US lawmaker questions sale of F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan

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Washington, Sep 17 (UNI) Republican Conressman Ed Royce, who is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, questioned top State Department and Pentagon officials on the administration's plans to upgrade Pakistan's aging fleet of F-16 fighter planes.

"Major arms sales deserve close Congressional scrutiny. Too often the law of unintended consequences can come into play. And when it comes to Pakistan, a country with an unconscionable proliferation record, scrutiny should be laser sharp," Mr Royce said yesterday at the hearing entitled "Defeating Al-Qaeda's Air Force: Pakistan's F-16 Program in the Fight Against Terrorism." Mr Royce expressed little confidence that Pakistan's air force would deploy the F-16s in Pakistan's tribal areas, noting that Pakistan had even negotiated truces with militants along the border with Afghanistan.

Citing analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, Mr Royce noted that, "Less expensive and less sophisticated aircraft such as attack helicopters and combat search and rescue aircraft would appear to have greater utility in combating insurgents than supersonic fighter aircraft." He also challenged the State Department's characterisation of F-16 sales to Pakistan as a "symbolic barometer" of US-Pakistan relations. "We allowed our relationship with Pakistan to become over-personalised with Musharraf. Now it is centered on a fighter jet?" Mr Royce also noted that the trajectory of US-Pakistan relations over the past two decades had not been positive, despite the State Department's characterisation of F-16 sales as being a "transformative element" of the relationship.

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