|PAF F-16D block 52 #10801 spotted on final approach into NAS Fort Worth on November 6th, 2009. (Photo by Keith Robinson)|India has registered a strong protest with the US over the latter’s approval of a $450 million F-16 fighter jet fleet sustainment program to Pakistan. According to a Times of India report, the protest has come in the form of a sharp rebuke delivered to the US assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs Donald Lu, with Delhi questioning the substance and timing of the move. The package has been touted to help Islamabad meet current and future counter-terrorism threats, in Washington’s first major security assistance to Islamabad in four years. In 2018, Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had suspended about $2 billion in security aid to Islamabad for failing to clamp down on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network terror groups and dismantle their safe havens in the country. The package for Pakistan was announced while India was hosting top US officials, including Lu, for a US-India 2+2 Intersessional Meeting and Maritime Security Dialogue. Lu also led the US delegation in a Quad senior officials’ meeting.
The Indian government is upset that the US didn’t forewarn Delhi about a policy decision that can pose serious threat to the country’s security.
While Delhi has not yet publicly raised the issue, it is said to have strongly raised the issue with Lu in all the meetings he had after the US announcement.
Pakistan’s F-16 program is an important part of the broader United States-Pakistan bilateral relationship. The proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining its F-16 fleet. The F-16 fleet allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations and we expect Pakistan to take sustained action against all terrorist groups, the spokesperson said. It said that Pakistan has requested to consolidate prior F-16 sustainment and support cases to support the Pakistan Air Force F-16 fleet by reducing duplicate case activities and adding additional continued support elements. The $450 million foreign military sale to Pakistan participation in F-16 Aircraft Structural Integrity Program, electronic combat international security assistance program, international engine management program, engine component improvement program, and other technical coordination groups; aircraft and engine hardware and software modifications and support and aircraft and engine spare repair/return parts. The Pentagon said this proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by allowing Pakistan to retain interoperability with US and partner forces in ongoing counterterrorism efforts and in preparation for future contingency operations.