July 30, 2005 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Bush administration has approved an initial shipment to Pakistan of two older but refurbished F-16s, a down payment on what is expected to be a larger sale of newer U.S. fighters over Indian objections, congressional sources briefed on the plan said on Friday.
Key lawmakers were notified on Friday of the decision, and administration officials made clear a larger sale of newer fighter planes to Pakistan
was still in the works.
The White House initially announced plans in March to sell F-16s to Pakistan but offered few details about the number of fighters and specifications.
The sale had been blocked for 15 years to punish Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program.
Administration officials said the policy change on the planes reflected Islamabad's role helping the United States in the region after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Bush last year named Pakistan a major non-NATO
ally, making it easier for the country to acquire U.S. arms.
Pakistan's planned purchases would boost its fleet of about 32 F-16s acquired before the U.S. Congress cut off sales in 1990 over Islamabad's nuclear program.
India warned the United States in March that F-16 sales to Pakistan could have "negative consequences for India's security environment."
In an attempt to address India's concerns, the Bush administration is letting Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. compete for a potential $9 billion market in India for as many as 126 combat aircraft, as India replaces its fleet of Russian-built MiG-21s.
Lockheed is pitching India its F-16 Block 50/52 and Boeing is offering its dual-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.