Meanwhile, a new bill going through the US Congress attempts to block $450 million in aid to Pakistan for its failure to take action against the Haqqani Network
Washington: The US government’s refusal to subsidize the F-16s seems to have rattled Pakistan to distraction. Islamabad’s reaction has gone from plain shock to angry bluster to rampant confusion to empty threats and back to blaming the “Indian lobby.”
Sartaj Aziz, adviser on foreign affairs, began last month by threatening that Pakistan would buy its fighter jets elsewhere and got the message back from Washington – be my guest.
This week Aziz backtracked and told the Pakistani senate that the government was pursuing the F-16 issue with the US at various levels. He then blamed the “untiring efforts” of the Indian lobby against the sale.
Pakistan’s army, which swears that only F-16s can kill terrorists well enough, is furiously writing letters to the Pentagon asking for the planes. But the mood in Washington was summed up by an editorial in The New York Times on May 12: “Time to Put the Squeeze on Pakistan.”
Calling Pakistan a “duplicitous and dangerous partner,” it said the F-16s shouldn’t be subsidised with American taxpayer money because Pakistan’s “double game” had “grown worse.”
The US Congress blocked funds from Foreign Military Financing or the FMF programme to underwrite the eight F-16s, saying Islamabad must pay the full price of $700 million if it wants the jets. Meanwhile, a new bill going through the US Congress attempts to block $450 million in aid to Pakistan for its failure to take action against the Haqqani Network.
The writing on the wall is clear that “the American gravy train might stop,” said an observer of Pakistan affairs. Hence the desperation.
As the Pakistani establishment goes through the various stages of “grief” and finally comes to “acceptance,” it is trying desperate measures to influence the US Congress, some of which have backfired.
Last week, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Jalil Abbas Jilani, reportedly got into hot water when he openly urged a few wealthy Pakistani-American doctors to weigh in on the F-16s issue. But his lobbying greatly upset some members who objected to being treated as “Pakistan’s lackeys” in America.
The episode occurred in a private meeting during the spring convention of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America or APPNA in Miami. Jilalni was the keynote speaker at the gathering spread over two days.
Well-informed sources said Jilani openly asked APPNA council members to “reach out” to members of Congress and “make a difference.” He reportedly referred to the fact that since some of the doctors were personal physicians to senators and Congressmen, they had the right ear in which to whisper.
“It was outrageous. It was very, very unusual. He was asking us to do another government’s bidding,” said one member who was present. “It showed Pakistan’s desperation.”
The situation heated up, leading to an embarrassing showdown where a member raised the issue of Pakistan harboring the Taliban and committing atrocities in Balochistan. It must be noted that many Pakistani Americans, while fond of their homeland, are critical of the Pakistan army, the ISI, their dominance on national life and the treatment of minorities.
Jilani’s remarks on F-16s were ultimately expunged to clean the official record but not before a vote.
Dr. Nasar Qureshi, the president of APPNA, said over the phone that the association does not support any political issues. “The ambassador also clarified he did not seek support.” APPNA, the premier organization of Pakistani American physicians, has a membership of around 3,000 doctors, many of whom are important in their towns and cities.
Pakistan Embassy spokesman, Nadeem Hotiana, told The Wire the ambassador briefed council members about “positive developments in Pakistan-US relations and apprised them about the efforts being made by Pakistan, supported by the US administration for the acquisition of F-16s.” Since the briefing was off the record, it was not part of the official record of the meeting.
While the Pakistani establishment tries to salvage the F-16 situation, it is increasingly apparent that American patience with Pakistan has worn thin — a process that has taken 15 years and $33 billion in US aid.