US State Secretary Antony Blinken on Tuesday defended military sales to Pakistan after criticism from growing US partner India, which considers itself the target of Islamabad’s F-16 planes.
Blinken met in the US capital with India’s foreign minister a day after separate talks with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
The US-Pakistan alliance, born out of the Cold War, has frayed over Islamabad’s relationship with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The top US diplomat defended a $450 million F-16 deal for Pakistan approved earlier in September, saying the package was for the maintenance of Pakistan’s existing fleet.
The package does not include the sale of any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions and is aimed at the sustenance of Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 programme.
“These are not new planes, new systems, new weapons. It’s sustaining what they have,” the US state secretary told a news conference with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
“Pakistan’s programme bolsters its capability to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan or from the region. It’s in no one’s interests that those threats be able to go forward with impunity, and so this capability that Pakistan has had can benefit all of us in dealing with terrorism,” Blinken said.
He added that the US had a “responsibility and an obligation to whomever we provide military equipment to make sure that it’s maintained and sustained. That’s our obligation”.
When asked to elaborate on the terrorism threats and the need for F-16s to counter them, Blinken said: “There are clear terrorism threats that continue to emanate from Pakistan itself as well as from neighbouring countries.
“And whether it is TTP (Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan) that may be targeting Pakistan, whether it’s ISIS-Khorasan, whether it’s Al-Qaeda, I think the threats are clear, well-known, and we all have an interest in making sure that we have the means to deal with them. And that’s what this is about.”
To another question about his discussion with FM Bilawal on improving ties between Pakistan and India, his advice to Pakistan in this regard and the latter’s response, Blinken said it would not be appropriate to “characterise Pakistan’s response”.
“More broadly, we always encourage our friends to resolve their differences through diplomacy, through dialogue. That hasn’t changed. It won’t change. It would not be appropriate for me to characterise Pakistan’s response, just as I wouldn’t characterise our friend’s response in a similar conversation,” he said.
Jaishankar did not criticise Blinken in public but on Sunday, speaking at a reception for the Indian community in the United States, he said of the US position, “You’re not fooling anybody.”
“For someone to say, I’m doing this because it’s for counter-terrorism when you’re talking of an aircraft like the capability of the F-16, everybody knows where they are deployed,” he said.
“Very honestly, it’s a relationship that has neither ended up serving Pakistan well nor serving American interests well,” he said.
Previously, the Indian defence minister had also conveyed reservations over the F-16 deal with his counterpart in Washington.
“I conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide a sustenance package for Pakistans F-16 fleet,” Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had written on Twitter following what he called a “warm and productive” telephone conversation with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
FO urges India to refrain from commenting on Pakistan-US ties
For its part, Pakistan has strongly urged India to refrain from commenting on the bilateral ties between the United States and Pakistan.
Responding to Jaishankar’s remarks from Sunday, Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar Ahmed said in a statement that Pakistan had a “longstanding and broad-based relationship” with the US, which had been vital in promoting peace, security, and stability in the region.
The spokesperson called for India to “respect basic norms of inter-state relations”.
“India also needs serious introspection of its diplomatic conduct,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bilawal also commented on India’s reaction to the military sale package during an address at a Washington-based think tank, Woodrow Wilson Centre.
“Obviously, Indians are going to be upset, let them be, kiya karein (what do we do),” he said.
Separately, in a weekly briefing on Monday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price while answering a question on Jaishankar’s comments said that the US didn’t view its relationship with Pakistan and India as in relation to one another.
“These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each, and we look to both as partners because we do have in many cases shared values, we do have in many cases shared interests.”
$450m military sale package
Earlier this month, a press release by the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said the government of Pakistan had 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 follow-on support for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet would include participation in F-16 Aircraft Structural Integrity Programme; Electronic Combat International Security Assistance Programme; International Engine Management Programme; and Engine Component Improvement Programme, and other technical coordination groups, the press release added.
The support would also include aircraft and engine hardware and software modifications and support; aircraft and engine spare repair/return parts; accessories and support equipment; classified and unclassified software and software support; publications, manuals, and technical documentation; precision measurement, calibration, lab equipment, and technical support services; studies and surveys; and other related elements of aircraft maintenance and programme support.
Separately, a notification sent by the DSCA to US Congress 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.
“The proposed sale will continue the sustainment of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet, which greatly improves Pakistan’s ability to support counterterrorism operations through its robust air-to-ground capability. Pakistan will have no difficulty absorbing these articles and services into its armed forces.”
The principal contractor for this sale will be Lockheed Martin Corporation and implementing this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any additional US government or contractor representatives to Pakistan, the DSCA said.