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Explained | Why Is India Upset Over the US F-16 Sustenance Package to Pakistan?

The $450 million package is for “technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.”

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At a meeting with the non-resident Indian community in Washington, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar blasted the United States for its move to provide Pakistan with the “F-16 case for sustainment and related equipment” worth $450 million. 

Rebuking the picture of a blossoming US-Pakistan relationship, the MEA questioned its merits and said: 

“Very honestly, it’s a relationship that has neither ended up serving Pakistan well, nor serving the American interests. So, it is really for the United States today to reflect on what are the merits of this relationship and what do they get by it.” 

Jaishankar, refuting the claim that the package will assist Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, said that everybody knows where and against whom the F-16 fighter jets will be used and added, “You're not fooling anybody by saying these things.” 

The MEA’s comments were the first time that India publicly expressed its frustration at the Joe Biden administration’s move. Amid the arguments, here’s why the “Pakistan – F-16 Case for Sustainment” is causing a stir between India, Pakistan, and the United States. 

Explained | Why Is India Upset Over the US F-16 Sustenance Package to Pakistan?

  1. 1. What Is Washington’s F-16 Package to Islamabad?

    In a Defense Security Co-operation Agency press release, dated 7 September, the $450 million package, whose contractor is Lockheed Martin, was said to be a “technical and logistical service for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.” 

    The $450 million package is for “technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.”

    Effectively, with the package, Pakistan’s existing fleet of F-16s gets a lifetime upgrade. 

    Expand
  2. 2. India's Objections

    After the US agreed to provide the F-16 fleet sustainment air package to the Pakistan Air Force, India registered a strong protest with the US against the deal, over both the substance and timing of the US decision, on 11 September.

    India said that it was upset that the US did not forewarn India about a policy design that could have serious implications for India’s security. 

    Subsequently, on 14 September, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh informed US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of India’s concerns over Washington’s decision. “I conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet,” a statement of the Ministry of Defense said.

    MEA officials also said that they communicated India’s objections to the US officials who were in New Delhi for the '2+2 Inter-sessional and Maritime Security Dialogue', and for a senior Quad officials meeting during the announcement on 7 September. 

    However, before Jaishankar’s comments, during his interaction with non-resident Indians in Washington, where he launched an attack against both the US and Pakistan, the ministry had remained relatively quiet over the sustenance package. 

    Expand
  3. 3. United States Responds to Jaishankar

    When asked about Jaishankar’s remark, White House spokesperson Ned Price said:

    “We don’t view our relationship with Pakistan, and … our relationship with India as in relation to one another. These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each.”

    Price said that the US looks at both India and Pakistan as partners, who have shared values and shared interests. He added that the US’ relationship with both countries stands independent to each other. 

    Responding to another question, Price said that it is "not in Pakistan's interest to see instability and violence in Afghanistan."

    The White House spokesperson said that Pakistan is implicated in several commitments with the US, in Afghanistan

    Expand
  4. 4. Impact on Indo-Pak Relations

    India’s concern around the F-16s and Pakistan is not a new occurrence. Rather, India has been concerned about this since the first time the US gave Pakistan F-16s, a reward for their assistance in the First Afghan War, where the US supplied Pakistan with money and weapons, in a successful attempt to fight the Soviet Army with jihadis.

    However, the end of the war and the Soviet Union’s departure from Afghanistan led to the US reworking its relationship with Pakistan.

    Aimed against Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, 'The Pressler Amendment' froze it out of military assurance. In layman’s terms, no more F-16s.

    However, a decade later, the Bush Administration did not only approve the release of the blocked F-16s, but also allowed the sale of new F-16s, along with a refurbishment package. 

    During India and Pakistan’s last aerial skirmish in 2019, Pakistan brought down a MiG-21 flown by the Indian Air Force’s Abhinandan Varthaman. The move acted as a show of strength for the F-16, cementing Pakistan’s intentions to use the aircraft in all future operations. 

    However, from another point of view, the package could also be a signal from the States to both Islamabad and New Delhi to break the long impasse in their relations. 

