WASHINGTON: The United States Defense Department said on Tuesday that the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan should not be a cause of concern to India as the deal “always” took into account the regional security situation.
India has expressed its disappointment at the decision by the Obama Administration to sell to sell eight Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, along with training, radar and other equipment to help the country in its counterterrorism operations.
Pakistan expressed surprise over the Indian reaction to the proposed deal, worth $699 million.
Asked at a briefing about India’s reaction to the US decision to sell the aircraft to Pakistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said the United States looks at its relationship with Pakistan and that with India as “separate relationships”.
“We think this is important capabilities for the Pakistanis to go after terrorists in that country,” the spokesman said referring to the F-16 fighter jets.
“We don’t think it should cause concern for India.”
The decision by the US State Department to sell additional F-16 aircraft to Pakistan and a subsequent notification to Congress by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which brokers government-to-government arms sale, came in the face of staunch resistance by the Indian lobby in Washington and some US Congressmen who argued these fighter jets would be used against India.
The proposed F-16 deal also faced opposition from some critics in Washington, including Pakistan’s former ambassador to US Hussain Haqqani, who argued against providing this security assistance to Pakistan in a written testimony to the Congress on Dec 8.
But, these efforts were thwarted by senior diplomats in Washington who remained engaged with Capitol Hill and met several Senators and Congressmen in recent weeks to make a case for Pakistan.
This was in continuation of an active outreach with members of the Congress that also saw Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif visiting the Capitol Hill last November.
The DSCA while notifying the Congress stated that the sale will not alter the basic military balance in the region and contributes to the US foreign policy objectives and national security goals by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner in South Asia.
Pentagon spokesman again reiterated the point at the press briefing about the importance of the F-16 deal.
“We think this [sale of aircraft] is a capability that will help Pakistan in its counterterrorism effort and we think that’s in the national security interests of the United States,” he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry last week sent his department’s annual budget to Congress, proposing a financial assistance of $859.8m for Pakistan, which includes $265m for military hardware. This indicates that Pakistan will have to bear most of the costs for the F-16 deal.
The proposed deal will now go through a 30-day notification period after which it will be finalised.
The new aircraft will add to Pakistan’s sizable force of fighter jets which includes more than 70 F-16s and dozens of French and Chinese attack aircraft, the report said.