A senior Pentagon official has told the United States Congress that in spite of the threat posed by the Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups, the Pakistani military still views India as its greatest security threat.
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia Congressman Gary Ackerman asked Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, Mitchell Shivers about what the Pakistani military perceived as its greatest security threat.
"There is no doubt that still within the military rank and file in the Army of let's say the leadership, they still turn as their greatest threat, the Eastern border -- the threat from India," he responded
But Shivers added, "We think this is changing and it's changing rapidly." He pointed out that the hierarchy in the military had started realising the existential threat from these terrorists, which threatened the cohesive Pakistani military too.
Ackerman seized on this and argued, "If the majority of the people in the military see India as the threat and if the F-16s are symbolic and if they (the Pakistanis) are threatening to shoot us for going after terrorists on their territory, why should we be confident that they are going to use these F-16s to go after the terrorists?"
"Isn't it clear that the F-16s are symbolic vis-à-vis the power struggle that they believe they are in with India," he asked.
Both State Department and Pentagon officials had argued in defense of providing additional F-16s and Mid-Life Upgrades to those already in Pakistan's fleet, claiming that these aircraft were imperative in going after the terrorists in the conflict-torn Federal Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan.
Donald Camp, Principal Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs had said that F-16s "provide a critical counterterrorism capability to Pakistan and the Pakistan Air Force has recently made extensive use of its aging F-16 fleet to support Pakistan Army operations in the Swat Valley and in the Bajaur Agency of FATA."
"However, their current model F-16 can be used for close air support missions only in daylight and good visibility. They cannot be employed at night, a fact not lost on the Taliban and other extremist groups being targeted."
Camp noted that "US F-16s use day-night, all-weather, air-dropped precision-guided munitions to great effect in Iraq; and we believe Pakistan should be able to use this capability to achieve our shared goals in countering militants along its western border."
He argued that the "new and enhanced F-16s will provide Pakistan the ability to attack fleeing targets with precision during all-weather conditions. The Mid-Life Update will enable the Pakistan Air Force to use an advanced targeting pod. This provides the ability to generate ground position data that can be used to direct guided munitions to a target."
Camp added, "The Mid-Life Update comes with an advanced communications system that enables real time communication with ground forces -- a critical capability for Close Air Support missions."
He argued, "These systems provide Pakistan's Air Force with the technological capability to conduct precision close strikes against Al Qaeda, Taliban, and associated terrorist targets in the FATA, as well as provide non-traditional Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance, a critical enabler in a counterinsurgency campaign."
But when Ackerman persisted with Shivers' acknowledgment that India was viewed as the greatest security threat and the implication that these weapons could be used against India, Camp responded, "The policymakers on both sides are trying to avoid any further conflict and in fact, are making progress toward a better relationship and that is what we are trying to encourage."
But Ackerman wasn't convinced. "Some of us share a different view that when you start supplying things that are symbolic, that are also lethal, that you don't help build confidence in a peaceful resolution of the situation -- you are building it up, you are furthering an arms race," he said.
"Unless you think India is the threat that they have to defend against with F-16s and you are not telling us something," he told Camp.
Ackerman said that unless the US had a firm commitment from the Pakistanis, "which nobody has said here at the witness table, that they have the will -- the national will, both the civilian government and the military -- to use them against the bad guys rather than shooting at us."
"We are trying to save them from the same bad guys, but they are looking East, we are (looking) kind of North," he added.
Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama also had earlier accused Pakistan of diverting the massive American military largesse and weapons -- provided to fight the war on terror --- to "prepare for a war against India."
In an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, Obama slammed the Bush administration for providing such aid "without having enough strings attached," and argued, "So, they (Pakistan) are using the military aid -- they are preparing for a war against India."
"What we say is, look, we are going to provide them with additional military support, targeted at terrorists, and we are going to help build their democracy," he said, and added, "We have wasted $10 billion with Musharraf without holding them accountable for knocking out those (terrorist) safe havens," in Pakistan's FATA areas.