Bush to release F-16s for Pakistan

Enhancing Pakistan’s nuclear delivery capacity crosses the line.

Reuters reports that the Bush administration has initiated a process that is aimed at providing Pakistan with its long-desired F-16 fighter aircraft. This move clearly crosses the line between any desire to reward for Pakistan’s service in the war against al Qaeda and an explicit strengthening of its capability to attack India. These aircraft not only bolster the Pakistan Air Force’s air-combat capability but more importantly, also broaden its capability to deliver nuclear warheads. There are no prizes for guessing who those warheads are meant for.

“What the U.S. government wants to make clear to both sides is we have important strategic relationships with both countries,” (the head of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler of the Air Force) said in the interview at his agency’s annual conference on security cooperation. “It’s not that we favor one country over the other. We don’t.” [Reuters]

Its not an issue of who is in ‘favour’, but an issue of who is comes under threat.

The F-16s are not some vague construct like the designation of a ‘major non-NATO ally’ for India to take lightly. To use the same cold calculus of George W Bush’s own foreign policy, handing Pakistan those F-16s is a move ‘against us’. More than merely confronting the usual criticism of fueling an arms race in the subcontinent, the United States must realise that its actions may abruptly stop the slow strategic tango with India even before the dance properly starts.


Why is the US so hell-bent on supporting the terrorist nation of Pakistan? What is in it for the US? After all, Pakistan is also broke. Why, one could ask in puzzlement, would anyone want to sell military hardware to Pakistan? My answer is this: so that India would be forced to buy weapons from the US to keep up with the terrorist nation of Pakistan. [Atanu Dey]

12 thoughts on “Bush to release F-16s for Pakistan”

  1. It’s rare I defend Pakistan, but I believe they are entitled to receive these aircraft since they already paid for them. The US government has been quite stingy to return the money to Pakistan.

    Nevertheless, US can now match France in duplicity. Like the French, the Americans now play both India and Pakistan for great profit.

  2. I agree. The delivery of those aircraft pose an explicit threat to India. its not like th US will listen to our protestations though. they6’ve routinely ignored China’s vocal missives on arms sales to Taiwan, remember?
    I thought Bush is a good guy. I still do. I believe its those snakes in the state dept who’re responsible. Fossilized remnants from a pre 9-11 clintonian era, they’ve no clue what pak is upto.

  3. Niraj,

    Pakistan may have paid for the aircraft but it has received enough aid from the US to more than make up for it. The US is not making money on this. There is no comparison to France there. I still disagree that the US is supplying the aircraft to Pakistan but Nitin also over blows the threat of the F-16’s as delivery platforms. They are not effective or efficient platforms for nuclear weapons delivery because of India’s very advanced detection systems which in part have been supplied by Israel but backed by the US which have had to approve sale of the Phalcon system.
    Only missiles are effective delivery systems for Pakistan. Ill try to dig up some analysis from Jane’s but that is another thing I disagree with US policy on. Since missiles are such a threat why is the US not using all its leverage with Pakistan to get them to come t the table to make an agreement not to develop new missile systems?
    One other thing to think about is that is India may join the US’s missile defense intitive. That would have some interesting effects on the region.

  4. One other note from the article

    “The head of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler of the Air Force, told Reuters the Bush administration had not yet made a final decision on whether to sell new F-16s to Pakistan — a move India opposes”

  5. Niraj,

    Two wrongs dont make a right. The US could have simply refunded the money.


    Yes, it may be those fossilised specimens in the state department. But the buck stops with Bush.


    Well okay, no decision has been made, so it could be a weather balloon to test which way the wind is blowing. Still, it seems to suggest something dangerous — that the Bush administration thinks its quite all right for a military dictatorship with a shady nuclear proliferation record to have those F-16s.

    President Bush Senior blocked the delivery of the F-16s in 1989 because they were capable of being used for nuclear delivery and the US could no longer certify that Pakistan had no nuclear weapons. (see Center for Defense Information). According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,

    U.S.-manufactured F-16s are most likely to be used by the Pakistani Air Force to deliver nuclear weapons…
    The F-16s most likely to have been modified to carry nuclear weapons are deployed with Squadrons 9 and 11 at Sargodha Air Base, 160 kilometers northwest of Lahore. The F-16 has a range of more than 1,600 kilometers, more if drop tanks are used. It can carry as much as 5,450 kilograms externally on one under-fuselage centerline pylon and six under-wing stations. Given the F-16’s payload limitations of weight and size, the bomb probably weighs around 1,000 kilograms and would most likely be attached to the centerline pylon. The assembled nuclear bombs and/or bomb components for these planes may be stored in an ammunition depot near Sargodha.

