ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khawaja Asif during a National Assembly briefing on Tuesday said that a deal with the United States for the procurement of eight F-16 fighter jets is facing delays due to “some lobbyists working against us there”.
He said an Indian lobby, as well as Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US are “working against us” and had approached the US House of Representatives to lobby against the sale.
“Some lobbyists there are working against us. They have approached the House of Representatives. The Indian lobby is there too and the former envoy to the US from the PPP government is also working against us, saying that these F-16s should not be given to us.”
Asif said that despite lobbies efforts, “as of today, the US is committed to providing us eight F-16 fighter jets”, adding that the jets which were instrumental during Operation Zarb-i-Azb were to be used for anti-terrorist activities alongside the JF-17 Thunder.
The jets have a two-year lead time, he said, which means “if we start a contract today, they will give it in two years”.
‘No military alliance per se’
Talking about Pakistan’s participation in the 34-state Islamic military coalition formed by Saudi Arabia to combat terrorism the defence minister said, “We don’t have a military alliance with Saudi per se.”
He added that the scope and participation of members in the 34-country coalition, although still undetermined, is being evolved.
The 34-state military coalition to combat terrorism was announced by the kingdom in December. Member countries, including Pakistan, seemed surprised at their inclusion in the alliance as they had not been consulted before being named as members of the coalition.
Despite confirmation by the government of participation in the alliance, the scope of Pakistan’s participation in coalition has remained ambiguous since the initial announcement was made.
“Diplomatic, media and counter-narrative aspects are being discussed right now,” Asif told the House. “We discussed all things with them, but the matter is still evolving.”
“Consultations are ongoing,” the defence minister said, cautioning it would be premature to form an opinion on the coalition at this point. He assured lawmakers they would be taken into confidence when there is a development.
On mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the face of escalating tensions in the Middle East, he said the meeting between Islamabad and Riyadh was “encouraging”.
“The response was very good and with that spirit they are going to Iran,” he said.
‘Most defence cooperation with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’
The defence minister also briefed the House on Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia a day after the prime minister and Chief of Army Staff paid a visit to the kingdom to reportedly discuss the 34-country military coalition instead of touching on Saudi-Iran mediation as officials had earlier claimed they would.
“Compared to all the countries in the world, we have the most defence cooperation with Saudi Arabia. On average, we have five exercises a year with them,” Asif said.
He listed five different agreements for defence cooperation with the kingdom:
1980 and 1982: Deals with deportationists for training
2005: Defence cooperation training, defence production, medical training, supply of weapons and defence equipment
2007: Defence training and counter-terrorism training
2012: National Defence University and Naif University agreement for training
He said 1,125 officers and other ranking paresonnel are in Saudi for various purposes, and that this number is increasing. “Their capacity and role over there is training and instruction… Cooperation between Saudi and Pakistan in the Ministry of Defence Production is being multiplied.”