U.S. approves sale of eight F-16s for Pakistan, drawing criticism from India

Two Taiwanese F-16 fighter jets, built in Fort Worth, flying over the island nation.
Two Taiwanese F-16 fighter jets, built in Fort Worth, flying over the island nation.

The U.S. government has approved the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, drawing criticism from India which says it does not believe that the arms sale will help combat terrorism.

The fighter jets, built by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, would be sold along with radar and electronic warfare equipment to Pakistan in a deal worth nearly $700 million.

In a statement, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign arms sales, said the F-16s would allow Pakistan’s Air Force to operate in all-weather environments and at night, while improving its self-defense capability and bolstering its ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations.

According to Reuters, lawmakers have 30 days to block the sale, although such action is rare since deals are well-vetted before any formal notification.

The U.S. ambassador to India, Richard Verma, was summoned Saturday to the External Affairs Ministry, where Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar conveyed India’s displeasure with the deal.

The External Affairs Ministry said in a statement that India was disappointed with the decision of the Obama administration to sell the fighter jets to Pakistan and its justification that it will help efforts to fight terrorism.

“We disagree with their rationale that such arms transfers help combat terrorism,” the statement said. “The record of the last many years in this regard speaks for itself.”

India is worried that arming Pakistan with advanced fighters jets will tilt the military balance in the region.

Washington believes Pakistan’s strategic location next to Afghanistan makes it a useful ally in the war against global terrorism despite Pakistan allowing many militant groups to operate out of its territory.

Lockheed has been building F-16s in Fort Worth for more than 40 years, with more than 4,500 jets delivered to customers in more than 24 countries. While the Fort Worth plant is mainly focused on the new F-35 stealth fighter, several hundred workers continue to build about one F-16 a month for Iraq, with orders in place to last through October 2017.

The decision on U.S. fighter sales to Pakistan also comes at a time when India is pushing its rival to crack down on Islamic militant groups operating out of its territory.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947. India has for decades accused Pakistan of harboring and supporting terrorist groups that regularly attack Indian targets. Relations have not fully thawed since a deadly 2008 attack on India’s financial hub, Mumbai, by Pakistan-based militants in which 166 people were killed.

Staff writer Steve Kaskovich contributed to this report, which includes material from Bloomberg News.