What the US stance on F-16s means for Pakistan

Published: May 4, 2016
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PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOTO: REUTERS The writer is a retired lieutenant colonel of the Pakistan Army and is currently pursuing PhD in civil-military relations from the University of Karachi

The US Congress has decided “not to subsidise the sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan“. This has been done to ensure that Pakistan does not allow militants to use its territory to carry out attacks inside Afghanistan. As reported by US magazine, Congress Quarterly, Senator Bob Corker “used his authority as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to stop the funding of this proposed sale to Pakistan”. Interestingly, when the senator was asked whether he would lift this hold his reply was that “he was waiting to hear from the US leaders in Afghanistan on the sale of F-16s to Pakistan”. What has the sale of F-16s got to do with the opinion of US leaders in Afghanistan? Carrying precision-guided munitions, the F-16s are a great asset to target terrorists’ hideouts in Fata. Their utility in the war on terror is uncontested but what the Americans are contesting, it seems, is the targets they don’t engage – the Haqqani Network. Ideally, the military and not political leaders in Afghanistan should be best placed to advise Senator Corker on the sale and utility of these aircrafts to Pakistan because the senator needs a military and intelligence assessment, and not a political assessment.

US lawmakers block subsidy for F-16 deal

However, hearing what General John W Nicholson, commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, had to say just after the deadly attack carried out by the Taliban on April 19 in Kabul, one can only claim that despite the losses suffered in over a decade-long war in Afghanistan, the Western military leadership in Afghanistan is wide off the mark in reading the character of the Afghan war and how it has evolved and taken its current shape. The general said, “Today’s attack shows that the insurgents are unable to meet Afghan forces on the battlefield and must resort to these terrorist attacks.” Why would the insurgents want to meet the Afghan forces in the battlefield? Why would they want to fight on the terms of the Afghan forces? They would, instead, want Afghan forces to fight on their terms.

This is not the first time that the US has delayed or stopped military aid or sales to Pakistan. In fact, this has been a preferred method of the American establishment to force a behavioural change – a method that hasn’t worked in the past and a method that is unlikely to pay any desired dividends in the future as well. So why is this method used repeatedly?

The US blockade of F-16s seems to be motivated by the latest attack in Kabul on a security agency responsible for protecting VIPs and senior government officials. In this attack, the blame for which is being put on the Haqqani Network, 64 people died and another 347 were injured. The Taliban, who after this attack described Afghan rulers as “slaves imposed on the Afghan people by John Kerry”, have no confidence in the unity government of Afghanistan and unless they are made a part of the political process, they will continue to launch such attacks to discredit the Afghan government and make it look weak. Before putting the blame of this attack on the Haqqani Network, the Americans would do well to read the ever-deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the contributors to which are not the Haqqanis alone.

In a piece in The Economist on April 23, titled “War in Afghanistan – Fresh Offensive”, it is stated that “the Afghan security forces suffered record casualties last year. On average, more than 1,000 soldiers and police were wounded or killed each month. Afghans lost more men in a single year than the Americans have in the whole war.”

Pakistan will get F-16s from other countries if funding not arranged, Aziz tells US

Can the blame for all these casualties be put solely on the Haqqani Network? Why is it then that every time the Taliban carry out an attack, the Haqqani Network gets accused? Is it because America’s newfound strategic partner in the region insists it do so? After all, India has its own interests in Afghanistan. These interests are more military than they are economic. Attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008, the consulate in Jalalabad in August 2013 and the consulate in Herat on May 2014, all indicate that in the turf war being fought in Afghanistan, Indian presence is unwelcome.

