India calls U.S. envoy, protests F-16 sale to Pakistan

The Obama administration on Saturday notified the U.S. Congress of its decision to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:34 pm IST

Published - February 13, 2016 08:49 am IST - NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON

Angered over the U.S. decision to sell more F-16 planes to Pakistan, the Centre summoned U.S. Ambassador Richard Verma on Saturday to the Ministry of External Affairs express its “displeasure”. In a meeting that lasted about 45 minutes Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told the U.S. Ambassador that not only was India disappointed by the move, but also upset that the >decision to sell Pakistan eight F-16 fighter jets in a deal worth $699.04 million meant India”s protests over the past year on the issue had gone unheeded.

The decision, that was conveyed by the Pentagon to the U.S. Congress on Thursday, and was announced by the U.S. government on Friday. Early on Saturday morning, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that India was “disappointed at the decision of the Obama administration to notify the sale of F-16 aircrafts to Pakistan.”

Rejecting the U.S. State Department’s contention that the sale of fighter jets was in the U.S.’ “vital national security interests” as it helped Pakistan fight terror groups, the MEA said, “We disagree with their rationale that such arms transfers help to combat terrorism. The record of the last many years in this regard speaks for itself.”

Officials confirmed that India will take up the issue with the Obama administration in Washington as well, and had been in regular touch since the proposal to sell the jets, which India believes will only strengthen Islamabad’s ability to threaten New Delhi.

The U.S. move is a setback to India’s hopes that given the mounting evidence of Pakistan’s agencies continuing to support anti-India groups like the LeT, the U.S. would rethink its defence sales to the country. In the past week, many in the government had hoped the details from the >deposition in a Mumbai court from 26/11 planner and terrorist David Headley would further remind the U.S. of the ISI’s links with these groups.

The timing of the F-16 announcement, even as India is hoping to extract action from Pakistan on the Pathankot terror attacks by maintaining international pressure, is particularly inconvenient.

The Congress used the announcement to criticism Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government, saying it showed the “miserable failure” of India’s ability to convince the U.S. of its stand. “What is the net result of the so-called friendship between the Indian Prime Minister and the U.S. President, which was very much publicised by the BJP and this government,” asked the party's spokesperson P.C. Chacko.

Deal has been in the making for many months

The decision to sell Pakistan eight F-16s has been in imminent for some months, as the U.S. State Department had informally told U.S. Congressmen about the proposal in April 2015, and it came to light during >Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington in October 2015.

In December, when the Obama administration issued a formal notification of “Foreign Military Financing”, several Congressmen had put up a stiff opposition to the deal. Friday’s notification means the U.S. Congress has 30 days to veto the transfer of F-16, but that is a veto rarely used after the U.S. State Department’s clearances and can be overruled by President Obama. U.S. lawmakers are also under immense pressure from Lockheed Martin, the company that manufactures F-16s, according to sources that are familiar with the circumstances.

In a letter on February 9, 2016, Republican Senator Bob Corker who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, >told Secretary of State John Kerry he and other lawmakers would block any move to subsidise the sale through the U.S.’ counter-terror reserve funds.

“I do not want U.S. taxpayer dollars going to support these acquisitions,” Mr. Corker said in an interview after returning from Afghanistan, adding “While we’re spending tremendous amounts of U.S. dollars and certainly tremendous sacrifice in our men and women in uniform and by other agencies, they (Pakistan) are working simultaneously to destabilise Afghanistan.”

In a separate letter Republican Ted Poe and Democrat Tulsi Gabbard objected to the sale as well, arguing that Pakistan had not stopped supporting terror groups targeting India despite committing to that in exchange for U.S. military aid. They said the presence of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, believed to be behind the Pathankot attacks, and Hafiz Saeed who despite being the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks making public speeches was proof of that.

India has consistently opposed the transfer of F-16s to Pakistan, as opposed to the transport planes C-130, because of their lethal capabilities, ever since the U.S. began supplying them in the 1980s. In 2006, the U.S. restarted the supplies with a contract for 18 planes, which were completed in 2012 with an option of 18 more. The current deal, which plans eight more is under that same contract .

Between 2002 and 2014, the United States has sold around $5.4 billion worth of military equipment to Pakistan, according to the Congressional Research Service. In that same period the U.S. Congress has okayed about $30 billion in aid to Pakistan. The aid, half of which is routed through the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), is meant to combat terrorism, but India has consistently maintained that it is used to bolster Pakistan’s defence capabilities against India instead.

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