F-16 assistance to Pakistan not designed as a message to India: U.S. official

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Ely Ratner says they have engaged India on the issue both before and during the decision

Ely Ratner says they have engaged India on the issue both before and during the decision

The action on F-16 was not designed as a message to India as a result of its relationship with Russia, said Ely Ratner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, while stating that they have engaged India on it both before and during the decision.

Mr. Ratner was in India two weeks ago along with Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu for the intersessional 2+2 meetings with the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs.

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“The decision inside the U.S. government was made on U.S. interests on our defence partnership with Pakistan which is primarily focussed on counter-terrorism and nuclear security,” Mr. Ratner said in a virtual interaction with select media and think tanks late on Thursday evening. “It is one [issue] we have been engaged on with our Indian counterparts both in advance of the announcement to preview it and during my visit in Delhi as well.”

Elaborating, he said that they thought it was essential to be “as transparent as possible” with their Indian counterparts both “in advance and during that decision” and his visit which coincided with the announcement in Washington DC provided a good opportunity to have a “healthy exchange” on both the U.S. rationale for its “limited security partnership” with Pakistan and a good opportunity to hear Indian concerns about that.

On September 7, the Defence Security Cooperation Agency notified a possible Foreign Military Sales (FMS) worth $450 million for engine, electronic warfare and other hardware and software upgrades and spares for the F-16 fighter jet programme with Pakistan. It also said the proposed sale did not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions.

Modi’s comments

Responding to a question on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the SCO meeting that the “era of war” was over, which were New Delhi’s first comments expressing uneasiness over the war in Ukraine, Mr. Ratner said, “We were heartened by PM Modi’s comments last week…”

In a telephonic conversation last week with U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh conveyed India’s concerns over the U.S. F-16 assistance to Pakistan.

During the conversation, Mr. Austin made it clear to Mr. Singh that the support package “does not include upgrades or munitions”, Mr. Ratner added.