Pakistan’s concerns on its western front are plain and simple. It has repeatedly claimed that Indian consulates in Afghanistan are nothing more than “spying outfits” that are involved in aiding the separatist movement in Balochistan. India’s deep military role in Afghanistan is the cause of suspicion and concern for Pakistan. The request in 2013 by the Afghan government, to India, for the provision of fighter aircrafts, heavy weapons such as T-72 tanks, artillery guns and MI-35 attack helicopters, didn’t go down well with Pakistan. Knowing that it has no direct access to Afghanistan for heavy arms transfer, India, in 2014, signed a defence deal with Russia and Afghanistan to pay Russia for all heavy military equipment that Afghanistan may purchase from it. Already, the Afghan air force, which possessed only four aircraft at the end of 2011, boasts of over 100 aircraft, the pilots of which have been trained by the US at the cost of $5 billion. India also maintains a military base (the first of its kind) outside its territory at Farkhor Air Base in Afghanistan. The military purpose of this base is to supply high-altitude military supplies to the Northern Alliance. Indian fighter aircrafts, if based here, can reach Pakistan’s western frontier within minutes. Even the 900-km railway line being built between Indian-operated Chabahar port in Iran and Hajigak in Afghanistan has a military strategic importance as it enables transportation of military supplies from India to the Afghan heartland.

The pyramid of military hierarchy and authority in the Afghan army is already Tajik-heavy. Although they constitute 27 per cent of the Afghan population, they make up 70 per cent of the officers in the Afghan army. With the majority being trained in Indian military academies, is Pakistan’s concern regarding the Afghan military taking a pro-India stance and Afghanistan itself being developed into an Indian military garrison by India, far-fetched? It’s the Indian relationship that is acutely disturbing Afghan-Pakistan relations. Pakistan dreads military encirclement by India and thus, a weak and destabilised Afghanistan hosting anti-Pakistan militant groups may still be acceptable to elements within Pakistan rather than a strong and stable Afghanistan that is militarily allied to India.

Pakistan to decide how it wants to fulfil its defence needs: US

Blocking the sale of F-16s to Pakistan on the pretext of the country’s failure to target the Haqqani Network is a cosmetic US action that would have no bearing on the existing dynamics of the war in Afghanistan, which will continue to generate violent actions. It is normal for both India and Pakistan to accuse each other of fighting a proxy war and targeting each other with ‘their assets’ across the Durand Line. What is not normal is for US to take such actions as blocking the sale of F-16s to Pakistan based on the question of who is carrying out these actions without taking into consideration why the attacks are being carried out in the first place.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • 3rdRockFromTheSun
    May 4, 2016 - 11:34PM

    “..US to take such actions as blocking the sale of F-16s …”

    The US is not blocking the sales of F-16s. They have refused to subsidize the sales – if Pakistan can come up with the cash, they can buy the planes. What is so wrong with that?Recommend

  • Great Warrior
    May 4, 2016 - 11:47PM

    But given current situation Pakistan is in.. it does not money to sustain as a nation and it should concentrate on its nation building.As usual misplaced priorities!!Recommend

  • vinsin
    May 4, 2016 - 11:55PM

    Article is good except that sale of F-16 is not blocked, it is just that USA is asking to pay for it which any country would do it. There are no free lunches. Question is why USA taxpayers pay for Pakistan F-16s?Recommend

  • Paul
    May 5, 2016 - 12:00AM

    Same tired old rhetoric. Author doesn’t even know that Farkhor Air Base is in Tajikistan. But still this slipped out.

    Pakistan dreads military encirclement by India and thus, a weak and destabilised Afghanistan hosting anti-Pakistan militant groups may still be acceptable to elements within Pakistan rather than a strong and stable Afghanistan that is militarily allied to India.

    The root of the problem is Pakistan’s own insecurity. Why be so insecure after initiating 4 wars with India?Recommend

  • Hella
    May 5, 2016 - 12:04AM

    The author is confused. The US has not blocked the sale of F-16s to Pakistan. It has only refused to subsidise the purchase with American tax payer’s money. Pakistan can still buy the F-16s with its own tax payer’s funds. Since the author is ill informed even on this basic fact the rest of his analysis, is also suspect.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath
    May 5, 2016 - 12:50AM

    The US has not blocked F-16 sales to Pakistan. They have merely said that since Pakistan is not willing to do what the US wants, Pakistan has to pay full price.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    May 5, 2016 - 12:50AM

    Author somehow fails to answer the obvious question!
    WHY should the Americans subsidize arms sales to a country which has long supported terrorists in Afghanistan that have claimed so many American lives?Recommend

  • R Subramanian
    May 5, 2016 - 1:42AM

    Author is too much worried about India.

