Biden Blasts U.S. F-16 Sale to Pakistan
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI, Taiwan — The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is blasting as “misguided” a Pentagon contract to Lockheed Martin for F-16 fighters to Pakistan in the wake of the Dec. 27 assassination of Pakistani presidential candidate Benazir Bhutto.
On Jan. 2, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., attacked the $498.2 million contract issued on Dec. 31 — part of a deal for 18 jets that was approved by Congress in mid 2006 — as a “dangerously misguided” policy by the Bush administration. Pakistan is buying 18 F-16C/D Block 52 aircraft — 12 single-seat and six two-seaters — to be delivered by 2010.
Biden’s committee has the authority to approve all U.S. arms exports, but it remains unclear whether the veteran lawmaker — who dropped out of the presidential campaign Jan. 3 — will move to block delivery of the planes. One Pentagon source said Congress was notified of the impending contract on June 28, 2006, allowing members enough time to voice their objections.
Biden, however, said the recently passed 2008 Defense Appropriations bill blocks any assistance to Pakistan for arms sales not linked to counterterrorism missions.
“It sends the wrong message to the Pakistani generals, and to the Pakistani people,” he said, referring to the Pentagon’s decision to award the contract four days after Bhutto’s death.
The Bush administration intended the F-16 deal to reward Islamabad for its support in the War on Terror. Pakistan has received some $10 billion in aid from the United States since 2001 to fight terrorism.
Critics of the F-16 sale say the planes are of little value to Pakistani security.
“Are F-16s key to Pakistan’s future success and stability? Are they key to the reinstatement of democratic rule? If the answer is yes, then F-16s are an important sale,” said Danielle Pletka, a Pakistan analyst at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute. “Stability in Pakistan rests on several factors, including the restoration of democracy, the liberation of civil society and a genuine counterinsurgency against al-Qaida and the Taliban. None of those appears in the offing.”
Another analyst contends that the appearance of U.S. support for Musharraf after Bhutto’s death is likely to play poorly in Pakistan.
“In the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, any Pentagon support for Pakistan’s military is bound to dismay Pakistan’s democratic forces as well as Islamabad’s critics on Capitol Hill,” said Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center. “While the Bush administration may justify the sale of advanced weapons to Pakistan as a means of sustaining Pakistani military cooperation against supporters of terror in Pakistan, it is also a sad reality that the Pakistani military is itself vulnerable to those same forces of religious radicalism.”
Some analysts say elements of the Pakistani military remain sympathetic to radical Islamic groups.
“There should be little remaining doubt that elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services provide support, both real and moral, to extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Pletka said. “Whether that is explicitly permitted from the top is questionable, but after nearly three decades of Pakistani military/intel support for Islamists, it is hard to deny tacit support from the very top to America’s worst enemies.”
Pletka warned that the media is missing the fact that Pakistan’s “miscalculations and mistakes are premised on their fear of history repeating itself: America has always abandoned Pakistan.”
She said that Pakistani leaders viewed the U.S. handoff of its leadership role in Afghanistan to NATO as an end to U.S. commitment.
“The fact that they were wrong was immaterial; it was at that moment that they [Pakistan military] reverted to the bad old ways — destabilizing Afghanistan, working with the Taliban,” she said. “We need to at once make firmer demands and reassure them that we are committed to the region for the long run.”
Pakistan bought F-16s from the United States in the 1980s, but additional purchases of planes and other arms were blocked during the 1990s by legislation banning arms sales to nations developing nuclear weapons.