A new Congressional Research Service report on “U.S. Arms Sales to Pakistan” recently obtained by the FAS provides a succinct overview of recent U.S. arms sales to General Pervez Musharraf’s regime, the tumultous fifty-year history of US security assistance to Pakistan, and presidential authority to stop such sales. The release of the report coincides with a worsening political crisis in Pakistan and growing Congressional and public discontent over the United States’ multi-billion dollar military aid program for General Musharraf’s beseiged and increasingly authoritarian regime.
The 4-page report, which was written by veteran analyst Richard Grimmett, contains several noteworthy observations. According to the report, arms transfer agreements with Pakistan totaled more than $3.5 billion in 2006 – nearly equal to the combined total of arms sales to the troubled South Asian nation from FY1950 to FY2001. These statistics reflect a sudden and dramatic shift in US arms trade policy toward Pakistan after September 11th that transformed the country from pariah state to major aid recipient practically overnight. Within weeks of the attack, the Bush administration waived prohibitions on arms transfers to Pakistan that were imposed following tit-for-tat nuclear tests with India in 1998 and the coup that brought President Musharraf to power in 1999. Since 2001, Pakistan has become one of the largest recipients of U.S. security assistance, including arms transfers; from FY2002 to FY2006, Musharraf’s regime has received nearly $1 billion in Foreign Military Financing (grant aid provided to foreign countries specifically for the purchase of US weapons), and has signed government-to-government agreements for nearly $4.34 billion in U.S. weaponry, according to the Defense Department.*
The CRS report also notes that U.S. law gives the president the power to terminate arms sales at any point, a particularly timely observation in light of growing Congressional discontent with arms sales and military aid for Pakistan. On November 8th, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joseph Biden warned that “if President Musharraf does not restore his nation to the democratic path, U.S. military aid will be in great jeopardy.” On the chopping block would be “big ticket weapon systems intended primarily to maintain the balance of power with India,” including the 36 F-16 fighter aircraft promised to the Pakistani military last summer. The F-16 has become a symbol of America’s on-again, off-again relationship with Pakistan, and the multi-billion dollar deal signed last year was seen as the completion of the latest repproachment between the two countries. The current tumult in Pakistan suggests that the sale may have been premature, however, and that a more gradual resumption of major arms sales – preferably pegged to significant, lasting progress in regards to regional peace and stability, democratic governance and effective counter-terrorism operations – might have been more prudent.
Should President Musharraf survive the current challenge to his rule but fail to take significant steps to restore democracy and rule of law, US policymakers will face a difficult choice: cut off some or all arms sales to Pakistan for the third time in four decades and possibly jeopardize ongoing counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan (and America’s reputation as a reliable arms supplier and ally), or deliver F-16s and other weapons to an increasingly authoritarian and unpopular regime and sully America’s image as a champion of human rights and democracy. With any luck, the current crisis will be resolved in a way that precludes this tough choice. Regardless, the F-16 sale – and arms sales to Pakistan more broadly – underscore the need to error on the side of caution and restraint when arming potentially volatile and unstable countries.
*This number does not include commercial arms exports. For data on licenses issued for commercial exports to Pakistan, see the State Department’s section of the annual “Section 655 report.” For data on deliveries, see page 67 of “Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales And Other Security Cooperation.”
For more information on U.S. arms sales and military aid to Pakistan, see
“Biden calls for New Approach to Pakistan,” 8 November 2007.
“Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1999-2006,” Congressional Research Service, 26 September 2007.
“Section 655” report on US Military Assistance. Includes country-by-country summaries of US arms sales by commodity.
“Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales And Other Security Cooperation,” Defense Security Cooperation Agency, September 2007. Includes annual dollar value totals for US arms sales and military aid to each country from FY1997 – FY2006, and cumulative data from FY1950 – FY1996.
“Combat Aircraft Sales to South Asia,” Congressional Research Service, 6 July 2006.
“Lawmakers Scold Administration Over F-16 Sale to Pakistan,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 23 July 2006.
“PROPOSED SALE OF F–16 AIRCRAFT AND WEAPONS SYSTEMS OF PAKISTAN,” Hearing Transcript, 20 July 2006.
Transcript of Panel Discussion on Arms Transfers to India and Pakistan, 28 january 2003.