Blocking sale of F-16 has put Pak-US relations under stress: Sartaj Aziz

Pakistan’s relation with the US is under stress due to a decision by the Congress to block the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to the country, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has said. Briefing the Senate, Aziz candidly admitted that Pakistan-US ties were under stress for the past three months over the F-16 issue but the two were working to resolve it.

“In the past three months, however, the upward trajectory in relations has witnessed a downward slide, as reflected in a decision of the US Congress to block partial funding for eight F-16 aircraft,” Aziz said on Thursday during a debate on the US decision to withdraw a proposed subsidy on the sale of F-16s.

Aziz also mentioned the ‘India factor’ for at least three times during his speech.

“The Indian lobby has been making untiring efforts to reverse the US decision, and a strong attempt, through Senator Rand Paul’s resolution, to block the sale itself.”

But “we have forcefully rejected Indian objections to the sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan and drawn attention to the wide ranging defence deals concluded between India and the US during US Defence Secretary’s recent visit to India. We have also emphasised the importance of maintaining strategic stability in South Asia,” the adviser said.

At another point during his speech, Aziz spoke about the Indian lobby using the Pathankot attack against Pakistan in the US.

“The Indian lobby in the US has also been highly pro-active in adding fuel to the fire, specially after the Pathankot incident on January 1, 2016,” he said.

Aziz said that US-Pakistan ties had come to a standstill in 2011 because of unfortunate incidents like the WikiLeaks revelations, Raymond Davis and Abbottabad operation. But Since 2013, the top diplomat said, Pakistan’s relations with the US had witnessed an “upward trajectory.”

He said Pakistan was working on multiple levels to improve ties and sort out differences on various issues. He mentioned about the differences between the US and Pakistan over the handling of the issue of Dr Shakil Afridi, arrested for allegedly helping CIA track down Osama bin Laden, and the fight against Haqqani network and the nuclear issue. He also briefly mentioned Pakistan’s efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and said a key meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group involving Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US would be held in Islamabad on May 18 and 19.

Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, who had made a strong observation against the US on Wednesday declaring it a “callous state,” referred the F-16 issue to the House committees on defence and foreign affairs with a directive to submit a report on the progress on the issue in every session.

Rabbani told members that on the request of the foreign ministry he had sent a letter to his US counterpart in March inviting him to visit Pakistan, but said now he would revisit his decision and only pursue the invitation in the light of the committees’ report on the matter.

Earlier, taking part in the debate, a number of senators criticised Pakistani government’s foreign policy with a particular reference to the ties with the US.

Opposition members have boycotted proceedings since Monday over Pime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s absence in the Senate. The Senators termed the US a friend which could not be trusted anymore. They also criticised the US for expanding its ties with India, ignoring the fact that Pakistan had been its frontline partner in the war on terror.

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