Need for F-16s for Pakistan questioned (Lead)

September 15th, 2008 - 1:11 pm ICT by IANS  

F-16Washington, Sep 15 (IANS) Amid growing fear that Islamabad is using US military aid to prepare for a war against India, US lawmakers are questioning the continued supply of sophisticated F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan to fight terrorism.Days after Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama among others spoke of Islamabad’s diversion of US military aid for a build-up against India, a panel of the House of Representatives has called a hearing on the very rationale of Pakistan’s F-16 programme.

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, headed by Gary Ackerman, a leading critic of Washington’s arming of Pakistan, is meeting Tuesday to hear the administration’s take on “Defeating Al Qaeda’s Air Force: Pakistan’s F-16 Programme in the Fight Against Terrorism”.

The panel will look at how the F-16 programme fits into the broader US strategy in the fight against terrorism as well as into the overall US relationship with Pakistan, according to its hearing notice. It will seek witness testimony about the complete scope of the F-16 programme with Pakistan including the number of planes, updates made to existing planes, proposed armaments, schedule of delivery and source of payment.

The panel will ask how these planes contribute to Pakistan’s efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism as Congress has previously provided Pakistan with significant amounts of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for counterterrorism and law enforcement activities against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, it said.

It will also ask “how the use of additional FMF to pay for mid-life updates to Pakistan’s existing F-16 fleet enhances those efforts, and whether the subcommittee should expect further requests to use FMF provided to Pakistan for support of the F-16 programme.

The subcommittee is also expected to examine what counterterrorism equipment or programmes were foregone as a result of the Bush administration’s July 16 request to shift $226.5 million in US counter-terrorism aid for the F-16 upgrades.

Some lawmakers and analysts have long questioned the need for Washington to arm Pakistan with sophisticated F-16 fighter jets to counter Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, many of whom are said to be roaming in Pakistan’s towns and cities rather than flying around in bomber planes.

Witnesses appearing before the panel include Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa, Director of the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency and Donald Camp and Frank Ruggiero, deputy assistant secretaries in the State Department’s South and Central Asian Affairs and Political-Military Affairs bureaus.

Besides Obama another leading Democrat Sunday slammed the Bush Administration’s arms sale policy arguing that military supplies to Pakistan were doing more to stoke tension with India than combat terrorism in the region.

Citing the example of Pakistan, Howard L. Berman, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, told The New York Times that American military sales, while often well intended, were sometimes misguided.

Berman, who sponsored a bill passed in May to overhaul the arms export process, has, along with Nita Lowey, Chairperson of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programmes Representatives, also moved to suspend the release of funds for Pakistan’s F-16 upgrades.

They asked the Bush administration not to shift $226.5 million in anti-terrorism aid to the Pakistan military as they feared the plan would in fact impede efforts to stop terrorism and that they needed more time to study it.

Berman was quoted as saying by the Times that he supported many of the individual US weapons sales, like helping Iraq build the capacity to defend itself, but he worried that the sales blitz could have some negative effects too.

“This could turn into a spiralling arms race that in the end could decrease stability,” he said.

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