Pakistan may not get F-16s as US declines to foot the bill
Washington, May 3: Pakistan's efforts to get eight F-16 fighter jets from the US hit a fresh snag after the State Department expressed its inability to fund the USD 700 million deal with American tax payers' money.
The US asked Pakistan to "put forward" its "national funds" to buy F-16s after some top Senators put a hold on the use of American tax payers' money to partially finance them.
"While Congress has approved the sale, key members have made clear that they object to using FMF (foreign military financing) to support it. Given Congressional objections, we have told the Pakistanis that they should put forward national funds for that purpose," US State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters at his daily news conference yesterday.
Kirby, however, did not say when this decision was taken and when it was communicated to Pakistan. On February 11, the State Department had informed the Congress about its determination for selling eight F-16s to Pakistan at an estimated cost of USD 700 million.
The move was opposed by the Indian government which summoned the US Ambassador to India Richard Verma to lodge its protest.
Top American lawmakers led by Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put a hold on the sale arguing that it would not let the Obama administration use tax payers' money for sale of the fighter jets to Pakistan given that Islamabad was not taking enough action against terrorist organisations, in particular the Haqqani network and there was continued existence of terrorist safe havens inside its territory.
Last week, American lawmakers during a Congressional hearing openly told the Obama administration that they feared Pakistan would be using these F-16 fighter jets against India and not against terrorists.
However, both the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Pakistan government insisted that F-16 is an important tool in the fight against terrorism and urged the Congress to remove the hold.
The lawmakers stood their ground and told the Obama administration that it will not remove the hold till Pakistan takes tangible action against the Haqqani network. Now Pakistan has time till May end to avail the American offer to procure F-16s.
Sources here told PTI that the May deadline for Pakistan to respond to the new development from the US is based on "offer validity and (Lockheed's) production process" point of view. Any delay in the acceptance of the offer, would result in increase in cost of F-16s.
However, speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Pakistani official said that Pakistan is unlikely to buy F-16s at its full price as being told by the US now. Earlier, Pakistan was to pay only USD 270 million for the jets.
The US offer of eight F-16s, officials said, might still be there in paper, but it might go in for a long pause and price escalation if Pakistan decides against buying it, sources said.