Explained: Why India is irked with the US over its F-16 programme to Pakistan

A decision made by Donald Trump to freeze military aid to Pakistan has been reversed by the Biden administration. Now the US has agreed to provide the neighbouring nation equipment related to F-16 jets to fight terrorism and India is concerned

FP Explainers September 27, 2022 17:33:50 IST
Explained: Why India is irked with the US over its F-16 programme to Pakistan

On 7 September, the US government decided to approve a $450 million F-16 fighter jet fleet sustainment programme to Pakistan. The sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions, says the US. AFP

India is not too pleased with the United States’ recent decision to provide a massive $450 million F-16 fighter jet fleet sustainment programme to Pakistan. This was made clear when External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar slammed the US during an interaction with non-resident Indians in Washington on Sunday.

Early this month, the Biden administration approved the F-16 sustainment programme for Pakistan, reversing the decision of the previous Trump administration to suspend military aid to Islamabad for providing safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. The US defended its decision by saying that the package was to fight terrorism.

Also read: With F-16 spares for Pakistan, US completes return to Cold War Eurasia strategy

Referring to its argument, Jaishankar minced no words when he said everybody knows where and against whom the F-16s are used. “You’re not fooling anybody by saying these things,” he said hitting out at the US.

What is the F-16 sustenance package?

The $450 million package comprises technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet. There is participation in electronic combat international security assistance programme, international engine management programme, engine component improvement programme, aircraft and engine hardware and software modifications and support and aircraft and engine spare repair/return parts.

The package will help Pakistan upgrade its existing fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

On 7 September, the US State Department approved the foreign military sale of F-16 jets to Pakistan for sustainment and related equipment. The Defence Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of the possible sale.

Explained Why India is irked with the US over its F16 programme to Pakistan

Graphic: Pranay Bhardwaj

Why is the US providing military assistance to Pakistan?

According to the US, the package would help Islamabad sustain its capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining its F-16 fleet.

“The United States Government has notified Congress of a proposed Foreign Military Sales case to sustain the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 programme. Pakistan is an important counterterrorism partner, and as part of longstanding policy, the United States provides life cycle maintenance and sustainment packages for US-origin platforms,” a US State Department spokesperson said.

Pakistan’s F-16 programme is an important part of the broader United States-Pakistan bilateral relationship, the spokesperson said.

According to the Congressional notification, the proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions. It will not “alter the basic military balance in the region”.

The Pentagon said this sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by allowing Pakistan to retain interoperability with US and partner forces in ongoing counterterrorism efforts and preparation for future contingency operations, according to a report by news agency PTI.

Explained Why India is irked with the US over its F16 programme to Pakistan

Pakistan has in the past used F-16s against India. In the aerial skirmish in February 2019, the PAF used the jet. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Pakistan had requested to consolidate prior F-16 sustainment and support cases to support its Air Force F-16 fleet by reducing duplicate case activities and adding additional continued support elements.

This is the first major security assistance to Pakistan from the US after 2018 when then President Donald Trump stopped all defence and security aid to it alleging that Islamabad was not a partner in its fight against terrorism. He accused Pakistan of peddling “lies and deceit” for the billions of dollars that the US had “foolishly” given it.

What is India’s concern?

The F-16s have been a big worry for India since they were first given to Pakistan as a reward for assistance in the first Afghan war, reports The Indian Express.

The article quotes Brig. Rahul Bhonsle (retd), who runs the online portal Security Risks Asia, as saying that the US package would enhance conventional deterrence versus India. He points to the last skirmish between India and Pakistan on 29 February 2019, where PAF used F-16s to bring down a MiG-21 flown by Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, adding that the Falcons is what the neighbouring nation will use in the future.

G Parthasarthy, the former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, said that the US’s decision was a matter of concern. “They (America) is saying it is not giving any new capability (to Pakistan). Let us remember that those aircraft have very advanced radar and very advanced missile capabilities,” he told news agency ANI.

The former envoy said that F-16s have been used against India in the past. “… it’s a very clear signal to India that they are planning to give Pakistan the capabilities to match us,” Parthasarthy said.

Sushant Sareen, a senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), dubbed bizarre the Biden administration’s excuse that the F-16 package was given to Pakistan to fight terrorism. “Now if Americans don’t know that Pakistan is a terror-sponsoring country, then nobody else would know,” he told news agency ANI.

What has the Indian government said?

Jaishankar on Sunday slammed the Biden administration and said that America’s relationship with Pakistan has “not served” either of the two countries.

“Very honestly, it’s a relationship that has neither ended up serving Pakistan well nor serving the American interests. So, it is really for the United States today to reflect on what are the merits of this relationship and what do they get by it,” he said while answering a question during an interaction with the Indian diaspora.

Explained Why India is irked with the US over its F16 programme to Pakistan

While interacting with the Indian diaspora in Washington, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar hit out at the US administration over its decision to provide military aid to Pakistan. Representational picture/AP

This is the first time India has publicly hit out at the US over the programme. Last week, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh conveyed India’s concerns to his counterpart Lloyd Austin in a phone conversation.

“I conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet,” Singh wrote on Twitter.

How has the US responded?

The action on F-16 was not designed as a message to India as a result of its relationship with Russia, said Ely Ratner, US Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs told The Hindu. He said that Washington has engaged with India on the F-16 package before and during the decision.

India and Pakistan are both partners of the US with different points of emphasis, the Biden administration said, responding to Jaishankar.

“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 State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at his daily news conference.

With inputs from agencies

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