package to “sustain” Pakistan Air Force F-16 fleet will help complement counterterrorism initiatives.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price further told journalists the United States expected “sustained” counterterrorism action by Pakistan across the board. “Pakistan’s F-16 program, it’s an important part of the broader U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, and this proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining the F-16 fleet. This is a fleet that allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations, and we expect Pakistan will take sustained action against all terrorist groups.”
Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted the same day that he had conveyed “India’s concern” to United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a telephone conversation. “I conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet. Look forward to continuing dialogue with Seceratry Austin to further consolidating India-US partnership,” Singh tweeted.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency had delivered the required certification notifying Congress of the possible sale earlier on September 7. “The Government of Pakistan had requested to consolidate prior F-16 sustainment and support cases to support the Pakistan Air Force F-16 fleet by reducing duplicate case activities and adding additional continued support elements,” the statement read. Included in the package were American government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics services to support the PAF F-16 fleet.
The DSCA went on record to state that the upgrade package, valued at US$450 million, did not include any new capabilities, weapons or munitions. Neither, the DSCA said, did it alter the regional balance of power.
The proposed sale, unsurprisingly, has left Pakistan arch-adversary India rankled. Indian functionaries reportedly protested against the decision at “each and every” bilateral meet with United States Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu who was in the country for the Quad Senior Officials Meeting (SOM). Writing for The Hindu, national and diplomatic affairs editor Suhasini Haider said a skeptic New Delhi had made its “displeasure known quiet clearly”.
Hindustan Times executive editor Shishir Gupta claimed the sale was a reward for Pakistani ammunition deliveries to a Ukraine at war with Russia. The Pakistani military having remained “neutral” as the then opposition ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, he also cited as a reason. The sale, Gupta said, was also representative of a “silent” Line of Control (LoC) due to COAS General Bajwa’s efforts.
The Economic Times said New Delhi was upset over the development as the announcement caught it unaware. The newspaper claimed the decision may have “serious implications” for national security. The Economic Times quoted Observer Research Foundation (ORF) senior fellow questioning why flood-ravaged Pakistan was “begging for floods” the world over when it had money for “jets”.
Terming the proposed sale as a development India could not afford to ignore, the newspaper quoted former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan G Parthasarathy as saying it was a very clear signal from the United States on how Pakistan was being armed to match Indian capabilities. “For the F-16 Fighters, I see this as a matter of concern. They are saying that they are not giving any new capability. Let us remember that those aircraft have very advanced radar and very advanced missile capabilities. Let us not forget,” the one-time Indian envoy said.