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Pakistan Heading for a Crackdown

M.K. Bhadrakumar writes in the Asia Times:

When the commander of the Central Air Command of the US Air Force, Lieutenant-General Gary L North, touched down on Tuesday at the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base in Sargodha, northwest of Lahore in Pakistan’s heartland Punjab province, the poignancy of the moment couldn’t have been lost on him.

The chief of staff of the PAF, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed, and the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W Peterson,were waiting on the tarmac to receive the US general.

North was arriving after a continuous eight-hour flight across the Atlantic. He was flying an F-16 Fighter Falcon capable of carrying nuclear missiles. Another F-16 accompanied him. They are the first of a fleet of a dozen F-16 aircraft that the PAF will receive in the coming months “at very nominal prices” (to quote Ahmed). Pakistan, in addition, may get a further batch of 16 F-16s, bringing the total to 28.

By coincidence, the handing-over ceremony in Sargodha was held just ahead of President General Pervez Musharraf’s calculated decision on Tuesday to order the Pakistan Army to attack Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad. Last weekend, US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told the Urdu service of Voice of America in an interview that the United States was prepared to help Pakistan “in any way we can”.

In essence, the US is making up for the 28 F-16 aircraft that Pakistan paid for in the early 1990s and Washington failed to deliver once Pakistan lost its importance as a pivotal state in US regional policy in the post-Cold War period.

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