The Senate has killed a measure to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan as opponents of the $700 million deal insisted no U.S. tax dollars should be used to subsidize the transaction unless Islamabad becomes a more trusted ally.
Senators voted 71-24 on Thursday to reject a resolution sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a vocal critic of American foreign aid to Pakistan and other countries. Paul invoked the decades-old Arms Export Control Act in an attempt to derail the sale of the eight F-16 fighter jets, to be built by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, to a country Paul called a “frenemy” of the United States.
“Though the government of Pakistan has been considered America’s ally in the fight on terrorism, Pakistan’s behavior would suggest otherwise,” Paul said. “While we give them billions of dollars in aid, we are simultaneously aware of their intelligence and military apparatus assisting the Afghan Taliban.”
That Paul secured support from nearly a quarter of the Senate underscores how fractured the relationship between the two countries has become. Washington has openly accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the InterServices Intelligence, of supporting the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction that is also a U.S.-declared terrorist group. The ISI has denied the allegations.
President Barack Obama’s State Department last month approved the F-16 sale to Pakistan, yet several Democrats, including Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, backed Paul’s disapproval resolution.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, urged his colleagues to reject Paul’s measure and allow the sale to proceed. Corker acknowledged that Pakistan has been “duplicitous” with the United States, but said rejecting the sale would have publicly embarrassed Islamabad and led Pakistan to buy fighters from Russia or France.
The sale offers a chance to extend production of the F-16 at Lockheed’s west Fort Worth manufacturing complex, which is now focused on producing the newer F-35 stealth fighter.
Over 40 years, Lockheed has delivered more than 4,500 F-16 jets to customers in more than 24 countries. But the program has been winding down for several years, and currently is building just one plane a month for Iraq.
Corker said that he and Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, have agreed to bar the use of any U.S. financial support for the deal until “there are behavior changes that take place in Pakistan.”
The sale also gives the U.S. leverage over the long haul with Islamabad, Corker said. The F-16 deal comes with 30 years of maintenance, which Corker said could be withdrawn at any time. That would leave Pakistan without the parts and expertise to keep the high-tech aircraft in the air.
“Publicly embarrassing them and sending them to Russia or to France to buy fighter jets ends that leverage,” Corker said.
This article includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.