    India’s relationship with Afghanistan is very normal one, more over stable Afghanistan is good for Pakistan also. Today’s world is based on economic might NOT on how many nuclear weapons you have. So instead of thinking Afghanistan as strategic depth, Pakistan should start see it as neighbouring country which wants to come out from terrorism and live in peace. Afghan people’s wish is legitimate one and as an independent nation Afghanistan has all the rights to have relationship with whichever country it wants.

    More over Pakistan should come out from its compulsory enmity with India. Due to this compulsory enmity they are going in the Soviet Union way. Pakistan should start to see India as a fellow humans, don’t see it through the prism of religion and hatred.Recommend

  • Ashfaq
    May 5, 2016 - 2:44AM

    Good analysis but there’s little point as Pakistan has failed to establish this narrative and pursuade worlds powers of this? Is this effective foreign policy? Are boys capable of developing a sound foreign policy and executing it? Should Pakistan instead be pursuing friendly policy with Afghanistan instead of using proxy to overthrow. Is unstable Afghanistan in Pakistan s interest.Recommend

  • OSD
    May 5, 2016 - 5:04AM

    The analysis is more or less correct and India has always wished to covert Afghanistan into a colony. To counter this, Pakistan has to complete the CPEC without delay. Only a major supply line such as this will bind China to Pakistan and make all Indian plans untenable.Recommend

  • Tp
    May 5, 2016 - 6:05AM

    If the US was benefiting, it would gladly subsidize. Pakistan is trying a clever hand of poker and the Americans have wizened up to it now. I think history will show that Osama being found where he was was the turning point.Recommend

  • manoj
    May 5, 2016 - 8:25AM

    “a weak and destabilised Afghanistan hosting anti-Pakistan militant groups may still be acceptable to elements within Pakistan rather than a strong and stable Afghanistan that is militarily allied to India”
    Shouldn’t India be worried about all weather friendship between pakistan and china? Indian leaders are so worried about your friendship that in 2009 they had asked indian forces to prepare for a two front war(Hopefully no new wars)! So then, is India justified in keeping Pakistan unstable?
    A BIG NO. Proxy wars are not the solution.
    There should be a quadrilateral dialogue between China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan to maintain peace in the region.Recommend

  • IndianDude
    May 5, 2016 - 9:07AM

    Why is author so angry about USA asking Pakistan to pay for f-16? Besides, according to pakistan weren’t the jf-17 from higher than himalaya friend supposed to be better than f-16s? What, the deeper than ocean wants cash too? Recommend

  • vinsin
    May 5, 2016 - 11:03AM

    @manoj:
    India has no border with Afghanistan. It was Nehru foreign policy to promote friendship between China and Pakistan.Recommend

  • Al Furqan
    May 5, 2016 - 11:09AM

    The pyramid of military hierarchy and authority in the Afghan army is already Tajik-heavy. Although they constitute 27 per cent of the Afghan population, they make up 70 per cent of the officers in the Afghan army. With the majority being trained in Indian military academies

    Well, on the other side,

    A. The Hierarchy of Taliban is Pashtoon heavy.

    B. They make 100% of the Taliban.

    C. And majority of them are trained in camps located in Pakistan.

    More importantly, while there is no bar on Pashtoons joining the Afghan National Army, the Hazras and Tajiks are not welcome in the Taliban.

    Learn to state ALL facts.Recommend

  • shafi
    May 5, 2016 - 12:09PM

    @vinsin, did usa forget pak coperation after 9-11, pak suffer huge financial loss in war on terror, this is how usa treat her non-nato allyRecommend

  • Rex Minor
    May 5, 2016 - 1:06PM

    @Al Furqan:
    And majority of them are trained in camps located in Pakistan. Learn to state ALL facts.

