US Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday he does not expect an upcoming vote on a $700mn sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan to keep the deal from going ahead.
However, he said there was still discussion of whether US taxpayer funds could be used to finance the purchase.
President Barack Obama’s administration announced on Feb 12 that it had approved the sale of the Lockheed Martin Corporation aircraft as well as radars and other equipment to Pakistan.
It drew immediate criticism from India and concern from some members of Congress.
Republican Senator Rand Paul in late February invoked legislation known as the Arms Export Control Act in the hope of stopping the sale by passing a Resolution of Disapproval, calling Pakistan “an uncertain ally.”
Cardin told reporters he opposed Paul’s resolution and expected it would fail, with the chamber’s Republican and Democratic leaders opposing it. The measure could be taken up by the Senate as soon as today.
Cardin said lawmakers had concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear programme, commitment to fighting terrorist organisations and co-operation in the Afghanistan peace process but generally supported the sale.
“It was not controversial that Pakistan needs to modernise its air force and its counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism activities, particularly in the mountainous territory on the border with Afghanistan,” he said.
Congress is currently considering a request to “reprogramme” some funds, in other words, use them for a different purpose than allocated in a budget bill, to help finance the deal.
Cardin said he was not yet prepared to make a judgment on whether US taxpayer funds should be used to help Pakistan with the purchase.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has reminded US lawmakers that terrorists have killed thousands of Pakistani soldiers and civilians only because the country supports the US-led war against terrorism.
In a letter to a senior Republican Senator, Rand Paul, Pakistan’s ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani referred to a US intelligence document, which quotes Osama bin Laden as asking his followers to attack the Pakistani state and it’s military because of their anti-terrorism partnership with the United States.
Senator Paul sent a letter to his colleagues earlier this week, claiming that it was “past time” to demand accountability from Pakistan whose “coziness” with terrorists has harmed the US military.
Ambassador Jilani, however, reminded Senator Paul that Pakistan had lost nearly as many soldiers fighting the terrorists as the United States.
“In addressing you, I also represent over 30,000 families in Pakistan who have not only lost their loved ones but also potentially their sources of income, protection and hope for the future,” he wrote.
“Why has Pakistan paid this staggering price in human blood? The answer perhaps lies in the brochure ‘Jihad in Pakistan’ that was found by the US forces from Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011 and released last week by the office Director National Intelligence,” wrote the ambassador.
In this 42-page booklet, the Al Qaeda leader gives a detailed blueprint on how and where to launch the jihad against Pakistan and its military.
“We have to launch raids against the Pakistani Army that is deployed on the Indian border, because these are vast desert battlefields areas and it will be easy to target them,” OBL wrote.
The brochure also lists Pakistan’s actions against Al Qaeda as part of its support to the US-led war against terrorism and calls for retribution.
Ambassador Jilani reminded Senator Paul that the ‘ensuing terrorism perpetrated against Pakistan is a story hard to miss”.
He noted that thousands of men, women and school-going children in Pakistan have faced the cruel brunt of terrorists’ revenge for being seen as US partners”.
Jilani, however, vowed to continue the fight against terrorists, saying that “the heavy toll of blood and treasure” had not “faltered our resolve to fight and defeat terrorists”.
He noted that through its concerted military campaign over the past decade, Pakistan had nearly cleared terrorists from its side of the border with Afghanistan.
“The amount of explosives recovered and destroyed in these operations would have been sufficient for daily IED attacks for next 20 years,” he wrote, adding that Pakistan could not have achieved this success without an enabling support from its US partners.
The US support, he said, was an investment in the regional peace and was critical for its own security.