The Bush administration had pushed through the sales of F-16s to Pakistan for use in internal security and self-defence but post sale, conditions do not apply
The cold relationship between Pakistan and the US during the 1990s started warming up after
9/11. The Bush administration declared war on terror and gathered its allies to invade
Afghanistan in punitive retaliation.
Owing to multiple factors that have been widely debated, Pakistan became a frontline ally in this
war on terror. In return for Pakistan’s support, several agreements were signed for the sale of
defence equipment by the US to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund. The sale of 40 F-16
aircraft was also part of those agreements.
In its successful bid to convince Congress to sign off on those agreements, the Bush
administration argued before Congress that – “Given its geostrategic location and partnership in
the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), Pakistan is a vital ally of the United States… This
proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by
helping an ally meet its legitimate defence requirements. The aircraft also will be used for close
air support in ongoing operations contributing to the GWOT.”
The real concern of the US Congress was about the imbalance of power in South Asia that this
sale would have caused, partly as a result of India’s lobbying against those agreements. In 2006,
when the F-16 sale to Pakistan was in its final stages, several Bills were tabled in the US Congress
to prevent the deal from happening – contesting that F-16s are modern fighter aircraft while
Taliban offensive capabilities are restricted to land only.
Despite these concerns, the Bush administration managed to get the nod of approval from
Congress to go ahead with the deal which was inked in 2006.
The Congressional Research Service of Library of Congress published a report in 2007 which
highlighted that the deal between Pakistan and the US is governed by Arms Export Control Act
(AECA) and applies to the aircraft manufacturer, Pakistan and the United States.
Section 4 of the AECA is of interest because it lists the purposes under which export of US
defence articles/services are authorised. Two of such purposes are that defence articles/services
shall be used for “internal security” and “legitimate self-defence”.
In case of violation of conditions of sale, the US Secretary of State is authorised to suspend any
defence contract under Sections 2(b), 42(e)(1) and 42(e)(2) of AECA.
However, these Sections bear little meaning because AECA permits the US to suspend defence
contracts anyway, anytime under “unusual or compelling circumstances if the national interest so
The recent tensions between India and Pakistan have brought the US-Pak F-16 contract into the
limelight. India has alleged that PAF (Pakistan Air Force) attacked Indian military installations
across the Line of Control and downed a Russian-made IAF (Indian Air Force) MiG-21 using F-
16s, a claim that has been categorically denied by the official spokesperson of the Pakistan
The US Embassy in Islamabad has expressed its intention to look into the matter. Assuming that
the Indian allegations are true, which does not seem to be the case, this situation would not be
the first of its kind.
In 1985, when Israel attacked the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)
in Tunis using US-made fighter aircrafts, the Reagan Administration concluded that the attack
was “understandable as an expression of self-defence”.
During an interview with the BBC, Pakistan’s former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall (Retired)
Sohail Aman responded to the question whether there are any restrictions on Pakistan for the
use of F-16s by saying – “Whenever any country pays the due cost for purchase of such [defence]
equipment, they entitled to use it however they see fit. No such conditions [regarding restricted
use] are imposed.”
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Pakistan)