    A Pushun learns to shoot at the age of three and grows up in his individual tribe, the afridis and the shinaris, the orakzais or the khataks and not to ignore the fierce waziris and the massuds and others nomadic folks all located in the autonomous tribal territories not in Pakistan per se.

    Rex Minor ; Recommend

  • Jawad
    May 5, 2016 - 2:40PM

    We think that the price of F16 is actually what we are paying to Americans. Whatever americans were adding in it in the name of compensation was actually their own decision for which we are not bothered.

    If Americans can sale them to Pakistan in the same amount thats ok, otherwise we will look into other options.Recommend

  • Chenges k
    May 5, 2016 - 3:44PM

    After fighting two wars in Afghanistan for United States in last 30 years.Losing over $300 Billion & one hundred thousand casualties…….this is what Pakistan gets??

    Normally Americans kick Pakistan after using them …..this time they have started kicking while still needing Pakistan……When you have PM in Panama leaks …the government gets compromised. Recommend

  • BasicFact
    May 6, 2016 - 6:51AM

    This has little to do with pakistan or Afghanistan and more to do with aligning with India. If US wants India’s support in containing china, it has to discard its relations with pakistan which is evident from the f16 ordeal. Similarly UAE and Saudis who have been financial aid providers for pakistan have also realized that their servant isn’t responding to their orders anymoreRecommend

  • Ruby
    May 6, 2016 - 9:45AM

    The pyramid of military hierarchy and authority in the Afghan army is already Tajik-heavy. Although they constitute 27 per cent of the Afghan population, they make up 70 per cent of the officers in the Afghan army.

    Yeah, keep spreading propaganda against the Afghan government and army. You do know whatever problems Afghans face, they will come back to Pakistan, right?Recommend

  • observer
    May 6, 2016 - 12:28PM

    @Chenges k:

    Normally Americans kick Pakistan after using them …..this time they have started kicking while still needing Pakistan……When you have PM in Panama leaks …the government gets compromised.

    Any idea,

    A. Who was ruling when a US President refused to shake hands with a Pakistani President on Pakistani Soil?

    A. Who was ruling when the US threatened Pakistan to bomb it to the Stone Age?

    B.Who was ruling when Pakistan abandoned the Taliban and jumped to serve the US invasion of Afghanistan?

    My guess is, It was not a PM in Panama leaks.Recommend

  • Trollslayer
    May 6, 2016 - 5:28PM

    As an Afghan, I am always disappointed by the inaccurate and false narrative on Afghanistan propagated by seemingly educated English medium Pakistanis.

    The author’s narrative still portrays Afghans as factional and tries selling a Pashtun vs Tajik, tug of war. He is oblivious to the fact that within hours of the bombing on April 19, thousands of Afghans donated millions of cubic centimeters of blood, for the hundreds of injured Afghans regardless of their ethnicity or sect.

    The youth of Afghanistan don’t subscribe to ethnic or sectarian narratives propagated by Pakistan and Iran that tries to sow discord among Afghans. Those days are over.

    Afghans are united against the Taliban and they don’t see the Taliban as an ethnic group fighting for equal rights, which the author tries to sell to his readers. Afghans see the Taliban as Pakistani stooges that are uneducated and have no platform or agenda for Afghanistan, except serving Pakistan’s agenda.

    Afghanistan is governed by skilled technocrats with advanced degrees from Western universities. In a progressive environment, an anachronistic and regressive group like the Taliban that lack basic education, cannot offer anything to the people of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan know this.

    The national anthem of Afghanistan is in Pashto and the national dance is Attan, which is also part of Pashtun culture. The Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Baloch, Turkoman, Nuristani and Hindu and Sikh have all accepted and tolerated this cultural hegemony, which makes the author’s argument hollow and biased.

    The author admitted that Pakistan would rather have a weak and unstable Afghanistan, as opposed to a strong and stable Afghanistan and Afghans know that this is Pakistan’s ultimate strategy towards Afghanistan and this is the reason Pakistan is perceived as an enemy and India as a friend.

