‘Not fooling anyone’: Jaishankar on US support for Pakistan F-16s
External affairs minister S Jaishaknar urged Washington to reflect on its ties with Islamabad and the price it has paid for a relationship that has served neither side well
The US is not “fooling anyone” by saying that the support for Pakistan Air Force’s F-16s was meant for counterterrorism, India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Sunday, urging Washington to reflect on its ties with Islamabad and the price it has paid for a relationship that has served neither side well.
At the same time, the minister also called the change in the India-US relationship the biggest transformation of his professional career and hailed the growing ties between the two countries in the domain of security and defence.
Speaking at a community event soon after arriving in Washington DC on Sunday for the final leg of his US visit, Jaishankar said the US’s relationship with Pakistan, including the military relationship, was not recent.
“Very honestly, it is a relationship that has ended up serving neither Pakistan well nor serving American interests well. It is really for the US to reflect what the merits of the relationship [are] and what they get by keeping it sort of continuing,” said Jaishankar, who wrapped up his engagements at the United Nations in New York over the weekend.
The US recently provided Pakistan with a $450 million package for what Pentagon termed as “F-16 Case for sustainment and related equipment”. Responding to a question on this support, the minister firmly rejected the reason being given for the assistance.
“At the end of the day, for someone to say I am doing it because it is for counterterrorism, when you are talking of an aircraft of the capability of a F-16, everyone knows where they are deployed, what is its use, what is its capability. You are not fooling anybody by saying these things,” he said in a pointed critique of the grounds for the assistance.
Jaishankar said that while countries make their choices based on their own interests, if he was to speak to an American policymaker, he would ask him to reflect on larger ties with Pakistan.
“If I were to speak to an American policymaker, I would make a case saying look, forget about us for a moment, what you are doing is not good for you. Reflect on the history, look at the many years of this relationship and where it has taken you, and the cost you have had to pay for it.”
At the same time, in response to a different question, Jaishankar highlighted the deepening of the India-US defence relationship. He pointed out that from 1965 onwards, for a period of almost 40 years, the US did not provide military equipment to India; this was when the India’s ties with Soviet Union and then Russia deepened.
“It was not for the lack of trying on India’s part. I can vouch for it myself. I have had my relatives - my father, grandfather worked in the defence ministry — and I know first-hand what great efforts were made over multiple years to make the US understand how it was in American interest to have a strong, united, independent prosperous India. At that time, they didn’t succeed. Maybe the state of the world was such, the mindset of American policymakers was such.”
But this changed, the minister said, with the nuclear deal, and it was then enabled by a new leadership in India.
Jaishankar acknowledged that the problem did not only lie on the American side. “To actually take the relationship to a high level required a leadership in India which didn’t have reservations on its mind. It takes two hands to clap. It wasn’t just that all the problems were on the American side. There were hesitations on the Indian side. That is why the PM used that memorable phrase,” the minister said, in a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi referring to overcoming the hesitations of history in an address to the US Congress.
Jaishankar said that that he believed there was now a possibility of India and the US working together in many more areas, “especially in the security domain”.
“Some of our major exercises are with the American military. We fly a number of American planes today — C-17s, C-130s, P8s, American helicopters, Chinooks and Apaches. It is changing and I am very bullish on the future of the relationship. There are very deep convergences which will sustain it. I am very very confident that not just the relationship will grow but the defence and security side of the relationship will grow.”