WASHINGTON: A day after Congress suspended US funding for the F-16s deal, the State Department acknowledged that Pakistan needs those aircraft for its antiterrorism activities.
“We believe they’re the right platform to support Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts, and have been a part of the successful pushback, if you will, or in past operations against some of the militant groups that are active in Pakistan,” the department’s deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, told a news briefing.
This rejects a recent claim by some US lawmakers that Pakistan would use the aircraft against India, not the terrorists.
On Friday, another State Department official told Dawn that senior US lawmakers had refused to provide foreign military financing (FMF) for the eight F-16s Pakistan plans to buy from the United States, unless Islamabad takes “some specific actions”.
The State Department did not explain those actions but at a congressional hearing on Wednesday, key members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged Pakistan to launch military “operations against the Haqqani network,” if it wants the funds.
And US officials, who appeared before the committee, said that they too had “made very clear at the highest levels” of the Pakistani government the need to “target all terrorist groups without any discrimination”.
Mr Toner, while commenting on these developments, said he knew some members of Congress had “stated their concerns about how to finance this sale” but he refused to say what had caused them to stop the subsidy.
Without US assistance, Pakistan will have to pay almost $700 million for the aircraft; two-and-a-half times the subsidised cost of $270m.
When asked who would be paying for the aircraft now, the US or the Pakistani government, Mr Toner said: “I’d refer you to the White House because they probably have the latest on that.”
When a journalist reminded him that it was the State Department that sent the notification to Congress, and not the White House, he said: “I understand that. I would refer you to the White House.”
Although the White House so far has offered no comments on this issue, reports in the US media suggest that the Obama administration wants to provide those planes to Pakistan, as it believes it serves US national interests.
And a senior Pakistani official told BBC on Saturday that negotiations for the deal were “not over yet”.
Tariq Fatemi, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, also said that bringing Congress around to the deal was the Obama administration’s job.
“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,” Mr Fatemi said. “Pakistan has already rendered great services in the war against terror, so its case is strong.”
Mr Fatemi said that the Pakistan Embassy in Washington was also in touch with key US lawmakers on this issue and he was ‘hopeful’ that Pakistan would receive the FMF funding for the aircraft.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2016