The US State Department has approved the potential sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan in a deal valued at up to $450 million. This is the first major security assistance from the US to Pakistan after President Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump stopped all defence and security assistance in 2018, alleging that Islamabad was not a partner in its fight against terrorism.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Pentagon said the principal contractor will be Lockheed Martin Corp. The State Department has reportedly argued that this will sustain Islamabad’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining its F-16 fleet.
“Pakistan is an important counterterrorism partner, and as part of longstanding policy, the United States provides life cycle maintenance and sustainment packages for US-origin platforms,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“Pakistan’s F-16 programme is an important part of the broader United States-Pakistan bilateral relationship. The proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining its F-16 fleet. The F-16 fleet allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations and we expect Pakistan to take sustained action against all terrorist groups,” the spokesperson further said in response to a question.
According to the Congressional notification, the proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions. It said that Pakistan has requested to consolidate prior F-16 sustainment and support cases to support the Pakistan Air Force F-16 fleet by reducing duplicate case activities and adding additional continued support elements.
Sources said Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is also likely to visit the United States in late September. US and Pakistani officials are reportedly working on new frameworks and MoUs between the two countries, sources added.
In an unusual move in July, General Bajwa had reached out to Washington to request help in securing an early disbursement of funds from the International Monetary Fund for cash-strapped Pakistan.
He spoke with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and later a State Department official rejected media speculation that the call was linked to the current political situation in Pakistan.
Bajwa’s intervention was criticised by some Pakistani leaders, including ousted prime minister Imran Khan.
Since his ouster five months ago, Khan has claimed that the current Shehbaz Sharif government came into power under a plot by the US which allegedly disagreed with his more independent foreign policy; Washington has denied such a claim.