The Obama administration's proposal to sell eight F-16 jets to Pakistan is unlikely to have smooth sailing in the US Congress with both Republicans and Democrats having raised concerns over Islamabad providing safe havens to terror groups operating against India and Afghanistan.
The State Department on Friday notified the Congress of its decision to sell eight F-16s to Pakistan and the Congress has 30 days' time to act on the proposal.
In case of any objection, the proposed sale would be debated and voted in the Congress. Normally this kind of situation does not arise as in case of opposition to major arms deals, both the Congressional leaders and the administration mutually work together to arrive at a consensus.
However, in the last few days, influential lawmakers have sent a flurry of letters to US President Barack Obama and secretary of state John Kerry, opposing the decision to sell F-16s to Pakistan.
They told the White House and the State Department that they would work to ensure that Pakistan does not get these fighter jets until terrorist safe havens exist there and ''state actors'' support terror groups.
They also voiced concern over potential of the Pakistani military to use these F-16s to deliver nuclear weapons in a conflict scenario with India.
''While it is my intention at this time to clear the sale of eight F-1 6 aircraft to Pakistan, I do not plan to support the expenditure of the very limited foreign military financing (FMF) account to finance this deal, now or in the future,'' senator Bob Corker, chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said in a letter to Kerry on 9 February.
''I reiterate my present hold on the release of funds via CN 15-319. 1 may reconsider my blanket hold on US FMF assistance should the Pakistanis make progress on addressing my significant concerns about their support for the Haqqani network. But for now if they wish to purchase this military equipment, they will do so without a subsidy from the American taxpayer,'' Corker, a Republican Party member, told Kerry.
Congressman Matt Salmon, chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee of the House foreign affairs committee, also told Obama in a letter dated 10 February that the proposed sale of eight new F-16s to Pakistan ''raises substantial concerns''.
''As several other members of Congress and numerous independent experts have argued, providing such a significant upgrade to Pakistan's offensive military capabilities is extremely problematic in light of the Pakistani military's widely alleged complicity in terrorist violence, as well as the potential for the Pakistani military to use these F-16s to deliver nuclear weapons in conflict scenario with India. I strongly urge the administration to reconsider the sale,'' wrote Salmon, another Republican leader.
In a joint letter to Kerry, influential lawmakers Ted Poe from the Republican Party and Tulsi Gabbard from the Democratic Party too voiced ''serious concerns'' over the proposal.
''Given that the United States has already supplied Pakistan with over $ 30 billion in foreign assistance from FY2002-FY2016 and Pakistan still has not changed its behaviour in any significant way, it is unconvincing that giving Pakistan more taxpayer dollars to finance the purchase of F-16s will somehow break that trend,'' they wrote.
Pakistan has not shown that it is a reliable partner to the United States and has actively undermined American national interests in the region. Until Pakistan is able to demonstrate meaningful changes in its actions, it is inappropriate to finance the sale with US taxpayer funding, they argued.
''The Pakistani and Taliban-linked terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, listed by the US government since 2001 as a designated foreign terrorist organisation, is believed to be behind the recent attack on India's Pathankot Air Force base, which killed seven Indian nationals,'' Gabbard and Poe said.
They also pointed out that Hafiz Saeed, one of the masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks in which six US citizens were killed, has called for more attacks on India.
''Despite being designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, a $ 10 million bounty on his head by the US government and pleas from India to rein in Saeed, he remains free,'' they argued.
Lawmakers have been actively opposing the deal since January. ''I don't know how an F-16, with all of its hardware on there for combat, can be used for humanitarian aid. If they were buying C-130s … I could see those being used for humanitarian aid. But F-16! It's not really humanitarian aid,'' Congressman Ted Poe had said last month. (See: US Congress holds up sale of F-16 fighters to Pak).