ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan is considering buying used F-16 fighter jets from Jordan, media reported on Tuesday, after a plan to buy eight of the aircraft from the United States fell through because of the refusal of the U.S. Congress to finance the deal.
Some of Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 jets are due to be decommissioned in the next few years and the government says it needs the aircraft to fight Islamist militants in remote mountains near Afghanistan.
The military also sees the aircraft as vital in case of war against old rival India. The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.
“We are now going for a third-party transfer of F-16s and have an offer from Jordan,” Defense Secretary Alam Khattak told a joint sitting of the Senate defense and foreign affairs committees on Monday, newspapers reported.
An air force spokesman declined to say how many F-16s Pakistan has but the number of the aircraft in service is believed to be about 70.
Jordan had offered to sell Pakistan 16 used F-16s of the Block-30 variant, an older version than the Block-52s that Pakistan would have obtained from the United States, the Dawn newspaper reported.
The U.S. deal, valued at $699 million, came unstuck after the U.S. Congress refused to authorize the use of U.S. government funds to pay for the aircraft under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program.
Members of the U.S. Congress, led by Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker, demanded that Pakistan stop harboring militant groups like the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, which are leading an insurgency against a U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
Pakistan say it is acting against the militants, citing military operations in lawless ethnic Pashtun lands that border Afghanistan.
Pakistan says the F-16s, with their precision strike ability and night-flying capability, are essential for that fight.
The difficulty over the F-16 deal was the latest sign of increasingly frayed ties between Pakistan and the United States.
Last month, a U.S. drone killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, then chief of the Afghan Taliban, on Pakistani soil.
Pakistan condemned the strike as a violation of its sovereignty, and as not being conducive towards encouraging the Taliban to enter talks with the Afghan government.
Pakistan has bought Jordanian F-16s before, procuring 13 of them in 2014, Dawn reported. The current batch on offer were manufactured between 1988 and 1990, and were upgraded in 2001/02, Dawn said.
Writing by Asad Hashim; Editing by Drazen Jorgic, Robert Birsel