ISLAMABAD - Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday took strong notice of blocked F-16 fighter aircraft deal by US legislators.

The committee demanded a detailed report from foreign ministry regarding its ineffectiveness to project Pakistan’s point of view and the efforts and sacrifices made by Pakistan in the global war on terror.

The meeting was held at Parliament House to review the budget allocated and its utilisation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during nine months of Financial Year 2015-2016.  Briefing the standing committee, the officials of Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the committee that the ministry had invested to strengthen perimeter security.

They added that the ministry had conducted an audit of its existing cyber security system with the help of country’s prime intelligence agencies in order to identify room for improvement. The committee was headed by Senator Nuzhat Sadiq who underlined the need to increase the Public diplomacy budget for projecting soft image of Pakistan abroad.

Senator Farhatullah Babar seconded the chair and suggested that committee would highlight the issue in the recommendations sent by the Senate for the 2016-2017 budget.  The committee also unanimously endorsed the draft of Memorandum of Understating for cooperation and dialogue between the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Senate of the Mexican United States and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate of Pakistan.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, while appreciating the step, said that Pakistan should develop stronger ties with the Latin American countries.

The meeting was attended among others by Senator Attaur Rehman, Senator Syed Tahir Mashhadi, Senator Farhatullah Babar and Senator Karim Khawaja. Agencies add: Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has said that Pakistan has conveyed strong message to the United States to maintain balance of power in this region.  “Pakistan is still negotiating with the US officials for the purchase of F-16s and we have other options as well,” he added.

He was speaking in Nuqta-e-Nazar and Perspective programme of Radio Pakistan’s News and Current Affairs Channel. Defence analyst Lt-Gen (R) Talat Masood and other senior experts also expressed their views in the programme.

Aziz said Pakistan will have to pay $700 million bill for the aircraft by itself. Originally, Islamabad was supposed to pay around 270 million dollars, whereas the rest of the amount was to be paid by the United States through an FMF subsidy. Without the FMF allocation, the price tag for the eight F-16 fighter aircraft would increase by two-and-a-half times the original cost, after the US Congress blocked funds for Pakistan to purchase F-16 fighter planes and asked to review the price.  “We are still negotiating with US officials otherwise we have certain other options as well. Indian lobby is active in the United States. Pakistan is still focusing on improving its bilateral relations with the United States. We will continue our efforts to resolve the issue.”

Defence analyst Lt-Gen (R) Talat Masood was of the view that the hurdles in the way of F-16s supply to Pakistan were the result of Indian involvement through its lobby in US. Anti-Pakistan lobby would try to undermine any deal between Pakistan and other arms selling countries, for which, Pakistan has to be vigilant. JF-17 Thunder is a good alternative of F-16. Pakistan should also consider this as an option.

Senior analyst Dr Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema said the US Congress was blocking funds without any reason. The Congress had asked Pakistan to fund the whole purchase of F-16 jet fighters on its own. “This is the violation of Pak-US agreement. United States has its own national interests with India as it is a big trade market and largest buyer of arms from it.”

Senior US-based analyst Dr Farhat Haq said it caused an embarrassment for Obama administration that Congress had pushed them back from their stance. “At the moment, Indian lobby is active in United States. India is taking the advantage of its trade relations with United States.”

Senior analyst Dr Amna Mehmood was of the view that Pakistan had many options, either it could purchase jets from open market of European countries or it could purchase from Russia. China and Russia could play a vital role to fill the gap of strategic balance. Security expert Dr AZ Hilali said F-16 deal was part of agreement between Pakistan and the US. Washington committed to support Pakistan in its fight against terrorism by providing all types of hardware assistance. However, may be on the instigation of neighbouring adversaries, US was backing out of its support for Pakistan in its just and global cause of fight against terrorism.