The Obama administration’s move to sell Pakistan eight new F-16 fighter jets has been “stalled” by US Congress, with lawmakers raising questions about the end use of the combat aircraft, and the relationship itself.
Several requests for clarification and information were made by members of the House of Representatives, effectively “stalling” the process, said a congressional source.
At least one member of the Senate, a Democrat, has put a “hold” on the sale, a legislative process of a request to delay floor action on a measure, a bill, nomination or sale.
In effect, the sale has been “stalled”, multiple congressional sources confirmed. They, however, clarified at the same time it does not mean the move is dead or it has been “cancelled”.
Indians, who are closely following the proposal, preferred the word “disrupted”, which, once again, doesn’t mean it’s been cancelled. “Let’s see where it goes now,” an official said.
The move comes at a time when the US State Department has said it expects Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack without distinguishing between “good” and “bad” militants.
The Obama administration “informally” notified Congress of its proposal of a “foreign military sale” – of the jets – during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington last October.
It followed up with a formal notification of “foreign military financing” to fund the sale in early December. The next, and final, stage would have been a formal notification.
But that has been stalled by lawmakers’ requests — their number couldn’t be ascertained — for clarifications or more information and the hold put by a senator.
There are several issues worrying lawmakers. One is the end use of the jets. Several members raised that at a hearing of the House foreign affairs committee last December. They wanted to know if the F-16s could, and would, be used against India.
Richard Olson, the US State Department official who deposed before the panel, had said the fighters had been used by the Pakistan Army for precision attacks in anti-terror operations.
Lawmakers seemed troubled also by the overall signal the sale would send. “I’m concerned about the messages we’re sending when we continue to provide Pakistan security assistance despite Pakistan’s ongoing relationships with the Haqqani Network and LeT,” Eliot Engel, ranking member of the committee, had said.
Chairman Ed Royce used the phrase “Pakistan’s double-dealing” to question the continued flow of cash and arms — as he put it — despite Pakistan’s inadequate efforts against terrorism.
From here, there are two ways the proposed sale could proceed, sources said. One, the administration answers all the clarifications sought, and lawmakers let it go through.
Two, the lawmakers refuse to allow the use of “foreign military financing”, forcing the administration to look for alternative funding if it still wants to go ahead with the deal.