US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the State Department in Washington on Sunday. (AFP)
ISLAMABAD — Analysts are urging caution and do not expect a flood of US equipment for Pakistan’s military with the resumption of security assistance between the two countries.
The aid is part of a reported US $1.6 billion in economic and military aid to Pakistan to be released during Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the US this week.
Other figures for military aid to Pakistan announced during July and August amount to nearly $1.4 billion, but all the figures being discussed will likely take years to spend.
Former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, highlights the generally strained Pak-US relationship, despite the photo opportunities emanating from Sharif’s ongoing visit.
Cloughley is also unconvinced this apparent thaw in the run up to the US exit from Afghanistan, which requires use of transport routes running through Pakistan, will lead to more US military equipment for Pakistan.
“I think the matter of weapons’ supplies is open to doubt,” he said.
Similarly, Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, believes there is unlikely to be a full resumption of supplies of military equipment or “almost certainly not as Pakistan would define that term.”
He does expect some movement on the matter, however, as “Washington, including and perhaps particularly the Pentagon, is keen to rebuild its ties with Pakistan and the Pakistani defense establishment. So we can expect some opening of the spigot.”
Even this, however, will have to be carefully grounded in reality for both sides.
“The difficult part will be to keep Pakistani expectations moderate, and to discourage US expectations that a resumption of arms transfers will buy Washington much leverage over Pakistan,” he said.
Whatever arms transfers can be expected are also unlikely to be the high tech weapon systems Pakistan needs, and especially not in the near term.
“It’s unrealistic to think that the US would give any country a blank check on what arms Washington will provide it,” Hathaway said. “This is especially true in a bilateral relationship as tortured as this one has been. Rebuilding trust will be a task of many years.”
He therefore cautioned analysts should “look for baby steps in the near term.”
Just what weapon systems Pakistan has on its wish list and what is possible or probable in terms of being supplied by the US differ starkly.
Cloughley highlights a well-reported Pakistani requirement that would be top of the military’s wish list.
“One main requirement at the moment is expansion/replacement of the attack helicopter asset,” he said.
“The AH-1F/S aircraft are racking up flying hours in demanding flying conditions, and maintenance is becoming increasingly difficult. There is no need for the [AH-1Z] as a replacement, although the US might be tempted to offer it on reasonable terms, if only to stop any arrangements that Pakistan may be contemplating with Turkey for supply of the T-129.”
The US has reportedly offered a package of helicopters to Pakistan including UH-60 Black Hawks, but acquisition of the Bell AH-1Z Viper is also believed to have been discussed.
Defense News has been unable to obtain any further details of these negotiations from Pakistan’s Defence Ministry, or the US Embassy in Islamabad.
Turkey, however, hopes to secure an order for the TAI T-129 gunship, and is offering three at no cost and possible local assembly. Whether Pakistan can accept even these generous terms depends on improvements in its fragile economy.
Pakistan’s Navy is also chronically short of equipment. However, Cloughley sees an obvious obstacle to the US meeting these requirements.
“Frigates could be a possibility, but India would object, and the US wants to keep India on track commercially,” he said.
Cloughley believes there could be reluctance from the Pakistani military itself, in spite of what the US could supply.
“Really, supply of almost anything is possible, except advanced [information technology], but much depends on price and priorities. The three armed services are not happy with the US and would be content to reduce reliance on it for military equipment,” he said.
Likewise, analyst Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank believes the military will carefully consider what equipment it will seek from the US.
“I think Pakistan would go for items that offer most ‘bang for buck’ and that it can’t get from other sources,” he said. “Also, what it would later be able to support locally going forward.”
He believes what was acquired would “most likely be standoff ammunition [air-to-air and/or air-to-ground] along with spares and parts for the existing inventory [of US-supplied equipment].”
He draws a line through the possibility of acquisitions of major defense systems, but makes a possible exception for two specific ones.
“I don’t think there are going to be any big items other than more used F-16s or AH-1Z,” he said.