    Expand
  5. 5. What Is the US’ Rationale Behind the Move?

    According to the press release, the proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions. 

    The proposed sale will “support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by allowing Pakistan to retain interoperability with the US and partner forces in ongoing counter-terrorism efforts and in preparation for future contingency operations,” the release added.

    “The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.” 

    However, Jaishankar pointed out the murkiness in the argument that the F-16s assist in counter-terrorism. He said that much of the heavy lifting in the counter-terrorism department was carried out by the US, through armed, unmanned drones. 

    The Indian Express reported that among the speculated reasons for the Biden Administration’s reversal of former President Donald Trump’s hardline policy on Pakistan, was the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second emir of the al-Qaeda, in Kabul.

    Many questions swirled, both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, asking who provided the intelligence which led to the drone strike that killed al-Zawahiri.

    In 2021, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had explicitly denied American implications that it was negotiating air space rights for security or counter-terrorism related operations in Afghanistan. 

    Expand
  6. 6. The Role of Pakistan’s Changing Government

    Former PM Imran Khan’s allegations of a US hand in his ouster from office did not prove to be much of a hindrance to the Shehbaz Sharif government’s efforts to repair ties with the Biden Administration.

    Both Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who reportedly asked for help to secure an International Monetary Fund package for Islamabad, and Inter-Services Intelligence Head Lt General Nadeem Anjum, who visited the States in May, have been in contact with their US interlocutors. 

    In an interview to a Pakistani TV channel, according to The Indian Express, Khan had revealed that he is not actually anti-US, and added that he has been in touch with several US officials, showing that the turning point in Islamabad and Washington’s relations was already close.

    In the meanwhile, the Biden Administration has not been silent and has expressed its concern regarding the Modi government’s “lukewarm” attitude towards Russian sanctions and its “neutrality” to the war in Ukraine.

    However, US Assistant Secretary of Defense Ely Ratner has disputed such claims and said: 

    “The action on F-16s is not designed as a message to India as it relates to its relationship with Russia. The decision inside the US government around the F-16 issue was made, predicated on US interests associated with our defense partnership with Pakistan, which is primarily focused on counter-terrorism and nuclear security."

    Geo-political observers, quoted by The Indian Express, believe that the package to Pakistan is a one-up move by the US to break China’s hold on Pakistan. 

    Currently, the Pakistan Air Force has more Chinese JF-17 Thunder fighter jets than F-16s, but continues to rely on the somewhat-dated American fighter, as seen in the 2019 skirmish between India and Pakistan.

    However, in a significant demonstration, on Pakistan’s National Day on 23 March, PAF chief Zaheer Ahmad Babar Sidhu led the flypast in an F-16. 

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Is Washington’s F-16 Package to Islamabad?

In a Defense Security Co-operation Agency press release, dated 7 September, the $450 million package, whose contractor is Lockheed Martin, was said to be a “technical and logistical service for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.” 

The $450 million package is for “technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.”

Effectively, with the package, Pakistan’s existing fleet of F-16s gets a lifetime upgrade. 

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

India's Objections

After the US agreed to provide the F-16 fleet sustainment air package to the Pakistan Air Force, India registered a strong protest with the US against the deal, over both the substance and timing of the US decision, on 11 September.

India said that it was upset that the US did not forewarn India about a policy design that could have serious implications for India’s security. 

Subsequently, on 14 September, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh informed US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of India’s concerns over Washington’s decision. “I conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet,” a statement of the Ministry of Defense said.

MEA officials also said that they communicated India’s objections to the US officials who were in New Delhi for the '2+2 Inter-sessional and Maritime Security Dialogue', and for a senior Quad officials meeting during the announcement on 7 September. 

However, before Jaishankar’s comments, during his interaction with non-resident Indians in Washington, where he launched an attack against both the US and Pakistan, the ministry had remained relatively quiet over the sustenance package. 

0

United States Responds to Jaishankar

When asked about Jaishankar’s remark, White House spokesperson Ned Price said:

“We don’t view our relationship with Pakistan, and … our relationship with India as in relation to one another. These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each.”

