US lawmakers on Thursday refused to block the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, but said they remained resolved to deny funding for it, citing Islamabad’s sketchy counter-terrorism record.
Republican senator Rand Paul had sought a senate vote on a petition to disapprove the sale. It failed in a 71-24 vote, getting support far in excess for a move doomed to fail.
But in refusing to support Raul’s move, senate leaders, from both sides of the aisle, said they will continue to deny the Obama administration permission to finance it.
“I continue to oppose any taxpayer dollars being used at this time to support this sale given that Pakistan is providing safe haven to terrorist groups and refusing to target the Haqqani network, which attacks US troops and threatens the future of Afghanistan,” said Bob Corker, Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
Corker has put a “hold”, an informal declaration of opposition to an expense, on the sale making it conditional upon Pakistan acting resolutely against the Haqqani network.
Democrat Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the senate foreign affairs committee, has also announced a “hold”, which, he said Thursday, he has no intention of lifting yet.
In short, the sale is stuck for now, unless Pakistan pays for it, all of it. The eight new F-16 fighter jets are worth $699.04 million. The US proposes to subsidize it, not clear by how much.
Paul’s move — described as a legislative procedure — was bound to fail, said source, because congress has never disproved an arms sale, conceding it as a prerogative of the administration.
The last attempt was made 30 years ago.
But lawmakers used the failed vote on a doomed move to vent their frustration with an ally. Paul called Pakistan “duplicitous” and a “frenemy … part friend and a lot enemy”.
“If Pakistan truly wants to be our ally, if Pakistan truly wants to help in the war on radical Islam, it should not require a bribe,” he added, implying the F-16s were exactly that,a bribe.
Democratic senator Chris Murthy said, “The Pakistanis have been an unreliable partner over the course of the last 10 years in the fight against extremism.
“But what I worry more is that these F-16s will provide cover, will provide substitute for truly meaningful action inside Pakistan to take on the roots of extremism,” he added.
The Obama administration notified congress of the sale of eight new F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan on March 5 paying no heed to opposition from US lawmakers from both parties, and India.
The notification said Pakistan needs these F-16 to meet “current and future security needs” and enhance “ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counterterrorism operations”.
India has expressed “displeasure” over the sale and has said it disagrees with the Obama administration’s “rationale that such arms transfers help to combat terrorism”.