Islamabad: The US government has formally notified the intended sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, taking a major step towards finalising the deal, the media reported on Sunday. "This proposed sale contributes to US foreign policy objectives and national security goals by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner in South Asia," said the notification published in the US Federal Register. "We are grateful to the US administration and members of Congress for their acknowledgment of Pakistan’s decisive actions against extremists and terrorists and of the effective role the F-16a play in our counter-terrorism efforts,” Dawn online reported citing Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani as saying.
The notification estimates the total cost of the deal to be nearly $700 million. However, the Indian government and some US lawmakers have criticised Washington’s rationale that such an arms transfer will help combat terrorism. They claim the fighter jets will change the military balance in South Asia and will ultimately be used against India. In a policy justification, posted on the Federal Register, the US administration rejected this assertion. “The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” it said, adding that the aircraft would improve “Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future security threats”. The administration also noted that the additional F-16 aircraft would facilitate operations in non-daylight environments and “enhance Pakistan’s ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations”. The Obama administration also explained that the sale would increase the number of aircraft available to the Pakistan Air Force to sustain operations, meet monthly training requirements, and support transition training for pilots new to the Block-52, F-16 aircraft. Implementation of the proposed sale would not require the assignment of any additional US government or contractor representatives to Pakistan. There would be no adverse impact on US defence readiness either, it said. The administration also assured Congress that Pakistan “can provide the same degree of protection for the sensitive technology being released as the US government”. The 30-day notice period for Congress expires on March 11, after which the deal will be final. Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said at a news briefing in Washington earlier this week that Pakistan had initially requested for 18 F-16s, but because of financing problems it was purchasing just eight. He said the F-16s were a critical tool in the war against terrorism.