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'Pakistan negotiating F-16 deal with Belgium, Netherlands'

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  • 'Pakistan negotiating F-16 deal with Belgium, Netherlands'

    ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is currently negotiating with Belgium and Netherlands for purchase of used F-16 aircraft, 'The Nation' reported on Sunday .
    .
    The decision to approach the two European nations was taken after Pakistan put on hold the purchase deal with the United States in the aftermath of the October-8 devastating earthquake because of its enormous cost.

    As an alternative it was felt that the purchase of used sophisticated aircraft with the option to upgrade it would drastically cut costs while retaining much of its capabilities.

    The latest India-US civil nuclear technology accord and renewal offer of sale of F-16 and F-18 to India has given a new context to Pakistanís quest for the sophisticated conventional weapons capability. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Friday ruled out a similar nuclear technology deal with Pakistan, ostensibly because of non-proliferation concerns.

    Pakistan has argued that already a huge imbalance exists in conventional capabilities of the two countries and the nuclear deal would compel it to lean more heavily on strengthening nuclear deterrence as an equalizer.

    Negotiations

    Reliable sources said the negotiations with Belgium and Netherlands had reached a fairly advanced stage but recently ran into some snags. Both the countries showed signs of slowing down the progress for mysterious reasons.

    Pakistani officials discounted speculations that the damper originated from the United States, possibly from the manufacturers, Lockheed-Martin, who had contracted the sale of their end-of-the-line aircraft to Pakistan. India had objected to the sale offered in Larch last year but kept the opposition at
    low level.

    The issue was raised by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz at Pentagon meeting with US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld during his recent trip to the United States. Aziz sought American facilitation in clinching the deal with its NATO allies. President Musharraf is likely to ask the American President to expedite the matter.

    Informed sources say the latest thinking in Pakistani defence establishment favours acquisition of a mix of new and used but upgraded F-16 aircraft. Pakistanís performance in tackling infiltration of resurgent Taliban and remnants of Al-Qaeda along its border with Afghanistan and the apparent US reluctance to provide more sophisticated weapons to Pakistani forces operating in the area, has also been a major source of argument and friction, says the English daily of Pakistan.

    Perspective

    The matter reportedly came for discussion during Mr. Azizís US visit and has been given new twist by President Bushís pronouncements while embarking on his current South Asia trip and at his news conference in Kabul on March 1. He seemed concurring with the Afghan governmentís persistent accusations
    that 'Pakistan has to do more to block infiltration into Afghanistan'.

    Pakistani officials have been complaining that the US has not done much to provide enough of night-vision devices, advanced Cobra gunship and precision weapons to enhance the strike power of nearly 80,000 troops deployed to combat incursions.

    US diplomats claim that Pakistan is receiving a hefty amount every month (one of them put it at $86 million in a private interaction some time back), for the military operation in North and South Waziristan.

    These payments are not reflected in budgetary allocations, though the Pakistani officials confirmed them with slight disagreement over figures.

    This state of affairs, say informed sources, is one restraining factor in level of operations conducted by Pakistani troops which have suffered unprecedented casualties ever since the operation was launched more than a couple of years ago.

    As such, on occasions, the Pakistani authorities pass on the intelligence to US counterparts across the border about presence of suspect infiltrators but are reluctant to undertake the operations themselves.ē
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