    Also, it is rather contradictory for the US to work with India on preventing one form of nuclear attack (ballistic missile defence) while providing Pakistan with better means to conduct a nuclear attack in another form. That suggests that the Bush administration is interested to work with India only to push its own agenda (ie missile defence) and but does not really appreciate India’s security requirements.

    You do have a point on the Phalcon, but then, it is difficult not to see the United States as the seller of both the problem as well as the solution. Not the stuff ‘strategic partnerships’ are made of.

  6. The money for the F-16s was eventually refunded.


    The sale of F-16s to Pakistan was stalled in October 1990, during Bush senior’s administration, because of Islamabad’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

    The US subsequently after years of protracted and often bitter negotiations refunded the monies to Pakistan, although Islamabad complained that it had paid millions in storage fees.

    If the US was willing to sell India F-16s as well, then you could say that they were being evenhanded – similar to Egypt and Israel, or Turkey and Greece. But that’s not the case. I take this as one more sign that the Cold War animosity between the two countries hasn’t fully abated. I suspect that if there was a lasting resolution to Kashmir, then US policies towards India would change, similar to how US policies towards Egypt changed after Camp David.

  7. Eric,

    Lockheed is trying to sell F-16s to India; but its not a question of an even-handed handling of India and Pakistan, that’s only nice from a public diplomacy point of view. The main issue is whether giving a potent weapon to a dangerous dictator in an unreconciled country with long-nursed ambitions and structural instability is a responsible act on the part of the US. Secondly, considering that the US and India are talking about a strategic partnership, it is difficult not to see this as callous disregard for India’s security.

    And how do you think there will be a ‘lasting resolution to Kashmir’ when Pakistan is given money and arms to pursue the conflict that it could ill afford if not for American indulgence? US indulgence of Pakistan was a part of the problem. It looks like it will remain so.

  8. Nitin, thanks for the link. I wasn’t aware of the Lockheed offer. They still seem a bit vague, though, on US government clearance for such a deal. If a deal to sell F-16s to India came close to being signed, Pakistan would inevitably protest, and at that point, it would be very easy for the White House to shoot down the deal (no pun intended) if they felt it was in their interests. But it is an interesting development.

    One thing I would add is that, given the long history of the US-Pakistan military alliance, and the American need for Musharaff’s support in dealing with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, it’s unrealistic for the US to begin selling advanced weapons systems to India that it refuses to sell to Pakistan. An “even-handed” policy towards weapons sales should be welcomed by India, since the economic disparity between the two countries would mean that Pakistan could never keep up in an arms race.

    Regarding Kashmir, I don’t think US money is what’s keeping Pakistani support for cross-border terrorism afloat. Support for the insurgents was strong long before Bush agreed to offer foreign aid. Supporting this kind of terrorist/guerrilla war is a pretty easy thing to do for a country with a $5 billion military budget. Meanwhile, the US aid is at least officially conditional on Pakistan meeting certain requirements, one of which is cracking down on cross-border terrorism.

    Still, it’s clear that Pakistan has an interest in keeping tensions with India running high in order to keep US-India ties from getting too close. In this context, and in the context of healthy public support for the insurgency and the Pakistani Army’s need to justify its hold on Pakistani society, the only things that would bring about a change in Pakistani policy over Kashmir are diplomatic pressure from the US, military pressure from India, or economic incentives from either of these countries.

  9. Eric,

    Regarding Kashmir, I don’t think US money is what’s keeping Pakistani support for cross-border terrorism afloat.

    Not directly.

    But US largesse, including debt relief, military and development aid, sends a message to the military dictatorship that they can go on supporting the jihad in Kashmir without needing to worry about where to find the money to do the things they should be doing …eg education, development etc. US money is not directly funding the conflict in Kashmir, but is certainly playing a part in keeping it going.

    If the Soviet Union had been bankrolled by a indulgent sponsor, the cold war may not have ended when it did.

  10. Nitin,

    This quote

    ” U.S.-manufactured F-16s are most likely to be used by the Pakistani Air Force to deliver nuclear weapons… ”

    Means nothing. It does not change anything I said which is that the F-16’s are not effective mechanisms for deliver of nuclear weapons. You of course know that Pakistan already has 40 F-16’s and that Pakistan already has planes capable of delivery nuclear weapons but both Pakistan and India do not see nuclear weapons delivery by plane as effective or even likely to succeed. One again Pakistan’s greatest threat to India in a nuclear arms race is missiles. You are over blowing the threat here. Just because the F-16 can carry a nuclear weapon does not mean it would be effective platform. BTW the time Pakistan put F-16’s in the air got them ready to target they would be meeting a very unfriendly reception of better trained, equipped, and tasked India Air Force fighters. It is not like they are getting B-2 Spirit which actually could deliver a weapon before the IAF could do anything about it.

