By Arun Kumar, IANS
Washington : Amid clear signs of the Bush administration’s unwillingness to cut off aid to Pakistan, two senior Democratic lawmakers have sought suspension of F-16 fighter jet sales if President Pervez Musharraf does not revoke emergency rule.
Senators Joe Biden, a presidential hopeful and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John Kerry, Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, have also sought suspension of sale of other weapon systems besides F-16s not related to the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
A resolution introduced by the two says US “assistance for the purchase of certain weapons systems not directly related to the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban should be suspended if President Musharraf does not revoke the state of emergency and restore the constitution, relinquish his position as Chief of the Army, and allow for free and fair elections to be held in accordance with the announced timeframe”.
The US has agreed to sell up to 36 new F-16 fighter jets together with refurbished F-16s to Pakistan, which has received $10 billion in aid since it agreed to join the US war on terror after the Sep 11, 2001 attacks. Pentagon’s top contractor Lockheed Martin Corp has won a $144 million contract last year for materials needed to build the F-16s for Pakistan.
Biden, who received a telephone call from Musharraf Wednesday, said he addressed the issue of the F-16 sales in a “very frank and detailed discussion” with the General.
“I made clear to Musharraf that some of the big ticket weapons items that are not designed to combat the Taliban or Al Qaeda are on the table as far as I’m concerned — the F-16s and the P-3 maritime surveillance aircraft,” Biden said. “I do believe that he got the message.”
Musharraf apparently found Biden’s counterpart in the House Foreign Relations committee, Tom Lantos — who too got a call from him Tuesday — more understanding.
“I find it noteworthy that in this time of crisis he’s seeking a dialogue with both the Administration and the Congress,” Lantos said at a hearing of his panel where a senior official sought Congressional support “in renewing our commitment to long-term partnership with the Pakistani people”.
“The bottom line is, there’s no question that we Americans have a stake in Pakistan,” said Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, describing Musharraf as “indispensable in the global war on terror”.
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack Wednesday said Negroponte had “made the point that we have real national interests specifically in working with Pakistan, the Pakistani people and the Pakistan government, to fight terror. We’re not going to do anything that makes America less safe.”
Asked if Negroponte’s comments suggested that the US does not want to cut aid to Pakistan barring any legal obligations to do so, McCormack said: “We are going to follow the letter of the law”.
In response to another question about Biden’s demand to suspend the sale of F-16s and if the administration considered them part of the war on terror, McCormack declined “to comment on any particular aspect of our aid programme or our military relationship with Pakistan”.
“The President has laid out very clearly, as has Secretary (Condoleezza) Rice and Deputy Secretary Negroponte — we don’t want to do anything that would harm our counter-terrorism efforts,” McCormack repeated.
The US State Department and US Agency for International Development have made a Congressional budget request of $845 million for assistance to Pakistan in fiscal year 2008 that started Oct 1. This includes a supplemental request of $60 million.
The amount requested in FY2008 includes:
— $342 million for peace and security covering foreign military financing, international military education and training, law enforcement reform, counter narcotics, and counter-terrorism.
— $42 million for governing justly and democratically, covering rule of law and human rights, support for local governance and decentralisation and civil society.
— $103 million for investing in people, with roughly even amounts for health and education.
— $249 million for economic growth, including a $200 million cash transfer to support government of Pakistan development initiatives, private sector support, agriculture and credit.
— $50 million for humanitarian assistance covering continued relief and recovery for areas impacted by the 2005 earthquake.
— $60 million supplemental request to support economic and social development as well as good governance in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.