Pakistan is leaving no stone unturned in its attempt to somehow palm off the technically inferior fighter aircraft JF-17 to a hapless Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF). Efforts have been made by Islamabad for the last one year to convince the Sri Lankan government to purchase the aircraft that is jointly developed by Pakistan and China. Sri Lanka, aware of the technical shortcomings and design flaws in the aircraft had earlier decided not to consider the deal as earlier reported by the Sri Lankan news site ‘The Sunday Leader’.
Pakistan has maintained incessant pressure, both on the political leadership and the SLAF to confirm the deal. In this process, not only has Pakistan offered sops to the SLAF like ‘buy one JF-17 and get one F-7 free’, gratis post-sale maintenance and training to SLAF pilots etc., but it is alleged to be also using the kickbacks route and which has been reported by the Sri Lankan media.
Therefore, taking a leaf out of China’s modus operandi during the former President Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime where big ticket projects like the Colombo Port City Project were bagged by the Chinese by paying off huge bribes, Pakistan is alleged to have paid kickbacks to some senior bureaucrats in the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry and the SLAF, apart from targeting family members of top political leaders. How far Pakistan has been successful in compromising the Sri Lankan’s is not known and could not be independently verified.
According to sources, Pakistan has attempted to reach out to the key political leaders and officials through two separate entities that have been assigned for this task. One is a front company of the Pakistan Air Force, with links and a base in Colombo. This team is being assisted by a former Pakistan High Commissioner in Colombo. Separately, the Pakistani side has approached a Singapore-based consultancy group specialising in dubious arms deals to follow-up on the sale of the aircraft.
The Pakistani government’s strong arm tactics with Sri Lanka by playing up its role in the war against the LTTE and now the offer for ‘kickbacks’ as reported earlier by ‘The Sunday Leader’ in Sri Lanka has compelled the country to revisit its earlier decision to dump the deal. It is to be seen whether Pakistan will be successful in inking this deal with the Sri Lankans, for the sale of an aircraft whose quality and operational capability has been in question. All indications, however, are as per informed sources that Sri Lanka will not compromise on its national interest despite the reported buildup of new pressure by Islamabad since the issue was first reported by ‘The Sunday Leader’ last year.