WASHINGTON: The Obama administration notified the Congress on Friday that it planned to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

The proposed deal will now go through a 30-day notification period after which it will be finalised.

Earlier this week, the US State Department informed Congress that it was committed to improving Pakistan’s precision strike capability, which was seen as a veiled reference to F-16 fighter jets.

And on Thursday, a State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said at a news briefing that US weapon sales to Pakistan contributed to the fight against terrorism and furthered Amer­ica’s foreign policy interests.

The remarks followed a move by some US lawmakers and a campaign in the US media to stop the Obama administration from selling eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

Although Congress has delayed the proposed sale, the administration still seems interested in pushing it through, insisting that it’s in vital US interests to do so.

At the State Department news briefing, an Indian journalist asked spokesman Mark Toner if US Secretary of State John Kerry had received a letter Republican Senator Bob Corker sent to him on Tuesday, asking him to stop the proposed sale to Pakistan.

“As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on proposed arms sales or transfers or even our preliminary consultations with the Hill, with Capitol Hill, prior to any formal congressional notification,” Mr Toner replied.

But he offered to address the broader issue of US security assistance to Pakistan, saying: “We are committed to working with Congress to deliver security assistance to our partners and our allies that we believe furthers US foreign policy interests by building the capacity to meet shared security challenges.”

Responding to another question about terrorists using safe havens inside Pakistan to attack US troops in Afghanistan, Mr Toner said: “We believe US security assistance to Pakistan actually contributes to their counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.”

Further explaining this point, he added that such operations “reduce the ability of militants to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven to carry out terrorist attacks and as a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan.”

That’s why, he said, the United States believes “these operations are in the interests of both Pakistan and the United States and in the interests of the region more broadly.”

Asked if he had any figures to back up the claim that US assistance to Pakistan had reduced terrorist activities, Mr Toner said he did not have such figures in front of him but noted that no country in the region had been more touched by terrorism than Pakistan.

“We believe it’s in our vital national security interests to support Pakistan in carrying out its efforts to destroy these terrorist networks, and we believe it’s an important partner in the region in achieving a stable and secure Afghanistan,” said the US official.

Mr Toner said the US also welcomed Pakistan’s efforts to support Afghan-led reconciliation talks. He noted that recently, Pakistan hosted the Heart of Asia ministerial and two of the first three meetings of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group.

“And they have carried out multiple operations against some of these terrorist networks that are operating on their soil,” he said.

“We believe that destroying, eliminating those networks is in our national security interests, as well as the security interests of the region,” he added.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2016

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