By Aamir Latif
India on Saturday summoned U.S. envoy to New Delhi Richard Verma to convey its "displeasure" over a decision by the Obama administration to sell eight F-16s to Islamabad in a deal worth almost $700 million.
Washington on Friday notified U.S. Congress that it planned to sell the fighter jets to Pakistan, saying the move would contribute to the latter’s fight against terrorism and further America’s foreign policy interests.
Speaking via Twitter, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup responded to the move by saying: "We are disappointed at the decision of the Obama administration to notify the sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan."
U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner, for his part, said that supporting Islamabad’s war against terrorist groups was a vital U.S. interest, going on to describe Pakistan as "an important partner in the region in achieving a stable and secure Afghanistan".
In May 2014, the U.S. supplied Pakistan with 14 aircraft, 59 military trainer jets and 374 armored personnel carriers used earlier by American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The eight new fighter jets will augment the Pakistani air force’s sizable fleet, which already contains over 70 F-16s and dozens of Chinese and French jets.
In a statement, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which coordinates foreign arms sales, said the F-16s would allow Pakistan's air force to operate at night and in all kinds of weather.
They would also enhance Pakistan's ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counterterrorism operations, the agency added.
The much-awaited deal comes in advance of proposed peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, preparations for which Islamabad has played a central role.
Talks are expected to be held by the end of this month.
Last summer, Pakistan had arranged milestone peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul in Islamabad, but the process broke down after the Taliban confirmed the death of longtime group leader Mullah Omar.
- Arms race
For decades, arch-rivals Pakistan and India have remained in a fierce arms race, with continuous increases in already-hefty defense budgets and regular missile tests by both sides.
In 2015, India ranked eighth in the world in terms of military expenditures, while Pakistan’s defense budget was some five times smaller.
After the U.S. and China, India has the world’s third largest army, with over 1.3 million active troops. Pakistan, meanwhile, stands eighth on the list at over 600,000.
Since Pakistan was created following the partition of India in 1947, the two rivals have engaged in several disputes over land and sea boundaries.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of which were fought over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.