With a number of US lawmakers continuing to oppose the decision to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan in both the Senate and the House, the US State Department has defended the decision, saying that the planes were to be used in counter-terrorism operations by the country.
On Thursday, veteran Senator John McCain threw his weight behind the opponents of the deal, urging the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing on the possible sale of the Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, as more lawmakers expressed concern about the deal.
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters he was concerned about the timing of the Obama administration's decision to approve the sale of the fighter jets to Pakistan, and the potential consequences for US relations with India.
"I would rather have seen it kicked over into the next administration," McCain said.
A hearing would help senators decide what to do about the proposed sale, he said, noting he was very "conflicted."
At least two US senators have announced they intend to try and stop the sale despite the administration having vetted the deal with backdoor approvals.
On Thursday, senator Rand Paul joined his colleague Bob Corker, the senate foreign relations committee chairman, in opposing the sale, saying he has introduced a resolution of disapproval seeking to halt all arms sales to Pakistan.
If passed, the measure would also stop the F-16 sale, which needs to be approved by the Senate before March 12.Earlier on Thursday, at least two senators – Rand Paul and Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relationships Committee chairman – opposed the sale, which needs to be approved by the Senate by 12 March.
They now have the backing of McCain, who in his three decades in the Senate has seen billions of dollars worth of arms sales to Pakistan, but who now has second thoughts.
Meanwhile, according to the Pakistan daily The Dawn, the Pakistan Embassy in Washington has appreciated the Obama administration's determination to go ahead with the proposed sale.
"We support the proposed sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan to assist Pakistan's counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. Pakistan's current F-16s have proven critical to the success of these operations to date," State Department spokesperson Helaena W White said.
India, and some US lawmakers, have rejected this claim, saying that the F-16s have not been useful in such operations and would ultimately be used against India.
However, White said that the operations that were being conducted by Pakistan with the help of F-16s "reduce the ability of militants to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven for terrorism and a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan".
She also noted that "these operations are in the national interests of Pakistan, the United States, Nato, and in the interest of the region more broadly".
A spokesman for the Pakistan Embassy, Nadeem Hotiana, pointed out that the US administration had already notified Congress of its 'determination' to sell F-16s to Pakistan.
"The public notification clearly articulates the reasons for the prospective sale," he added.
"We appreciate the public assessment of the US leaders in response to Congressional enquiries that Pakistan has used F-16s effectively against terrorists and the subject sale is also intended to strengthen Pakistan's capacity to continue the ongoing operations," the embassy said.