F-16 deal snags with US

WEB DESK: The blocking of F-16s fighter jets deal by US Congress has upset the parliamentary panel, which has sought a detailed briefing from Ministry of Foreign Affairs to explain its “failure” to make it a success through effective lobbying after recommending an increase in public diplomacy budget to promote softer image of the country abroad.

The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Senator Nuzhat Sadiq, while approving the Foreign Office’s public diplomacy budget amounting Rs 150 million for 2016-17, also recommended further increase in the budget to promote the softer image of the country through effective diplomacy in foreign countries.

Taking up the blocking the F-16s’ deal in the US Congress, the committee took strong notice of the failure to materialise the deal through effective diplomacy and lobbying in the US Congress and demanded a detailed report from Foreign Ministry regarding their ineffectiveness to project Pakistan’s requirement of the jest in fight against the terrorism.

“Why we haven’t been able to convince a few US Congressmen to get the F-16s deal materialised? Why the foreign office failed to conduct effective lobbying by projecting Pakistan’s countless sacrifices in the war against terrorism and the ongoing counter-terrorism efforts…?,” Tahir Hussain Mashhadi posed these questions while taking up the matter.

He also questioned the Foreign Office’s inability to explain before the world as to why Pakistan needs these jets in its counter terrorism efforts, adding that why Pakistan cannot purchase these jest from any other country like China. Sharing his opinion, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed stated that the blocking seems to be linked with Indo-US strategic agreement, adding that New Dehli strongly reacted to the F-16s deal and also summoned US ambassador to convey the Indian government’s concern. “The Foreign Office needs to come up with the reasons and fact of the matter behind the failure to materialise the deal,” he added.

The committee also reviewed the budget allocated and its utilisation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during nine months of financial year 2015-2016. While briefing the committee, Shujaat Ali Rathore, DG Finance Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informed the committee that the ministry has invested to strengthen perimeter security. He added that the ministry has conducted an audit of its existing cyber security system with the help of country’s prime intelligence agencies in order to identify rooms for improvement.

He told the committee that the ministry’s official website and e-mail addresses are under constant cyber attacks and for the purpose it usually gets services of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) by giving it a limited access to its system. However, committee member Farhatullah Babar stated that instead of giving access to the intelligence agencies like ISI or FIA, the ministry should permanently establish a secure system with a view that other agencies are not privy to the secret documents of the Foreign Office.

The Foreign Office official, however, insisted that the agencies were given limited access for the purpose and the Ministry should also make sure that its secret data is safe and secured. The committee also sought a detailed report on several Pakistani businessmen who were stranded in Moscow Airport and were later deported instead of allowing them entry into Russia.

The committee also expressed serious concern for granting only Rs 15 million against the original Rs 150 million for FY2015-16 for the public diplomacy budget and recommended further increase in the budget for the upcoming financial year. The committee also unanimously endorsed the draft of MOU for Cooperation and Dialogue between the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Senate of the United Mexican States and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate of Pakistan. Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed while appreciating the step said that Pakistan should develop stronger ties with the Latin American countries.

Senator Karim Khwaja pointed out the ‘inability’ of Pakistan’s foreign missions to promote the country’s interests abroad. “The responsible officials in our foreign missions are serving their own interests by settling their family members and relatives instead of serving the larger interests of Pakistan,” he remarked-  by Ali Hussain- Business Recorder