During official meetings with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu in Delhi last week, India raised “strong objections” to the U.S. plan for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) worth $450 million for hardware, software, and spares for the F-16 fighter jet programme with Pakistan.
The Hinduhas learned that officials protested the decision at “each and every” bilateral meeting Mr. Lu and his delegation had during their visit for the Quad Senior Officials Meeting (SOM).
In particular, the Indian side cited concerns about the technology and support being made available to Pakistan for the F-16s, which Pakistan claims are needed for “counter-terrorism operations”, and the government conveyed that it believes they are used for operations against India.
Apart from the SOM, Mr. Lu and Defense Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner held intersessional 2+2 meetings with delegations from the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs. In addition, he met with Joint Secretary Vani Rao separately, and also called on Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra.
Mr. Lu told officials that the FMS F-16 package was a maintenance deal for F-16s, some of which are 40 years old and part of the U.S.’s global policy of maintaining its defence sales for their entire lifecycle.
However, New Delhi is understood to have repeated its skepticism on the issue and made its displeasure known quite clearly. In contrast to 2016, when the MEA had issued a statement expressing its “disappointment” of the planned sale of F-16s, and then (Foreign Secretary) S. Jaishankar had summoned the US Ambassador to protest, this time the MEA has chosen not to make any public comment.
“We heard several concerns from the Indian govt,” admitted Mr. Lu in an interview to the India Today TV channel. “Let me say this very clearly, this is a safety and maintenance program. There is no new aircraft being considered, no new capability and no new weapons system,” he added.
Significantly, the announcement of the FMS package came while Mr. Lu and Mr. Ratner were in Delhi, and some of the reason for the government’s upset was that it took them by surprise. The announcement made by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which gave details of the 12 categories the U.S. would provide support to Pakistan for, said that the State Department had approved the deal and that the DSCA delivered the required certification notifying Congress of possible sale on September 7.
Mr. Lu also expressed some skepticism about the latest India-China disengagement agreement at PP-15 at the Line of Actual Control announced this week, saying that the U.S. is not seeing “any sincere effort by Beijing to resolve the dispute”.
He said that the U.S. would stand by India “resolutely” as it faces what he called the “terrible threat” from China. The MEA declined to comment on his remarks.
The disagreement over the F-16 package is one of a number of areas where New Delhi and Washington appear to be at odds, despite a period of active engagement, including the meetings with Mr. Lu in Delhi, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal’s visit to the U.S. for the IPEF ministerial meetings and bilateral trade talks, as well as a visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Treasure Wally Ademeyo at the end of August.
Apart from the government’s suspicions over the Biden administration’s re-kindling ties with Pakistan and the Shehbaz Sharif government, India also decided to stay out of the trade pillar of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, citing concerns any trade agreement may “discriminate” against developing economies over issues like environmental commitments, labour standards, and digital laws.
In addition, India has not joined the U.S. push to build a G-7-led coalition on enforcing price caps on Russian oil. PM Modi told Mr. Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum that he attended virtually this week that India wants to step up its energy ties with Russia.
In the past few months, India has also rejected U.S. calls to change its vote on Russia at the U.N., and refused to cut Russian energy purchases, instead increasing its oil imports from Russia about 50 times.
This week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the SCO Summit in Uzbekistan, where he will be joined by leaders of Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, Belarus, Pakistan, Central Asian States, and possibly Syria, is unlikely to be seen positively by Washington as well.