The US plans to sell eight new F-16 combat jets to Pakistan to “bolster a tenuous partnership” between the two sides despite concerns about Islamabad’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal, according to media reports on Thursday.
The decision came ahead of President Barack Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday, which is expected to be dominated by the US decision to extend American troop presence in Afghanistan and efforts to get Pakistan to halt the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported.
The Wall Street Journal quoted US officials as saying that the long-standing plan to sell the F-16s, “aimed at bolstering Pakistan’s counterterrorism campaign against militants”, would not be formally announced during Thursday’s meeting.
The new jets will add to Pakistan’s sizable force of fighter jets, including more than 70 F-16s and dozens of French and Chinese combat aircraft.
In April, the State Department approved Islamabad’s request for military gear worth $1 billion dollars, identifying Pakistan as a country of vital importance for US foreign policy.
The US Congress, which was notified about the proposal just days ago, could block the sale of the new F-16s, the Times reported. Many in Congress “fear the F-16 jets are more useful to Pakistan in its long confrontation with India than for counterterrorism”, the report said.
Congress and the State Department are in a standoff over an effort to sell used navy cutter vessels to Pakistan.
In March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee put on hold about $150 million in foreign military financing — aid from the US that foreign allies can use to purchase American weapons and other military equipment, officials told the Times. The panel said the cutter vessels were not essential to fighting militants and that Pakistan had failed to take “meaningful action against key Islamist terrorist groups operating within its territory”.
In May, the US handed over to Pakistan 14 combat aircraft, 59 military trainer jets and 374 armoured personnel carriers that were earlier used by American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.