Raja-mandala: A short history of F-16s

India is not really bothered by eight F-16s but by the political consequences of US assistance to Pakistan

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published:February 16, 2016 12:12 am
F 16 fighter jet, US pakistan fighter jet, indo pakistan relations, US india relations, pakistan air force, barack obama, obama news, US pakistan fighter jets, US sale fighter jets India is a lot stronger today than in the 1950s and will not lose sleep over eight F-16s. India’s defence budget is nearly seven times larger than that of Pakistan.

The US notification last week on the sale of F-16s to Pakistan and India’s expression of displeasure in reaction suggest how difficult it is to alter the entrenched negative triangular dynamic between New Delhi, Rawalpindi and Washington.

India’s objections to US military assistance to Rawalpindi date back to the mid-1950s, when America drew Pakistan into the Cold War alliances — the Cento and Seato. Washington said the arms would help Pakistan counter the threat of communism in Asia. Delhi said they would be used against India. Delhi also argued that the American embrace of the Pakistan army would undermine civilian rule across the border. On both counts, Delhi has never stopped saying, “I told you so.”

India is a lot stronger today than in the 1950s and will not lose sleep over eight F-16s. India’s defence budget is nearly seven times larger than that of Pakistan. India’s GDP is nine times bigger than Pakistan’s. If Delhi wants it, Lockheed Martin, which builds F-16s, is apparently ready to move the production line to India.

What really bothers Delhi are the negative political consequences of US military assistance to Pakistan — the promotion of the army’s dominance over Islamabad’s national security policy, the continuing destabilisation of Afghanistan, and the persistent support to anti-India terror groups.

If the F-16s are very much part of this story, Delhi has found Washington’s publicly stated reasons for their sale over the last four decades unconvincing. Cut to the 1980s, when the US offered $3.2 billion in assistance, including support for F-16 sale, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan at the end of 1979.

When the US Congress objected to the sale of F-16s, the Reagan administration said the supply of advanced US conventional weapons would help wean Pakistan away from nuclear weapons. Within a decade, though, Pakistan was the proud owner of a nuclear armoury that neutralised Delhi’s traditional conventional superiority and set the stage for expansive cross-border terrorism.

Beyond the nuclear arsenal, the 1980s saw the dramatic transformation of Pakistan’s internal and external policies. Internally, the US military partnership lent legitimacy to not just the army dictatorship but also General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation of Pakistan.

The decisive change in Pakistan’s internal character was complemented by Rawalpindi’s jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and its support to separatism in India’s Punjab and Kashmir. With a new wind behind religious extremism, the subcontinent would never be the same again.

Once Moscow chose to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of the 1980s, America slapped nuclear sanctions on Pakistan and turned its back to the region in the 1990s. These sanctions blocked the release of some of the F-16s that Pakistan had ordered in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the jihad spawned in Pakistan would not leave America alone and showed up in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

Washington returned to the region, promising America that it would drain the swamps of violent extremism that grew out of the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s. Despite $30 billion of assistance to Pakistan since 2002 and nearly a trillion dollars spent in Afghanistan, Washington now stares at failure.

Although hailed in Washington as a key partner in the great war on terror, the Pakistan army had no interest in ending its support to violent extremism in Afghanistan and India. Delhi, therefore, finds Washington’s argument that the F-16s will help Pakistan counter terrorism in the region somewhat incredulous.

Realists in Delhi do understand that the F-16s are a part of the price that Washington pays to keep Rawalpindi in good humour. Delhi might be willing to live with it, if Washington showed greater sensitivity to India’s interests.

The Bush administration found one way of getting there — de-hyphenate the relationship with India and Pakistan, stay out of Kashmir and step up strategic cooperation with Delhi. In 2005, when Washington made a fresh bid to release the old F-16s to Pakistan and sell new ones, it also unveiled a historic civil nuclear initiative with India and a brand new defence partnership.

The Obama administration has frequently deviated from this approach, in betting that the route to peace in Afghanistan is through Kashmir, or more recently, with the idea of a separate nuclear deal for Pakistan.

Another option for Washington is to complement its F-16 sale to Pakistan with some real pressure on Rawalpindi to abandon its support to anti-India terror groups. India often hears that America wants Pakistan to shut down safe havens for terror on its soil.

If Washington can match that anti-terror rhetoric with some effective action, it would strengthen not only America’s strategic partnership with India but also the peace process that Delhi is struggling to construct with Islamabad. That, in turn, might make it possible to imagine a very different triangular relationship between India, Pakistan and America from the one we have seen in the last six decades.

 

The writer is director, Carnegie India and consulting editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’

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  1. R
    Raja.Moron.aka.Raja.Mohan
    Feb 16, 2016 at 6:22 pm
    How shameless the author should be to pride himself that India's defense budget is several time that if stan IN BUYING MANY MORE F-16s than stan? WHEN WILL THISE USIOTS REALIZE THAT INDIA IS INCOMPETENT IN DEVELOPING EVEN A MODEL AIR PLANE. ANS: WHEN ALL BRAHMIN SCOUNDRELS ARE KICKED OUT IF OUR LAND.
    Reply
  2. K
    K SHESHU
    Feb 16, 2016 at 11:18 am
    US is catering to its arms manufacturing industry rather than Indo-Pak conflict. It would be wothwile to rember that stan has been the pet of Americans even prior to Indo-Pak wars. Hence, this is not surprising.
    Reply
  3. M
    Mavala
    Feb 15, 2016 at 11:47 pm
    An insightful write-up. What about the China part to this story, it would have no interest in stan settling Kashmir with India and I suspect Islamabad is playing a knows this only too well. Interesting how it was much more fruitful dealing with Bush than Obama. More parades and states visits as consolation prizes I suppose. As they say, there are only 'interests' no friends.
    Reply
    1. N
      No way
      Feb 17, 2016 at 9:03 am
      Since India is behind terrorism inside stan (Baluchistan insurgency, Karachi violence, Taliban support), stan needs to do whatever it can to keep India in check.
      Reply
      1. K
        Kamalakanta
        Feb 16, 2016 at 3:33 pm
        Why do not consider as a presentation by BARAK to NAMO
        Reply
      2. D
        Dipti
        Feb 16, 2016 at 3:32 am
        Cold War 2 has already begun --with active theatres in Syria and eastern Europe. The US desperately needs to rally its old allies. stan's strategic geographical position has once again opened the eyes of the American strategic community to the need to woo its government for use of the country as a base of operations aimed against Russia. India has nothing to worry except writers like Raja Mohan. We should avoid be sucked into another arms race.
        Reply
        1. G
          G M
          Feb 16, 2016 at 6:39 pm
          U. S. agreed to supply F 16 planes to stan in 1980s. At that time stan was engaged in war against Afghanistan and U. S. S. R. as a ally of America. Agreeing to resume supply of F16 planes , U. S. has made it clear that despite Modi's reaching out to America and all proof of stan's involvement in terror attacks against India, America still prefer stan above India . stan was in American camp and India was in U. S. S. R. camp in cold war era. stan will put this getting F 16 planes as a certificate at international forum as a clean chit .It is a moral victory of stan . That is why a demarches is given to American ambador . America's next step is to sign nuclear agreement with stan. These two developments will be enough for Indian's to believe Modi's doctrine as a damp squib.
          Reply
          1. G
            Gouri
            Feb 16, 2016 at 8:29 am
            The author is day dreaming
            Reply
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