for F-16s for Pakistan questioned (Lead)
By Arun Kumar
Washington, 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
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 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.
Indo-Asian News Service
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