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F-16s to Pak dishonour Mumbai blast victims: US lawmaker

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
Last updated on: July 21, 2006 12:35 IST
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Members of the House International Relations Committee expressed concern that American F16s and other sophisticated weaponry, that the Administration proposes to sell to Pakistan, could wind up in the hands of Hezbollah.

At an HIRC hearing on the proposed $5.1 billion sale, committee chair Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) said China was arming the Lebanese militia now engaged in a death struggle with Israel.

'We agree that China has access to Pakistan's military development — they are an ally and they have a presence, and if this sale goes through, I am wondering how much China will be advantaged by this sale to Pakistan and through China,
Hezbollah. We are arming the enemy, Hyde warned.

Committee member Brad Sherman (D-California) said supplying Pakistan with F-16 fighter aircraft and other sophisticated military technology and weapons systems, when it is suspected of harbouring a terrorist group that allegedly carried out the Mumbai serial bomb blasts of 7/11, dishonors the 200-plus victims who lost their lives, and the families who mourn them.
'It is outrageous for us to let this deal go through, without putting it on hold until we know whether Pakistan will
fully cooperate in bringing to justice those who murdered hundreds in Mumbai,' Sherman said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), who also referred to the Mumbai attack and spoke of the suspicion that it had been planned and launched from across the border, regrettably at a time when India was reaching out to Islamabad to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Congressman Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific, argued that given the suspicion that Lashkar-E-Tayeba, 'designated a terrorist organization by our own country', is complicit in the Mumbai blasts, 'I am deeply concerned over the Administration's decision to sell these F-16s and other military hardware to Pakistan at a time when our own country has no assurances that these weapons will not be used to strengthen non-democratic forces in Pakistan.'

Administration witness John F Hillen, Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, told the committee,
'We don't think China will be advantaged by this sale at all.

'In fact, the best thing that can happen to the Chinese military is for a sale like this not to go through, because then
they will have access and influence with the Pakistan military as opposed to the United States, and Pakistan very much
wants the US to be its preeminent and closest strategic and military to military partner.'
Hillen said 'an extraordinary security plan' governs the sale, with iron-clad provisions to preclude any diversion to
third countries.

Hyde seemed unconvinced by the assurance, which he termed a 'cheery interpretation'. His senior colleague Congressman Tom Lantos of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, took the opposite tack and said, 'The proposed sale of sophisticated F-16 aircraft and associated weaponry to Pakistan is a historic turning point in our relationship with that country.'

Lantos supported the sale, and said he accepted 'the judgment that these additional aircraft and munitions will not
significantly affect the balance of conventional forces on the Indian subcontinent.'

The senior Democrat however said he was '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 program to states such as North Korea and Iran.'
Against that background, Lantos said, the Administration's plan to safeguard US technology and national security interests is 'completely inadequate'.

Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-New York), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, introduced a resolution opposing the sale, on various grounds.

'I do not believe that Pakistan needs F-16s to assist us in the war on terror. In particular, I do not believe that
these plans 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.
'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, said Ackerman, the US was planning to transfer sensitive technology to Pakistan, which he feared would 'wind up in the hands of third parties — nations or terrorists.' In particular, the Congressman said, the closeness of Pakistan
with China worried him.

'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.'

He said he found it hard to believe that Pakistan wouldn't violate any security arrangements it agreed to, in order to
earn some ready money. 'After all, that has been Pakistan's experience with its own technology, why would they be more careful with ours?'

Congressman Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) hoped the Administration would reconsider the sale. 'F-16s are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and while Pakistan is an important partner in our campaign against international
terrorism, Pakistan has a history of using US weapons platforms against India, as was the case in 1965 when Pakistan
launched a war against India using F-104s it had purchased from the United States in 1960.'
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, also pointed to the nuclear capability of the F16, and said,
'It is designed to make war on countries that have sophisticated air forces, not the Taliban, not radical Islam.
'We should be helping them, yes, but with defensive weapons systems that are appropriate and will not bog down their
people for generations in debt so that their people will have to eat grass rather than live as decent human beings.'
Hillen said the F16s being sold to Pakistan would not be nuclear capable, but admitted that with some 'tweaking to
the underside', the aircraft could become nuclear-capable. He said this was why the US had built into the sale
an 'extraordinary security plan, with US personnel. We have monitoring, we have leverage, to convince them not
to do this.'

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC