The U.S. is poised to sell eight new F-16 fighter jets to the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power – Pakistan – in order to strengthen relations between the countries, according to The New York Times, which cites senior American officials.
The decision was made ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The talks will cover Obama’s decision to keep a force of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan for the larger part of next year and a contingent of 5,500 for 2017, the year he leaves office.
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Congress became aware of the proposed sale of the fighter jets just days ago, however, it is yet unclear whether the Obama administration plans to announce the sale of the additional fighter jets during the visit of Sharif. The new fighter jets would add to Pakistan’s already significant force of fighter jets. Pakistan’s armed forces boast over 70 F-16s and dozens of French and Chinese attack aircraft, plus Mi-35 combat helicopters supplied by Russia. It must be noted that China and Pakistan are involved in the co-production and co-development of JF-17 fighter jets.
Formidable China-Russia-Pakistan nuclear triangle
Obama is reportedly trying to balance pressure on Pakistan while still considering the country as Washington’s crucial ally in the region. However, with signs that Pakistan is becoming close friends with China and Russia, a “strong” partnership between Islamabad and Washington does not seem to be in the cards. Moreover, there have been alarming signs that Pakistan, China and Russia could form the world’s new superpower axis, as reported by ValueWalk in August. What makes China, Russia and Pakistan a perfect fit for one another is that Russia can replace Western military technology enough for both China and Pakistan.
China, for its part, is much more powerful in terms of its economy compared to the two other countries of the triangle. And Pakistan, in its turn, has a developing economy and requires both military equipment and energy supplies from Russia and military protection from China. Pakistan has expanded its nuclear arsenal to between 110 and 130 warheads, up from between 90 and 110 warheads four years ago, according to a report published by the Federation of American Scientists, a leading group that monitors the world’s nuclear weapons. The group also predicted that while Pakistan’s nuclear growth is steady, it may rise to between 220 and 250 warheads by 2025.
Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power
As of today, Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power, behind the U.S., Russia, China and France, but surpassing the U.K., which is making efforts to reduce its nuclear arsenal. But it’s not the growing size of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal that worries the Obama administration, but rather the nature of it. In the past few weeks, there have been reports that Pakistan is poised to deploy its tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield. Earlier this week, Pakistani Foreign Affairs Secretary Aizaz Chadhary told reporters that the country has built low-yield nuclear weapons in order to counter India, its traditional rival.
According to senior officials of the Obama administration, the President is poised to discuss the issue at the talks with the Pakistani Prime Minister on Thursday. Even though the Obama administration’s decision to sell Pakistan the F-16 fighter jets is an attempt to signal that Pakistan is a vital non-NATO ally in the region, Congress is concerned that the fighter jets will be instantly be deployed by Pakistan to the battlefield against India.
Pakistan plans to install nuclear missiles on its submarines
It was earlier reported that Pakistan is not going to accept the U.S. proposal to limit its tactical nuclear potential, according to officials in Islamabad. According to a spokesman for Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the country is going to tell this to Obama in person during their meeting on Thursday.
Pakistan insists that nuclear missiles with a short range (up to 500 km) can help prevent military attacks from India, which also has nuclear weapons. However, the U.S. fears that the tactical nuclear weapons could destabilize the situation in the region, which is considered one of the most volatile regions in the world. Washington wants Islamabad to give a formal pledge to not use nuclear weapons if there is no risk of a nuclear attack on the country. But Pakistan dismisses such a proposal, explaining that the proposal says nothing about the use of conventional weapons.
According to Pakistani officials, the country is currently developing nuclear missiles to be installed on submarines in order to be able to strike the enemy from the sea. In case Pakistan develops such submarines, the country will be one step closer to the “nuclear triad,” the nuclear weapons delivery of a strategic nuclear arsenal comprised of three components: traditionally strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). In fact, even the U.S. and Russia do not possess such tactical nuclear weapons. They were all destroyed under the Short- and Intermediate-Range Missiles treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.
Are Pakistan and India heading toward their fifth war?
Over the past two years, Pakistan has been actively testing its nuclear missiles capable of destroying large build-ups of Indian forces on both Indian and Pakistani territory. According to Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the nuke tests are a response to India’s military cold start doctrine, which is a synergetic effort aimed at the destruction of Pakistan’s military potential without much collateral damage
Nuclear weapons experts believe that the conflict between Pakistan and India has significantly escalated lately. If Pakistan and India used to have nuclear weapons to prevent a possible war, now nukes are included in the plan of military actions at early stages. Pakistan and India have been at war four times: in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Their most recent military confrontation, known as the Kargil War, took place a year after the two countries conducted nuclear tests and signed the Lahore Declaration to bring down tensions at their borders.