On Monday, the Bush administration announced a massive $5.1 billion arms package for Pakistan, the largest arms sale to the Indian subcontinent since US sanctions were suspended in 2001. The package includes 36 F-16 fighter jets, armaments, and upgrades for its existing fleet of F-16s. The announcement came five days after the administration officially notified Congress of the sales.
The deal is significant for many reasons. It will help to modernize Pakistan’s aging airforce, and help pave the way for an even larger fighter jet sale to India. The sale also has tremendous symbolic significance. In 1991, the first Bush Administration imposed various sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program, the most high profile of which was the impounding of 28 F-16s purchased by Pakistan in the 1980’s. Pakistan lobbied hard for their release but the Bush and Clinton administrations held firm, and the planes came to symbolize the post-Cold War deterioration of US-Pakistani relations. Following the September 11th attacks, the US hastily sought to mend diplomatic fences with Pakistan, which has provided critical support in the War on Terror. The Bush administration immediately lifted the ban on military aid to India and Pakistan and gradually increased the quantity and sophistication of weapons exports to both countries. The F-16 sale, which still tops the list of weapons sought by the Pakistani government, signifies a completion of the rapprochement between the US and its erstwhile ally.
Some critics fear that massive arms transfers to India and Pakistan will jeopardize the nascent peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals, which have fought three wars and came close to fighting a fourth in the spring of 2002. Others are leery of transferring U.S. military technology to a government that failed to prevent debatably the worst nuclear proliferation scandal in history. For over a decade, a trafficking network run by the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Dr. Abdul Qadir Khan, provided blueprints, expertise and uranium enrichment components to Iran, Libya and North Korea. While there is no conclusive proof that other elements of Pakistan’s government were involved in Khan’s network, the fact that it was able to operate under the government’s nose for so long calls into question Pakistan’s stewardship of sensitive military technology. In April 2005, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) introduced legislation that would have banned further arms transfers to Pakistan unless the President certified that the Pakistani government had taken specific steps to dismantle the Khan network, cooperate with international investigators, and provide the US government with unrestricted access to Khan. The legislation garnered 11 co-sponsors but never made it out of committee.
Congress will have a chance to weigh in on these issues at a hearing of the House International Relations Committee (HIRC) on “Sale of F-16 Aircraft and Weapons Systems to Pakistan,” which is scheduled for July 13th. The hearing also provides an opportunity for HIRC members to inquire about Pakistan’s stockpile management practices, their ability to comply with US storage and use restrictions and requirements, and US end-use monitoring of defense articles exported to Pakistan. Lawmakers should avail themselves of this opportunity, and follow up with the Defense Department if they have any doubts about Pakistan’s willingness and ability to safeguard US military technology.
According to the Pentagon, the arms package consists of, among other defense articles and services,
• 36 F-16C/D block 50/52 aircraft;
• 60 F-16A/B Mid-Life Update Modification kits;
• Engine modifications and structural upgrades for 26 aircraft; and
• An assortment of weapons for the F-16C/D aircraft, including 500 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs), 200 short-range Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, 500 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), and 3100 additional 500 and 2000-lb laser-guided bombs.
For more information on arms sales to India and Pakistan:
Combat Aircraft Sales to South Asia: Potential Implications, Congressional Research Service, 19 May 2005.
Background Briefing by Administration Officials on US-South Asia Relations, US State Department, 25 March 2005.
Transcript of Panel Discussion on Arms Transfers to India and Pakistan, 28 january 2003.