WASHINGTON - In a sharp response to a key Republican lawmaker's move to block the sale of eight F-16 jets to Pakistan, a US State Department spokesman said American security assistance to Islamabad contributes to the South Asian country's counterterrorism and counter-insurgency operations. “We believe US security assistance to Pakistan actually contributes to their counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations,” Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at the daily press briefing on Thursday.
“These operations reduce the ability of militants to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven to carry out terrorist attacks, and as a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan. So we believe these operations are in the interests of both Pakistan and the US and in the interests of the region more broadly,” he added.
Toner was responding to a question about a letter Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent to Secretary of State John Kerry saying that he would block the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, alleging that organisations like the Haqqani militants, with support from elements within the government, were using safe havens inside Pakistan for attacks against US-trained Afghan security forces.
“No country in the region has been more touched by terrorism than Pakistan," Toner said. "We believe it is in our vital national security interest to support Pakistan in carrying out its efforts to destroy these terrorist networks.
“We believe it is an important partner in the region in achieving a stable and secure Afghanistan. So and in that regard we would welcome Pakistan’s efforts to support Afghan-led reconciliation talks, for example, they hosted the Heart of Asia ministerial recently and two of the first three meetings of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group,” he added. Toner said Pakistan has carried out multiple operations against some of these terrorist networks that are operating on their soil.
“We believe that eliminating those networks is in our national security interest, as well as the security interests of the region,” he said while refusing to comment on the proposed sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. “We do not comment on proposed arms sales or transfers, or even our preliminary consultations with the Capitol Hill prior to any formal congressional notification. But we are committed to working with Congress to deliver security assistance to our partners and our allies that we believe furthers US foreign policy interests by building the capacity to meet shared security challenges,” Toner added.
Reacting to Senator Corker's move, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, Nadeem Hotiana, said Pakistan has been engaged in a sustained military campaign against terrorism and called claims that the country was contributing to the Haqqani network’s destabilising role in Afghanistan "unfortunate".
“F-16s have proven to be the most potent vehicle for conducting precision strikes against terrorists,” Hotiana said.
“We understand that the deal has not been blocked but there are reservations regarding the financial aspect. We intend to continue engaging constructively with the US side to address specific concerns,” he added.