‘Pakistan will get jets from elsewhere if F-16 funding not arranged’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will acquire jets from elsewhere if the United States (US) does not arrange funding for a previously agreed upon F-16 fighter jet sale, Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, cautioned the US as both countries lock horns over the purchase of the jets.

“If funding is arranged, Pakistan will get the F-16s, otherwise we will opt for jets from some other place,” Aziz said, without clarifying which jets he was referring to and where they would be bought from.

Aziz elaborated the US administration has given its consent for the sale of F-16s, and the only hurdle is finances.

The US gives Pakistan $265 million as part of foreign military assistance, in previous years it was $300 million. The amount received is split between the three branches of the armed forces. Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) share is $80 million, which they had allocated for the last three years to buy the jets, added Aziz.

“The funding we received was part of normal military funding received from US, and not specifically meant for the purchase of F-16s. The US has informed us that we can use the funds for purchase of other military equipment and items, but not F-16s.”

Pakistan had earlier reached an understanding with the US for buying eight F-16 planes. Under the deal, Pakistan was required to pay about $270m from its national funds. The US was supposed to provide the rest from its Foreign Military Financing (FMF) fund.

But at a congressional hearing, US lawmakers last Wednesday made it clear that they would not allow the Obama administration to use US funds for the deal.

Last Friday, a State Department official told Dawn that Congress had placed a hold on the deal, forbidding the administration from using US funds for enabling Pakistan to buy the planes.

And on Monday afternoon, the department confirmed that Pakistan will have to use its own funds if it wants the planes.

The latest announcement practically kills the deal as Pakistan may find it difficult to buy the planes at two and a half times more than the agreed price.

Aziz said Pakistan valued the F-16s for their effectiveness, but said that they could be replaced by JF-17 Thunder jets in its anti-terrorism campaign.

The adviser also expressed concern over India’s growing military power and said if it isn’t checked, Pakistan will be “forced to increase its strategic power” too.

“The international community should avoid steps which may disturb the strategic balance in South Asia”, Aziz warned.

Aziz reiterated the government’s resistance towards handing Dr Shakeel Afridi over to American authorities.

“We have rejected American pressure on Pakistan regarding Afridi, who helped the US trace Osama bin Laden. For the US he is a hero but for Pakistan he is a criminal,” he stated.

Afridi’s case is under review by a tribunal, and he is also suspected of links with terrorist organisations, Aziz added.

The adviser also confirmed that an Afghan Taliban delegation from Doha is in Islamabad for exploratory contacts and such contacts are maintained by all members of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group which consists of the US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last week, the Afghan Taliban’s spokesperson in Doha formally confirmed that a delegation from their political office in Qatar was visiting Pakistan and promised “fruitful results”, but rejected the impression that the group was there to discuss participation in peace talks with Kabul.

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