WASHINGTON: The US government has notified Congress of a proposed foreign military sale of $450 million to Pakistan to sustain the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 programme, a US State Department spokes­person told Dawn on Thursday.

Another official statement said the US Defence Secu­rity Cooperation Agency (DSCA) delivered the required certification of this possible sale to Congress, on Wednesday.

The agency clarified that “the proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions”.

The agency also informed Congress that “the proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region” and “there will be no adverse impact on US defence readiness as a result of this proposed sale”.

“Pakistan’s F-16 progra­mme is an important part of the broader US-Pakistan bilateral relationship. The proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining its F-16 fleet,” the spokesperson told Dawn.

“In addition, this proposed sale would ensure Pakistan retains interoperability with US and partner forces,” the US official said, adding that “the United States values its important relationships with both India and Pakistan.”

Asked how Washington would react to India’s criticism of the proposed sale, the official said: “These relationships (with Pakistan and India) stand on their own and are not a zero-sum proposition.”

A DSCA press release said the government of Pakistan had requested to consolidate prior F-16 sustainment and support cases to support the Pakistan Air Force F-16 fleet by reducing duplicate case activities and adding additional continued support elements.

The follow-on support for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet would include participation in F-16 Aircraft Structural Integrity Programme; Electronic Combat International Security Assistance Programme; International Engine Management Programme; and Engine Component Improvement Programme, and other technical coordination groups.

The support would also include aircraft and engine hardware and software modifications and support; aircraft and engine spare repair/return parts; accessories and support equipment; classified and unclassified software and software support; publications, manuals, and technical documentation; precision measurement, calibration, lab equipment, and technical support services; studies and surveys; and other related elements of aircraft maintenance and programme support.

A notification sent to Congress said, “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by allowing Pakistan to retain interoperability with US and partner forces in ongoing counterterrorism efforts and in preparation for future contingency operations.

“The proposed sale will continue the sustainment of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet, which greatly improves Pakistan’s ability to support counterterrorism operations through its robust air-to-ground capability. Pakistan will have no difficulty absorbing these articles and services into its armed forces.”

The principal contractor for this sale will be Lockheed Martin Corporation and implementing this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any additional US government or contractor representatives to Pakistan, the DSCA said.

‘Finding narrow areas of cooperation’

Daniel Markey, a senior adviser on South Asia to the Washington-based US Institute of Peace (USIP), described the sale as “a very basic decision, which is more driven by technical necessity to keep the planes flying”.

Mr Markey, however, acknowledged that “at another level” it was a significant decision because the Biden administration “has been so dismissive of Pakistan that it does suggest an opening of relations”.

By agreeing to go ahead with this sale, the administration “did indicate, may be narrow, willingness to work with Pakistan on issues of common interest”.

He suggested that the Biden administration was still frustrated with Pakistan’s policies towards Afghanistan but “it is recognising that it is better to try to find narrow avenues of cooperation” with Islamabad than to stay aloof.

He pointed out that recently Washington sent two key delegations to Islamabad, indicating a desire to work with Pakistan.

Responding to a question, Mr Markey said that it “will be too much to call a reset of relations” but it did show “a willingness to open narrow areas of cooperation”.

The Biden administration, he said, was “not going as far as the Pakistan military would have liked”. The Pakistani military, he said, had made a broader request and what was granted would not upgrade or improve the capacity of the F-16s, as it’s basically “a maintenance package”.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2022

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