ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is negotiating with the United States to buy 14 additional F-16 fighter planes, Pakistan defence officials said on Sunday, following talks aimed at reversing tempestuous ties between the allies.
The United States and Pakistan have agreed to fast-track pending Pakistani requests for military equipment as the two step up security cooperation, Pakistan’s foreign minister said on Wednesday during a high-profile visit to Washington.
A senior Pakistani defence official told Reuters that Pakistan was asking for 14 new F-16 planes.
“Talks are underway and we’re hoping to get them at a low price,” the official, who requested not to be identified, said.
Pakistan is an important US ally in the battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The United States has provided F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad and Pakistan’s navy chief was in Washington this month to discuss the handover in August of a refurbished US frigate.
Washington said this month it would deliver 1,000 laser-guided bomb kits to Pakistan within weeks and is considering more weapons sales to help the Pakistani air force crack down on insurgents in the Afghanistan border region.
In early 2010, the United States approved the delivery of 12 Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-16C and 6 F-16D planes, scheduled to begin from June 2010.
This delivery to Pakistan will bring its inventory of the planes to 54. If a new deal is approved, Pakistan’s arsenal of F-16s, including refurbished fighters, will amount to 79, defence officials said. Pakistan has been operating F-16s since 1982.
Another official said Pakistan’s interest in new F-16s was a bid to match India’s firepower.
“Look at the rival (India). How many fighter jets they are purchasing and if you’re getting them at a low price then why not?” he said.
India plans to buy 126 air and ground attack fighters, which will elevate its air force to super-power status, with deployments planned near the borders with Pakistan and China, officials say.
One bone of contention between Washington and Islamabad has been a delay in about $2 billion in military aid owed by the United States to Pakistan under a programme called the Coalition Support Fund.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said a “substantial” amount of the money would be paid by the end of April, with Washington promising the remainder by the end of June.