The United States, while providing F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad, not only acknowledged the aircraft’s “deterrence value” to Pakistan in a future conflict with India but also noted that it could prevent a nuclear clash between the two neighbours….A special report by Dr Sakariya Kareem
Pakistan has all but confirmed that its air force deployed an American-made F-16 fighter jet in its February 27 aerial conflict with India. But it is taking advantage of the US’s reluctance to officially take note of whether it has violated curbs placed on it while purchasing it.
The US State Department has said that it has taken note of the complaints from India and is “watching the issue very closely.” But it is chary of commenting on a commercial deal between the F-16 manufacturer and the Pakistan Government.
“We have seen those reports and we’re following that issue very closely. I can’t confirm anything, but as a matter of policy, we don’t publicly comment on the contents of bilateral agreements… involving US defence technologies,” the department’s deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said in Washington.
Initially, Pakistan was in the denial mode, letting it be known that it had used the Chinese-made JF-17, and not American F-16. But when Indian side displayed the remnants of AMRAAM that can only be fired from an F-16, it went for flat denials. It also tried to say that the F-16 deployed was possibly bought from Jordan and not directly from the US that has not sold an F-16 to Pakistan for many years and eventually, returned the money the latter had deposited.
In a new somersault, again taking advantage of the US not taking a firm stand, Pakistan has virtually confirmed that if did use F-16, but that there was no bar on using it against India as the deal.
It doing that, it has used a 2009 diplomatic message culled out of the Wikileaks that some years back had made public millions of secret and sensitive documents, particularly from the US.
A report from its Washington correspondent published in Dawn newspaper March 8, claims that in 2008, Ann Patterson, then US Ambassador to Pakistan had in emails sent to the Pakistan Government confirmed that there were to be no curbs on Pakistan Air Force (PAF) using the F-16s as ‘deterrent’ against India.
“The United States, while providing F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad, not only acknowledged the aircraft’s “deterrence value” to Pakistan in a future conflict with India but also noted that it could prevent a nuclear clash between the two neighbours.
“Both points are specifically mentioned in a message the then US ambassador in Islamabad Anne Patterson sent to the State Department on April 24, 2008,” the Dawn report claims.
“An enhanced F-16 programme also has deterrence value by giving Pakistan time and space to employ a conventional, rather than nuclear, reaction in the event of a future conflict with India,” it quoted the message from Patterson.
The newspaper says its quote is from a 20-paragraph communique that Ambassador Patterson sent to Washington in April 2008 and was disclosed by WikiLeaks.
The package Patterson was referring to included 500 AIM-120-C5 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs), which India claims Pakistan used against the Indian Air Force in the recent combats over Kashmir.
“On March 18, 2009, Ambassador Patterson sent another long message to Washington, which deals with Pakistan’s requests for more F-16s and India’s objections to the proposed sale.
It needs to be noted that the US was deeply engaged with Pakistan in fighting the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan and the disillusionment of the successive US administration at Pakistan’s abetting the Taliban and failure to deliver on terrorism had not yet set in.
Moreover, the US was – as it remains – worried about a possible nuclear clash between the two South Asian neighbours.
“If our goal is to press the Army to change strategy and redeploy forces from the Indian border, punishing the Air Force by cancelling this sale will not help us,” wrote the ambassador while responding to India’s request to cancel the sale.
“It will emphasise that we favour maintaining Indian superiority at Pakistan’s expense and feed anti-Americanism throughout the military.”
In the same message she also explained why she believed the F-16s could “avert a nuclear conflict in South Asia.”
“To overcome overwhelming Indian military superiority, Pakistan developed both its nuclear/missile programme and its air power. F-16 aircraft, armed with AMRAAMS, essentially buy time to delay Pakistan considering the nuclear option in a conflict with India.” she wrote.
It should be remembered that Pakistan was the US’ “non-NATO ally” and was being heavily favoured in any move against India.
Patterson’s report, as claimed by Wikileaks, said: “Given India’s overwhelming military superiority, this would only be a few days, but these days would allow critical time to mediate and prevent nuclear conflict.”
She also reminded policy makers in Washington that in 2008 India already enjoyed “an almost 2-1 advantage” over Pakistan in advanced multi-purpose fighters, when New Delhi had 736 aircraft while Pakistan had 370 only.
“Pakistan’s shortfalls in training and tactics multiply India’s edge,” she added.
Pakistan’s ingenious resort to Wikileaks could embarrass Washington that, while continuing to need Pakistan’s help in Afghanistan, has grown disillusioned at its protection of militant groups, both within Pakistan and in Afghanistan that harm the US interests.
Hence, how the US State Department under President Donald Trump reacts to this remains to be seen.
There is also a touchy aspect that constrains the US from saying anything that affects the business interests of its arms manufacturers/ dealers.
In the present context, the US would not like to admit that F-16, its widest-selling combat jet was hit by Indian Air Force’s Mig-21, admittedly an old war horse designed six decades ago by Russians, but updated from time to time with the latest equipment and used to best effect by the IAF pilots.
Old timers recall that the US had problems even during earlier India-Pakistan wars in 1965 and 1971, when inferior IAF fighters had shot down Sabre jets. It then boils down to commercial advantage/disadvantage. In the cold war era, not just the US, other Western arms dealers had also belittled Indian achievements during conflicts since Indian armed forces were, and continue to be, equipped with Russian equipment.
Any US administration must protect the interests of its powerful arms lobby, and Trump administration is not an exception. Experts have noted that much of the Western media has chosen to disbelieve and even criticise Indian claims of having destroyed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)-run madrassahs and terror-training centres at Balakot in POK.
It is not surprising that the Western media, among them the CNN, and the British newspapers chose to believe its local correspondents in Pakistan, taken to the site by the Pakistan authorities, filing reports without any cross-checking.
Loath to admit that an ageing Russian-designed aircraft (although equipped with the latest avionics and missiles) could get the better of an American/Western aircraft/equipment, the CNN reported: ““It may have been one of those jets that on Wednesday downed an Indian Air Force fighter plane, leading to the capture by Pakistan of an Indian pilot” Abhinandan Varthaman, said the CNN report released this weekend.
The report also noted that the Indian jet was a MiG-21, a Soviet-designed aircraft, which has been in service since the 1960s. The MiG-21 “forms the backbone” of the Indian Air Force, which has about 200 of those in its inventory.
Long after the cold war is supposed to have ended, India, an ally of the US and the West, but still heavily using Russian designed equipment to the best use, has fallen victim, yet again, of the cold war, when it comes to military matters.