Amid a contentious election season and a heated debate over replacing the recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Republicans and Democrats have found a bipartisan issue upon which they can agree. Leading Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate, most notably, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerState spokesman: Why nominate people for jobs that may be eliminated? The Hill's 12:30 Report Senate Foreign Relations chair: Erdogan referendum win 'not something to applaud' MORE (R-Tenn.) and House Armed Services Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee Member Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardEx-officials: Tightened ‘Buy American’ rules could hurt Pentagon tech buying Gabbard: I'm 'doing my homework' on impeachment process As Gabbard takes a stand on Syria, Dems turn on one of their own MORE (D-Hawaii), have voiced strong opposition to the Obama administration’s shocking decision to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration provided notification of its intent to sell eight F-16 aircraft capable of carrying nuclear warheads, along with military equipment and training, to Pakistan as an $699 million “reward” for its supposed counter-terrorism efforts.
In fact, there is no conceivable number of F-16s or amount of U.S. military aid that will empower Pakistan to wage an effective anti-terror campaign, unless and until its military leadership changes its strategic calculus.
As Husain Haqqani, director of South & Central Asia at the Hudson Institute and former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S, provided in written testimony for a Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing last December, “Pakistan’s failure to tackle its jihadist challenge is not the result of a lack of arms but reflects an absence of will.”
Haqqani further stated that Pakistan’s primary interest in stockpiling these fighter jets would be to further its goals of achieving military parity with India, not in rooting out militants. He cautioned Congress that providing F-16s to Pakistan would only “fuel conflict in South Asia without fulfilling the objective of helping the country fight Islamist extremists...”
Indeed, Pakistan’s military has demonstrated an historic propensity to utilize American military equipment against India, dating back to the 1950s and supported the wholesale slaughter and genocide of ethnic Bengalis, primarily Hindus, during Bangladesh’s struggle for independence in 1971.
Beyond the use of American military aid to perpetuate competition with India and foment conflict in the region, Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts have been selective at best. Pakistan continues to protect and provide logistical support to the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban, and other Islamist terrorist groups that have killed thousands of U.S. soldiers and undermined efforts to secure peace and stability in Afghanistan. Moreover, as revealed by the recent attack on a major Indian Air Force base in the border town of Pathankot by the Pakistani terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is a proxy of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, the Islamic Republic’s support for anti-India terror groups continues unabated.
And despite public pronouncements to the contrary, Pakistan’s military establishment has shown no inclination that it intends to change this long held policy of utilizing terror groups as strategic regional assets.
It is this duplicitous behavior that has drawn the ire of the likes of Corker, Gabbard, and others who are now trying to block the F-16 transfer in response to the Obama administration’s notification of sale.
These Congressional leaders have joined the growing chorus of religious freedom advocates and area experts, who have become increasingly dismayed with our excessively military centric relationship with Pakistan, at the expense of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. A coalition of 28 non-governmental organizations, religious leaders, and human rights advocates, led by the Hindu American Foundation, wrote to Obama ahead of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington last October, urging him to address religious freedom concerns in Pakistan. The letter noted in part:
Religious minorities in Pakistan, including Hindus, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and Shia Muslims, as well as atheists, face systematic persecution and violence, and their religious freedom is severely restricted by the government through discriminatory laws and inequitable constitutional provisions. Women of minority faiths, in particular, comprise the most vulnerable segment of Pakistani society, and their fundamental rights are violated with impunity. Moderate Sunni Muslims are also publicly targeted and harassed by authorities for espousing pluralistic views. The government of Pakistan has further failed to prosecute radical militant organizations and their leaders for inciting large-scale anti-minority violence, and instead has allowed such groups to operate freely throughout the country.
Similarly, a separate independent letter from 20 scholars and policy experts asked the Obama administration “to formulate a systematic response that encourages legal reform, improves police capabilities and law enforcement, and reinforces religious tolerance and interfaith understanding,” in order to ensure that Pakistan is a peaceful and stable partner for the U.S.
While U.S. - Pakistan relations are multifaceted and fraught with complexities, our current policy of appeasement has not only proven futile, but counterproductive, as extremism and terrorism in the region have only grown exponentially and destabilized the region.
The only way forward is to shift our policy priorities towards supporting human rights, religious freedom, democratization, and the rule of law in Pakistan.
Continuing to reward Pakistan’s bad behavior with seemingly endless streams of military aid, including this latest batch of F-16s, is certainly not the answer.
Kalra is the senior director and Human Rights fellow at the Hindu American Foundation.