India’s ‘Disappointment’: Do Eight F-16’s Upset The Pak-India Strategic Balance?

The sale of F-16 aircraft has appeared to annoy India more than it helps Pakistan’s overall counter-insurgency efforts. It should not.

But the very fact that it does — that New Delhi appears to feel it necessary to protest the American sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan — demonstrates the extent to which the Pak-India relationship needs to be protected from reactionaries in India.

It may be true that the use of F-16s is not central or fundamental to the Pakistani counter-insurgency effort in Fata. But neither are the additional aircraft vital for Pakistan’s overall deterrence efforts against India.

What is troubling though is that Indian authorities appear to insist that the Pak-US relationship has some automatic implications for the Pak-India context. It does not.

Examine: India should not be concerned over F-16 sale to Pakistan: Pentagon

Eight new aircraft does not change the strategic — or operational balance — anymore than a similar addition of similar aircraft by India would.

Much as Pakistan — and possibly India — is trying to restart dialogue between the two countries, it appears that the old approach continues to dominate.

The objections to the sale of F-16s to Pakistan are not the only recent Indian intervention.

It is fairly well established that Indian authorities attempted to — and perhaps succeeded in— temporarily blocking the sale of JF-17 aircraft to Sri Lanka.

There too the Indian intervention was neither bashful nor remotely principled. It was simply a case of leveraging influence to ensure a politically desirable — if short-sighted — outcome.

The Pakistani state’s deterrence against armed conflict with India has neither been shaped nor determined by US arms transfers.

Much as Pakistan achieved deterrence capability against India while US sanctions were in effect against Pakistan, the same logic applies today: US transfers to Pakistan will not change the latter’s fundamental ability to protect itself against Indian hegemony.

Take a look: F-16 aircraft can be manufactured in India, says Lockheed Martin

Perhaps what Indian authorities ought to consider is another reality: can Pakistan really ever defeat terror — the kinds that threaten the Pakistani state and also regional powers — if it does not have all the necessary tools at its disposal?

From Indian objections to American arms transfers to Pakistan, a strange pattern can be discerned.

India wants to not only dictate to Pakistan what the latter’s national security interests ought to be, but also the manner in which they ought to be fought — and the resources with which they should be fought.

Pakistan has every right to the F-16s and doubly so when it comes to the possibility of using them to combat perhaps the foremost threat to regional stability.

It does not behove India to pretend otherwise or to try and prevent Pakistan from acquiring the weapons platforms from which it can defend itself.

What Indian officials really ought to be directing their energies to is achieving an immediate resumption of the bilateral dialogue. Pakistan and India deserve better than the old approach of endless complaints and no forward movement.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2016


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