Indian-Americans rally against F-16 sale to Pakistan
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: The Indian-American community has begun to lobby hard with Congress and the Bush administration following reports that Pakistan may be getting the F-16 aircraft it has been seeking for so long.
One Indian source with access to the Indian diplomatic presence in this country told this correspondent that the decision to give F-16s to Pakistan – the reported number is 25 – had already been taken and would be announced before long. There is no confirmation of this from Pakistani diplomatic sources which have not been known to be too forthcoming with much information insofar as the Pakistani press based in the capital is concerned. However, the new ambassador Jehangir Karamat has promised to be more forthcoming, but it remains to be seen if his words will match his actions.
A report in the New York-based publication India Abroad says that two Indian-American community stalwarts Dr Krishna Reddy and Dr Sudhir Parikh, who co-chair the Indian Congressional Caucus have begun circulating a “dear colleague” letter through their favourite congressmen on Capitol Hill. Once enough signatures are found, it will be sent to President Bush. Reports say that the F-16s to Pakistan would be over and above the $1.3 billion that Pakistan is to receive by way of the arms it needs. Reports that much of that money will be spent on acquiring a large number of Orion-PC3 surveillance aircraft have not been denied, nor the view that Pakistan’s defence needs do not justify more than two or three of this aircraft. The equipment to be sent to Pakistan is also said to include TWO abti-tank missiles and Phalanx anti-aircraft guns.
The Indian-inspired letter has been co-signed by Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York and Rep. Ileana Ross-Lehtinen of Florida. They hope to have it signed by about 100 of their colleagues. The text says, “We firmly believe that such a sale would undermine our long-term strategic interests in South Asia and urge you not to grant a licence for such a sale.”
After detailing all the assistance and concessions given to Pakistan after 9/11, the two legislators say, “We view economic assistance as necessary to reform Pakistan’s schools, provide maternal and child healthcare programmes, support economic restructuring and otherwise engage in the types of programmes that will stop Pakistan from being a breeding ground for terrorists. Military assistance, however, is another matter.
While early military assistance packages for Pakistan were justified as being in support of Pakistan’s fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, more recent arms sales have moved further and further away from the requirements of the war on terror.”
Ackerman and Lehtinen write, “The sale of F-16s, a platform with an inherent capability to deliver nuclear weapons, would send a similar message in even stronger and more ominous terms.” They go on to argue that such a sale would “send a clear message to the Government of India that we have made our strategic choice in South Asia, and that choice is Pakistan.”
Congressman Frank Pallone, another known supporter of Indian causes, has said that while it is true that the sale of the F-16s has not been formally announced, “we know that the negotiations are taking place. The bottom line is that the F-16s really are more likely to be used possibly in a war against India than they are in any war against terrorism.” He also believes that the sale will escalate an arms race in South Asia.