Pak may use F-16s against India

The US’s proposed sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan has understandably raised concern in India. The Barack Obama administration claims that the sale of the jets is to “enhance Pakistan’s ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counterterrorism operations.”

This is a disingenuous explanation. F-16s are not the best aircraft to be used in counter-insurgency situations. They are more suitable for use in conventional war. The supply of F-16s to Pakistan will only embolden its military to indulge in provocative, indeed reckless behaviour vis-à-vis India. This has been the experience over the last seven decades. Washington’s supply of combat aircraft to Pakistan in the Cold War years was ostensibly meant to fight Communism but Pakistan used it in its wars against India. The US is well aware of it. Yet it is keen to sell the F-16s to Pakistan, not bothering about its negative impact on India-Pakistan relations or even Pakistan’s domestic politics for that matter. Supply of aid and equipment to the military has in the past tilted the military-civilian balance in Pakistan in favour of the military. At a time when Pakistan’s fragile democratic institutions are struggling to break free of military pressure, it is unfortunate that the Barack Obama administration is weighing in on the side of the generals.

It is likely that the US is selling the F-16s to Pakistan to get its military’s support in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. That is, the jets are to ensure good behaviour on the part of the Pakistani generals. But this has never worked in the past. Has the US forgotten that its $3,6 billion military aid to Pakistan in the 1980s, which the then American president Ronald Reagan justified as necessary to dissuade Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons, failed in this objective?

The Obama administration’s decision to supply F-16s to Pakistan will need the nod of the US Congress. It is likely to sell the $700 million deal to Congressmen as one that will generate jobs for Americans and also help the US achieve its counter-terrorism objectives in Pakistan. India must use its influence to draw the attention of Congressmen to the sale’s destructive impact. Should the deal be sealed, it will not only undermine South Asian regional security but also have dangerous implications for the rest of the world. An empowered Pakistan military will feel emboldened to incite trouble. It could deepen its support to terrorist groups. This would defeat the US’s objectives in Afghanistan. Obama must call off the sale of the F-16s to Pakistan.

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