The planned US sale of F-16 fighters to Pakistan is all set to fall at the Congressional hurdle to funding it out of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program.
“Only a miracle can save the deal now,” a State Department official said in a private discussion.
Following the Congressional bar on the financing, the United States had asked Pakistan to foot the bill out of its own resources. That idea was immediately rejected by Islamabad, which not only said that it did not have money to buy the F-16s, but also asked Obama administration to resolve the matter or else it would start looking for other alternatives to meet its Air Force’s needs.
As per the initial financing plan, US was to pay $430 million from its FMF program for the eight F-16 jets, while Islamabad was to provide the remaining $270 million. But, following the Congressional hold, the US is asking Pakistan to pay the full cost of the fighter jets.
The Congress had earlier in February allowed the sale of two single-seat F-16Cs and six twin-seat F-16Ds. Subsidizing the sale of the fighters through the FMF was, however, disallowed on the grounds that Pakistan did not take enough action against the Haqqani Network and was keeping Dr Shakil Afridi, who had helped US in its search for Osama bin Laden, in jail. The Congress also wants assurances that Pakistan would stop producing tactical weapons and its long range Shaheen-III.
The US government has communicated to Islamabad through diplomatic channels that it may not be able to help in convincing the Congress to lift the restriction. The message was conveyed through the new US Commander Central Command Gen Joseph Votel to Pakistan’s defense secretary Lt Gen (r) Alam Khattak, when he met him at the defense ministry earlier this week.
There are several reasons why the administration is not helping Pakistan with the case even though it says that it supports the sale. Firstly, with Obama now being a lame duck president, the administration does not enjoy enough influence in the Republican-dominated Congress. Secondly, the administration has been reluctant to certify to the Congress that Pakistani operations in North Waziristan defanged Haqqani Network, so it can’t ask for lifting the hold. The administration has been withholding that certification for the disbursement of Coalition Support Fund (CSF), because of which Pakistan lost about $300 million in reimbursements last year.
The US administration alternatively suggested to Pakistan government that it should agree to paying the bill by itself and the financing plan can be reconsidered once the Congress lifts its hold at some later stage. But Pakistan is not ready to accept that bait.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told journalists in Islamabad that no preconditions would be acceptable.
In the event of the deal failing, Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has said that Pakistan would look for other alternatives. Pakistan is already considering Chinese J-10 and J-20 jets for its future plans, and the Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighters are also under consideration.
The funding fiasco is being blamed on Pakistan’s poor diplomacy, which failed to leverage the counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States and was also unable to make the Congress realize the sacrifices rendered in this fight.
“There was not enough explaining of Pakistani position, whereas the Indians extensively lobbied against the sale,” the US official said adding counter-presentation from Pakistan was completely missing.
Pakistan does not have lobbyists in the United States, because Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had disallowed hiring any, which insiders believe made it difficult to engage the Congressmen.