US set to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan

Published: October 22, 2015
Decision comes ahead of President Obama’s meeting on Thursday with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PHOTO: REUTERS

Decision comes ahead of President Obama’s meeting on Thursday with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PHOTO: REUTERS

Decision comes ahead of President Obama’s meeting on Thursday with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PHOTO: REUTERS Decision comes ahead of President Obama’s meeting on Thursday with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration is preparing to sell eight new F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, senior American officials said, an overture intended to bolster a tenuous partnership despite persistent concerns about Islamabad’s ties to elements of the Taliban and quickly expanding nuclear arsenal.

The decision comes ahead of President Obama’s meeting on Thursday with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which is to be dominated by the president’s decision to extend the American troop presence in Afghanistan and a quiet effort to get PM Nawaz to halt the deployment of a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons.

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But Obama, like President George W Bush before him, is trying to balance pressure on Pakistan with signs that Washington still considers it a vital ally. Congress was notified just days ago about the proposed sale of the additional fighters, although it is not clear if the White House plans to announce the sale of the aircraft during the visit.

The Federation of American Scientists, a leading American group that monitors the spread of nuclear weapons, published a report on Wednesday that shows that Pakistan has expanded its arsenal to 110 to 130 warheads, up from a range of 90 to 110 four years ago.

While those figures show a steady but expected increase, the group estimated that by 2025 the figure would rise to 220 to 250 warheads. That would make Pakistan the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power, behind the United States, Russia, China and France, but ahead of Britain, which is shrinking its arsenal.

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could become world’s third-biggest: report

It is the nature, not the size, of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal that tops Obama’s agenda. Over the past two weeks, officials in Washington have said they are exploring whether a deal might be possible to halt the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons that American experts fear are vulnerable to being launched without authorisation, or stolen, on the battlefield.

Until earlier this week Pakistani officials had said nothing about the program, although the foreign secretary, Aizaz Chadhary, told reporters in Islamabad on Tuesday that the country had built “low-yield nuclear weapons” to counter India, according to a local newspaper in Pakistan.

It is unlikely that either side will talk publicly about nuclear weapons on Thursday, but Obama plans to raise the issue at length, according to administration officials.

US exploring deal to limit Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal

Selling Pakistan more arms, however, is an issue that is often discussed more publicly to signal that Pakistan is acting in its role as a “major non-NATO ally,” a designation Bush bestowed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The new aircraft, whose sale could be blocked by Congress, would add to Pakistan’s already sizable force of fighter jets — it has more than 70 F-16s and dozens of French and Chinese attack aircraft. But perhaps of equal importance to supporters and critics alike is the symbolic value of the sale to an ally whose relationship with the United States has been marked by long stretches of acrimony in recent years.

Much of the tension has arisen from Pakistan’s ties to elements of the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, which is linked to al Qaeda and is seen by American commanders as the most deadly faction of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan. In recent years, numerous American officials have publicly and privately complained about the support to the Haqqanis provided by Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence.

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At the same time, many American officials have continued to insist that the best path forward with Pakistan is to work with its elected leaders and military commanders in hopes of convincing them to crack down on all militants, not just those who actively fight the government there. The Obama administration is also looking for Pakistan to help bring the Taliban to peace talks — an effort that the administration has pursued for years. As a result, officials are loath to antagonize Islamabad at a crucial moment in the war in Afghanistan.

The Afghan peace process appeared to be gaining momentum this summer with meetings between Afghan officials and Taliban representatives in Pakistan.

But it was derailed by news that the Taliban’s elusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, died about two years ago, and the insurgents have made significant gains in the months since. Late last month they seized a city for the first time since 2001, taking Kunduz, Afghanistan, and holding off Afghan forces for more than two weeks before pulling back.

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Fearful that Afghan forces would be outmatched without American support, Obama announced last week that American troops would remain in Afghanistan through the end of his term. But after 2016, there would only be about 5,500 Americans left in Afghanistan, so the administration is eager to revive the peace process, which is expected to be on the agenda when Obama and PM Nawaz meet on Thursday.

While Pakistan has gone after Qaeda operatives since 2001, and allowed the CIA. drone program to strike targets in the country’s tribal areas, it has also provided a safe haven for the Taliban and supported elements of the Afghan insurgency. Pakistan has also supported other militant groups fighting in Kashmir and targeting India.

Many in Congress fear that the F-16 jets are more useful to Pakistan in its long confrontation with India than for counterterrorism. It is unclear if Congress will approve the deal: Congress and the State Department are already in a standoff over an effort to sell used Navy cutter vessels to Pakistan earlier this year.

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In March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee put a hold on about $150 million in foreign military financing — aid from the United States that foreign allies could use to purchase American weapons and other military equipment, said American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the issue has not yet been made public.

