The Obama administration is preparing to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan in an attempt to bolster the two countries’ relationship despite Washington’s reservations about Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal, agencies said quoting a report published on The New York Times (NYT) website.
The aircraft sales, which the United States (US) Congress could block, would be a symbolic step given Pakistan’s current large fleet of fighter jets.
According to the NYT report, the Congress was notified just days ago about the proposed sale of the additional fighters although it is not clear if the White House plans to announce the sale of the aircraft during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ongoing visit to Washington.
The new fighter jets would add to Pakistan’s sizable force of fighter jets which includes more than 70 F-16s and dozens of French and Chinese attack aircraft, the report said.
Many in the US Congress are concerned that the F-16 jets are more useful to Pakistan in its long confrontation with India than for counter-terrorism operations.
It is not certain whether the Congress will approve the deal. According to NYT, the Congress and the US State Department are already in a standoff over an effort to sell used Navy cutter vessels to Pakistan earlier this year.
In March, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs put a hold on about $150 million in foreign military financing. The committee said the cutters were not essential to fighting militants, NYT quoted American officials as saying.
The decision of the sale of fighter jets comes ahead of Thursday’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
‘No limits on tactical nuclear arms’
Sharif will tell Obama that Islamabad will not accept limits on its use of small tactical nuclear weapons.
Pakistan insists smaller weapons would deter a sudden attack by its bigger neighbour India, which is also a nuclear power. But the United States worries tactical weapons may further destabilise an already volatile region because their smaller size makes them more tempting to use in a conventional war.
Pakistan says the US is demanding unreasonable limits on its use of nuclear weapons and not offering much in return apart from a hazy promise to consider Pakistan as a recognised recipient of nuclear technology.
“Pakistan’s nuclear programme is … India-centric. And it exists to make war a non-option … Tactical nuclear weapons block off this room (for war) completely,” said a Pakistani security official with knowledge of the country’s nuclear program. “No one can dictate what kind of weapons we will make or use.”
‘Pak to become 5th largest nuclear power’
Pakistan is on course to become the world’s fifth largest nuclear weapons state, according to a report by a top US think-tank which estimated the country’s stockpile to increase to 250 warheads in a decade.
“Pakistan has a nuclear weapons stockpile of 110 to 130 warheads, an increase from an estimated 90 to 110 warheads in 2011,” said a report on ‘Pakistani nuclear forces 2015’ by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists released during Sharif’s visit.
“With several delivery systems in development, four operating plutonium production reactors, and uranium facilities, the country’s stockpile will likely increase over the next 10 years, but by how much will depend on many things,” it said.
The report authored by Hans M Kristensen and Robert S Norris, however, said two key factors will be how many nuclear-capable launchers Pakistan plans to deploy, and how much India’s nuclear arsenal grows.
Based on Pakistan’s performance over the past 20 years and its current and anticipated weapons deployment, the authors estimate that its stockpile could realistically grow to 250 warheads by 2025, making it the world’s fifth largest nuclear weapon state, the report said.
Pakistan appears to have six types of currently operational nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, plus at least two more under-development — the short-range Shaheen-1A and medium-range Shaheen-3.
Pakistan is also developing two new cruise missiles, the ground-launched Babur (Hatf-7) and the air-launched Ra’ad (Hatf-8), it said.
According to the report, there are signs that Pakistan is developing a nuclear weapon — probably a nuclear-capable cruise missile — for deployment on submarines.