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Boucher argues for F-16 deal with Pak

Assistant Secy of State says US cannot ignore Pak's national security concerns.

india Updated: Jul 22, 2006 00:40 IST

Noting that the US cannot ignore Pakistan's basic national security concerns, a senior Bush administration official has said they were asking Islamabad to "do difficult things to protect Americans" and in return some concern must be shown for that country's security.

"The F-16 sale provides a clear and concrete signal to all Pakistanis that Pakistan's security is important to the United States. A confident Pakistan that feels secure is more likely to pursue peace and cooperation with its neighbours," Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said.

"Conversely, a Pakistan that feels vulnerable is more likely to rely on nuclear weapons and non-conventional tactics to ensure its security. I am sure we all agree that this is not the direction in which we want Pakistan to go.

Calling Pakistan a "key country and strategic partner" in South Asia, Boucher said in his prepared remarks to the House International Relations Committee, "I believe it is in our national interest to proceed with this sale."

Boucher was not a listed witness in the Congressional hearing; no questions were directed at him during the course of the session and neither did he intervene when his colleague from the Political Military Affairs John Hillen was being hammered by irate law makers highly critical of how the administration has gone about this F-16s package to Pakistan, especially as it pertained to the role of Congress.

"If peace and stability prevail and the region's economic expansion continues, we believe this region will become an international economic powerhouse," Boucher said.

Emphasising that the US wanted to support Pakistan's success as a moderate Muslim democratic nation, Boucher said this would stabilize the nation and the region against terrorism and provide a new opportunity. 

"Its economic potential is as great as its neighbours. Its ports and transportation links could play a major role in the prosperity of the region as a whole. We see Pakistan as one end of a land bridge extending across Afghanistan and into Central Asia," he added.

Boucher stressed that Islamabad's role in the struggle against the Al-Qaeda was well known "but bears repeating" -- almost every senior Al-Qaeda leader now in custody was captured by Pakistan.

Pakistan has put almost 80,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan and has conducted large-scale military operations aimed at flushing Al-Qaeda and its allies out of the remote border country. "These operations have been costly. Pakistan has lost several hundred soldiers while conducting them."

"The political cost has been high, too. Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies assail the Pakistani Government regularly for allegedly doing America's bidding with no benefit to Pakistan. These same extremists have also sought to foment rebellion in the tribal regions along the border," he said.

"The personal price paid by Pakistani leaders has also been great. Musharraf has survived two assassination attempts by Al-Qaeda and its allies. The leaders of Pakistan have demonstrated great personal courage while supporting our common struggle against terrorism," he said.

"The 9/11 Commission suggested that if Musharraf is prepared to support us at the risk of his life, we should make the difficult decisions needed to establish a long-term commitment to the future of Pakistan. We are following the Commission's advice, and the F-16s are an important part of that effort," he added.