Pakistan shuns US for Chinese high-tech weapons

 
313

London April 19 (TNS): Pakistan has substantially reduced its dependence on the United States in buying advanced military equipment, said Financial Times in its report.

“In sign of shifting balance of power, Islamabad is buying advanced military equipment from Beijing,” it said in an elaborate article

In the last few months of the Obama administration, the US state department made an announcement which caused a new breach in Washington’s tumultuous relationship with Pakistan. John Kirby, then the department’s spokesman, said Congress had decided to approve the sale of eight fighter aircraft to Pakistan. However, he added that some senior members of Congress “have made clear that they object to using foreign military financing [a form of military aid to help countries buy US weapons] to support it”. While the announcement garnered little attention in Washington, it was a much bigger deal in Pakistan: by withdrawing financing support, the US had in effect increased the price of the new F-16s from $270m to $700m, putting them out of Islamabad’s reach.  US policymakers were concerned about Pakistan’s perceived failure to tackle domestic extremism, which has had a knock-on effect in Afghanistan, where the US is engaged in its longest overseas war. But for their counterparts in Islamabad, the incident confirmed what they had believed for a while: the US could no longer be relied on as their armed forces’ primary source of advanced weapons.

China’s president Xi Jinping gives a speech aboard a Chinese warship last week. China is now the biggest weapons exporter to Pakistan.

As a result, Pakistan is focusing instead on the rollout of the next batch of the JF-17, the fighter jet it is developing with China, and which is catching up with the F-16 in terms of capabilities. One former Pakistani minister recalls telling colleagues the US decision confirmed his worst fears. “We have learnt over time that the Americans are terrible when it comes to honouring their promises,” he says. “This was bound to end up in divorce.” Pakistan’s response encapsulated what had been a slow but steady shift in military procurement away from American-made weapons towards Chinese ones, or those made domestically with Chinese support.

Since 2010, US weapons exports to Pakistan have plummeted from $1bn to just $21m last year, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. During the same period, those from China have also fallen, but much more slowly, from $747m to $514m, making China the biggest weapons exporter to its southern neighbour. The shift coincided with Islamabad’s growing suspicion about the closeness between the US and India, but was accelerated by the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil in 2011, which badly damaged relations with the US.

This year, relations deteriorated again when President Donald Trump suspended $2bn of military aid to Pakistan, accusing it of showing “nothing but lies and deceit” in its promises to crack down on the Taliban and affiliated groups. The problem for Mr Trump is that he needs support from Pakistan as he recommits to the war in Afghanistan, and his officials are finding that Islamabad is less responsive than usual to the US message.

In October 2016, just a month after the US said it would not subsidise the sale of new F-16s, Beijing announced it would sell eight attack submarines to Pakistan for about $5bn — the biggest single arms export deal in the country’s history.  The deal is a shot across the American bow because it could enhance Pakistan’s capacity to challenge India in the Indian Ocean. At a time when Washington is relying on India to provide a bulwark against perceived Chinese maritime expansionism, experts say sales such as this pose a threat to that strategy.