This past March the White House authorized the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, a move that ends a 1990-imposed embargo on sales of military aircraft and spares to Islamabad. Pakistan reportedly wants initially to buy 24 aircraft, but the Bush Administration has not placed any limits on the total number of aircraft that the Pakistanis could purchase over the next several years.
To maintain equally close and growing relationships with both Pakistan and its rival India, the U.S. also announced that India may buy both the F-16 and F/A-18 fighters, as well as other U.S. advanced military systems, including command and control platforms, early-warning detection networks and missile defense systems.
Should the U.S. succeed in continuing its balancing act it might very well shut down, or at least limit, Pakistan’s long-term defense industrial cooperation with the People’s Republic of China. Up to now Islamabad’s aerospace manufacturing facilities have engaged in the joint development of the Chinese Chengdu FC-1 fighter, designated the JF-17 Thunder in its Pakistani variant. The airplane was meant to replace the Chinese F-7 version of the Russian MiG-21s previously bought by Pakistan.
China’s aerospace industry had hoped to use the Pakistan program as a vehicle to sell the FC-1 to some predominantly Muslim nations such as Egypt, Nigeria and Bangladesh. If the F-16 acquisition truncates interest in the JF-17 program, the U.S. might find a twofold benefit: enhancing relations with Pakistan and shutting down access by the Chinese to markets in Africa and Southwest As