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US congress blocking funds for F-16 purchase: report

Updated April 29, 2016

WASHINGTON: The United States (US) administration is withholding funds earmarked for Pakistan's purchase of eight F-16 fighter jets, BBC Urdu reported, citing an unnamed senior US State Department official.

The State Department official told BBC Urdu on condition of anonymity that the Obama administration is still willing to sell the fighter jets to Pakistan, but will not contribute US funds towards the deal.

The US administration took this step with directions from US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker because only Congress has the authority to dispense or withhold the funds, the official said.

As a result of this move, Pakistan may have to foot the bill of $700 million for the eight fighter jets.

As per the earlier arrangement, Pakistan would have paid $270 million while the US would grant the remaining $430 million for the purchase.

The $742 million earmarked for American military aid to Pakistan in the 2016-2017 budget has also been put on hold, but may be released if Congress changes its mind, the State Department official said, adding that the Obama administration is working with Congress in this regard.

"The sale of weapons is a long process and we cannot comment on such unique circumstances at this time," the spokesperson for the Pakistan embassy in Washington, Nadeem Hotiana, told the BBC.

The F-16 sale faced stiff resistance in the US Congress earlier this year, when lawmakers moved resolutions both in the House and the Senate, seeking to block the sale.

The US Senate in March blocked a bid to derail the sale, but Corker had vowed to block the use of US funds to finance the deal.

Corker and other lawmakers have expressed concern about Pakistan’s nuclear programme, commitment to fighting terrorism and cooperation in the Afghanistan peace process.

The State Department, however, maintained that the sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan would assist counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.

In February 2016, State Department spokesperson Helaena W. White said, “Pakistan’s current F-16s have proven critical to the success of these operations to date," and endorsed Pakistan’s position that it had effectively used its existing fleet of F-16s in counter-terrorism operations.

India, and some US lawmakers, have rejected this claim, saying that the F-16s have not been useful in such operations and would ultimately be used against India.

White, however, noted that the operations Pakistan was conducting in Fata with the help of F-16s, "reduce the ability of militants to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven for terrorism and a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan" and "these operations are in the national interests of Pakistan, the United States, Nato, and in the interest of the region more broadly."