Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Mar 18, 2016
Pak demand for 8 F-16s survives US Senate dogfight; demand for 10 more may not fly easy

The US is dangling a bait of eight F-16s at zero discount betting on better behaviour from Pakistan but the new shopping list of 10 additional F-16s may lurch and stumble after Pakistan’s top foreign affairs official admitted that his country supported the Taliban since 2001, reports say.

The US Senate voted in favour of selling 8 F-16s to Pakistan early March and soon after that, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that Pakistan wants to buy 10 more Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52 fighters.

Pakistan’s top foreign affairs official Sartaj Aziz recenly said at a meeting hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations that his country provided “various degrees of support to the Taliban since 2001”.

Defense News reports that Aziz’s “casual and public” admission of what has been long suspected could endanger the ‘extra 10’ deal.

Early March 2016, Pakistan bashers in the US Senate lost a fierce quarrel by 71-24 votes to stop the $700 million sale of eight US F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan but their message on the country’s “duplicity” has been rammed in. US financing for over 50 % of the cost ( for 8 F16s) is on hold as of now, say officials in charge of the sale.

< style="color: #0180b3;">“They take our money, take our arms and laugh in our face. … What will happen to Pakistan if they don't get eight more F-16s? They will have only 70 F-16s.” said Rand Paul, the man who mounted an effort to halt the jet sale but lost.

For 20 minutes, the Republican senator flogged Pakistan, the F-16 was just one of the inventory items; duplicity and primitive forms of religious freedom topped his laundry list in the hour long dogfight.

India, still smarting from the most recent New Year’s day Pathankot attack - when six gunmen in Indian fatigues infiltrated an Indian air base and killed 7 Indian soldiers - has openly lobbied against the sale of F-16s to Pakistan.

Policy wonks feel denying Pakistan the F-16s would send the wrong signal now that a previously reluctant political class is fighting to reclaim territory from the Pakistani Taliban.

Yet, giving away the lethal F16s at half cost to a country which certainly knows who masterminded the Pathankot attack in India will do the same.


Torn down the middle, it’s an F- 16 deal for Pakistan at full price.

Defense News reports that Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, have a hold on the US subsidy which puts the squeeze on Pakistan but did not specify what actions Pakistan can take to lift the hold.

The particular F-16 aircraft Pakistan wants will facilitate all weather conventional and nuclear missions.

71 -24 vote

Although the vote went 71-24 in favour of the sale, the folks who have jurisdiction over foreign arms sales are planning to clamp down on US subsidy for the jets over Pakistan’s “duplicity” in the US backed war against Taliban.

Pakistan will have to figure out how to play for U.S. financing, a little over 50 percent for the weapons which headlined the brawl in the US Senate March 10.

Financial strong arming

This financial arm twisting, Corker says, may be a better tactic to get Pakistan to behave rather than drive Pakistan to a Russia or France for the same firepower.

Between embarassing Pakistan by denying the F-16s and cornering a shifty ally - with one-ninths of India’s purchasing power - over money, many feel the choice comes down to common sense.

Pakistan will have to rely on the US for maintenenace of the Lockheedmade jets over their 30-year life.

“I have issues with Pakistan too. It’s actually a difference of tactics. I’d like to try to encourage some behavior changes and I think withholding the financial component is a much better way of doing that,” Corker told Defense News.

The case against the sale

On March 10, one man - Senator Paul Rand who’s fallen out of the US Presidential race, raged on in the US Senate about why Pakistan must not get the US F-16s.

Key quotes from Rand Paul’s case against Pakistan.

On Taliban

"We have given $15 billion to Pakistan--$15 billion over the last decade--yet their previous President admits that Pakistan armed, aided, and abetted the Taliban."

On “bribes”

"Pakistan is, at best, a frenemy--part friend and a lot enemy. If Pakistan truly wants to be our ally, if Pakistan truly wants to help in the war on radical Islam, it should not require a bribe; it should not require the American taxpayer to subsidize arms sales."

On religion

"In Pakistan, it is the law; it is in their Constitution that if you criticize the state religion, you can be put to death."

< style="color: #000000;">On Pak “hosting” Bin Laden

< style="color: #000000;">"…not only did they help the Taliban that hosted Bin Laden for a decade, but when they finally got Bin Laden, we got him with evidence that was given to us by a doctor in Pakistan. His name is Shakil Afridi. Where is he now? Pakistan has locked him away in a dark, dank prison from which he will probably never be released."

< style="color: #000000;">“Borrowing from China for Pakistan”

< style="color: #000000;">"We have to borrow money from China to send it to Pakistan. Such a policy is insane and supported by no one outside of Washington."

< style="color: #000000;">Pak intel “against US”

"I have also been troubled by the Pakistani military and intelligence service's support for militant groups that work against U.S. interests in the region."

Asia Bibi, Christian woman on Pak death row

"Asia Bibi has been on death row for nearly 5 years. Asia Bibi is a Christian. Her crime? She went to the well to draw water, and the villagers began to stone her. They beat her with sticks until she was bleeding. They continued to stone her as they chanted ``Death, death to the Christian."

Pakistan’s “double game”

"Pakistan is engaged legitimately in a very tough fight against identifiable terrorists in their country” Secretary of State Kerry said in Pakistan’s favour but the country’s “double game” is being talked about more loudly.

“I’m concerned that Pakistan continues to play a double game, fighting terrorism that has a direct impact inside Pakistan, and supporting it in places like India and Afghanistan, where Pakistan believes such a policy furthers its national interests.” said Eliot Engel, a member of the House foreign affairs committee.

Pakistan, after Peshawar

But a murderous December day in 2014 where Taliban suicide attackers killed 132 school children in Pakistan’s Peshawar is not easily forgotten, not even in the US Senate. Swept up by the unprecedented energy of public opinion, a shocked Pakistan army is back in the driving seat, a reluctant political class is being forced to confront the enemy within. To do that, Pakistan’s foreign minister Sartaj Aziz says the country is “heavily dependent” on the F- 16s.

And then some cold data.

Of the 10 largest importers of heavy weapons, 6 are from Asia Pacific: India, China, Australia, Pakistan, Vietnam and South Korea.

Asia accounts for almost half the global weapons market.

Eight F-16s to Pakistan is business as usual.

This expertspeak originally appeared in Firstpost. Nikhila Natarajan is Senior Editor, Firstpost, based in New York. Follow @firstpost on Twitter.

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