US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday that Washington expected Islamabad to take “sustained action” against all terrorist groups and that a recently proposed $450 million military sale package for the maintenance of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet would help serve this purpose.

“Pakistan’s F-16 programme, it’s an important part of the broader US-Pakistan bilateral relationship, and this proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining the F-16 fleet,” Price said during a press briefing on Tuesday.

“This is a fleet that allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations, and we expect Pakistan will take sustained action against all terrorist groups,” he added.

Price made these remarks when asked to share some details about the proposed package, about which the US government has already notified Congress.

Reiterating that the Congress had been notified of the proposed sale, Price said: “Pakistan is an important partner in a number of regards, an important counterterrorism partner.

“And as part of our longstanding policy, we provide life cycle maintenance and sustainment packages for US-origin platforms.”

On Wednesday last week, an official statement by the US Defence Secu­rity Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification of this possible sale to Congress.

The agency clarified that “the proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions”.

The follow-on support for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet would include participation in F-16 Aircraft Structural Integrity Programme, Electronic Combat International Security Assistance Programme, International Engine Management Programme, Engine Component Improvement Programme, and other technical coordination groups.

The support would also include aircraft and engine hardware and software modifications and support; aircraft and engine spare repair/return parts; accessories and support equipment; classified and unclassified software and software support; publications, manuals, and technical documentation; precision measurement, calibration, lab equipment, and technical support services; studies and surveys; and other related elements of aircraft maintenance and programme support.

‘US remains concerned by significant restrictions on media outlets’

During Tuesday’s briefing, Price was also asked to comment on media freedom in Pakistan, particularly with regard to restrictions on ARY News in recent days and the arrest of the channel’s head of news, Ammad Yousuf.

Price responded by saying: “We continue to be concerned by significant restrictions on media outlets and civil society in Pakistan.

“I know that your outlet, ARY, has not been immune to this constricted space. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to all stakeholders around the world, including to our partners and our counterparts in Pakistan,” he said.

Price added that the US was concerned that media and content restrictions, as well as a lack of accountability for attacks against journalists, undermined the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

“A free press and informed citizenry, we believe, are key to democratic societies around the world, key to our democratic future. That applies equally to Pakistan as it does to other countries around the world”.

Flood relief assistance

When asked about assistance for flood relief, Price said the US was “deeply saddened” by the devastation and loss of life caused by “historic floods” in Pakistan.

“We stand with the people of Pakistan at this difficult time,” Price assured, as he went on to share the details of support provided by the US so far.

He said as of September 12, a total of nine US Central Command (Centcom) flights delivered more than half of the 630 metric tons of relief supplies from the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Dubai warehouse.

In total, Centcom would airlift more than 41,000 kitchen sets, 1,500 rolls of plastic sheeting, tens of thousands of plastic tarps, 8,700 shelter fixing kits — all in support of USAID’s flood relief, he added.

Price further said that in this fiscal year alone, “we’ve provided more than $53 million in humanitarian assistance, including urgently needed support for food, nutrition, multipurpose cash, safe drinking water, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, as well as shelter assistance” to Pakistan.

“We’re going to continue to work very closely with our Pakistani partners to continue to assess the damage that has been wrought by these floods, and we’ll continue to provide assistance to our partners in this time of need,” he expressed the resolve.

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