By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - Days after the U.S. refused to sell a batch of F-16 jets to Islamabad at subsidized prices, Pakistan’s powerful army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, went to Beijing on Monday with a view to "enhancing military-to-military cooperation" -- another sign that Pakistan is perusing a policy of diversifying its military procurement options away from Washington.
Sharif, now on a two-day visit to Beijing, met his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Chen Bingde, with whom he discussed intelligence-sharing between the two neighbors with a view to combating terrorism.
Sharif also discussed proposals for stepped-up cooperation in the fields of technology and defense, according to a statement issued by Pakistani army spokesperson Asim Saleem Bajwa.
The visit is largely seen as part of Islamabad’s efforts to reduce its military reliance on Washington -- its close ally in war on terrorism -- after the U.S. State Department earlier this month informed Pakistan that it would have to use its own resources to pay for the jets.
The U.S. Congress late last month rejected proposals to subsidize the deal due to ongoing reservations over Islamabad’s nuclear program.
Pakistan, however, rejected the preconditions and warned it might look to "some other country" for the fulfillment of its military needs -- a thinly-veiled reference to Islamabad’s mounting strategic partnership with Beijing.
Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif on Monday said the promised F-16 deal had been canceled due to pressure by the "Indian lobby", which, he asserted, "is forcing Pakistan to look to some other country" for its weapons-procurement needs.
According to the original deal, signed last October, Pakistan would pay $270 million out of total $699 million for eight F-16 aircraft, while the remainder would be paid by Washington’s foreign military financing fund.
- Looking to China
Squeezed by budding defense ties between the U.S. and India, especially after a civil nuclear treaty was signed between the two countries last year, Pakistan has been working to forge a new strategic partnership with longtime ally China.
Last year, Islamabad inked an agreement for the $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which aims to provide Chinese cargo with rapid access to Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
The project also aims to provide Pakistan with development in the transport, road construction and energy fields.
Analysts, however, believe it will be difficult for Pakistan to drastically shift its military reliance from Washington.
"Pakistan and the U.S. have a decades-long military relationship, which cannot be severed or completely hurt because of one or two incidents," Mutahir Ahmed, head of Karachi University’s international relations department, told Anadolu Agency.
He went on to assert that Washington was using the F-16 deal as an arm-twisting tactic against Islamabad.
"Washington wants Islamabad to toe its agenda vis-à-vis Afghanistan. It’s a nerve-game," he said.
He added: "It won’t be easy for the two countries to leave each other; they need one another on many regional and international issues."