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India Upset Over US Package

India has expressed serious concern over the Joe Biden Administration’s decision to break former US President Donald Trump’s freeze on military ties with Pakistan with a USD 450 million package for a lifetime upgrade of F-16 fleet of Islamabad. Immediately after Washington DC made a final decision in this regard earlier in September 2022, Defence Minister of India Rajnath Singh said that he “conveyed concerns” of New Delhi to his US counterpart Lloyd Austin. According to Singh, he held a warm discussion with the US official on “growing convergence of strategic interests and enhanced defence and security co-operation”. The Indian minister further informed Austin that New Delhi was ready to explore “ways to strengthen technological and industrial collaboration, and also to explore co-operation in emerging and critical technologies” with Washington DC.

It may be noted that the Pentagon has called President Biden’s decision to provide Pakistan with a USD 450 million package the “F-16 Case for sustainment and related equipment”. Although the Indian Ministry of External Affairs remained silent on this issue, some senior officials of the ministry communicated India’s objections to the officials of the US Embassy in New Delhi. They also discussed the issue with top officials of the QUAD (the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the US).

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh

During his tenure as US President, Donald Trump had snapped defence and security co-operation with Pakistan. In 2018, former President Trump had slammed Pakistan for giving only “lies and deceit” in relation to the billions of dollars that was given by Washington DC “foolishly”. However, President Biden has made some changes in the US’ policy towards Pakistan, keeping in mind the changing global geopolitical landscape mainly because of the Russia-Ukraine War. Although India is not at all happy with President Biden’s Pakistan Policy, New Delhi has to swallow its disappointment because of its friendly ties with Russia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly raised the issue during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15-16.

On September 7, the Defence Security Cooperation Agency of the US issued a statement, mentioning that under the USD 450 million package, Lockheed Martin would provide Pakistan with technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Islamabad’s F-16 fleet. As per the statement, a number of technical coordination groups, aircraft and engine hardware would engage in the project. The US would also provide software modifications and support, equipment support, manuals, precision measurement, and a range of related elements of aircraft maintenance to Pakistan.

Lloyd Austin

The statement read: “The proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions. It will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by allowing Pakistan to retain interoperability with US and partner forces in ongoing counter-terrorism efforts and in preparation for future contingency operations. The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

Meanwhile, defence experts have opined that the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has prompted the US to bolster defence ties with Pakistan. They believe that the US has decided to break China’s hold on Pakistan at this turbulent period. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has already acquired quite a number of Chinese JF-17 Thunder fighter jets. Now, President Biden wants Pakistan to rely on the ageing US aircraft.

For his part, Brigadier (Retired) of the Indian Army Rahul Bhonsle has stressed that the sustainment programme for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet would certainly enhance conventional deterrence against India. He recalled that the PAF had brought down a MiG-21 flown by Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on February 29, 2019, saying that Islamabad would use the F-16s in any future encounter with India. “India will have to effectively enhance conventional combat capability of the IAF to continue to meet the challenge of a resurgent PAF,” stressed Brigadier (Retired) Bhonsle.

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