Washington, Sept 19 : The US seems to be caught between India and Pakistan as far as upgrading the F-16 jets is concerned. While the US Congress has already okayed the programme, one major risk for the US involved in the exercise of letting the programme to go through could be straining the ties with India, Thomas Houlahan, the Director of "Military Assessment Programme" has written in an article.
He added that this risk is "offset, and possibly outweighed" by the risk of strained relations with Pakistan if the programme were to be sidetracked.
"The risk that the increasing capability gap between India and Pakistan may increase the possibility of war must also be considered," the Daily Times quoted Houlhan as saying in the article.
According to him, a handful of US Congressmen, all members of the India Caucus, were concerned that the upgraded F-16s could be used to attack India, and could not see how they could be used against insurgents.
He said that Pakistan had gained considerable benefit by using F-16s to fight a major, well-funded and well-equipped insurgency in its tribal areas. Considering the tactics and equipment of the enemy and the nature of the terrain, F-16s have played a more central role than they generally would in counterinsurgency operations, he wrote and added: "Without them, Pakistan's army would have suffered far more casualties and would have achieved far less in its campaigns against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. F-16s have become Pakistan's most effective weapons against insurgents, killing about a thousand of them"
Noting that the F-16s were hampered by certain shortcomings, he said that they would be remedied by the upgrades Pakistan was seeking.
"Pakistan's current F-16 fleet lacks the accuracy and range needed for certain types of attacks and including night operations against insurgents. The upgrades involve "tremendous benefit" because they will enable the Pakistani Air Force to dramatically expand its operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda," he added.
He further said that the Bush administration saw benefit in the upgrade programme as well, as it was in the US interest to see Pakistan succeed in fighting militancy on its soil. Equipping Pakistan's F-16s to bomb more accurately and attack insurgents at night will increase the probability of that fight being successful, wrote the US expert.