The US may be falling to India amid the F-16s row as India multiplies pressure on Washington to give cold shoulder to Islamabad, informed sources said. The US State Department last week said Pakistan will have to pay from its own funds if it wants to buy F-16 fighter jets, after the US Congress last month withdrew funds for the deal.
Pakistan had earlier reached an understanding with the US for buying eight F-16 planes. Under the deal, Pakistan was required to pay about $270 million from its national funds. The US was supposed to provide the rest from its Foreign Military Financing fund.
Pakistan has conveyed to the US that it does not have the money to buy F-16 jets from its resources and has cautioned that if the stalemate over funding is not resolved, it may consider buying some other fighter aircraft to meet its needs.
Among the key reasons behind the Congressional hold are concerns that Pakistan has not taken enough action against the Haqqani network, jail sentence for Shakeel Afridi – the physician who had cooperated with the US in tracking Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and fears about Pakistani nuclear programme.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said the country needed modern F-16 fighter jets for its ongoing war against terrorism but rejected the conditions the US has attached over their sale.
He said no conditions should be attached to the sale of F-16s because Pakistan planned to use the jets only for the purpose of fighting terrorists. Chaudhry said diplomatic efforts were underway to convince the Congress to subsidise the sale of the fighter jets.
A senior government official told The Nation, that the government was trying to fight out the Indian influence in Washington.
“The threat is definitely there. Our leaders think India is winning the diplomatic front in Washington,” he added.
Former Pakistan ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman feared there was a strategic storm brewing in this context and there was no focal person senior enough to give it ministerial attention.
“The government has not been taking developments in America seriously. It has disregarded how Washington works, especially after its phased withdrawal from Afghanistan. There is after many decades no lobbyist for Congressional engagement in Washington and no concerted effort to explain Pakistan’s security limits or needs,” she told The Nation. Currently, India employs four different lobbyists for its strategic aims in Washington.
Sherry Rehman, a top leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and member of the Senate, said Washington was a tough town at all times but the tension over the F-16s was a symbol of worsening ties which will not mend themselves without serious and coordinated effort at a sustained institutional level.
“Right now Pakistan does not even have a foreign minister, which is an egregious deficit especially at such difficult times,” she added.
She said blaming India for the loss of the F-16s payment was not enough, “but they too employ four different lobbyists and use their influential community at all points.”
The former ambassador said the public narrative about Pakistan in America after Bin Laden was found there was never great, “but we did keep ties at an even and constructive keel despite onerous security challenges.”
Senator Rehman maintained, “Today I am afraid the government has its own parochial agendas which miss the greater scheme of things. The rising graph of insecurity in Afghanistan will also be laid at Islamabad’s door which may be entirely unfair given the political disunity next door, but I am afraid no one is awake at the foreign policy wheel in Islamabad right now to even be vigilant to protect us from the blame game.”
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan will have to pay the $700 million bill for the weapons deal all by itself.
“Originally, Islamabad was supposed to pay around $270 million for purchase of F-16 jets, with the rest of the money made available by the United States through a subsidy,” he said.
Aziz said Pakistan was still negotiating with US officials otherwise “we have certain option as well.”
Last day, US Consul General in Lahore Zachary V Harkenrider said Pak-US relations will remain important for the US government irrespective of the fact who wins the upcoming US presidential election.
He said any government in Pakistan understood and valued its relationship with the US. “The situation is similar in the United States,” he added.
Defence analyst Lt General Talat Masood (retd) advised the government that it should look for alternate options and decrease its dependence on US.
“Anti-Pakistan lobby would try to jeopardise any deal between Pakistan and other arms selling countries,” he remarked.
Senior analyst Dr Pervez Iqbal Cheema said blocking of funds was the violation of Pak-US agreement for the purchase of F-16 jets.
He said the Indian lobby was in power in the US and taking the advantage of its trade relations with the US as India was the largest buyer of arms from Washington.
Security expert Dr AZ Hilali said the US defiance may be on the instigation of “our neighbouring adversaries.” The US, he said, was turning its back to support Pakistan in its just and global cause of fight against terrorism.