India has urged US to probe the possible misuse of F-16s by Pakistan during its attempted air incursion. MEA also said Pakistan should explain why it continues to deny that its F-16 aircraft has been shot down. The Trump administration has not addressed the issue of the F-16 use beyond saying it is looking into the matter

by Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON: India is asking the Trump administration to examine the possible misuse of US-made F-16s by Pakistan during its attempted air incursion across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, saying Islamabad may have violated Washington's terms and conditions of the sale.

New Delhi has presented extensive testimony by American officials to the US Congress in which they assured lawmakers that Washington has a ''very enhanced end-use monitoring program'' of Pakistan’s F-16s, which has long been a symbol of pride and machismo for the Pakistan Air Force, even though it is now largely outdated.

The US commitment was made in a June 2006 hearing by John Hillen, US assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs in the state department, in response to concerns from the House International Relations Committee about the possible misuse of the fighter jet by Pakistan.

Among the assurances provided by Hillen was that Pakistan must comply with approved security plans for their F-16-related bases and facilities before the US would release any systems in the sale.

"We will have a US presence to monitor compliance with the security plan requirements, a very enhanced end-use monitoring program,'' Hillen told the committee, outlining ''semi-annual inventories of all F-16 aircraft equipment and munitions, including related technical data, and more frequent inventories for other systems."

Hillen pledged a "two-man rule, so to speak, for access to this equipment and restricted areas, and F-16 flights outside of Pakistan or participation in exercises and operations with third nations must be approved in advance by the United States government."

The US also mandated that the F-16 maintenance and parts storage must be in dedicated facilities as part of the overall surveillance plan, and there "will be no delivery of F-16 aircraft equipment and munitions until Pakistan is fully compliant with the security plan requirements."

The assurances suggest Washington can easily determine if Pakistan used the F-16s in its air attack on India with the possible loss of one F-16 that New Delhi says was shot down by the MiG-21 Bison. After initial reports that F-16 jets were involved in the attack, Pakistan has quickly backed down and claimed only its China-developed JF-17 aircraft was used.

However, New Delhi’s presentation of parts of an Amraam missile discharged on its territory has put Pakistan in a spot.

"Evidence of the use of Amraam Missile, which can only be deployed on the F-16 with Pakistan, has also been shown to the media. We have asked the United States to also examine whether the use of F16 against India is in accordance with the terms and conditions of sale," India’s external affairs ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

The statement also said Pakistan should explain why it continues to deny that its F-16 aircraft has been shot down when there are eye-witness accounts and electronic evidence, and if, as Pakistan claims, a second Indian aircraft was shot down, why it has not shown the fuselage or produced the pilot of that aircraft.

Pakistan initially claimed to have shot down two Indian jets, and some videos posted online showed two pilots bailing out. Subsequent reports spoke of one of them being the pilot of a Pakistani F-16 who was beaten to death by a mob that mistook him for an Indian pilot.

There were also fervid stories in the Pakistani media that Israel was involved in the attack and an Israeli pilot had been captured by Pakistan.

The Trump administration has not addressed the issue of the F-16 use or loss by Pakistan beyond saying it is looking into the matter.

The fourth-generation fighter jet made by Lockheed Martin has long been the mainstay of the Pakistan Air Force (and many other air forces across the world), and the company has in recent years offered to shift the entire manufacturing line to India to keep it extant.

The dogfight over F-16 use/misuse came even as US officials and military commanders trod a delicate line on Pakistan’s continued patronage of terrorism in view of Islamabad’s role in bringing the Taliban to the table to enable an American exit from Afghanistan.

The US Centcom Commander Gen Joseph Votel told American lawmakers last week that "Pakistan based groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba threaten India and carry out attacks that jeopardise regional stability and US strategic interests" but said Pakistan presents both challenges and opportunities and its cooperation is "imperative for the success of our South Asia strategy."

The US South Asia strategy essentially gives India primacy in the region.