Price said that the US looks at both India and Pakistan as partners, who have shared values and shared interests. He added that the US’ relationship with both countries stands independent to each other. 

Responding to another question, Price said that it is "not in Pakistan's interest to see instability and violence in Afghanistan."

The White House spokesperson said that Pakistan is implicated in several commitments with the US, in Afghanistan

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Impact on Indo-Pak Relations

India’s concern around the F-16s and Pakistan is not a new occurrence. Rather, India has been concerned about this since the first time the US gave Pakistan F-16s, a reward for their assistance in the First Afghan War, where the US supplied Pakistan with money and weapons, in a successful attempt to fight the Soviet Army with jihadis.

However, the end of the war and the Soviet Union’s departure from Afghanistan led to the US reworking its relationship with Pakistan.

Aimed against Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, 'The Pressler Amendment' froze it out of military assurance. In layman’s terms, no more F-16s.

However, a decade later, the Bush Administration did not only approve the release of the blocked F-16s, but also allowed the sale of new F-16s, along with a refurbishment package. 

During India and Pakistan’s last aerial skirmish in 2019, Pakistan brought down a MiG-21 flown by the Indian Air Force’s Abhinandan Varthaman. The move acted as a show of strength for the F-16, cementing Pakistan’s intentions to use the aircraft in all future operations. 

However, from another point of view, the package could also be a signal from the States to both Islamabad and New Delhi to break the long impasse in their relations. 

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Is the US’ Rationale Behind the Move?

According to the press release, the proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions. 

The proposed sale will “support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by allowing Pakistan to retain interoperability with the US and partner forces in ongoing counter-terrorism efforts and in preparation for future contingency operations,” the release added.

“The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.” 

However, Jaishankar pointed out the murkiness in the argument that the F-16s assist in counter-terrorism. He said that much of the heavy lifting in the counter-terrorism department was carried out by the US, through armed, unmanned drones. 

The Indian Express reported that among the speculated reasons for the Biden Administration’s reversal of former President Donald Trump’s hardline policy on Pakistan, was the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second emir of the al-Qaeda, in Kabul.

Many questions swirled, both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, asking who provided the intelligence which led to the drone strike that killed al-Zawahiri.

In 2021, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had explicitly denied American implications that it was negotiating air space rights for security or counter-terrorism related operations in Afghanistan. 

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

The Role of Pakistan’s Changing Government

Former PM Imran Khan’s allegations of a US hand in his ouster from office did not prove to be much of a hindrance to the Shehbaz Sharif government’s efforts to repair ties with the Biden Administration.

Both Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who reportedly asked for help to secure an International Monetary Fund package for Islamabad, and Inter-Services Intelligence Head Lt General Nadeem Anjum, who visited the States in May, have been in contact with their US interlocutors. 

In an interview to a Pakistani TV channel, according to The Indian Express, Khan had revealed that he is not actually anti-US, and added that he has been in touch with several US officials, showing that the turning point in Islamabad and Washington’s relations was already close.

In the meanwhile, the Biden Administration has not been silent and has expressed its concern regarding the Modi government’s “lukewarm” attitude towards Russian sanctions and its “neutrality” to the war in Ukraine.

However, US Assistant Secretary of Defense Ely Ratner has disputed such claims and said: 

“The action on F-16s is not designed as a message to India as it relates to its relationship with Russia. The decision inside the US government around the F-16 issue was made, predicated on US interests associated with our defense partnership with Pakistan, which is primarily focused on counter-terrorism and nuclear security."

Geo-political observers, quoted by The Indian Express, believe that the package to Pakistan is a one-up move by the US to break China’s hold on Pakistan. 

Currently, the Pakistan Air Force has more Chinese JF-17 Thunder fighter jets than F-16s, but continues to rely on the somewhat-dated American fighter, as seen in the 2019 skirmish between India and Pakistan.

However, in a significant demonstration, on Pakistan’s National Day on 23 March, PAF chief Zaheer Ahmad Babar Sidhu led the flypast in an F-16. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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