ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has conveyed to the United States that it does not have the money to buy F-16 jets from its resources and has cautioned that if the stalemate over funding is not resolved it may consider buying some other fighter aircraft to meet its needs.
According to a diplomatic source, this was conveyed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to US Ambassador David Hale at a meeting at the Foreign Office.
The meeting was held last week before the controversy of procuring the F-16s became public.
Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, PAF Chief Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman and Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi also attended the meeting.
Initially, the deal for the sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan was to be partially funded through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) with the US providing $430 million, while the remaining $270m was to be paid by Pakistan from its national resources. But after the Congressional hold on subsidising the sale through FMF, the US administration asked Pakistan to make a commitment to buy the jets from its own money.
But the Pakistan government refused to make any pledge unless the restriction on financing through FMF was lifted.
There is a perception in some quarters that the government made a mistake by refusing to make the commitment for the purchase of the fighter aircraft because doing so would not have precluded the option of financing through FMF in future.
The Pakistani commitment, it is believed, would have eased Congressional pressure on the administration, besides allowing the process for approval and appropriation of the entire FMF package to move forward. The process is being currently held back because of the very intense debate on the financing of the F-16 deal.
In view of the lingering impasse, the administration has now started emphasising on the Congress to focus on the package instead of getting stuck with one of its elements.
The FMF money for this year has to be approved and appropriated before September 30 or else the funds would remain no more available.
Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, in a media interaction on Tuesday, said Pakistan was working with the “suppliers to see what could be alternative sources of financing”.
Mr Aziz said that Pakistan would only buy the F-16s if some arrangement was worked out “otherwise we will look for some other (fighter) aircraft”.
He, nevertheless, looked optimistic about the issue being resolved and said: “We’ll be able to find some way out”. The message from the adviser looked very calculated.
It should be recalled that Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, whose committee has jurisdiction over foreign arms sales and who is maintaining the hold on the financing of the deal, had while voting in favour of the sale of the jets to Pakistan in March noted that he did not block the deal so that Islamabad is not driven towards Russian- or French-made jets.
Mr Corker had then said that he would like to maintain US leverage over Pakistan, which he described as uncertain ally, through its continued reliance on the US for maintenance of F-16s.
Despite approving the deal, Mr Corker withheld its financial component.
Among the key reasons behind the Congressional hold are concerns that Pakistan has not taken enough action against the Haqqani network; jail sentence for Dr Shakeel Afridi — the physician who had cooperated with the US in tracking Osama bin Laden; and fears about Pakistani nuclear programme.
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2016