Pakistan, after a 16-year wait to receive F-16s after the sale was blocked due to Pakistan's nuclear arms program, will now be allowed to place an order for Lockheed's single-pilot aircraft. While the number of planes is not confirmed, some US reports peg the number at 24, the Pakistani Information Minister reportedly said:
"'We welcome this good gesture and it shows good friendship between Pakistan and the United States,' Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP.
'They have offered us the latest version and it is unlimited numbers. It has pleased the people of Pakistan.'"
This is clearly a reward to Pakistan and to President Pervez Musharraf for their assistance to the United States in the Greater War on Terror. It follows on the heels of Secretary Rice's visit to Islamabad on her 6th country Asian tour (see DEL here).
While India is disappointed in the US-allowed sale of the F-16s, it is unlikely to tip the military balance between the two countries. In addition, relations have been recently thawing in the past two years between New Delhi and the Islamabad capital.
The sale of the F-16s is part of the diplomatic offense Washington is pursuing in the second Bush Administration to increase its strategic partnerships in Asia and among Muslim countries.
Expect to see the Chinese complain about the sale with respect to the US and EU arms embargo and the "lack of fairness". However, its criticism will be somewhat muted in that China supports Pakistan in its dispute with India.
Update: Jane's has a good list of countries that have the F-16 with what type of upgrades performed by which defense contractors in Excel format here.
Update 2: I thought the Chinese would be the first to make the argument linking US objection to the EU lifting the Chinese arms band. Apparently the Los Angeles Times beat them to it. "The Bush administration, strongly opposed to European sales of sophisticated weapons to China, is giving the green light to expanded U.S. sales of jet fighters to two countries in China's backyard."
Update 3: More information coming from Voice of America supporting India's consideration of buying US F-16s and possibly F-18s in exchange for additional American assistance in energy and weapons. (March 28, 2005)