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Enabling Steps Needed, Now

There is an urgent need for India to strengthen the partnership in defence and propel it to a new level through greater American investment in the Indian defence manufacturing sector

Issue: 06-2016By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Photo(s): By Illustration: Anoop Kamath

There appears to be a sense of unease and anxiety evident in not only the political, bureaucratic and military hierarchy of the nation but also in the media ever since the US Government made known its decision in the latter part of 2015 to sell eight of the latest version of the F-16 Fighting Falcon combat jets to Pakistan. The sale of the aircraft that is estimated to cost around $700 million is proposed to be funded by the US Government out of financial aid earmarked for their long-term ally. In other words, this batch of eight fighter aircraft would actually tantamount to ‘military aid’ that Pakistan has been enjoying since the early 1960s.

The move of the US Government was opposed by the some sections of the US Congress. In fact Congressman Matt Salmon, Chairman of the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to President Barack Obama and stated, "As several other members of Congress and numerous independent experts have argued, providing such a significant upgrade to Pakistan’s offensive military capabilities is extremely problematic in light of the Pakistani military’s widely alleged complicity in terrorist violence, as well as the potential for the Pakistani military to use these F-16s to deliver nuclear weapons in conflict scenario with India. I strongly urge the Administration to reconsider the sale." Congressman Brad Sherman questioned the US Government on whether the F-16 fighter aircraft being supplied to Pakistan constitute the least expensive and the most efficient way for the Pakistani Air Force to address the problem of terrorism in the country and whether this weapon system was the least disruptive to the balance of power between India and Pakistan.

The move to sell F-16 combat jets to Pakistan was also opposed by the Government of India. The Ministry of External Affairs summoned the US Ambassador to India Richard Verma and lodged a formal protest. Unfortunately, to India’s dismay, the Obama Administration has disregarded objections from not only India but from its own lawmakers and has moved ahead with its plan to sell the eight F-16 combat jets to Pakistan. The US Government has defended its decision on the grounds that "Pakistan has been using its fleet of F-16 effectively against terrorists and these fighter planes have enhanced the Pakistani military’s precision-strike capabilities."

This move by the US has left India wondering whether the so-called strategic partnership between India and the US is headed in the right direction and whether it continues to be of any relevance. In fact, one could begin to wonder whether the Indo-US nuclear deal signed in 2005, which is regarded as the harbinger of a strategic partnership between the two nation’s has really helped propel the relationship between the largest and the oldest democratic nations in the world. But the fact of the matter is that the move by the US to continue military aid to Pakistan is a manifestation of the weak foundations of Indo-US relationship. Despite the steps by the Modi-led government since coming to power to strengthen Indo-US relationship, much more remains to be done.

In the emerging global security scenario, India ought to be far more important for the US than Pakistan is. Although an ally of the US for several decades, Pakistan has slowly and surely slipped into China’s grip considerably weakening its ties with the US. On the other hand, the strategic and national security interests of India and the US are congruent in a number of areas. First and foremost is the growing military stature of China, the containment of which is in the interest of both the nations. Both India and the US view with great concern China’s aggressive posture in the South China Sea and implications for maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region. There is an urgent need for India to take steps to strengthen the partnership in defence and propel it to a new level through facilitation of greater American investment in the Indian defence manufacturing sector. This will help provide impetus to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ programme and speed up the modernisation of the Indian armed forces. This process has been through frustrating stagnation in the last decade-and-a-half.

Unless India takes concrete steps and quickly, to make it easy for the US aerospace and defence industry to make a meaningful contribution for the modernisation of the Indian armed forces, the strategic partnership between the two nations will continue to remain a pipe dream!