Cong blocks funding for Pakistan F-16s

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The US State Department said Friday that the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan has hit a snag because some Congressional leaders were opposed to funding the deal. At the same time, State Department officials said that the Obama administration remains in favour of supplying the super-sophisticated jets to Pakistan calling them the “right platform” to go after the terrorists.

“Key members of Congress have been clear that they are not prepared to support foreign military financing (FMF) for the F-16s absent some specific action”, by Pakistan, the department said in response to media reports that the deal was off “for all practical purposes”.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Pakistan had successfully used F-16s against terrorists in the country’s tribal areas.

But when told that Congress had notified its refusal to subsidise the sale, Toner told correspondents to approach the Congressional leaders or the White House.

The Congressional decision means that Pakistan will have to pay more than $700m – two-and-a-half times the original cost – if it wishes to buy the aircraft.

Some US lawmakers had accused Pakistan of not doing enough to fight militants. India, which has powerful lobby in Congress, also objected to the sale.

However, Pakistan has argued that the jets are needed for anti-terror operations, and so the US should help with funding the purchase.

BBC, quoting an unnamed senior US state department official, said the Obama administration is still very much in favour of selling the fighter jets to Pakistan as it believes it is in the national interest of the United States.

However, Pakistan would have to bear the full cost of the F-16 fighter jets if it wished to proceed, he said.

The original arrangement had been that Pakistan would pay close to $270m, with the US foreign military financing budget paying for the rest.

However, top US lawmakers have expressed concerns over the US government’s decision to sell the jets to Pakistan, saying they could be used against India rather than for combating terrorism.

Speaking on Wednesday, Congressman Matt Salmon said: “India-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 has asserted.”

In an interview with BBC, a top Pakistani government official said the talks with the US on funding for the purchase of eight F-16 fighter jets are afoot.

Special Assistant to PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi said though the Congress had objections to the US military aid to other states, the assistance to Pakistan stays intact.

Pakistan’s position on the military assistance is impeccable; he said, adding that Islamabad has played a pivotal role in the war on terror that’s why it would be provided with the assistance.

“Talks with Washington are underway over the matter,” he added.

“For the war on terror, Pakistan has made a request for eight F-16s which would help a lot for the cause – the fact the US knows very well.”

Fatemi said despite its limited resources, Pakistan spent $2 billion on the ongoing anti-terror operation (Zarb-e-Azb) in two years.

About the US Senate decision to ban funding, he hoped the Obama administration will persuade the Congress over the matter otherwise it has other options.

He said Pakistan’s peace plan will benefit the region and the US as well.

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