Positive signals

Published: July 28, 2019

It is indeed welcome news that the US has approved $125 million worth of technical and logistics support for Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 warplanes.

The approval comes only days after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the United States and his meetings with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

An official statement by the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency, released on Friday evening, says, “The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to Pakistan for Technical Security Team (TST) in continued support of the F-16 program for an estimated cost of $125 million.”

The US decision, though based on a request from Pakistan for continuation of technical support services and coming only two days after Imran Khan concluded his visit, is a clear indicator of the Trump administration’s desire to move fast on the initiatives necessary to help facilitate safe but respectable exit for the US from Afghanistan.

Believing that Islamabad still enjoys considerable influence over the Taliban, the US administration seemed convinced that there could be no lasting peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan being part of the deal providing for a military and political settlement in the war-torn country.

But the Trump administration must be finding itself in a difficult situation while trying to pacify Pakistan and simultaneously avoiding to annoy India. Hence some media reports quoted US officials as asserting that the freeze on security assistance to Pakistan that President Trump had announced way back in January 2018 will stay and the “proposed sale of this support will not alter the basic military balance in the region”.

One of the major implications of the proposed sale of technical and logistics support services would be the stationing of 60 contractor representatives in Pakistan to keep an eye on the operation and use of the fleet as part of the Peace Drive advanced F-16 program.

While notifying the decision to Congress for approval, the statement also mentioned that “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by protecting American technology through the continued presence of the US personnel that provide 24×7 end-use monitoring.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2019.

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