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US panel to examine supply of F-16s to Pakistan
Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington
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September 15, 2008 10:01 IST

In the backdrop of an upsurge in unilateral American strikes on militants near Pakistan's Afghan border, a US Congressional panel is set to examine the rationale of F-16 programme with Islamabad [Images] as part of its war against terror.

Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, has convened a hearing entitled 'Defeating Al Qaeda's [Images] Air Force: Pakistan's F-16 Programme in the Fight Against Terrorism' [Images].

Ackerman and many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill have for long questioned the rationale of giving the F-16s to Pakistan as a part of the war on terror.

The congressmen now want a comprehensive statement from senior officials about the complete scope of the F-16 programme with Pakistan that include the number of planes, updates made to existing planes, proposed armaments, schedule of delivery and source of payment.

Hearing by the committee is taking place at a time when Islamabad has widely claimed that F-16s are being used in the pursuit of militants and extremists in the Northern Areas, with media reports suggesting that Pakistan Air Force may have conducted recent sorties in the area just to prove a point.

The sub-committee is expected to review what counter-terrorism equipment or programmes were foregone as a result of the July 16 reprogramming request. Besides, the panel will also look at 'how the F-16 programme fits into the broader US strategy in the fight against terrorism as well as into the overall US relationship with Pakistan'.

"Because Congress has previously provided Pakistan with significant amounts of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for counter-terrorism and law enforcement activities against Al Qaeda and Taliban [Images], the subcommittee will seek testimony on how these planes contribute to Pakistan's efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism," the Panel Chair has said in an advisory.

The New York Democrat and his Panel will also quiz administration officials drawn from the Pentagon and the State department on how the use of additional FMF to pay for mid-life updates to Pakistan's existing F-16 fleet enhances those efforts, besides asking whether the subcommittee should expect further requests to use FMF provided to Islamabad for support of the F-16 programme.

Recently, Democratic nominee for the US Presidential election Barack Obama [Images] accused Pakistan of misusing the massive American aid to fight the war on terror, saying that Islamabad was using those funds to prepare a war against India.

The witnesses appearing on behalf of the administration are Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa, Director of the Defence Security Cooperation Agency Donald Camp and Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Frank Ruggiero among others.

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