WASHINGTON: The Obama Administration on Saturday said it has decided to sell eight nuclear-capable F-16 fighter jets worth nearly $700 million to Pakistan, a proposal that is likely the face stiff resistance in the Republican-controlled Congress.
Despite mounting opposition from influential lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties, the US State De-partment notified the Congress that it has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Pakistan for F-16 Block 52 Aircraft, equipment, training, and logistics support.
The estimated cost is $699.4 million, the Defence Security Cooperation Agency — a wing of the Pentagon — said in a statement, adding that this proposed sale contributes to the US foreign policy objectives and national security goals by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner in South Asia.
Asserting that this will not alter the basic military balance in the region, the Pentagon said the proposed sale improves Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future security threats.
These additional F-16 aircraft will facilitate operations in all-weather, non-daylight environments, provide a self-defence/ area suppression capability, and enhance Pakistan’s ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counter terrorism operations.
“It will increase the number of aircraft available to the Pakistan Air Force to sustain operations, meet monthly training require-ments, and support transition training for pilots new to the Block—52. Pakistan will have no difficulty absorbing these additional aircraft into its air force,” the Pentagon agency said.
“This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded,” said the Defence Security Co-operation Agency.
Obama administration’s notification to the Congress comes amidst mounting opposition from lawmakers. Early this week, Senator Bob Corker wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry that he would put a hold on any such decision. Now the proposal will go to the Congress which has 30 days’ time to act on it.
In case of any objection, the process would be lengthier and complicated as the proposed sale would be debated and voted in the Congress. Normally this kind of situation does not arise as in case of opposition to major arms deals, both the Congressional leaders and the administration mutually work together to arrive at consensus.
Con g r e s s man Matt Salmon, Chairman of the Asia and Pacific Subc ommi t tee of the H o u s e Foreign Affairs C o m mittee in a letter dated February 10 told US President Barack Obama that providing such a “significant upgrade to Pakistan’s offensive military capabilities is extremely problematic in light of the Pakistani military’s widely alleged complicity in terrorist violence, as well as the potential for the Pakistani military to use these F—16s to deliver nuclear weapons in conflict scenario with India”.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a State Department official defended the decisions of the US Government.
“We strongly support the proposed sale of eight F—16s to Pakistan. This platform will support Pakistan’s counter—terrorism and counterinsurgency operations, and has contributed to the success of these operations to date,” the official said.
“These operations 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,” the official said, adding that these operations are in the national interests of both Pakistan and the US, and in the interest of the region more broadly. “Let me be clear, before any arms transfer we take into account regional security and a range of other factors. We believe our security assistance contributes to a more stable and secure region,” the official said when asked about India’s apprehensions that this F—16 would finally end being used against it.
“The US does not view its security cooperation in the region in zero sum terms — our security relationships with Pakistan, India and Afghanistan are distinct, but each advances US interests and regional stability,” the State Department official said.
“These operations 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,” the official said, adding that these operations are in the national interests of both Pakistan and the US, and in the interest of the region more broadly.