    Afghanistan is on the up and up. Pakistan’s proxy games and inflexible intransigence on bilateral issues only strengthens the resolve of Afghans and Afghanistan to seek alternative ways to remedy and combat any and all issues that arise.

    The author and Pakistanis would do well if they actually visited Afghanistan and realized that their understanding of Afghanistan is stuck in the 80s and 90s and out of touch with Afghanistan of 2016. Recommend

  • Mostly Bull
    May 6, 2016 - 6:37PM

    @Rex Minor: mate, in which country do these autonomous belts that you’re referring to lie, and to which country do they belong?Recommend

  • Madhav Das
    May 6, 2016 - 7:22PM

    Why is Pakistan going on and on about these F16s? Aren’t the JF17’s they have been crowing about not capable of defending their air space? Recommend

  • OSD
    May 6, 2016 - 7:34PM

    @Trollslayer: interesting speech you made there, but as much as we would like that unity part to be true, the realities cannot be changed. There were divisions based on ethnic lines during the afghan civil war and they were perpetuated when the USA promoted the northern alliance to take over from the taliban. I hope that Afghanistan prospers and the afghan nation returns to a peaceful existence. But it would be a benefit to us all if the Afghans wake up and realise how they have been manipulated by their so called “friends”. At the time of the partition, the afghan nation had tried to gain territory past the Durand line, at the expense of a newly independent Pakistan. To this end, India collaborated with you so as to keep Pakistan and Afghanistan busy among themselves. This was an act of manipulation and not friendship. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, it did not do so at the invitation of Pakistan. But we hosted our afghan brothers and integrated them into our society. We further aided the mujaheddin to protect against soviet expansion. But your Indian friends sat there in silence and gave tacit approval to the soviet invasion! In the civil war, Pakistan supported the taliban as it was the biggest Pakhtun group, had emerged from the mujaheddin and identified with their brothers in Pakistan. India, your friend, supported the Northern Alliance in a failed attempt to gain influence and so prolonged the suffering of Afghans! With so much mischief by India, I am surprised and disappointed at how Afghans consider India their friend and not us. Look at your history. We are the true brothers bound by religion and ethnicity, and India has no place here. Ask them why they continue to interfere in your affairs and prop you up just to destabilise Pakistan.Recommend

  • np
    May 7, 2016 - 12:00AM

    @Chenges k: “After fighting two wars in Afghanistan for United States in last 30 years. Losing over $300 Billion & one hundred thousand casualties…….this is what Pakistan gets??”

    Please provide one objective article that actually confirms the supposed billions of dollars of loss due to fighting in the US war on terror. In fact it is even questionable whether Pakistan fought in the US war on terror post 9-11. While Pakistan has taken billions from US to fight Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, it provided safe haven to Afghan Taliban and punished the man who helped US track OBL The only people Pakistan is fighting is Pakistani insurgents which has nothing to do with US.

    As far as Afghan war is concerned, please note that Pakistan did not send a single soldier to that war. It was simply the middlemen for routing weapons and money to mujahidin and it was very well compensated for providing that service.Recommend

  • np
    May 7, 2016 - 12:17AM

    “Pakistan dreads military encirclement by India and thus, a weak and destabilised Afghanistan hosting anti-Pakistan militant groups may still be acceptable to elements within Pakistan rather than a strong and stable Afghanistan that is militarily allied to India.”

    So you want to control whom a sovereign country allies with and if they choose to disregard your directives, you will destabilize it. Then you are surprised that Afghans hate Pakistan.Recommend

  • IndianDude
    May 8, 2016 - 9:00AM

    @OSD,
    Pakistan acted as guns for hire for USA to fight the soviets. Pakistan did so for $$ and not due to ‘brotherly’ love for proud Afghans. The Afghans know their and your history very well. Look this is 2016 and the article is still about not getting freebie/$$/handout/f16 from uncle sam!Recommend

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