Pak-US relations: the F-16 aspect

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 11.05.16

One way to delineate the contours of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and the United
States (US) is that twists and turns are a fait accompli. That is understandable because no
plain sailing is probable in this fast changing world. When it persists for a long time, plain
sailing is cursed with banality dimming the colours of bilateral diplomatic challenges.

Geography where Pakistan is placed brought somehow both Pakistan and the US closer
and pushed them to huddle up for a symbiotic relationship in the 1950s. There might have
been a reduced diplomatic format of the US entering into a synergetic relationship with
Pakistan, given the US’ global outreach, but it was there. Despite all hiccups in post-Cold
War and post-9/11 eras affecting bilateral relations, the phase of interdependence is not
over yet. Similarly, the hope for the revival of the amicable relations is also not dimmed, the
one reason for which is that owing to working closely for more than six decades, both know
each other comprehensibly in the context of weaknesses and strengths. It had never been
difficult for Pakistanis to understand and deal with Americans, nor is it now. The bilateral
relationship has become so multilayered that both have started affording many
opportunities for annoying each other. One such example is US’ asking Pakistan to pay in
full (i.e. $ 700 million) for eight F-16 fighter planes instead of the earlier arrangement for
the purchase when Pakistan had to pay $270 million whereas the US had to pay the rest of
the amount, $430 million, as the US had committed to subsidising the purchase of the
fighter jets.

Interestingly, over the years, Pakistan has arrogated to itself the advanced defence
technology developed by the US. Fighter planes such as F-16 is one such example.
Pakistan thinks that it is a rightful candidate for military planes. The obsession of
Pakistanis, generally, with F-16 fighter planes may also not hidden from the US
administration. Pakistanis feel proud of their pilots who fly these planes. Hence is the
craving of Pakistanis for having the planes around. The rest is excuses called reasons.

It was not only the defence needs of Pakistan that brought both the countries closer to
each other; it was also societies of both countries that felt associated with each other. The
working experience of Pakistanis in a united India before 1947 with the British imperialism,
though as subjects, helped Pakistanis grasp regional needs of the US, whether the aim of
the US was imperialism or not. Although bilateral societal relations between the US and
India are more compound, but the same cannot outdo Pakistan. One of the reasons for
which is that, despite contiguous to India, Pakistan offers a different outlook of South Asia.
Pakistan’s shine is more visible when seen against the background offered by its western
neighbours, both Afghanistan and Iran. In this age, not only geography but socio-cultural
bonds and the consequent influence also matter. This is the point where the US is asking
Pakistan to do something as a precondition for getting F-16 planes on the earlier agreed
subsidised price.

The US wants Pakistan to do more against the Haqqani network, which is alleged to have
disrupted peace in Afghanistan by launching militant attacks against the incumbent
government. However, signs indicate that Pakistan will not submit to this demand, as
Pakistan has already done much against the network in the military operation, Zarb-e-Azb
launched in North Waziristan in June 2014. The US may be adamant not to leave
Afghanistan on its own, but Pakistan knows Afghanistan more than the US does. The
Haqqani network may have some political stakes in Afghanistan to guard, but Pakistan has
its ethnic — Pashtuns — stakes to protect on its land. The operation Zarb-e-Azb was
actually launched when Pakistan’s civil society vilified Pakistan army for its apparent
obsequious gesture to the Taliban interpreted as ‘strategic assets’ for the prospective
‘strategic depth’. If the US thinks that by stopping the supply of the fighter jets, Pakistan can
be forced to launch a new military operation against the Haqqani network this may not be
possible. By launching Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan has touched the limits. The Haqqani network is
now more Afghanistan’s internal issue to deal with than it is Pakistan’s problem.

It is known that Pak-US relations, especially in the realm of defence, have deteriorated
since 1999. However, the stopping of the supply of fighter jets gives a tinge of blackmailing
Pakistan. In the case of Dr Shakeel Afridi, there must be some law involved to capture and
then jail him with a 23-year sentence for being a traitor and for helping Americans identify a
family associated with Osama bin Laden staying at a big house in Abbottabad. However,
there must also be some hubris at work. In the recent past, at least two events can be
counted when the US forces caused harm and humiliation to Pakistan army. For instance,
in November 2011, the US-led NATO forces attacked the Salala check post along the Pak-
Afghan border consuming the lives of two dozen Pakistani soldiers. The attack was not an
accident per se; it was a considered one. Earlier in 2011, US Navy SEALs entered Pakistan’
s territory with helicopters using stealth technology and attacked the compound of bin
Laden without taking Pakistan’s forces into confidence.

At this juncture, when Pakistan is in need of F-16 aircrafts, it is ill advised to put a premium
on the supply of the squadron, as it is known that Pakistan’s economy is not in a position to
afford $430 million. There are many diplomatic ways to make Pakistan pay heed to
legitimate demands of the US, but the stoppage of the supply of F-16 in the blackmailing
mode is bound to turn public opinion against the US. Neither the prime minister nor the
chief of army staff of Pakistan is callous to the US demands, whether made through the
Kerry-Lugar Berman Act of 2009 or through any kind of military assistance to Pakistan.

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