US commits to F-16 deal with Pakistan despite India’s objections

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says $450m deal with Islamabad is for 'counter-terrorism'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (L) hold a joint press conference following meetings at the State Department in Washington, DC, September 27, 2022.  (Photo by SAUL LOEB  /  POOL  /  AFP)
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken committed to a multimillion-dollar F-16 sustainment deal with Pakistan on Tuesday despite India’s objections to the agreement.

“This is a sustainment programme for F-16 [jets] that Pakistan has, as long as these are not new planes, new weapons, it's sustaining what they have,” Mr Blinken said while hosting Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the State Department.

“We have a responsibility and an obligation to whomever we provide military equipment to make sure that it's maintained and sustained.”

This month, President Joe Biden's administration approved the $450 million package to maintain and upgrade Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets. The deal is the largest arms package the US has approved to Islamabad since 2018.

“Pakistan's programme bolsters its capability to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan or from the region,” Mr Blinken said.

“It's in no one's interest that those threats be able to go forward with impunity.”

But India’s chief diplomat blasted the deal before his meeting with Mr Blinken and cast doubt over the counter-terrorism claim.

“At the end of the day … to say I am doing it for 'counter-terrorism' … you are talking of an aircraft of the capability of a F-16, everyone knows where they are deployed,” Mr Jaishankar said on Sunday during a meeting with members of the Indian-American community.

President Sheikh Mohamed meets India's Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar — in pictures

“You are not fooling anybody by saying these things.”

Despite India's rejection of the deal, Mr Blinken assured Mr Jaishankar about the strength and trajectory of ties between New Delhi and Washington.

“The partnership between our countries is one of the most consequential in the world,” he said.

The two sides also discussed political co-ordination, the war in Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific situation, Mr Jaishankar said.

Washington is looking to strengthen its relations with India as New Delhi prepares to preside over the UN Security Council in December and the Group of 20 next year.

Before his meeting with Mr Jaishankar, Mr Blinken on Monday hosted his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and urged him to improve relations with neighbouring India.

“In our discussions today, we talked about the importance of managing a responsible relationship with India,” Mr Blinken said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday that good relations with both India and Pakistan are important and do not run counter to one another.

“We don't view our relationship with Pakistan, and on the other hand, we don't view our relationship with India as in relation to one another,” Mr Price said.

“These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each.”

Mr Jaishankar also met US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and the two discussed “new opportunities for bilateral defence [and] industrial co-operation in support of India's contributions as a regional security provider”, the Pentagon said.

Updated: September 28, 2022, 5:14 AM