Fighting Falcon F-16, an American built multi-role fighter jet, has enjoyed a deep-rooted relationship with Pakistan for over three decades. Thanks to its design, it offers an almost complete solution to the tactical and narrowed strategic demands of a compact Air Force like Pakistan’s. Its matchless aerodynamics and upgraded avionics put it a notch above its peers of third generation fighters.
The prime factor of its marriage to Pakistani Air Force is its war tested (Afghan-Soviet) history. It was the first advance jet fighter of the American region that became the green tail, replacing the renowned F-86, the Sabre. F-16, just after its induction, was very promptly employed and operationally proved its lethality against one of the world’s superpowers. Exactly like its predecessor, it enjoyed the best multi-role utility and discovered its utmost war potentials in Pakistan than in the US itself. The Americans themselves must have had a jaw-dropping moment when they saw its employment in both tactical and strategic theatres by Pakistan. It was, and still is, the most romantic of unions.
Soon after the Cold War, the US, cautious of its future designs in the region, initially deferred and subsequently cancelled the next F-16 deal with Pakistan. Realising the need for a regional power balance, Pakistan looked for alternatives and focused on its Super Sabre (now the JF-17) program with China. With committed devotion and sheer hard work, it proved to be quite successful. Pakistan became the only Muslim country to design, develop and produce a high-tech modern combat aircraft. This was not expected by the global and regional hegemons.
Pakistan, once again, attempted an F-16 deal with an upgraded package, which due to obvious reasons was overwhelmingly accepted. Meanwhile, the JF-17 program was also pursued with the same diligence. Diplomatic efforts were employed to entice Pakistan into acquiring upgrades from foreign powers and abandon its indigenous development of weapons. Pakistan, however, chose to be self-reliant. Finally, the long awaited dream came true and the JF-17 was fully in service in 2012.
Recent developments in the US Senate, to stall the sale of eight F-16 jets to Pakistan, find their roots in the same fears I’ve mentioned above. The emerging role of Pakistan in the regional tug of war has further raised the apprehension of US policymakers. The increased Indian influence in both the US Congress and Senate has added fuel to the fire by raising false alarms against the Sino-Pak economic handshakes. It is not worthless to highlight that Henry Kissinger’s recent publication “World Order” admits the underestimation of the regional importance of Pakistan as a whole. He further adds that it would now be impossible to arrest the increased role of Pakistan in both regional and Islamic platforms. With sustained and stabilised continuation of diplomatic and strategic policies, Pakistan will perform a copious role in the region.
US congressmen and think-tanks have not realised the obvious reality that the supplementary sale of F-16s will not distract Pakistan from indigenisation but would further strengthen its war potential. The world is also cognisant that Pakistan has embedded the F-16 in its tactical nuke delivery system, which can again be an extremely unconventional potential affecting the new world order in the Middle East. However, Pakistani military minds have already envisaged this development, and have gone far in developing alternative options.
Pakistan is and will remain a regional game changer, now and forever.