Pakistan’s plan to buy eight F-16 combat jets from the US has run into problems because the Congress has blocked any sort of American aid for the deal, just days after American lawmakers expressed concern the aircraft could be used against India.
Pakistan will have to pay for the jets in full if it goes ahead with the deal, BBC Hindi reported. The deal is worth nearly $700 million, according to the US administration.
It was expected that Pakistan would have had to pay only $270 million for the F-16s, with the US providing the remaining $430 million as aid.
An unnamed US state department official was quoted by BBC Hindi as saying the Obama administration still wants to go ahead with the deal but no American funds could be used for it.
According to a notification from the state department last year, the sale of the eight F-16s was originally envisaged under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. The US has provided considerable assistance in past FMS sales to Pakistan.
The administration was forced not to provide any assistance for the sale because of a hold placed by Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Besides, there is also a hold on the $742 million in aid for Pakistan that was proposed to Congress by the US administration.
The US had said on February 12 that it had approved the sale to Pakistan of the eight F-16 jets but Corker had questioned Islamabad’s role in the fight against terrorism. “They continue to support the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and give safe haven to Al Qaeda,” Corker told secretary of state John Kerry.
The US and Pakistan have defended the F-16 deal by saying the jets will boost Islamabad’s capability to fight terrorism. The US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Olson, strongly defended the decision by saying the deal is in the best interests of the US. “The Pakistanis have developed a precision strike capability that they use in the F-16s they have right now to take out targets,” he said.
The Pakistan embassy in Washington said in a statement that the F-16s “provide precision strike capability” for the country’s campaign against militancy. “The US Administration has stated it supports the sale of F-16s to Pakistan. This is in line with bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation that both sides have pursued in mutual benefit,” it said.
However, top US lawmakers have expressed concerns over the decision to sell the F-16s to Pakistan, saying the aircraft could be used against India. They urged the administration to review its decision.
“Many members of Congress, including me, seriously question the judgement and timing of such a sale. Additionally, Indo-Pakistan tensions remain elevated and some question whether the F-16s could ultimately be used against India or other regional powers, rather than the terrorists as Pakistan as asserted,” Congressman Matt Salmon said during a hearing on Wednesday.