US State Secretary Antony Blinken defended military supplies to Pakistan on Tuesday in response to criticism from India, a growing US ally which sees itself as the target of Islamabad’s F-16 aircraft.
A day after separate talks with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Blinken met with the Foreign Minister of India in the capital of the United States.
The Cold War-era partnership between the United States and Pakistan has deteriorated due to Islamabad’s ties to the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
A $450 million F-16 deal for Pakistan that was approved earlier in September was defended by the top US ambassador, who said that the deal was for the upkeep of Pakistan’s current fleet.
The package, which is intended to support the F-16 programme of the Pakistan Air Force, does not involve the supply of any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions.
“These are not new planes, new systems, new weapons. It’s sustaining what they have,” the US state secretary told a news conference with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
“Pakistan’s programme bolsters its capability to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan or from the region. It’s in no one’s interests that those threats be able to go forward with impunity, and so this capability that Pakistan has had can benefit all of us in dealing with terrorism,” Blinken said.
He added that the US had a “responsibility and an obligation to whomever we provide military equipment to make sure that it’s maintained and sustained. That’s our obligation”.
When asked to elaborate on the terrorism threats and the need for F-16s to counter them, Blinken said: “There are clear terrorism threats that continue to emanate from Pakistan itself as well as from neighbouring countries.
“And whether it is TTP (Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan) that may be targeting Pakistan, whether it’s ISIS-Khorasan, whether it’s Al-Qaeda, I think the threats are clear, well-known, and we all have an interest in making sure that we have the means to deal with them. And that’s what this is about.”
Blinken responded that it would not be acceptable to “characterise Pakistan’s answer” in response to a different question regarding his conversation with FM Bilawal regarding enhancing ties between Pakistan and India, his advise to Pakistan in this regard, and Pakistan’s response.
“More broadly, we always encourage our friends to resolve their differences through diplomacy, through dialogue. That hasn’t changed. It won’t change. It would not be appropriate for me to characterise Pakistan’s response, just as I wouldn’t characterise our friend’s response in a similar conversation,” he said.
Jaishankar did not publicly criticise Blinken, but on Sunday, he said of the US stance, “You’re not fooling anybody,” while speaking at a reception for the Indian diaspora in the US.
“For someone to say, I’m doing this because it’s for counter-terrorism when you’re talking of an aircraft like the capability of the F-16, everybody knows where they are deployed,” he said.
“Very honestly, it’s a relationship that has neither ended up serving Pakistan well nor serving American interests well,” he said.
Prior to now, the Indian defence minister had also expressed concerns to his colleague in Washington on the F-16 purchase.
I conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.
Look forward to continuing dialogue with Seceratry Austin to further consolidating India-US partnership. 3/3
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) September 14, 2022
Pakistan, on its part, has admonished India to hold off from making any remarks about the two countries’ bilateral relations.
Asim Iftikhar Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office, responded to Jaishankar’s comments from Sunday by saying that Pakistan and the US had a “longstanding and broad-based partnership” that has been crucial in fostering stability, security, and peace in the area. The representative demanded that India “follow basic inter-state standards of relations.”
In a press release from the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) earlier this month, it was stated that the government of Pakistan had asked to combine previous F-16 sustainment and support cases in order to support the F-16 fleet of the Pakistan Air Force by reducing duplicate case activities and adding more continued support components.
The press release also stated that further support for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet would involve participation in other technical coordination groups as well as the F-16 Aircraft Structural Integrity Programme, Electronic Combat International Security Assistance Programme, International Engine Management Programme, and Engine Component Improvement Programme.
The assistance would also include hardware and software modifications and support for aircraft and engines, spare repair and return parts for aircraft and engines, accessories, and support gear, classified and unclassified software, software support, publications, manuals, and technical documentation, precision measurement, calibration, lab gear, technical support services, studies, and surveys, as well as other related aspects of aircraft maintenance and programme assistance.