354. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, May 8, 1959, 3 p.m.1


  • Call on Mr. Rountree by Pakistan Ambassador Regarding Military Aid; F–104 Aircraft


  • Ambassador Aziz Ahmed, Ambassador of Pakistan
  • Mr. M. S. Shaikh, Counselor of the Pakistan Embassy
  • NEA—Mr. William M. Rountree
  • SOA—Mr. Leon B. Poullada

The Pakistan Ambassador called on Mr. Rountree May 8, 1959 at 3:00 p.m. to present an Aide-Mémoire supporting Pakistan’s request for replacement of its F–86 Sabre jets by F–104s.2 In his oral presentation, he emphasized that Pakistan needed higher performance fighter aircraft in order to protect its air space. This requirement, he said, had become more imperative because the U.S. “communications unit” near Peshawar had aroused the suspicions of the Russians and the Indians. The Ambassador stated that during the recent visit of Air Marshal Asghar Khan (C-in-C of the Pakistan Air Force) officials of the U.S. Department of Defense had indicated to him that the U.S. was prepared to supply F–104s provided Pakistan were willing to share in the cost of such aircraft.3 The GOP wished to request that this aircraft be made available on an aid basis and not on a “sharing of cost” basis.

Mr. Rountree replied that there were a number of financial, economic and technical considerations which had to be taken into account in connection with the request for increasing the capabilities of the Pakistan Air Force. Our military experts were of the opinion that adding high-performance fighters to the Pakistan Air Force would strain the logistic, maintenance and supply facilities of the Pakistan [Page 727] Air Force at a time when it must also absorb the jet bombers it will receive in the near future. He added that because of insufficient numbers and financial limitations the U.S. had not been in a position to provide F–104 aircraft to any of its allies.

Mr. Rountree went on to say that he would like to address himself more generally to the question of the military aid program. With the next fulfillment of our commitment under the 1954 Aide-Mémoire, an opportunity was presented for both Pakistan and the U.S. to review the military aid program so as to make it more consistent with the political and economic objectives shared by Pakistan and the U.S. This did not mean that we underestimate the importance of maintaining an adequate military establishment in Pakistan for purposes of internal security and defense against aggression. In recognition of the need to prevent the deterioration of the military units in Pakistan which we now support, we plan to continue to provide military assistance to Pakistan which will logically include some modernization of equipment. This, however, should proceed in an orderly and gradual manner as a result of natural attrition and take into account absorbtive capacity as well as the financial limitations of both Pakistan and the U.S.

Mr. Rountree added that the proposed marked increase of capability of the Pakistan Air Force would in our judgment:

Place an additional financial burden on both the U.S. and Pakistan for initial cost and maintenance at a time when Pakistan has undertaken important economic and fiscal reforms which require careful husbanding of all its external and internal assets. Mr. Rountree noted parenthetically that, according to information available to us, the initial cost of the 30 F–104s requested by Pakistan with spares and related equipment is estimated at nearly $40 million with an annual maintenance cost of nearly $7 million.
Constitute modernization at a forced draft rather than in response to normal attrition.
Probably cause India to purchase comparable weapons.
Heighten tensions between India and Pakistan at a time when developments in Tibet are bringing the countries closer together and while the critical Indus waters problem appears to be nearing solution. The U.S. has reason to hope that the most recent IBRD plan may form the basis for a resolution of the long-standing Indus waters problem, and we would not wish to do anything to diminish the chances of such a settlement.

Mr. Rountree added that we fully understood the reasons why Pakistan sought additional military strength and that the foregoing was a review of the factors which had entered into our deliberations in considering the request of the Pakistan Government. He wished to assure the Ambassador that this request had not been treated lightly and that we were receiving his Aide-Mémoire in that spirit.

[Page 728]

The Pakistan Ambassador then stated that the GOP also was hoping for an Indus waters settlement. If the Bank proposal was at all reasonable, he was certain that the GOP would accept it. He was also of the opinion that India was now closer to accepting a settlement than ever before. He added that some narrow differences still remained between Pakistan and the Bank regarding the latest proposals, namely the question of amount of storage on the Indus. The Ambassador felt reasonably certain that this difference would be resolved when Mr. Black visits Karachi.

