On Monday, the Bush administration announced a massive $5.1 billion arms package for Pakistan, the largest arms sale to the Indian subcontinent since US sanctions were suspended in 2001. The package includes 36 F-16 fighter jets, armaments, and upgrades for its existing fleet of F-16s. The announcement came five days after the administration officially notified Congress of the sales.
The deal is significant for many reasons. It will help to modernize Pakistan’s aging airforce, and help pave the way for an even larger fighter jet sale to India. The sale also has tremendous symbolic significance. In 1991, the first Bush Administration imposed various sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program, the most high profile of which was the impounding of 28 F-16s purchased by Pakistan in the 1980’s. Pakistan lobbied hard for their release but the Bush and Clinton administrations held firm, and the planes came to symbolize the post-Cold War deterioration of US-Pakistani relations. Following the September 11th attacks, the US hastily sought to mend diplomatic fences with Pakistan, which has provided critical support in the War on Terror. The Bush administration immediately lifted the ban on military aid to India and Pakistan and gradually increased the quantity and sophistication of weapons exports to both countries. The F-16 sale, which still tops the list of weapons sought by the Pakistani government, signifies a completion of the rapprochement between the US and its erstwhile ally.
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