My Country for a Plane

Some things just aren’t talked about in polite conversation: F-16s and the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is one of those things.

One of the rarely mentioned demands made by terrorists on the gruesome video depicting the decapitation of Pearl, a Jewish-American journalist, is for the U.S. to release the F-16s that Pakistan purchased in the 1990s, but were never delivered due to sanctions that were imposed in response to Pakistan’s nuclear test (similar sanctions were imposed on India).

Wait, let’s think about this. The video had the usual hodge-podge of nasty terrorist demands: release fellow terrorists, get U.S. troops out of holy places, and please make sure to deliver advanced U.S.-made aircraft?F-16.jpg

The F-16 deal has been an on-again, off-again affair between the U.S. and Pakistan (the U.S. Congress briefly piped up, only to quickly forget about the issue, and even Pakistan put the deal on hold following last year’s earthquake). Things are now back on track and in light of upcoming bilateral meetings with the U.S., Pakistan’s foreign minister this weekend assured local journalists that the F-16s are on their way:

Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri said Sunday that Pakistan has ensured  that  there were no bottlenecks in the delivery of F-16s, and   the country is in the serious business of buying aircraft  that suit its defense needs.

“We have ensured that the past experience is not repeated,” he told a press conference, while replying to  a question about the United States’ delivery of the  super-sophisticated fighter jets as per its commitment.

The deal does raise a number of issues: whether the U.S. should provide advanced fighter aircraft to Pakistan at all; whether Pakistan should spend billions of dollars on advanced fighters; and how regional stability will be affected by the sale (India is also in the process of acquiring new fighters).

But if Pakistan does get those F-16s, it will make many people happy: The Pentagon will clinch a deal that could otherwise go to a foreign country, Lockheed Martin will get to keep its F-16 production line going a couple years longer, and Pakistan’s air force will get shiny new aircraft.

The troubling question is whether Daniel Pearl’s murderers will also look at the sale of F-16s as a victory.

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