Pakistan may get F-16s by July: experts

Updated 20 May 2016


WASHINGTON: Defence experts in the US capital believe that Pakistan may get the disputed F-16s by the end of July, despite a strong opposition from American lawmakers.

The experts, who spoke to Dawn, said that the Obama administration would ultimately succeed in convincing Congress that it was in America’s interest to enable Pakistan to buy the aircraft.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration informed Islamabad that it was ready to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, as it wanted. The US Senate, however, prevented the administration from subsidising the deal, although it endorsed the sale.

On Tuesday, the White House warned Congress that its effort to restrict US military assistance to Pakistan would hurt US interests in the region and would “unnecessarily complicate progress” in ties with Pakistan.

Earlier this month, the Hou­se Armed Services Committee endorsed another move to block $450 million in aid to Pakistan for allegedly failing to take action against Afghanistan’s militant Haqqani network.

Defence experts in Washington say that the Obama administration has reached out to several key lawmakers in both chambers of the US Congress, urging them to reconsider both restrictions --- on the F-16s and military assistance.

During a recent visit to India, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter strongly defended the proposed sale, saying that “Pakistan has used F-16s in its operations in the Fata ... we approve of those operations... and where we can cooperate with Pakistan in that regard, we do”.

The defence experts here say that such statements indicate improvement in relations between the defence establishments of the two countries. They argue that the Obama administrations fears that “bringing too much pressure” on Pakistan may have negative consequences and may also increase anti-American sentiments in the country.

On Wednesday, State Department’s spokesman John Kirby noted that “the Pakistani people have suffered at the hands of terrorists for far too long”, while underlining Washington’s desire to stay engaged with Pakistan.

Diplomatic observers in Washington pointed out that both sides were being “pragmatic” in seeking to revive their ties.

“Both sides know that they cannot go back to the relationship they had during the cold war or after 9/11,” said a senior diplomat while talking to Dawn.

“The Americans envisage a greater role for India in the region and Pakistanis are willing to work with that, provided it’s not at the cost of their national interest,” he added.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2016