The committee said the cutters were not essential to fighting militants, the officials said. But in a letter sent in February to Secretary of State John Kerry, Representative Edward Royce of California, the committee’s chairman, and Representative Elliot L Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat, outlined their broader concerns about Pakistan.

“We remain deeply concerned that Pakistan has failed to take meaningful action against key terrorist groups operating within its territory,” they wrote.

PM heads to US for talks with Obama on Afghan peace

The letter urged the administration to change its approach to Pakistan, suspend some assistance and begin imposing travel restrictions and sanction officials thought to have ties to militants.

This article is in partnership with The New York Times

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Reader Comments (35)

  • Choudhari
    Oct 22, 2015 - 9:57AM

    F-16. What a joke. Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Oct 22, 2015 - 10:35AM

    Even though they are just F-16 not F-35 and more so just 8 in number but our Secular Neighbor friend will make a lot of hue and cry on this, I bet!Recommend

  • Booster
    Oct 22, 2015 - 10:49AM

    These birds from US are useless because Pakistan won’t be able to use them in war against India or any other US ally country. Reason? I do believe that – just like NSA and other agencies and even the manufacturers exploit loop holes or intentionally-placed-glitches in electronic equipment and operating systems of various types ranging from mobile phones to encrypted routers; these birds will also be controlled by US through some hidden communication. They could jam them or even make them dead – all remotely from some Detroit or Cali base in USA. I don’t think they would give away strategic weapons to Pakistan or any other muslim country like Saudi Arabia without having any remote commands in their hands that they could use in hour of “need” !! Recommend

  • Oct 22, 2015 - 10:49AM

    F-16 is Not Poweful as MI-35.But Good ,

  • abreez
    Oct 22, 2015 - 11:00AM

    For India
    General Electric F404-GE-IN20 turbofan engines for HAL Tejas
    Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
    Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules
    Boeing AH-64 Apache
    Boeing CH-47 Chinook
    For Pakistan
    I think America want Pakistan to search new areas of defense cooperation like, China, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Brazil and Sweden.Recommend

  • someone
    Oct 22, 2015 - 11:23AM

    So NS goes to US to get the business and end up buying from US. Hmm. Now what are these 8 fighter jets going to do? Produce electricity in Pakistan? Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Oct 22, 2015 - 11:39AM

    @abreez: It is all about money. India have foreign reserves to pay for expensive equipment while Pakistan still looms around on IMF loans which they can’t use heavily on such items. Recommend

  • Virkaul
    Oct 22, 2015 - 12:30PM

    Of course it will as to arm a rogue state with F16 means equipping them against the neighbourRecommend

  • Hameed
    Oct 22, 2015 - 12:44PM

    Why is Pakistan buying old expensive F16 when JF17 are so great? Obviously because JF17 are not so great compared to the 40 years old F16.Recommend

  • Mustafa
    Oct 22, 2015 - 1:13PM

    These will be Block 52 F-16’s which is most current (apart from the UAE’s Block 60/61). All our F-16’s are now almost at the block 52 level capability after the first generation Block 15 were upgraded via the Mid Life Upgrade Program recently.

    Now, only the 12 odd ex-Jordanian Block 30 F-16’s are comparatively less capable. I don’t think that there are plans to upgrade them, as they will probably be used in Operational Conversion role.

    There is no comparison between a JF-17 and a Block 52 F-16. Different aircraft, different capabilities and different roles.Recommend

  • GKA
    Oct 22, 2015 - 1:41PM

    This is approx US$ 750 mln. Pakistan chooses F16s over water dams. India is not complianing. In the Kishenganga case, the arbitration panel ruled that Kishenganga can go ahead despite affecting the Neelum project, as the Neelum project remained on paper while “India matched action with intent” i.e went ahead with investment

    Maybe CPEC can solve this – but CPEC is very high cost of financing – 18% equity returns and also high cost of debt. Somebody has to pay for it

    Pakistan facing financial problems aheadRecommend

  • Rahat
    Oct 22, 2015 - 2:18PM

    Thank you United States. United States is the best thing to happen to Pakistan. Recommend

  • zamin
    Oct 22, 2015 - 2:32PM

    eight F16 fighter jets are costing around 1600 crore Pakistani rupees. how many schools can be started with this amount to nourish those fertile brains who are not able to go to school due to poverty,so please wake up and stop this wastage of money…… Pakistan is already engaged in a deal with Russia over su-35 fighter’s get them with transfer of technology and develop them further indigenouslyRecommend

  • doraiz shamsi
    Oct 22, 2015 - 4:22PM

    Most likely we will get soyabean oil in shape of F16sRecommend

  • Malick
    Oct 22, 2015 - 4:30PM

    Unfortunately (or fortunately for the people of Pakistan) this deal will not pass through US congress. The Indian lobby is too strong.Recommend

