Saturday, 7 May 2016

US Pakistan F-16 Deal shadowed by Uncertainty

Pakistani F16s

The US-Pakistan Fighter Deal is Still on a Roller Coaster of Yes and No.

The diplomatic relations between Pakistan-America started in just two months after the creation of Pakistan. But the relations between the both countries were more of a roller coaster ride and kept changing with the time and circumstances. Despite the length of time, the nature of relations remained transactional with Americans treatment depending on Pakistan's relevance for their global objectives while Pakistan was in the state of one-sided love and failing to make itself a strategic partner. All along this relation, Pakistan was not able to engage America at the strategic level and make itself important so the relation remains strong even after the transaction at hand completes. This post is aimed at dissecting the current Pakistan-America F-16 deal and current developments.

F-16 is kind of a symbol of Pakistan-America defense cooperation. America has been supplying Pakistan with F-16s since the 1980s with the first batch of F-16 reaching Sargodha Airbase in Pakistan in January 1983 under the program named Peace Gate 1. Currently, America agreed to sell 8 Block 52 F16s and other defense equipment to Pakistan at a cost $ 699 million. The deal was initially planned to be funded by America but after Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Pakistan was supposed to pay only $ 290 million and rest was to be paid by United States Foreign Military Support fund. When the deal was presented to US lawmakers. a strong opposition was put forth which halted the deal in January and the end use of planes was questioned and it was conveyed that F16 will be used against India in the case of Pakistani aggression rather than supposed use against Taliban. And then there was a question of Pakistan's integrity in the war against terror and its action against afghan Taliban especially the Haqqani Network.Then in March, US senate gave the F16 deal a go-ahead even after the opposition from Congress. On April 29, US State Department withdrew the funding deal for the F16s and asked Pakistan to pay the full amount if it wants the jets.

In a very diplomatically crafted statement, John Kirby tried to distant himself and Obama Administration from the decision of congress and said that State Department wants to go ahead with funding the deal as initially proposed and conditions imposed by congress limits the ability of the President to conduct foreign policy in the best interest of America.

After being notified about withdrawn funding arrangement, Pakistani response was somewhat of a shock for the world. On 3rd of May, Pakistani Foreign Affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz said that the US is making it difficult for Pakistan to buy the planes and if the deal does not go ahead as proposed then Pakistan will buy the jets from somewhere else. The statement of going elsewhere drew an instant reaction which was pretty egoistic and asks Pakistan to go ahead.

The question is does Pakistan have any options? Can Pakistan purchase F16s or any other jet to meet its demands from elsewhere? There are no clear cut answers. Pakistan may look forward to enhancing and boosting the production of JF-17 Thunder jointly built by Pakistan and China. With new defense contracts with Russia, Su-35 may be another viable option for Pakistan as Pakistani and Russian interest are pretty aligned as after ISAF withdrawal both countries have huge interests in Afghanistan. The chances are the induction of Russian warplanes are more than a possibility which does not play well with the United States of America.

The nature of relations between Pakistan and America are in the cold now as Pakistan carries less relevance to American objective. The scenario is a carbon copy of Pak-US relations in the 90s after the end of the Soviet war when Pakistan became less relevant. The Indian influence and dislike for the deal have a part to play in this saga and it cannot be discounted at any cost. My personal opinion is that the deal will go ahead and the arrangement might look as to the liking of American Congress while funds being transferred to Pakistan using other channels.

It is very high time for Pakistan to introspect and realign its foreign policy to the changing scenarios. After the withdrawal of the bulk of US forces from Afghanistan in 2014, Pakistan lost its importance. The American policy seems to be to browbeat Pakistan and coerce them to do more as we are hearing all sorts of rhetoric about Shakeel Afridi, do more against the Haqqanis, and to failure to bring Taliban to the table. I am satisfied with Pakistani response to the United States dubious technique to pressurize Pakistan to go against its own interests. Pakistan should be looking for regional allies and has to make sure that foreign policy does not get a tunnel-vision.

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