France is preparing a comprehensive defense package to help Pakistan in its counterterrorism operations in the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, according to a spokesman at the French defense section at Paris' embassy here.

Local media had reported a possible Franco-Pakistani defense deal in early July.

The spokesman said that the deal would include weapons and training.

"Nothing has been agreed, but a lot of things have been discussed. The main issue is to help Pakistan in the area of counterterrorism," he said.

He gave no further details but denied reports that a deal had been reached to sell the Franco-German Tiger helicopter to Islamabad.

The spokesman said the deal might be concluded when French President Nicholas Sarkozy visits sometime after Sept. 21.

France is already working to remedy a shortage of helicopters that has hindered the Pakistan Army during its counterterrorism operations in the North West Frontier Province. The French have returned Pakistan's Puma transport and utility helicopters to full operational status. They are also providing the armed variant of the AS550 Fennec light helicopter, which will join the unarmed Ecureuil variant that in service with Pakistan Army Aviation.

But France may not be keen to sell the Tiger gunship, said defense analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium.

Khan said the Pakistan Army needs extra gunships "immediately," but he noted that the most obvious source, Washington, is unable to meet the need. Pakistan had hoped to acquire the AH-64 Apache, but no funds are available for the purchase.

Additional AH-1F Cobras are also unlikely to materialize soon because, he said, "it takes close to 24 to 36 months to refurbish a stored AH-1 S/F and make it fully combat-operational."

However, a spokesman for the defense section in the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said Pakistan had previously declined an offer of further refurbished Cobras.

"Through Foreign Military Financing (FMF), the U.S. provided 12 refurbished AH-1Fs to Pakistan in 2007. Pakistan used U.S. grants to pay for the refurbishments. Also through FMF, the U.S. offered to refurbish an additional eight Pakistan Army AH-1F Cobras; however, Pakistan decided not to pursue this course of action," he said.

Khan said the only other U.S. option also comes with a considerable time delay.

"The U.S. has indicated that they are willing and able to release close to 14 AH-1W Super Cobras immediately, but first Pakistan Army pilots and technicians would need to be trained. Therefore, the Pakistan Army would be looking at another 10 to 12 months before it wears Pakistani colors," he said.

Khan said Pakistan's needs would best be met by the South African AH-2 Rooivalk.

"It is hard-hitting, rugged, needs little support, the Pakistan Army is familiar with the Puma platform [upon which it is based] and has expertise with it, and it suits Pakistan's industrial base to a large degree."

But he said the Rooivalk program is now all but at a premature end, and Islamabad lacks the finances to revive and purchase it from the South Africans.

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