- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 20, 2004

India is concerned about reports of a renewed Pakistani effort to buy F-16 fighter jets from the United States, saying the advanced aircraft could spark an arms race in South Asia even though Washington maintains that no such sales are being contemplated.

“We are against introducing such advanced weaponry into South Asia,” an Indian government official said Tuesday on the condition of anonymity. “They are not useful in the war on terror, and experience has shown that they could be used against India. … They could spark a buildup or a weapons race in the region.”

In September, the Pakistani press carried a statement by a Pakistani defense official saying the United States had agreed to consider selling the nation F-16s fighter jets.

Last week, Rear Adm. Craig McDonald, head of the office of the U.S. defense representative in Pakistan, was quoted in press reports as telling a Pentagon-organized conference on security cooperation that the Bush administration would go before Congress early next year to seek authorization for the sale.

“It’s a very long, involved process that will be taken up with our Congress once they come back after the first of the year,” he was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Participants in a six-day U.S.-India forum sponsored by the Aspen Institute and the Confederation of Indian Industry that ended Tuesday said they told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that such a sale, while manageable for the Indian military, would be taken badly by the Indian public.

Mr. Rumsfeld did not comment on the prospects of the sale of the F-16s at the meeting Monday, the participants said. But a retired senior Indian military officer said he understood the plan called for an initial sale of 18 planes, with another 62 aircraft to be sold later.

The State Department, however, bluntly refuted the idea on Tuesday.

“There has been absolutely no decision taken anywhere, at any level of the U.S. government, on the sale of F-16s to Pakistan,” a department official said on the condition of anonymity.

The official said that the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, along with dozens of other issues relating to U.S.-Pakistan relations, had been on the table for months, but nothing had changed.

“Everyone wants to know if the ball has moved. The ball has not moved,” the official said.

Officials at the Pakistani Embassy did not return repeated calls for comment.

Washington sold 40 F-16s to Pakistan from 1983 through 1987, during the period Pakistan supported the United States in its efforts to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. But in 1990, Congress passed legislation halting delivery of the jets for fear that Pakistan had built a nuclear bomb.

U.S. concerns over a Pakistani nuclear device proved correct in May 1998 when Pakistan carried out nuclear weapons tests in response to tests by India.

However, since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Pakistan has re-emerged as a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

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