Why is the U.S. selling F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan?

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What sort of country would offer to sell a nuclear weapons delivery system to an unstable, military dictatorship that has waged aggressive wars against its neighbors, continues to covet its neighbor’s territory, and has sold nuclear weapons to our worst enemies?

It must be those Germans, right? They’ve been up to no good ever since the Battle of Koniggrtz in 1866. And let’s not even get into this whole Hasselhoff thing.

Or perhaps it’s France. After all, they have a history of such behavior. They were up to their sexy French-cut underpants in military and industrial dealings with Saddam Hussein right up until we invaded.

Actually, it’s neither. It’s not France or Germany - or even Russia. The country selling nuclear weapons delivery systems to a military dictatorship is the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Of course, we’re not calling it “selling advanced nuclear weapons delivery systems to certified wackos.” If we called it that, it would only highlight how the U.S. is doing exactly what we criticize other countries for: putting the most dangerous weapons in the hands of the most dangerous regimes. Nope, the Bush administration is calling it by the more polite name of “selling F-16s to our ally in the War on Terror, Pakistan.”

Fighting for freedom wherever there’s trouble since 1979, the F-16 once came with leopard-print cloth interior, an eight-track tape player (pre-loaded with Frampton Comes Alive!), and a Playboy air freshener dangling from the cockpit canopy. With its innards constantly being updated to accommodate nifty inventions like, oh, modern computers, it remains the most ubiquitous and one of the most advanced jets in our arsenal.

The F-16 is designed for both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. The air-to-ground threat is where the nuclear delivery bit comes in. Many of our F-16s include hardware that allows nuclear bomb delivery. The Bush administration has explicitly (as explicitly as an administration that can’t pronounce the word “nuclear”) stated that we’re not going to include nuclear-ready wiring in the two-dozen F-16s that Pakistan is buying.

The administration’s promise is irrelevant, though. And the maddening part is that they know it. The U.S. government has known since at least the early 1990s that Pakistan was busy modifying its existing F-16 fleet (the country has had some F-16 jets since 1983) to make it nuke-ready. Modifying the plane that way is a violation of the agreement Pakistan signed before receiving the planes.

Pakistan’s violations have been reported by the media and testified to in front of Congress. To think even for a second that Pakistan wouldn’t similarly modify any new jets it receives is stupid, even for Bush, the first U.S. president with the power to launch weapons whose names he can’t pronounce.

So why the heck are we making this sale, then? A State Department spokesman says the purpose is “to improve security and improve prosperity and improve development.” Those reasons, of course, are crap. The F-16s will only marginally improve Pakistan’s military capability vs. arch-rival India. And to suggest that a poor country buying 24 fighter jets at $35 million a pop will improve “prosperity” or “development” is ridiculous, unless they are those new F-16 fighter jet/bulldozers we keep hearing about.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an interview with The Washington Post, suggested that the sale was part of a U.S. effort to help Pakistan along its “democratic path,” a path that “we expect” will lead to democracy in 2007. So let’s get this straight: We’re selling F-16s to Pakistan’s military dictatorship so that it’s more likely to voluntarily give up power in 2007? How do you say “bullshit” in Urdu? In related news, the FBI will begin arming bank robbers on the condition that the robbers promise their next heist will be their last.

A more plausible explanation is that the sale is a reward for Pakistan’s cooperation in the War on Terror. Pakistan’s military gets fancy jets and a fancy, supersonic way of showing the Pakistani people that the country is getting something for cooperating with the U.S. In return, they’ll continue to hunt for bin Laden & Co. Also, thanks to the sale, Pakistan is slightly more likely to help us figure out exactly what Pakistan’s former chief nuclear engineer sold to Iran.

Sale, blackmail - what’s the difference?