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Pakistan Considers Canceling U.S. F-16 Deal, Buying From Jordan

  • RFE/RL

A Pakistani F-16 fighter performs a flypast during the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23.

A Pakistani F-16 fighter performs a flypast during the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23.

Pakistan is considering buying used F-16 fighter jets from Jordan after a deal to buy eight of the aircraft from the United States stalled because the U.S. Congress refused to finance the deal.

Sartaj Aziz, a top foreign affairs adviser for Pakistan’s government, told reporters in Islamabad on June 14 that Pakistan will likely cancel the deal with the United States, adding to growing tensions between the two countries.

Some of Pakistan's fleet of about 70 F-16 jets are due to be decommissioned, and the government says it needs the aircraft to fight Islamist militants in remote mountains near Afghanistan.

The military also sees the aircraft as vital in case of war against India. The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.

"We are now going for a third-party transfer of F-16s and have an offer from Jordan," Defense Secretary Alam Khattak told a joint hearing of the Senate defense and foreign affairs committees in Islamabad on June 13, Pakistani newspapers reported.

Jordan has offered to sell Pakistan 16 used F-16s of the Block-30 variant, an older version than the Block-52s that Pakistan would have obtained from the United States, the Dawn newspaper reported.

Pakistan has bought Jordanian F-16s before, procuring 13 of them in 2014, Dawn reported. The current batch on offer were manufactured between 1988 and 1990 and were upgraded in 2001 and 2002, Dawn said.

The U.S. deal, valued at $699 million, was thrown into question after the U.S. Congress refused to authorize using U.S. government funds to help pay for the aircraft through a U.S.-sponsored loan program for military sales.

Congress balked at the financing after Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded that Pakistan stop harboring militant groups like the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, which are leading an insurgency against a U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

Pakistan insists it is acting against the militants through repeated military operations in the lawless tribal lands that border Afghanistan.

Pakistan says the F-16s, in fact, with their precision strike ability and night-flying capability are essential for it to win that fight.

A senior government media official told Reuters that the trouble Pakistan encountered over the F-16s prompted Islamabad to consider hiring lobbyists in Washington to "sell Pakistani interests and improve its image in the United States."

"We are fighting this war on terror at great cost to lives and our economy. Yet we keep hearing that we have to do more. Clearly there is a public relations gap," the official said.

The tensions over the F-16 deal have added to the increasingly frayed ties between Pakistan and the United States.

Last month, a U.S. drone strike killed Mullah Akhtar Mansur, then chief of the Afghan Taliban, on Pakistani soil.

Pakistan condemned the strike as a violation of its sovereignty and said it would not encourage the Taliban to hold peace talks with the Afghan government.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, Dawn, and Reuters