WASHINGTON (TIP): Eight US-made F16s have not exactly flown out to Islamabad yet, but well may the engines be fired up and the planes ready to taxi.
The US Senate on Thursday rejected by a 71-24 margin efforts by some lawmakers to block the sale of eight F- 16 fighter jets to Pakistan, although the debate that accompanied the vote showed how ragged Washington-Islamabad ties have become.
Full court press from an Obama administration guided by tactical considerations and an arms lobby driven by jobs and money was always going to win the day. But the fact that 24 Senators (12 Democrats; 12 Republicans) went against the Democratic executive and the Republican legislative leadership showed the extent of bipartisan distrust in a country one lawmaker described during the debate as a “Frenemy…part friend and a lot of enemy.”
Indian and American diplomats keenly watched the legislative dogfight engineered by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (Republican), who employed a rarely-used provision in the Arms Export Control Act to force a vote – after an hour of debate — in the full Senate to block the sale of the F-16s.
“We’ve got a lot of things going on in our country that need to be taken care of, and we don’t have enough money to be sending it to Pakistan,” Paul argued on the Senate floor, citing everything from Pakistan’s nurturing of terrorists to its persecution of Christians to stop the sale. “I can’t in good conscience look away as American crumbles at home and politicians tax us to send the money to corrupt and duplicitous regimes abroad,” he added, pointing to some $ 15 billion Washington has given Pakistan post 9/11.
But the Senate’s foreign relations committee leadership maintained that it was better to dangle the planes before Pakistan so that Washington could have leverage over Islamabad, lest it gravitate towards China and Russia for such purchases. The debate essentially answered the question: why eight jets, and why now.
“They are just throwing out some bones to Pakistan to keep them in line for the next few months,” one legislative observer explained.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, who has said he supports the sale but will not allow US taxpayer to subsidize it, explained it more tactfully.
“It’s about whether we as a country would prefer for Pakistan to buy American made fighter jets or whether we would prefer them to buy Russian jets or French jets,” he observed, adding that he and Senator Cardin, his Democratic counterpart, have called for a hold on financing “to assure there are behavior changes that take place in Pakistan before any US dollars go towards this sale.