U.S.-Pakistani Arms Pipeline Stays Open

Wade Boese

Deeming Pakistan a vital ally, the Bush administration has ignored U.S. lawmaker calls to halt arms transfers to the Pakistani government following the military regime’s November crackdown on political opponents, the court system, and the media.

On Nov. 3, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule to counter what he described as rising extremism. Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 military coup, was facing a legal challenge to his rule and growing public protests fueled in part by the October return of exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Although condemning Musharraf’s action, the Bush administration has not penalized Pakistan by suspending U.S. aid or arms exports. John Negroponte, deputy secretary of state, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Nov. 7 that the administration was reviewing U.S. aid, including military aid, but had found no statutory requirements mandating a freeze. He added, “[M]uch of our assistance…contributes directly to our national interests and to the counterterrorism mission.”

Since Musharraf aligned Islamabad more closely with Washington’s anti-terrorism agenda after the Sept. 11 attacks, approximately $10 billion in U.S. aid has flowed to Pakistan. In addition, the Bush administration waived some arms sales prohibitions on Pakistan.

The Congressional Research Service, which conducts studies for Congress, reported Nov. 8 that Pakistan last year signed $3.5 billion in U.S. arms contracts, an amount slightly shy of Pakistan’s $3.6 billion in total U.S. arms purchases from October 1949 through September 2001. (The collective amount has not been adjusted for inflation.) That 2006 sum included a contract for 18 new F-16C/D combat aircraft as well as upgrades for 26 older F-16 fighters that the United States is essentially donating to Pakistan. (See ACT, November 2006. )

Some U.S. legislators are backing nonbinding resolutions to restrict military sales and transfers to Pakistan unless Musharraf reverses course and allows “free and fair elections” in January.

Introduced Nov. 8, the Senate measure has seven co-sponsors, including three presidential candidates: Senators Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Representatives Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and William Delahunt (D-Mass.) introduced a similar resolution Nov. 14 in the lower chamber. It is unclear if or when either piece of legislation might be voted on.

Ackerman vehemently argued Nov. 7 against continuing arms transfers to Pakistan. Asserting that Musharraf had “told us to go take a hike,” Ackerman told Negroponte that the United States “should stop delivery of any further F-16s.” The president has the authority to stop any U.S. arms transfer abroad.

A spokesperson for the Pentagon’s office that manages U.S. government arms sales to foreign governments told Arms Control Today Nov. 14 that only four of the older F-16 jets have been delivered, while another 10 are awaiting proper classification for transfer. He described everything as “continuing as normal.” Laurie Quincy, a Lockheed Martin Corp. spokesperson, said in a Nov. 13 Arms Control Today interview that the company had not started production of the 18 new F-16 fighters, which are scheduled for delivery in 2010.

At the panel hearing, Negroponte implied the administration, under current circumstances, would not interfere with either process. He contended that the United States and Pakistan “cannot afford to have the on-again off-again interactions that characterized our relationship in the past.”

Negroponte was referring in part to a 1990 U.S. decision to cancel delivery of 28 F-16s to Pakistan due to its clandestine development of nuclear weapons. President Bill Clinton agreed eight years later to pay Pakistan $326.9 million and deliver another $140 million in goods to reimburse Pakistan for its advance payment on the nondelivered planes.