Washington: Pakistan today said the proposed US sale of F-16 fighter jets to the country would strengthen its ability to carry out counter-terrorism operations and promote regional stability. "We appreciate the public assessment of the US leadership in response to Congressional inquiries that Pakistan has used the F-16s effectively against the terrorists in the region," Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Foreign Affairs Advisor, said in his address to the opening session of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which he co-chaired with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
"The prospective sale of F-16s will strengthen Pakistan's capabilities to successfully continue these vital operations for our mutual benefit and stability in the region," Aziz said as he praised Kerry's recent defence of sale of F-16, which is being vehemently opposed in the US Congress.
"We are grateful to you Secretary Kerry for your recent positive testimony on the Hill," Aziz said. Last week, testifying before a Congressional committee, Kerry strongly defended the decision and argued these fighter jets are a critical part of the Pakistan's fight against terrorists.
Citing the example of the US and Russia which are working to further reduce their nuclear arsenal, Kerry asked Pakistan to understand this reality and review its policy in this regard. "So we (US and Russia) are moving in the other direction," Kerry said.
"I think, it is important for Pakistan to really process that reality and put that front and center in its policy," he said in an apparent reference to the reports that Pakistan has the fastest growing stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. Kerry's remarks come ahead of the next month's Nuclear Security Summit that would be attended by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
"We look forward to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's participation in the nuclear security summit next month," Kerry said, adding "non-proliferation" and "nuclear safety" is obvious concern to both the countries. "I expect that we continue to discuss the obligation of being a responsible State with nuclear weapons in the coming year," he said.
"As you know United States of America once had 50,000 (nuclear) warheads pointing at another country/entity the Soviet Union. Soviet Union had 50,000 pointing at us. It took two (Mikhail) Garbachev and (Ronald) Reagan to decide that this did not make sense," Kerry said.
"We have moved in a completely opposite direction. And today, Russia and the United States are operating under a treaty that has about 1500 or so nuclear warheads and we are seeking to reduce that," said the top American diplomat. On the other hand, Aziz sought nuclear mainstreaming of Pakistan.
"Our engagement on non-proliferation and strategic stability will continue and Pakistan hopes to see greater US understanding of Pakistan's security concerns and its desire to contribute actively as a mainstream nuclear power," he said.
(Reopens FES 144) Ruing about the widespread and strong anti-Pakistan sentiment prevailing at the Capitol Hill, Aziz told Obama administration that it needs to do a better job on highlighting the positive aspects of US-Pak relationship to the Congress. Such an observation from Aziz comes amidst massive opposition that the Obama Administration has been facing in the Congress on the its decision to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.
"Regrettably, there is tendency to blame Pakistan in somewhat simplistic fashion for most of the difficulties and challenges that engage Afghanistan. We are blamed to be pursuing a duplicitous policy," Aziz said.
Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was in Afghanistan a few months ago, had said he "witnessed that continued duplicity on Pakistan's part, outright blatant duplicity, where they continue to support" the Taliban, the Haqqani network and give safe haven to al-Qaida.
"This narrative revives the unpleasant memory of the past when our relations had dipped to perhaps its lowest levels in recent years. Nothing can be further from the truth than to hold Pakistan responsible for the Afghan problems. Who would like to set one's own neighbour on fire with the hope to save one's backyard?" Aziz questioned.
"Pakistan has suffered the most due to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Actions taken by Pakistan against terrorist group of all shades and colours in Afghanistan have been unprecedented. At this critical juncture, we have to avoid blame game, admit mistakes committed by all, and closely cooperate and coordinate our respective policies," Aziz asserted. Kerry in his remarks said this relationship is based on mutual respect and mutual interest. "Cooperation along Pakistan's borders is absolutely essential.
We recognise the extraordinary and real sacrifices that Pakistan's military, especially in Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the ongoing missions in North Waziristan, and the United States has pledged USD 250 million to help rebuild the communities of persons who have been displaced by the fighting in these operations," he said. "We'll also continue to coordinate with Pakistan on the overall counter-terrorist strategy, and we recognise that every country can do more to intensify to destroy and defeat violent radical extremists," he added.