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Pakistan’s U.S. ambassador revives hopes for F-16s

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Jalil Abbas Jilani expressed his hope that Washington will revive arms sales to Pakistan, most notably of the F-16 (on favourable terms).

Speaking to local journalists and media, Jilani reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to fighting al-Qaeda and ISIS, and advocated for the sale of F-16s and release of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to support Pakistan’s counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts.

Jilani’s comments come in tandem with U.S. Secretary of Defence-designate James Mattis’ statements at his confirmation hearing, in which he said, “Conditioning our security assistance has a mixed history in the case of Pakistan, but I will review all options if I am confirmed.”

Notes & Comments:

In 2016, the U.S. Department of State approved a USD $700 million sale of 8 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block-52+ to Pakistan. However, the sale was contingent on a Foreign Military Financing (FMF) element that would partly subsidize the sale. While Congress approved the sale, it did not greenlight the FMF, thus prompting Islamabad to walk away from the sale. Following that, the U.S. Department of Defence also withheld a USD $300 million CSF package because it could certify Pakistan’s commitment to fighting the so-called Haqqani network in its Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Despite these shortfalls, Washington – now firmly led by the Republican Party – is intent on maintaining a measure of productive continuity with its defence relationship with Pakistan.

For example, the 2017 National Defence Authorization Act passed in December 2016 earmarks the transfer of USD $900 million in aid to Pakistan, but less than half of it – i.e. $400 million – is contingent on fighting the Haqqani-network. While the reality could be different, the overt implication is that a portion of the aid (up to $500 million) is not conditional on specific goals, but general alignment.

This would echo a policy recommendation made in September 2016 by Dr. Daniel Markley, the Academic Director at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, who proposed that aid to Pakistan be divided into three categories: First, aid for supporting dual U.S.-Pakistani interests, such as fighting the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Second, aid aimed at altering the Pakistani military’s methods of COIN engagement, e.g. “reduce civilian casualties.” Third, targeted aid designed to induce Pakistan to fight specific groups, such as the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

These instruments could enable Pakistan to procure new-built F-16s and potentially other arms, such as additional AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters, from the U.S.