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'Convincing Congress of F-16 deal is Obama administration’s job'

Updated Apr 30, 2016 07:10pm

ISLAMABAD: In response to reports the US Congress is withholding 60 per cent of the aid earmarked for subsidising Pakistan's purchase of eight F-16 fighter jets, a Pakistani official has said “negotiations aren’t over yet”.

Tariq Fatemi, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, told BBC Radio in an interview that bringing Congress around to the deal is the Obama administration’s job.

According to a BBC report published on its Hindi and Urdu services, a State Department official told the BBC on the condition of anonymity that Congress will not subsidise the sale of eight F-16 jets to Pakistan at the advice of Senator Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations.

As per the earlier arrangement, Pakistan would have paid $270 million while the US would grant the remaining $430 million for the purchase. As a result of this move, Pakistan may have to foot the bill of $700 million for the eight fighter jets.

“There is a strong opposition to provide subsidised arms to other countries in the US Congress, but the Obama administration’s offer of military aid to Pakistan still stands,” Fatemi told BBC Radio.

“Pakistan has already rendered great services in the war against terror, so its case is strong.”

Fatemi expressed he is hopeful Pakistan will receive the military aid, and revealed the Pakistan mission in Washington is currently in talks with members of Congress to raise awareness of Islamabad’s views on the matter.

“America understands how important a role these eight F-16s can play in the fight against terror, which is why the request was made in the first place.”

The adviser also mentioned that Pakistan has spent $2 billion in the last two years fighting against terrorism.

’Working against us’

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif during a National Assembly briefing in January said that a deal with the United States for the procurement of eight F-16 fighter jets is facing delays due to "some lobbyists working against us there".

He said an Indian lobby, as well as Pakistan's former ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, are "working against us" and had approached the US House of Representatives to lobby against the sale.

"Some lobbyists there are working against us. They have approached the House of Representatives. The Indian lobby is there too and the former envoy to the US from the PPP government is also working against us, saying that these F-16s should not be given to us."

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 had told BBC anonymouslyi, adding that the Obama administration is working with Congress in this regard.

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 counter- terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.