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In the 1990s the US sold a number of F-16s (Fighting Falcons) to Pakistan for about $463 millions. But Pakistan never received them due to an amendment in the US Congress known as the Pressler Amendment by ex senator Larry Pressler who is on record as saying “ I am one of the Americans who are hooked to India”. He is also a member of the board of directors in an Indian technological company. The amendment, basically was that Pakistan should be punished because of its nuclear programme. The planes were never delivered. The amount refunded was $140 million less than the amount paid by Pakistan. Part of it was considered “service charge” by the supplying company and the rest was supposed to be fobbed off with “gifts” in kind like white wheat! I wonder why Pakistan did not go to court against the supplier and asked for interest on the $463 million it had already paid and was deprived of its use for 8 years while the money lay outside its control.
Now the US is selling 18 new and 26 old F-16s to Pakistan at a total cost of about $3 billion. It will also upgrade about 34 old F-16s that Pakistan already has. Lockheed Martin, the builder of F-16s and other principal contractors like Boeing CO., Raytheon Co., Northrop-Grumman Corp., and General Electric Corp. are the main beneficiaries of the deal signed at Rawalpindi, the Military Headquarters of Pakistan.
Several reasons come to mind. One. Pakistan is now grudgingly accepted as a member of the Nuclear Club (albeit, unofficially) by the western nuclear powers. Two. It helps mitigate the insult caused by the earlier shoddy behavior of the 1990s sale. Taking money and not delivering and the goods was definitely bad business and much worse foreign policy. Three. The US thinks that selling the planes now will further empower its ally in the person of President Musharraf, promote trust, and undermine anti-Americanism in Pakistan etc. Four. It also shows that the US may have learnt from its mistake of abandoning Pakistan in the 1990s and is now trying to build a long-term relationship. Five. The US may be hoping that this sale might help Pakistan to democratize and modernize and make it a better neighbor to India and transform the Pak-India relationship into something mutually constructive. Six. It may reduce Pakistan’s doubts about US willingness to and ability to sustain a beneficial relationship between the two countries. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it may prove to the Pakistani military (specially) and people that cooperation with the US brings benefits and that the US understands Pakistan’s security concerns.
Strings attached: A statement issued by the Pakistan Air force does not mention the conditions set by the US on the use and maintenance of the planes. The air Force is apparently interested in acquiring the “toys” irrespective of its eventual beneficial use.
The US has sought unusual guarantees (and apparently got them) to prevent the technology of these very advance planes from falling into the hands of countries such as China with whom Pakistan has good military relationship. The Russian MiG-29s that India has and will start mass-producing them soon is equally advanced and in some respects supposed to be even better. The recently concluded Indo-US military exercises might throw more light on the above.
The strings or conditions are as follows:
The US government must approve all F-16 flights outside of Pakistani air space, including for exercises with other countries. Question of sovereignty arises here.
The US is withholding unspecified F-16 technologies so that it could not be used in any “offensive” way to penetrate air space of another country. India, I presume.
Pakistan’s F-16 fleet and munitions would be segregated from aircraft supplied by other countries so that third country/unauthorized engineers could not get access to the planes. China, I presume.
US personnel would carry out inventories and their associated systems every six months. A very important question of sovereignty arises again.
From the above it seems that if Pakistan is to abide by all the US safeguards, it will be against its national interest to buy these planes. Nothing much can be said except that if lawmakers had a say in the affairs of the country, this expenditure would probably have not taken place. Pakistan’s known “enemy” is India. If the planes cannot be used against them if and when necessary then what is the use of buying them (without the guarantee of delivery in any case)? Also, India is vastly superior to Pakistan in military numbers. What would a handful of F-16s do in the case of a prolonged war if, God forbid, it ever happens? Wouldn’t the $3billion be more useful if spent on uplifting the socio-economic welfare of the country?