Rediff News
All News
News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp  » News » Bush Administration strongly defends F-16s sale to Pak before Congress

Bush Administration strongly defends F-16s sale to Pak before Congress

Last updated on: July 21, 2006 02:29 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

Following is Assistant Secretary of State For South and Central Asian Affairs Richard A Boucher's statement before the House International Relations Committee on 'The Sale of F-16s to Pakistan' on July 20, 2006:

Mr Chairman and Members of the Committee: Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. It is an honour to address this committee on an issue of great significance to our nation.

Pakistan is a key country and a strategic partner in South Asia -- a region of critical importance to the United States.  As you know, the South Asian region is one of our highest priorities in the war on terror. It is equally important to the struggle against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And it is enjoying rapid economic growth. 

If peace and stability prevail and the region's economic expansion continues, we believe this region will become an international economic powerhouse.

We want to support Pakistan's success as a moderate Muslim democratic nation. This is the course President Musharraf has set. Achieving this goal would stabilise the nation and the region against terrorism and give the people of Pakistan new opportunity in the modern world. 

Its economic potential is as great as its neighbours. Its ports and transportation links could play a major role in the prosperity of the region as a whole. We see Pakistan as one end of a land bridge extending across Afghanistan and into Central Asia.  

Pakistan's role in the struggle against Al Qaeda is well known but bears repeating. Almost every senior Al Qaeda leader now in custody was captured by Pakistan. Pakistan has put almost 80,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan and has conducted large-scale military operations aimed at flushing Al Qaeda and its allies out of the remote border country. These operations have been costly. Pakistan has lost several hundred soldiers while conducting them. 

The political cost has been high, too. Al Qaeda and its extremist allies assail the Pakistani government regularly for allegedly doing America's bidding with no benefit to Pakistan. These same extremists have also sought to foment rebellion in the tribal regions along the border.

The personal price paid by Pakistan's leaders has also been great. President Musharraf has survived two assassination attempts by Al Qaeda and its allies. Prime Minister Aziz has survived one such attempt, and senior army officers have been targeted as well. The leaders of Pakistan have demonstrated great personal courage while supporting our common struggle against terrorism.

The 9/11 Commission suggested that "if President Musharraf is prepared to support us at the risk of his life," we should make the difficult decisions needed to establish a long-term commitment to the future of Pakistan. We are following the commission's advice, and the F-16s are an important part of that effort.

The United States is working with Pakistan to establish the basis for a stable, broad-based relationship. During President Bush's recent visit we agreed to high-level dialogues on everything from energy to education to economics to science and technology. We are using our assistance money to improve education and health in Pakistan. We are also assisting Pakistan to recover and rebuild from the catastrophic earthquake which destroyed large areas in northern Pakistan last October. This was the most popular and welcome program we have provided Pakistan since we resumed providing assistance in 2001.

We cannot focus exclusively on Pakistan's economic and development needs, however, and ignore its basic national security concerns. We are asking Pakistan to do difficult things to protect Americans, and we must show concern in return for Pakistan's security. The F-16 sale provides a clear and concrete signal to all Pakistanis that Pakistan's security is important to the United States. 

A confident Pakistan that feels secure is more likely to pursue peace and cooperation with its neighbours. Conversely, a Pakistan that feels vulnerable is more likely to rely on nuclear weapons and non-conventional tactics to ensure its security. 

I am sure we all agree that this is not the direction in which we want Pakistan to go. I believe it is in our national interest to proceed with this sale. I hope you will approve this transfer.

With that let me conclude and take your questions. Thank you.

Following is the statement by Congressman Tom Lantos, Ranking Democrat, House International Relations Committee:

Mr Chairman, the proposed sale of sophisticated F-16 aircraft and associated weaponry to Pakistan is a historic turning point in our relationship to that country.

I accept the administration's arguments that these aircraft and munitions are necessary to allow Pakistan to meet its legitimate national security interests.

I also accept the judgment that these additional aircraft and munitions will not significantly affect the balance of conventional forces on the Indian subcontinent.

I therefore support the substance of this sale to Pakistan.

But the good news ends there for the administration. I have two extremely serious concerns about how the administration, and especially the Department of State, has handled this proposed sale to Pakistan.

First, I am extremely concerned about the details of the security arrangements to be put in place to safeguard these aircraft, their associated technologies and munitions, all of which would be of great interest to third parties, especially China. It is also an unfortunate fact that Pakistani export controls are so lax as to have allowed A Q Khan to provide the crown jewels of Pakistan's nuclear weapons development programme to states such as North Korea and Iran.

The administration's plan is completely inadequate to safeguard US technology properly and to protect US national security against espionage and compromise in Pakistan.

The committee was first briefed on the proposed security plan in the summer of 2005. At that time, Pakistan wanted to purchase a more-extensive package of aircraft and munitions. But Pakistan cancelled this sale over financial issues following the earthquake.