  • Omar
    Oct 22, 2015 - 5:05PM

    @Choudhari: Since when in your expert opinion did F16 become a joke?!Recommend

  • bla bla
    Oct 22, 2015 - 5:38PM

    Stop buying obselete technology like F-16 look for SU 35 or J20 or J 31 otherwise build your own super hypersonic drones system Recommend

  • Mazhar
    Oct 22, 2015 - 5:50PM

    We should stick with Russian SU-35, a far better fighter jet (with Thrust Vectoring) than F-16. With JF_17 we have now an alternative, so don’t worry if congress blocks this deal. F-16 belongs to 70s technology, Americans have been upgrading it every now and than, but it is still like using extra strong makeup to cover wrinkles. JF-17 also pulls 8+ Gs at sharp turns like F-16, plus we can have latest Radars and electronic warfare kits to be installed on our JF-17 which will cost us way less than F-16s. We should spend money wisely and should go for SU-35.Recommend

  • Singh
    Oct 22, 2015 - 6:30PM

    I agree PAF is best in world. We have seen them in action during Abbottabad raid.
    Best performance ever in history of Pakistan.
    ET let me have little fun with response from other side.Recommend

  • Mazhar
    Oct 22, 2015 - 9:49PM

    @Ayesha Umer:
    may be you mean SU-35, cuz MI-35 is an attack helicopter.Recommend

  • junaid
    Oct 22, 2015 - 11:33PM

    @Ayesha Umer:
    no f 16 d/e block is much more more strong n best than Russianssu 35 cuz f16 proof its self in several aircombat but the other hand the su is still under developed by sukhoi arronutics co..Recommend

  • junaid
    Oct 22, 2015 - 11:49PM

    USA always remain no.1 in airforce and air superiority.. dumb russians and chinese are far away than usa air power in the world…plz check history …USA oriented fighter always shoots russians and chinese made jet in war ..Recommend

  • Oct 22, 2015 - 11:56PM

    we love you USA… from pakistan…USA & Pakistan always be good friend forever…USA is our real friend since the creation of pakistan… in my point of view china is not suitable friend for pakistan in future…Recommend

  • Oct 23, 2015 - 9:49AM

    You do realize that the F-35 can’t beat F-16 in a real dogfight? Even in a test flight it failed to beat it plus if you search the news you will also see that it still has a great many faults in it even now despite being under production for more then 5-6 years or so.
    Fact remains that F-16 is one of the most reliable jets of this and the last decade. This very jet has been very beneficial in many many wars against our enemies. It also hugely depends on the pilot too you know ;)Recommend

  • Tore
    Oct 23, 2015 - 10:20AM

    Unbeliveble that USA thinks by selling 8 planes, Pakistan can threaten Indian airforce which is already many times larger and equipped by modern planes and is soon inducting even more french & russian planes like FAGFA & Rafaele.Recommend

  • shafi
    Oct 23, 2015 - 11:21AM

    @sheryar. ur totally mistaken, usa is now planning to remove f16 frm its fleet in next couple of years, su 30 is comparable to F16, su 35 is far superior with its stealth tech than f16Recommend

  • Golden Eagle
    Oct 23, 2015 - 12:54PM

    a good deal with US. F16 is world reknown best fighter aircraft. i would like to add after reading many comments from my friends that it is an old version and we should go for latest but in my point of view its not the machine but its the pilot which matter alot.Recommend

    Oct 23, 2015 - 4:17PM

    F.16 …… you know we won’t use These Fighters against Indians. Indian policy makers know well that we have in case in case of Cold Start by Indian Mechanised formations.Recommend

  • Shaukat ali
    Oct 23, 2015 - 6:50PM

    @tore: you are the only back seat analyst who thinks Indian air force has adequate number of planes. Every other Indian defense analyst and expert says Indian air force is in dire straits, with not enough squadrons on place and with mostly aging mig 21s, learn to pick on a country your own size where your aging fleet will crumble in any contest.Recommend

  • Oct 24, 2015 - 7:59PM

    New Thing Coming in Pakistani Army and going to be stronger day by day….a day will come when it will be a super power and will rule the worldRecommend

  • Oct 25, 2015 - 2:40AM

    If India can purchase military hardware against Pakistan by hiding behind the name of China….sure Pakistan can also buy military hardware for its security….as it is very clear that pakistan will use the same hardware for both india and terrorists ! If you know what I mean !Recommend

  • Tom
    Oct 25, 2015 - 7:02AM

    @Choudhari: But there is no support for it in Congress. It isn’t going thru any time soon.!!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • Avijit Roy
    Oct 25, 2015 - 5:09PM

    Toys for Pakistanis brought by USA-returned Uncle Nawaz.Recommend

  • Prada
    Oct 26, 2015 - 5:08PM

    Reports suggest that this announcement was just a face-saving tactic. US Congress is set to block the sale anyway. Recommend

  • Stranger
    Oct 26, 2015 - 10:11PM

    IF both the countries spent even half the amount to ‘fight’ their internal problems then …Recommend

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