The F-16 Reward and Debate: US-Pak Cooperation in Play Again?

In a significant development, the Biden administration has revived the sustainment programme of F-16 for Pakistan. Earlier, this programme was stopped by the Trump administration. However, Biden administration turned the tables and gave a green light to the programme. According to reports US has sanctioned $450 millions to Pakistan for this programme. However, on one hand this move of US may not go well in Indian strategic circles, the reasons are obvious. On the other hand, it appears that Pakistan’s deep state has started to play some strong leveraging games  and re-emergence of the old F-16 debate has become a talking point.

India’s Concerns

For India, this decision may complicate and enlarge the scope of security and strategic headache. On one hand, Pak-China axis is clandestinely on rise day by day and now this decision will compound the situation. Further, this would give boost to already brewing problems, Pakistan may utilize this reward for widening its terror network and gaining strategic depth in Afghan region and creating problems in the J&K through cross border terrorism. Therefore, implications for India cannot be taken lightly or brushed into the blankets. These developments not only have tactical impact but with time these developments can have  potential to bring strategic ramifications between both the nations. It won’t be wrong to say that such decisions have refreshed the US-Pak cooperation which was major security concern for India during the Cold War era. Moreover, during cold war era, the US-Pak axis did play a major role in impacting India’s external and internal security — the terrorism in Kashmir was at peak, the arms cache which were given to Pak to fight Afghan Mujahedeen’s were surprisingly stored and diverted against India. In the current scenario, the F-16 which were given to Pakistan to fight terrorism were surprisingly used against India- Pakistan’s operation Swift Retort in February 2019 is clear evidence of this.  Though, India has Rafale, a far superior jet than F-16 but again any undue chance to  Pakistan to work upon its asymmetries should be given serious attention.  This undue chance to Pakistan emanates threat not only from the conventional front but from unconventional front as well. Also, these developments hampers India’s efforts of isolating Pakistan, when India is keeping up the pressure ladder of militarily and financially isolating Pakistan, a sudden opening or relief like this disturbs the pressure wavelength. In summation, India now needs to keep check on future developments in this regard and not let Islamabad grab more leverage. 

Pakistan’s Deep State a Quite Dealmaker

The events that coincided this announcement is not letting strategic experts shut their eyes. Pakistan is currently ravaged by multiverse of crises and in such situation, Pakistan’s deep state have to take the control of the situation to rescure themselves and stabilize Pakistan till elections next year. So, to play the rescue card perfectly, it is possible that Pakistan deep state might have brokered some smart deals with desperate Americans looking for space to operate in Afghanistan ever since unceremonious withdrawal last year. Pakistan’s deep state might have given space to US in exchange for availing rescue packages — Al-Queda Chief Al Zawahri’s killing is indicative of such exchange game. Now, the question of Islamic bondings with the Taliban arises, so a soft rebuttal to this argument can be that right now. Pakistan needs stability and get an upper hand to be able take decisions which include some hard calls in the national interest. Therefore, the game of national interests forced Pakistan’s deep state to ignore some of the historical and religious bondings. 

US Obligations and F-16 Debate

The F-16 sale game between Pakistan and US is not something new. It has been in existence since the Cold War era and since then it’s been witnessing ups and downs. Some scholars argue that since US has given F-16s to Pakistan the former is obligated to provide services to the later. However, a counter argument arises here that if things are so intact with obligations, then why do these obligations are suddenly silenced and then surprisingly revived? Though US says that this sale is not intended to alter the military balance but, that question is pretty futuristic and if we see the tactical picture, the sale does have tactical ramifications which may escalate to strategic ones. One more reason that Pakistan swinged in making this leverage is that there “most capable” Chinese fighter jets- JF-17s are currently grounded due to lack of spares for its Russian engine.  According to reports over dozens of them are grounded. There can be several  reasons  for this F-16 debate, but clandestine intentions and messages are always clearer than it looks at outside.

[Photo by US Air Force, Public Domain]

*Srijan Sharma is currently working as a Research Assistant at the United Service Institution of India (USI) – India’s oldest and one of the prestigious strategic affairs think tank. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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