Islamabad – Pakistan and the United States moved closer to a billion dollar defence deal this week, after US authorities notified Congress of a proposal to supply helicopters and missiles to sharpen up Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.
US ally Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people, is fighting a Taliban insurgency in its northwest, a separatist insurgency along its Iranian border in the west, and has a heavily militarised and disputed border with arch rival India in the east.
The $952m proposal involves the United States supplying Pakistan with 15 AH-1Z attack helicopters, 1 000 Hellfire missiles, engines, targeting and positioning systems and other equipment. But negotiations are not complete.
The helicopters and weapon systems were designed for counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations, especially in the mountainous Taliban strongholds along the Afghan border, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency said.
On Monday, the agency notified Congress of the proposed sale, noting it would “contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a country vital to US foreign policy and national security goals in South Asia”.
The equipment “will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” the agency said.
Pakistani defence officials did not reply to requests for comment. The United States has been pushing Pakistan to take action against the Taliban as it withdraws most of its combat troops from neighbouring Afghanistan, which is facing its own Taliban insurgency.
James Hardy, the Asia-Pacific editor for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, told Reuters the helicopters would help modernise Pakistan’s ageing fleet, some of which had problems with spares and maintenance.
“Attack helicopters give you ‘loiter’ capability – you can hang around, find the target, knock it out,” he said. “Right now Pakistan is using its fast jets for counterinsurgency work.”
Pakistan is also trying to finalise a deal to buy eight submarines from China for a reported cost of between $4bn to $5bn.
China supplied 51% of the weapons Islamabad imported in 2010-2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks global arms sales.
This year’s budget allocated $7bn to the military. The police received $800m.
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