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US Congress stalls F-16 sale to Pakistan

Wednesday, 13 January 2016 | S Rajagopalan | Washington

The US Congress has for now “stalled” the Obama administration’s planned sale of eight new F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan that was mooted around the time of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington last October.

Several lawmakers in the House of Representatives are reported to have sought a range of additional information and clarifications on the proposed sale, while a Senate member has put a “hold” on floor action on the subject.

Pakistani circles apparently believe that the current difficulties notwithstanding, the sale can still happen at a future date if the administration continues to push for it and gets the hold lifted.

But opposition on Capitol Hill to new military sales to Pakistan is known to be strong, given Islamabad’s poor track record in going after key terrorist outfits, particularly the “good” groups that destabilise Afghanistan or threaten India.

“I’ve long been concerned about Pakistan’s failure to take meaningful action against key Islamist terrorist groups operating within its territory,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce said in the wake of a Congressional hearing last month on “The Future of US-Pakistan Relations”.

Although the US was “quick to embrace Pakistan” after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Royce expressed the view that Islamabad has hardly reciprocated.

“Pakistani governments have come and gone, but Pakistan has remained a terrorist haven, with its security services supporting what it considers to be “good” Islamist terrorist groups,” he said at the December 16 hearing, adding: “These “good” groups — under Pakistan’s calculus — destabilize Afghanistan and threaten neighboring India.”

The Republican lawmaker from California pointedly referred at the time to the San Bernardino massacre that was carried out by a Pakistani-origin couple as he made it clear that Islamabad needs to adopt a new approach to confront terrorism.

It’s not as though only Republican lawmakers hold strong views on Pakistan’s handling of terrorist outfits while deliberating on issues such as aid and military sales.

The committee’s Ranking Democratic Member Elliot L. Engel wrote a letter jointly with Royce to Secretary of State earlier last year, stressing that the US and Pakistan “cannot have a true strategic partnership until Pakistan cuts ties with terrorist organisations”.

Outside Congress, noted South Asia expert Alyssa Ayres from the Council on Foreign Relations has urged the United States to “unequivocally pressure Pakistan to end support for terrorist groups — not just some, but all — that destabilize India and the region”.

That will be “the single most useful thing the United States can do”, Ayres noted in a commentary on the Pathankot terrorist attack just eight days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lahore visit.

 
 
 

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