The Ambassador then went on to speak about the general threat of Communism to the area as evidenced by events in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Tibet. In his opinion, this Communist thrust was more dangerous than the Berlin situation and Berlin may be a diversionary tactic. The threat to South Asia in the form of Communist subversion and exploitation of regional quarrels required joint action by India and Pakistan and he had been making public statements to this effect. He was somewhat disappointed by Mr. Nehru’s response to Pakistan’s offer for a joint defense arrangement. There was not much time left for strengthening the northern tier and for India and Pakistan to compose their differences and together face the common foe. With regard to Tibet, the Ambassador stated that the danger of overt invasion of the sub-continent was not great but Tibet might become an offensive base for bringing various kinds of pressure on India and Pakistan.

Mr. Rountree replied that whether or not the Communist pressure in Berlin was a diversionary tactic we should continue to expect the Communist bloc to probe and push wherever it could find a weak spot. The U.S. and Pakistan had never had illusions about Communist bloc intentions and certainly agreed in principle, on the need for programs to counteract bloc pressures. There might, however, be differences of opinion as to timing and detail.

The Pakistan Ambassador returned to the subject of military aid by stating that Mr. Rountree’s remarks seemed to go beyond the question of providing F–104s and that he understood them to apply to the broader problem of future military aid to Pakistan. In this connection he hoped that the U.S. would take into consideration the general threat to the area about which he had just spoken. With regard to the specific question of the F–104s, he wanted to assure Mr. Rountree that his government was able to bear the additional financial burden without increasing its defense budget. He then went on to say that he was somewhat puzzled because the “cost-sharing” proposal which the Department of Defense had made to Asghar Khan would indicate that there was no question of policy involved in furnishing the F–104s but merely one of financing.

[Page 729]

To this Mr. Rountree replied that in considering Pakistan’s requests for strengthening its armed forces there were four general aspects that had to be taken into account: (1) the political, (2) the technical, (3) the financial, and (4) the economic. We had understood that the Department of Defense would tell Asghar Khan that F–104s were not available and, therefore, could not understand the significance of the “cost-sharing” proposal. Mr. Poullada pointed out that in any case we had understood that the conversations between DOD and Asghar Khan were of a technical military nature and were not intended to define U.S. Government policy on the question of supplying higher performance fighters to the Pakistan Air Force. The Pakistan Ambassador stated that in that case, his present request was based on the misapprehension by his government that political and economic questions had already been decided favorably and that only the question of financing the aircraft remained. Mr. Rountree assured him that such was not the case.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 790D.5622/5–859. Secret. Drafted by Poullada on May 12.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., 790D.5622/5–859)
  3. In telegram 2485 from Karachi, May 5, Ambassador Langley reported that on May 4 President Ayub handed him a letter requesting the Embassy to urge the Department of State and the Secretary of Defense to grant approval for the replacement of a certain number of F–86 aircraft with F–104 aircraft. In his letter, the text of which Langley transmitted to the Department in this telegram, Ayub stated that he had to again call the attention of the U.S. Government “to the fact that Indian and Russian interest in our air space has intensified since the installation of the American Communications Unit near Peshawar. Despite our statements to the contrary, our neighbours suspect that the unit is an actual or potential launching site for missiles.” He stated that, as a direct result of the installation of the unit at Peshawar, Pakistan’s military commitments had increased beyond the country’s capacity. Accordingly, he pointed out that Pakistan felt very strongly that it should not be asked to pay any part of the cost of the F–104s. (Ibid., 790D.5622/5–559)
  4. During their conversation, Aziz Ahmed also reviewed for Rountree the background of previous Pakistani requests for specifications, drawings, and other assistance for the production in Pakistan of M–14 and M–15 rifles and M–60 machine guns. Rountree confirmed previous U.S. replies to the effect that all three weapons were in various stages of development and had not yet been tested for mass production. For this reason, the plans and specifications were not yet releasable. A separate memorandum of this portion of the Rountree-Aziz Ahmed conversation is ibid., 790D.56/5–859. The Department transmitted a summary of this meeting to the Embassy in telegram 2720 to Karachi, May 14. (Ibid., 790D.5–MSP/5–1459)