F-16s vs. Pak-US relations

By Sadia Kazmi

The whole F-16 fiasco has started to look more like a case of “can’t swallow it and can’t spit it out”, for Pakistan. Amidst the US’ dwindling position on the agreement, and the Congress’ reluctance with regards to utilizing Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to offer subsidiary on the sale of eight Lockheed Martin F-16 jets, and the pre-conditions being attached to provision of subsidiary, the negotiations are still underway to find a way out which could be acceptable to both sides and more importantly to the US Congress and India. However there are mixed hopes about the outcome of these negotiations.

While the US Congress expresses reservations about Pakistan not being fully committed to the cause of fighting terrorism and has time and again being asked Pakistan to “do more”, the Indian factor and strong lobbying it has done cannot be ruled out. India has actively been voicing its fears and concerns in case the F-16 jets are given to Pakistan, alleging that there are more chances of Pakistan using them against India than fighting terrorism or terrorist elements. Interestingly enough these concerns were there in October last year as well when the deal was agreed upon but the decision to move ahead with the deal was taken nonetheless. It is only recently that the US has almost rolled back on its offer. Short of saying a clear no, the US has actually said no by asking Pakistan to pay in full i.e. $700 million if it wants to procure the jets.

It is somewhat disappointing to see a supposedly responsible state like the US withdrawing from its commitment but at the same time one can recall that it is nothing new.  In the retrospective it looks more like the echoes from the past where the 1985 Pressler amendment by the US, authorized the banning of most of the military and economic aid to Pakistan, albeit more discreetly and without sanctions this time. Back then the purpose was to put a halt on the nuclear program, which, this time again is one of the many reasons why the US Congress is opposing the F-16 deal. Delaying the delivery of jets, Congress voicing dissatisfaction over Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism, assumptions about F-16 to be used against India, are all being fabricated to tighten the noose around Pakistan. This time the campaign is part of putting pressure on Pakistan for handing over of Dr. Shakeel Afridi, and to make Pakistan roll back its nuclear program, while the concerns about Haqqani network and Pakistan’s alleged association and support to it remains a constant suspicion for the US.

Looking at the past few months, one can see that Pak-US relations do not look very hopeful.  The US seems to be toiling with the idea of “can’t live with it and can’t live without it”, while deciding on Pakistan’s relevance for its strategic interests in the region. The sentiments have been reciprocatively shared and expressed by both the Pakistani and American side. Mr. Sartaj Aziz stated that the bilateral relationship is not very ideal for a few months now. He even stated that Pakistan will explore alternative options if the US doesn’t fulfill its commitment. Similarly the US Congress is demanding that the F-16s should be put on hold until Pakistan an “uncertain ally” becomes a “trusted ally”.

Lesson here for Pakistan, which is not even new, is to hone on its diplomatic skills. The languid diplomacy from Pakistani side creates an ideal space for the counter forces and renders even the most justified and significant causes to be seen as trivial.  In addition to this, an effective diplomacy is the only way to improve Pak-US relations and to make US realize that the regional security situation cannot be pivoted around the interests of just one state i.e. India, if the US is truly sincere about having peace in the South Asia region. This message is to be firmly conveyed along with another important note to the US lawmakers sitting in the Congress that if they wish to see Pakistan “doing more” against terrorism, they should facilitate and support the process and provide for the tools and instrument by which it could be made possible instead of blocking it. This includes the provision of the promised F-16 on the agreed upon price and subsidiary. It is rather ironic that while the US senate and the recently visiting US representative to Pakistan Mr. Richard Olson are all hailing Pakistan’s commitment and efforts against terrorism, the US Congress is harping on a completely different tune that is totally based on “assumptions”.  While Mr. Olson once again reiterated and appreciated Pakistan’s role in the war against terrorism, the message coming from US congress makes it confusing. The inability to reach a unanimous and prompt verdict on the F-16 is not just nerve wrecking for Pakistan but also reflects poorly on the US non-seriousness about the issue and intentional indecisiveness.

Pakistan has also to keep in mind the strong Indian centric tilt that the US is efficiently exhibiting for some time now. Indian lobby has always been active in delaying the process of deliveries citing a direct threat to India’s security. Also because India is central to US’ pivot to Asia policy, any concerns from the Indian side, ultimately do hold importance for the US.

Pakistan needs to realize that the Pak-US relations have unfortunately never been built on the basis of equality. Over the last few months the not so ideal relationship between US and Pakistan coupled with the US’ tighter embrace of India, is creating more difficulties for Pakistan.  The US will not allow for any uncalled for rifts in its “meaningful” relations with India that aims at making India the regional power to essentially counterbalance China. On the other hand Pakistan has always been approached by the US in exchange of some services and favors only. Afghanistan war is the relevant example, where Pakistan is essentially fighting a war which is not even its own, even then its gets the blame of not doing enough. At the same time, the sacrifice of our soldiers on Pak-Afghan border has not been appreciated by the US congress. This purely transactional relationship is further fraying as the relevance of Pakistan for the US is apparently diminishing and as Pakistan is failing at convincing the US to keep an equal handed approach towards both India and Pakistan.  Objectively speaking, Pakistan doesn’t have any political influence nor does it have any diplomatic leverage which it could use at this time to win the deal back in its favor.  This is a severely neglected area where Pakistan’s diplomatic machinery seriously needs to work on.

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Sadia Kazmi

Sadia Kazmi works as a Senior Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. She is a PhD candidate at the National Defense University

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