F-16s and geopolitics
Despite Washington’s public posture against Pakistan’s use of non-state actors, it continues to send arms and funds to its South Asian ally. On Saturday, the Obama administration notified the United States Congress of its decision to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. According to reports, the deal is estimated to cost India’s neighbour $699.4 million. Washington justified the sale by proposing that additional F-16 fighter jets would improve Pakistan’s ability to meet security threats in the region. Read between the lines, and it is hard not to discern Washington’s duplicitous use of statecraft while espousing greater peace between India and Pakistan. It is imperative to present some historical context. Since the 1980s, Pakistan has been receiving F-16s from the US, when Ronald Reagan occupied the White House and General Zia-ul-Haq ruled Pakistan with an iron fist. However, Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons in the subsequent years, which received worldwide condemnation, forced Washington to stop the sale of these fighter jets. All that changed after the 9/11 terror attack and subsequent US military operation in Afghanistan. When America went to Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government, it needed Islamabad’s help. The irony is that through the late 1980s, both Washington and the Pakistani military establishment gave material and logistical support to the Taliban when it fought the erstwhile Soviet Union. With no end in sight of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the US really needs Pakistan to mediate a peace deal between Kabul and Taliban. Although the current sale of F-16s will not materially alter the military balance between India and its neighbour, it does carry deep symbolic value for Pakistani’s military establishment. In buying F-16s, the Pakistani military establishment presents to the public its military capabilities in the face of an “India bogey”. Unfortunately, Washington’s actions only encourage Islamabad’s duplicitous behaviour, including sponsorship of terrorism in the region and the repeated bombing of its own citizens in the north-west. “The idiocy stems from some within the (US) National Security Council who stubbornly believe a package of incentives will miraculously change Pakistan’s behaviour. This is the definition of insanity: pursuing a course of action even when it fails to produce the desired results,” said Professor Sumit Ganguly, a South Asia scholar at Indiana University. “The intelligence community disagrees (with the proposed sale) but clearly those in the White House can overrule their analysis.” It is safe to presume that America’s attempts at mollifying Pakistan to protect its own interests have failed to stop the proliferation of state-sponsored terrorism in the region, especially in India. The White House must seriously rethink its Pakistan policy.