    Also it is not contradictory for the US to limit missile tech (which is a policy of the US) and then deliver the F-16’s because

    1. The planes are not designed for delivery nuclear weapons like for example the B-1
    2. Once again they would not be a threat to India as both Pakistan and India do not see Pakistan’s air force as an effective medium for delivery of nuclear weapons.

    So how exactly are these F-16’s such a great nuclear threat again keeping in mind that they will have infer electronics, radar, tasking, pilots no stealth, will be tracked by India radar (as indeed all Pakistani air craft) as soon as the get of the ground and have very limited range? Also please ask that since.. both India and Pakistan do not see the aricraft as a nuclear threat and that any air raid would be known far in advance by the IAF how the US is selling the solution and the problem? No offense but I do not think you understand what the strategic situation is and are misrepresenting the situation. At the same time I agree the US should not be coddling or turning a blind eye to Pakistan transgressions and I have been consisten on that.

  11. Nitin,

    As to your post 9… I agree. US should not supply money or any aide just for support against al queada. There needs to be stronger conditionals attached. I am trying to find a article in the Stratpage that acutally talks about how the US has quietly changed much of their policy towards Pakistan but I am having trouble with it. Regardless I think you in general making a valid point I just disagree with your claims that the F-16’s are in anyway going to change the balance of power in the area.ggggggggg

  12. I don’t think for a minute that the US sees the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, and the possible use of these to ferry nuclear devices to Indian cities, as endangering Indians. Though the realities are quite different in that China is an ally of Pakistan, and soon Iran with its deliverable nukes will join the fray on the side of Pakistan, the US chooses to use a simplistic approach. So it is quietly crafting what appears as military “parity”, (just watch the “invisible” hand of Rumsfeld et al) – the MAD scenario in which it was engaged with the former USSR, with the hope of convincing both Pakistan and India of the mutual danger to their civilizations of a nuclear exchange.

    But to create military parity, as we learnt not so long ago, nations must also have economic and intellectual parity. In this department India, by reason of sheer size and its democratic institutions, will be victorious.

    An increase in India’s defense budget to 20 Billion USD for 2005, and for every year till 2010 a 10% increase, would stretch Pakistan beyond its economic and military potential, and would cause a skewing of growth and development, again in favor of the military to the neglect of all other priorities. The outcome is chaos, and economic collapse. Like the former Soviet Union, it would have newer (chinese) missiles and newly minted US F-16s, but would countenance no risk of war, for fear of the total annihilation. India would then have stretched Pakistan to the point where its people would have no choice but to vote for food, clothes and shelter, and to forego the perpetuation of this India-centric jingoistic proclivity.

    The dark horse, however, is the success that the US would have on Musharraf in controlling the terrorists within his country, for this control is as essential to the US as it is to India. Musharraf is the “hired-gun” of the US,(how the tables have turned) and “Marshal Bush” will ensure that he fulfills, even though reluctantly so, his obligations to exterminate the terrorist elements within his country. He has placed the gun in his hand and has identified the targets. He is there for only one purpose, and were he ever to demonstrate any inability or unwillingness to root out the terrorists, the simple removal of American protection would mean his death and the dismemberment of Pakistan. Musharraf’s conversion may initially be through coercion, but nonetheless, he has reformed in the face of danger and has become a very important disciple of peace in the region. In fact, his influence for peace now extends to the protection of the young democracy of Afghanistan, and to ensuring that his nuclear weapons do not fall into the hands of the Al Queada. What choice does he have? What a dangerous vice in which he has found hs head?. He has the terrorist on one side, getting ever closer to atomizing the liquid contents of his body; on another side he has the Indians watching his every move, and hoping that this man (being dictator)would not ever give them cause to deliver to its 10 major cities, three bombs each, and then to have to deal with the indescribable carnage and devastation this would have on this incorrigible neighbor; and, there is a third side, that of the US, who is coaxing, cajoling, threatening, pushing, and manipulating him to become what he never intended to become. His love, his dalliance with the terrorist groups, the Al Queada, the militants, and the ISI, I am sure have long lost their appeal, and this man who once desired to ride this raging tiger, will one day soon, seek to safely dismount. Oh what chaos results when a nation ceases to pursue peace but chooses blood over prosperity.

    Pakistan is in trouble, and how it manages the different and antagonistic constituenceis within its borders over the next ten years would determine whether it survives as a unified country or it breaks apart into several much smaller and poorer states. There is an old adage that says: “Don’t put fire in your bosom, if you do not want to be burnt”. How will Pakistan escape it without blood shed of mega proportions?

    Indian prosperity and stength are all that is needed to dismamtle the neurosis called Pakistan.

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