We found the security plan to be inadequate on several counts. Nevertheless, the Department of State ignored our repeated entreaties to re-engage on the security plan in anticipation of this current sale.

The draft security plan for the sale now under consideration was not sent to us until June, with the first briefing proposed by state on June 8th. Four subsequent meetings in the next two weeks were required because State Department officials were unable to answer even basic questions about the sale or the security plan.

My second concern is how this committee was formally notified about this sale.

Since 1976 -- that is, for a period of the last 30 years -- there has been a procedure for arms sales that has been followed with regard to Congressional notifications. The purpose of the consultative process is to work out problems before formal notification, as it is in no one's interest for public controversy and confrontation on sales of significant foreign policy importance.

However, the department unilaterally decided to ignore this procedure, especially the long-standing 20-day review period before formal notification of such a sale to this committee and the Congress. This was a calculated attempt to change the working relationship between Congress and the administration to the detriment of this committee's proper oversight prerogatives over US arms sales.

I also believe that it was a calculated attempt to prevent this committee from insisting on additional changes to the security plan for these aircraft and technology to protect US national security.

The decision by mid-level State Department officials to send the formal Congressional notifications on these Pakistani arms sales before problems with the security plan were resolved is extremely serious. Let me make this clear: this outrage will not stand. Our oversight of the arms sales process will not be compromised.

Both the chairman and I continue to have very serious concerns about the security plan to safeguard the aircraft, armament and technology that we plan to transfer.

For my part, two things must happen, if the Department of State wishes to have a productive working relationship with this committee. First, we must return to the previous consultation and notification procedures that we have used successfully prior to this sale. On that, there is no compromise. On that, there is no negotiation.

Second, the Department of State will make additional changes to satisfy the committee's concerns with the Pakistan F-16 security plan. I intend to provide my requirements for the security plan to fulfill to Undersecretary Nick Burns in a private meeting later this afternoon.

If we can proceed on this basis, then I'm sure that the committee and the administration can move forward both on these sales and to resume our good working relationship on arms export issues.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Following is Congressman Gary L Ackerman's statement and the resolution of disapproval he introduced:

It will come as no surprise to anyone here that I am opposed to this sale. I am opposed on substantive grounds and I object strenuously to the way the administration handled the notification of the sale to the committee.

First, the substance: I do not believe that Pakistan needs F-16's to assist us in the war on terror. In particular, I do not believe that these planes will help us or Pakistan in the war against Al Qaeda along the Pakistan/Afghan border, unless Al Qaeda has suddenly deployed fighter jets of their own. I continue to believe that what Pakistan needs are the capabilities to more effectively and more quickly to move troops across difficult and dangerous terrain, thereby extending the government's control over areas that are currently controlled by local tribes. I don't think F-16's help with this fundamental problem.

Second, it is well-known that A Q Khan and his nuclear Walmart transferred sensitive nuclear technologies to terrorist states. Allegedly he miraculously did this without the knowledge of the government of Pakistan. This technology was Pakistan's most closely held state secret, yet, somehow, equipment and designs found their way out of Pakistan to Iran, North Korea and Libya, for a price. 

Now we are on the verge of transferring some sensitive technology of our own to Pakistan. Certainly not the most sensitive we have, but sensitive enough that we don't want it to wind up in the hands of third parties -- nations or terrorists. 

In particular, I think we should be very concerned about the closeness of Pakistan relationship with China. In fact, Pakistan and China are jointly developing a fighter plane.  It strikes me, layman that I am in these matters, that China would love to get an extended look at an F-16 and all the related weapons systems that go with them. I have a hard time believing that whatever security arrangements Pakistan has agreed to won't be violated by someone with an interest in earning a little ready cash. After all, that has been Pakistan's experience with its own technology, why would they be more careful with ours?

Lastly, I'd like to address the manner in which this sale was notified to the committee. The administration's decision to ignore 30 years of precedent and send the formal notification to the committee last month on a sale of this magnitude and sensitivity is nothing short of arrogant. If the administration is going to unilaterally re-write the rules for arms sales, then I think it is incumbent on us to review and perhaps change the rules for exactly how Congress approves such sales.

Instead of the current process, which has the Congress as a passive actor in these decisions, I propose that we take a more active role. On arms sales to particular countries and of a particular size, I believe that the Congress should vote affirmatively to approve such sales. We could establish an expedited procedure to ensure that once a sale is notified, that Congress would act, one way or another, but as it stands now, most members who do not sit on this committee have no idea what we sell to whom. Just as often such questions go wholly unexamined. And even if members did object, the current process leaves them with virtually no opportunity to affect the sale one way or another. 

I think the fact that Congress hasn't seriously challenged an arms sale since 1987 is not evidence that the process works, but evidence that the Congress has ceded too much authority to the executive.

This circumstance does a disservice to our role as overseers of US foreign policy and is a disservice to our constituents. As a result, I am today introducing a joint resolution disapproving the sale.

Thank you.

Get Rediff News in your Inbox: