It has now been two months since the Biden administration announced its decision to sell $450 million worth of F-16s and upgrade packages to Pakistan. Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken doubled down, insisting the sale would better help Pakistan fight terrorist groups.
There are two problems with Blinken’s justification.
First, precedent shows that Pakistan is far more likely to use its air force against its own restive population in Baluchistan, where decades of mismanagement have led to a low-grade insurgency. To provide the weaponry that Pakistan uses to target its own citizens is morally obtuse and risks blowback.
Second, while Pakistan’s military has suffered thousands of casualties in its own war on terror, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency continues to finance, equip, and encourage terrorist groups.
Until Pakistan takes the political decision to try top ISI leaders for treason for the damage they have done by fanning extremist flames domestically, the United States should ignore Pakistan’s victim narrative.
President Joe Biden and Blinken may argue that Pakistan’s human rights abuses and its own internal mismanagement are not a U.S. concern. Perhaps they hope the F-16 sale might bring smooth long-troubled bilateral relations.
This ignores a greater problem that affects U.S. national security even more: Pakistan and China have repeatedly held joint air force war games. Some of these include the JF-17 Thunder, a warplane jointly manufactured by China and Pakistan, and Chinese-made Chengdu F-7 interceptors.
In the December 2020 war games, Pakistan did not fly any of its approximately 75 F-16s so as not to antagonize the Trump administration. Not only do Pakistani leaders not fear Biden’s wrath but also, even at the best of times, Pakistani promises are fleeting.
No one in Washington should ever forget Islamabad’s pledge not to shelter al Qaeda or arm and fund the Taliban.
While the F-16 is an older platform that the Chinese know well, Pakistan’s exercising with the Chinese air force would allow a new generation of Chinese pilots to practice against U.S. aircraft and adjust their tactics for the new upgrades.
This is the reason why Congress killed Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program after Turkey purchased Russian-built S-400s that could allow Moscow to track the F-35 capabilities.
In addition, Pakistan has repeatedly allowed China to access U.S. technology so that Chinese firms can reverse-engineer it. This was the case, for example, with equipment scuttled after the operation to kill al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.
Contrast this with India, a country that not only purchases weaponry from Russia, France, and the U.S. but also has its own military industry.
Never, however, have the Indians provided purchased equipment to other countries' intelligence services. Nor have they reversed-engineered purchased aircraft and vehicles for their own manufacturing.
Biden and Blinken repeatedly pursue policies that arguably undermine national security for the sake of diplomatic wishful thinking. Seldom, however, has there been such a blatant case with no upside. It is time for Congress to slam the door on arms sales to Pakistan.
Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.