Pakistanis are fascinated, if not obsessed, with F-16 fighter jets.
It is the best fighting aircraft in the fleet of the Pakistan air force, allowed to be flown by only the country’s best pilots. Video of F-16 fighter aircraft roaring through the skies figures prominently in the air force’s inspirational anthems.
The sale of F-16s to Pakistan was suspended in the 1990s as an indication of the deteriorating relationship between the countries.
A couple of years ago, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, who was then heading the media wing of the military, stressed in an interview that if America wanted to improve its image, it should expedite the delivery of F-16s.
It wasn’t just a simple wish of the military boys for their toys. The aircraft also serve as an effective diplomatic and public-relations tool.
Officials say the aircraft will be used for precision strikes against militant hide-outs in the country’s tribal regions straddling the border with Afghanistan.
Sure they will!
Seriously, it's ok to talk about the other stuff, the access, the relationships, the confidence-building, the assuring of allies, the enhancement to regional security. And to be fair, Ambassador Patterson's statement pretty much covers that stuff, too:
The office of Anne W. Patterson, the United States ambassador in Islamabad, issued a statement Sunday calling the weekend induction of first three of the 18 F-16s ‘a historic milestone’ of relationship between Pakistan and the United States. It was, the statement said, “both a symbolic and tangible demonstration of our strong partnership and the U.S. intent to stand beside Pakistan over the long-term as an important ally and friend.”
Some of this stuff is just to make people feel good, and that's ok too. Now, as Madhu has noted many times, the link between intent and effect is a little bit obscure to us. We're not exactly sure how all the confidence-building and back-patting we do through exercises or materiel transfers or exchange programs really impacts state action.
But isn't it nice, when the balloon goes up, to be able to pick up the phone to the guy you sat next to at Leavenworth (the Fort, not the prison) for a year, and to be able to remind him of the close cooperative relationship your countries and militaries share?