US notifies sale of 8 F-16s to Pakistan, lawmakers object

  • Yashwant Raj, Washington
  • Updated: Mar 05, 2016 22:01 IST
The total cost of the eight F-16 is estimated to be nearly US $700 million. (File Photo)

The Obama administration has notified the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, ignoring stiff opposition from several US Republican and Democratic lawmakers and India.

The sale, at an estimated value of $699.04 million, was published in the Federal Register, a government gazette, on Friday at the end of the formal process of notifying Congress.

The notification said Pakistan needs these F-16s to meet “current and future security needs” and enhance its “ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counterterrorism operations”.

India has expressed “displeasure” over the sale and has said it disagrees with the US government’s “rationale that such arms transfers help to combat terrorism”.

Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz, who is in the US, told reporters that the F-16s are “a very critical part of our counter-terrorism operation”.

The deal is not technically through entirely, congressional sources stated. This notification is only about the administration’s proposal to sell the eight combat jets.

Rand Paul, a Republican senator who has moved a joint resolution opposing the sale, wrote in an appeal to colleagues, “Selling military hardware to Pakistan — with a generous subsidy from American taxpayers — is no way to convince them to become responsible players in the international community and assist in the fight against terrorism.”

Paul is seeking a vote on the sale on the floor of the Senate.

Read | Pakistan, US to hold talks amid India’s objection to F-16 deal

Senate foreign relations committee chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, and his deputy Ben Cardin, a Democrat, had told the administration they have put a hold on the funding.

“I do not want US taxpayer dollars going to support these acquisitions,” Corker told The Wall Street Journal, calling Pakistan “duplicitous”.

The chairman and ranking member of the House foreign relations committee — Ed Royce and Eliot Engel — have also announced their intention to put a hold.

Sources said there are three ways for the sale to go forward now. One, Pakistan is made to pay the entire sum of $699.04 million, as it has at least once before.

Two, the administration “blows through the hold” and goes ahead and funds the sale as it intends to do, creating some bad blood with lawmakers as a consequence.

Three, try and convince lawmakers to change their mind and why they must agree to allow the administration to fund the sale despite their antipathy for Pakistan.

That will be tough, given how strongly some lawmakers have opposed the sale, and openly.

he US has formally notified the sale of eight F-16 combat jets to Pakistan despite strong opposition to the $700-million deal from India and top American lawmakers.

Last month, India said it was “disappointed” at the Obama administration’s decision to sell the F-16s to Pakistan, saying it disagreed with the US rationale that such arms transfers help to combat terrorism. India also summoned the US envoy to convey its “displeasure”.

Secretary of State John Kerry strongly defended the sale, arguing the jets were a “critical part of the Pakistani fight” against terrorists.

The publication of the federal notification of the sale prompted top Republican Senator Rand Paul to ask his colleagues to join him in opposing the deal. He said the time had come to demand accountability from Pakistan whose “coziness” with terrorists has harmed the US military.

The notification published by the federal register on Saturday said: “This proposed sale contributes to US foreign policy objectives and national security goals by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner in South Asia.”

The cost of the F-16s is estimated to be nearly $700 million, the notification said, adding the Pakistan government had requested the sale.

The US notification said the sale involved the release of “sensitive technology” to Pakistan. The jets are equipped with advanced avionics, a digital flight control system and external electronic warfare equipment.

Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz said this week that his country had initially sought 18 F-16s but was purchasing just eight because of a “financing problem”.

“In the last five years, Pakistan Air Force has been saving US assistance to be able to finance these F-16s. That is why the administration has recommended that these should be sold because it is a very critical part of our counter-terrorism operation,” he said.

Opposing the sale, Rand Paul said he had introduced a resolution in the Senate to block the deal. He plans to use the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, which has not been invoked in decades, to force lawmakers to vote on the state department’s approval of the sale.

“Selling military hardware to Pakistan — with a generous subsidy from American taxpayers — is no way to convince them to become responsible players in the international community and assist in the fight against terrorism,” Paul said.

“It is past time to stand up and demand greater accountability from Pakistan — that it fully severs its ties with terrorist organisations, and that it respect the rights of its own people,” he said in an official correspondence to other members of the Senate.

If Paul’s resolution is passed by the Senate, it will prohibit the sale of F-16s and additional defence equipment to Pakistan.

“Why should the US consider selling major defence items to Pakistan whose allegiance to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network is well-known,” he said.

Senator John McCain, chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee, too has voiced concerns over the sale. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific chairman Matt Salmon said the sale was “extremely problematic in light of the Pakistani military’s widely alleged complicity in terrorist violence...”

Representatives Ted Poe and Tulsi Gabbard sent a letter to Kerry last month, citing Pakistan’s duplicitous nature.

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