WASHINGTON: The Obama administration has informed Congress that it is committed to improving Pakistan’s precision strike capability, which is seen as a veiled reference to F-16 fighter jets.
In a document released this week, the US administration told US lawmakers that its Foreign Military Funding (FMF) to Pakistan would focus on seven priority areas “identified and agreed to with the government of Pakistan”.
These include “precision strike; air mobility and combat search and rescue; counter-improvised explosive device and survivability; battlefield communications; night operations; border security; and maritime security/counter-narcotics in support of counter-terrorism aims.”
Pakistani embassy says that despite reservations among some lawmakers, sale of F-16s is on
The document, sent to Congress with the administration’s budget proposals for 2017, identifies these areas as essential to enhancing Pakistan’s counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism capabilities.
“F-16s have proven to be the most potent vehicle for conducting precision strikes against terrorists,” said Nadeem Hotiana, a spokesman for the Pakistan Embassy in Washington while explaining why Islamabad needed the fighter jets.
The embassy acknowledged that there were “some reservations” in Congress about this sale but the deal was still on.
“We understand that the deal has not been blocked. We intend to continue engaging constructively with the US side to address specific concerns,” Mr Hotiana said.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry sent his department’s annual budget to Congress, proposing a financial assistance of $859.8 million for Pakistan, including $265 million for military hardware.
Pakistan says that the military funding is used for countering terrorists who have been using their hideouts on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border to destabilise the entire region.
“Counter-terrorism lies at the heart of cooperation under existing Defence Cooperation Framework between Pakistan and the United States,” Mr Hotiana said. “And the F-16 is an essential tool in this fight.”
Pakistan is trying to buy eight Block 52, F-16 fighters to complete a squadron but faces strong resistance in Congress.
On Wednesday, Republican senator Bob Corker sent a letter to Secretary Kerry describing the proposed sale as “immensely problematic”.
“I do not want US taxpayer dollars going to support these acquisitions,” Mr Corker wrote.
He accused Pakistan of continuing to support the Haqqani Network and working with them to “destabilise Afghanistan”.
Another Republican lawmaker, Congressman George Holding, also opposed the sale, calling Pakistan “an unreliable and unwilling partner” in the war against terrorism. He also said that he did not see how F-16s could help Pakistan’s military operations against terrorists.
Pakistan rejects these objections as “unreasonable” and points out that the F-16s had been “extremely helpful” in the fight.
Pakistani officials say that terrorists hide in civilian areas, which increases the risk of so-called “collateral damage”, civilians getting killed in the fight.
“But the F-16s are so precise that they drastically reduce this collateral damage,” said a Pakistani official who did not want to be identified.
The Pakistan Embassy said that as a frontline state in the war against terror, Pakistan has been “most actively engaged in a sustained military campaign”.
Pakistan’s efforts had received “global recognition and appreciation, including at the senior levels of US Administration”, he added.
“Insinuations of facilitating the destabilising role of Haqqani network in Afghanistan in any way are indeed unfortunate,” Mr Hotiana said.
He said that Congress had also been consistently supportive in building Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capabilities of which “precision strike capability’ is an important pillar”.
Most of those lawmakers who opposed the proposed sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan are also associated with the Indian caucus in Congress.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2016