The US State Department on Friday defended the decision to sell F-16 aircraft to Pakistan and endorsed Islamabad’s position that the planes were being used in counter-terrorism operations.
In a separate statement, the Pakistan Embassy in Washington appreciated the Obama administration’s determination to go ahead with the proposed sale.
The deal, however, is facing stiff resistance in the US Congress where lawmakers have moved resolutions both in the House and the Senate, seeking to block the sale.
“We support the proposed sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan to assist Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations,” said a State Department spokesperson Helaena W. White.
“Pakistan’s current F-16s have proven critical to the success of these operations to date,” she added, endorsing Pakistan’s position that it had effectively used its existing fleet of F-16s in counter-terrorism operations.
India, and some US lawmakers, have rejected this claim, saying that the F-16s have not been useful in such operations and would ultimately be used against India.
But White noted that the operations Pakistan was conducting in Fata with the help of F-16s, “reduce the ability of militants to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven for terrorism and a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan.”
She also noted that “these operations are in the national interests of Pakistan, the United States, NATO, and in the interest of the region more broadly.”
White said that the administration was “committed to working with Congress to deliver security assistance to our partners and allies that furthers US foreign policy interests by building capacity to meet shared security challenges.”
A spokesman for the Pakistan Embassy, Nadeem Hotiana, pointed out that the US administration had already notified Congress of its ‘determination’ to sell F-16s to Pakistan. “The public notification clearly articulates the reasons for the prospective sale,” he added.
“We appreciate the public assessment of the US leaders in response to Congressional enquiries that Pakistan has used F-16s effectively against terrorists and the subject sale is also intended to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to continue the ongoing operations,” the embassy said.
The statement noted that the proposed sale would help strengthen Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capacity under a mutually agreed defence cooperation framework.
US lawmakers have until March 12 to block the sale but they have acted promptly, introducing two resolutions in the House of Representatives and the Senate this week.
Both resolutions urge the administration not to sell these planes and other weapons to Pakistan.
On Thursday, the head of a powerful Senate committee called for a detailed hearing on the proposed deal, arguing that it was not the right time to sell weapons to Pakistan.
The developments may cast a long shadow on the sixth session of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, scheduled on Feb 29.
Former Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul introduced a joint resolution in the Senate on Wednesday, seeking to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets and other military hardware to Pakistan including eight Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suites and 14 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems.
“While we give them billions of dollars in aid, we are simultaneously aware of their intelligence and military apparatus assisting the Afghan Taliban,” said Senator Paul in the resolution, which has now been sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who actively seeks to disintegrate Pakistan, moved another joint resolution in the House of Representatives.
“The government of Pakistan has been using weapons from the US to repress its own citizens and especially the people of Balochistan,” said the lawmaker while introducing the resolution.
“The deciding factor of whether to support this Joint Resolution is, for me, the arrogant and hostile actions taken by the government of Pakistan against the man (Dr Shakil Afridi) who helped bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Rohrabacher said.
Another former Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, however, said that it was a difficult issue as both India and Pakistan were important for the United States.