US military aid to Pakistan raises alarm in India

Updated on Sep 17, 2022 11:11 AM IST

The US is driven by its own geopolitical approach to the region, including Afghanistan, and India’s well-known position on such military aid to Pakistan was not factored in while going ahead with the F-16 sustainment programme for Pakistan, said one of the officials cited above.

US approved $450-million assistance last week to support the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 fighter fleet. (REUTERS)
US approved $450-million assistance last week to support the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 fighter fleet. (REUTERS)
By, New Delhi

The latest $450-million assistance approved by the US last week to support the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 fighter fleet has turned the spotlight on how Washington has once again brushed aside New Delhi’s concerns over military aid being extended to India’s western neighbour on the pretext of fighting terrorism when it is actually being used to buttress capabilities against India, officials said on Thursday.

The US is driven by its own geopolitical approach to the region, including Afghanistan, and India’s well-known position on such military aid to Pakistan was not factored in while going ahead with the F-16 sustainment programme for Pakistan, said one of the officials cited above.

This is the first major military assistance to Pakistan after the previous Trump administration stopped security aid to the country in 2018, accusing it of not acting against terror safe havens on its soil.

Pakistan has a sizeable F-16 fleet and is dependent on the US for supporting it.

While the US has said the $450-million assistance does not cover any F-16 capability upgrade or weapons, India has expressed its displeasure to Washington through diplomatic channels. Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday also conveyed India’s concerns to the US.

“Conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet. Look forward to continuing dialogue with Secretary Austin to further consolidating India-US partnership,” he tweeted on Wednesday after speaking to his US counterpart on telephone.

Geopolitics is at play here, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), former additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies, when asked to comment on the US military assistance.

“Pakistan has been getting such aid from the US every now and then. The US has its interests in the region and every country looks after its own interest and will continue to do so. We need to be prepared for this and plan accordingly,” said Bahadur.

The Pakistan Air Force operates more than 80 F-16s, including second-hand F-16A/B Block 15 jets bought from the Royal Jordanian Air Force.

A bulk of the Pakistani fleet consists of older F-16A/B fighters, now upgraded to Block 52 standards in Turkey. It also has 18 F-16C/D Block 50/52 planes. Block refers to the F-16 evolution, with a higher number representing technological upgrades.

“F-16 is an air superiority fighter. It’s not meant for a counter-terror role,” said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

Pakistan is building its military capability against India, said a second official cited above.

“They had deployed their F-16s against India after the 2019 Balakot air strikes,” he said.

Indian Air Force’s Mirage-2000s struck targets in Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26, 2019, in response to the Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed 12 days earlier.

In a dogfight over the Line of Control (LoC) on February 27, 2019, Wing Commander (now group captain) Abhinandan Varthaman shot down a Pakistani F-16. On February 28, 2019, the IAF displayed remnants of an AIM-120 advanced medium range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) that only the F-16s carry. Parts of the missile were recovered east of Rajouri.

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