WASHINGTON: A decision by the US State Department to sell 8 F-16 fighter jets to help Pakistan in its counter-terrorism operations came in the face of intense opposition by the Indian lobby in Washington and some US Congressmen who argued these aircraft would be used against India.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which broker government-to-government arms sale, delivered the required certification notifying Congress on Feb. 11 of the possible sale of F-16 Block 52 aircraft, equipment, training and logistics support.
At a Dec. 16 Congressional hearing, the House Foreign Affairs Committee grilled the Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson on the rationale for proposed sale.
Defending the deal, Ambassador Olson said, ” It’s our belief that the F-16s have been used very effectively. The precision strike capability to take out terrorist targets, including safe havens that threaten our forces in Afghanistan.”
A US Department spokesman, when questioned over the deal at briefing this week, said the Obama administration believes US security assistance to Pakistan contributed to their counter-terrorism operations. “We are committed to working with Congress to deliver security assistance to our partners and our allies that we believe further US foreign policy interests by building the capacity to meet shared security challenges.”
This was not what the Indian lobby in Washington and the government in New Delhi believed which reacted to the deal, saying they disagreed with rationale that such arms transfer help combat terrorism.
In an obvious negation to such baseless apprehension, the DSCA statement on the deal said that the deal “will not alter the basic military balance in the region. The proposed sale contributes to U.S. foreign policy objectives and national security goals by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner in South Asia,” the statement said.
A Pakistan office spokesman in Islamabad also expressed surprise and disappointment at the Indian government’s reaction, saying the Indian army and arsenal stock is much larger and they are the largest importer of defense equipment.
It is worth noting here that while India is objecting to 8 F-16 aircraft sale to Pakistan, it is negotiating purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who visited France last month said the government was close to sealing the deal, according to media reports.
The proposed F-16 deal also faced opposition from some critics in Washington, including Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, who argued against providing this security assistance to Pakistan in a written testimony to the Congress on Dec. 8.
But, these efforts were thwarted by senior diplomats in Washington who remained engaged with the Capitol Hill and met several Senators and Congressmen in recent weeks to make a case for Pakistan. This was in continuation of an active outreach with members of the Congress that also saw Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Chief of Army Staff visiting the Capitol Hill last November.
Noted Pakistan Americans lauded the State Department decision to sell F-16 aircraft to Pakistan while appreciating efforts by the Pakistan diplomats to get the deal.
“Pakistan is a frontline state in the fight against terrorism and needs US support for the shared cause,” Malik Hamid, President of the US-based group, Pakistan Link USA, said while commenting on the deal. “We are surprised to see that even some Pakistanis critics are opposing the deal which show how loyal they are to their motherland.
Dr. Rashid Nayyar of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) said the delivery of new aircrafts will strengthen the capability of armed forces against militants who are threats to not just Pakistan but world at-large. He urged the Congress to grant approval to the deal which will further strengthen Pak-US relations.
For the deal, the Obama administration started pre-consultations with the Congress in October, a process which ended on Feb. 11 with DSCA notification. During this period Congress and the Administration examined strategic implications of this sale to Pakistan. The Congress can object to the administration’s decision by raising questions or even holding the administration from proceeding further.
“The role of F-16s aircraft has been critical in the ongoing military operations launched in the tribal areas in June, last year,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Jalil Abbas Jilani told APP while commenting on the proposed deal. “Nearly 90 percent of terrorists” overall casualties were caused by hundreds of airstrikes.”