• State Dept spokesperson says F-16 deal to sustain Islamabad’s capability to ‘meet current and future’ threats
• Indian defence minister raises concerns over agreement with US counterpart

WASHINGTON: Formally announcing arrangements to service Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 aircraft, the US State Department said that it views Pakistan as “an important counterterrorism partner” and expects it to “take sustained action against all terrorist groups”.

Last week, the US State Department approved the potential sale of sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan in a deal valued at up to $450 million, with the principal contractor being Lockheed Martin Corp.

Responding to queries after his press conference on Tuesday, Spokesperson Ned Price said that as part of its longstanding policy, Washington provides “life cycle maintenance and sustainment packages for US-origin platforms”.

Mr Price pointed out that the F-16 programme was “an important part of the broader US-Pakistan bilateral relationship, and this proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining the F-16 fleet.”

The fleet, he said, “allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations, and we expect Pakistan will take sustained action against all terrorist groups.”

His response answers some of the questions raised in India that the F-16s would strengthen Pakistan’s air capabilities, which goes against New Delhi’s interests. The US official, however, made it clear that the new programme aims only at building Pakistan’s strength to counter terrorism and should not be seen in India-Pakistan context.

However, the response did little to placate New Delhi, which is still concerned about the decision and the Indian defence minister conveyed as much to his American counterpart on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

“I conveyed Indias concern at the recent U.S. decision to provide a sustenance package for Pakistans F-16 fleet,” Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh wrote on Twitter following what he called a “warm and productive” telephone conversation with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.

Included in the upgrade are US government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet. It also includes modifications and support of aircraft and engine hardware and software as well as repair and return of the jets and engine spares, classified and unclassified software and software support among others.

During the press briefing, Mr Price was also asked about the ban on transmission of ARY News. “We continue to be concerned by significant restrictions on media outlets and civil society in Pakistan… We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to all stakeholders around the world, including to our partners and our counterparts in Pakistan.”

He told the ARY journalist who posed the question that Washington was “concerned that media and content restrictions, as well as a lack of accountability for attacks against journalists, undermine the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

He also mentioned that with regards to US assistance to Pakistan in connection with the flood emergency, a total of nine US Central Command flights had delivered more than half of the 630 metric tons of relief supplies from USAID’s Dubai warehouse for the response to these massive floods.

“In total, CENTCOM will airlift more than 41,000 kitchen sets, 1,500 rolls of plastic sheeting, tens of thousands of plastic tarps, 8,700 shelter fixing kits – all in support of USAID’s flood relief.”

In this fiscal year alone, we’ve provided more than $53 million in humanitarian assistance, including urgently needed support for food, nutrition, multipurpose cash, safe drinking water, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, as well as shelter assistance. We’re going to continue to work very closely with our Pakistani partners to continue to assess the damage that has been wrought by these floods, and we’ll continue to provide assistance to our partners in this time of need.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2022

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