Snubbed by US, Pakistan turns to Jordanian F-16s
Amman - Spurned by the United States, Pakistan has turned to Jordan to buy used F-16 fighter jets that are part of a fleet donated by Washington under a military drawdown programme to bolster Jordanian defences.
Jordan has played a major part in the US-led global war on terrorism. The kingdom, whose army, police and special forces are British- and US-trained and -equipped, also takes part in aerial strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
Some Pakistani F-16 jets are scheduled to be decommissioned in the next few years and the government says it needs the aircraft to fight Islamist militants in mountainous areas near Afghanistan.
The military also sees the aircraft as vital in case of war against India. The nuclear-armed neighbours 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,” Pakistani Defence Secretary Alam Khattak told a joint hearing of the Senate defence and foreign affairs committees, Pakistani newspapers reported.
An air force spokesman declined to say how many F-16s Pakistan has but the number of the aircraft in service is believed to be about 70.
Jordan had 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.
The US deal, valued at $699 million, unravelled after the US Congress refused to authorise the use of government funds to pay for the aircraft under the Foreign Military Financing programme.
Members of the US Congress, led by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, demanded that Pakistan stop harbouring militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, which are leading an insurgency against a US-backed government in Afghanistan.
Pakistan says it is acting against the militants, citing military operations in ethnic Pashtun lands that border Afghanistan. Pakistan says the F-16s, with their precision strike ability and night-flying capability, are essential for that fight.
The difficulty over the F-16 deal was another sign of fraying ties between Pakistan and the United States. In May, a US drone attack killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, then chief of the Afghan Taliban, on Pakistani soil. Pakistan condemned the strike as a violation of its sovereignty and as not being conducive towards encouraging the Taliban to enter talks with the Afghan government.
Pakistan has bought Jordanian F-16s before, procuring 13 in 2014, Dawn reported. The current batch on offer were manufactured between 1988 and 1990 and were upgraded in 2001-02, Dawn said.