14 Sep 2008, 1955 hrs IST, CHIDANAND RAJGHATTA,TNN
WASHINGTON: The United States is suddenly faced with the uncomfortable scenario of confronting the very same weapons and military hardware, including F-16 fighter jets, it has armed Pakistan with for decades.
The unsavoury prospect of having to take a crack at the its one-time ally has surfaced most starkly in the skies over the Afghan-Pakistan border this weekend after the Pakistan Air Force deployed its US-supplied F-16s to challenge the violation of its airspace by US drones, and in one case, an airborne assault that landed US inside Pakistani territory.
The turnaround of Pakistan from an ally to a potential enemy has alarmed lawmakers, some of whom are now questioning the continued supply of arms to Islamabad. On Tuesday, a Democrat-controlled House Foreign Relations panel has scheduled a hearing whose snarky title -- ''Defeating al-Qaida's Air Force: Pakistan's F-16 Program in the Fight Against Terrorism'' == betrays the unease over the Bush Administration's relentless arming of Pakistan. Al-Qaida has no known air force.
Some lawmakers and analysts have long questioned the need for Washington to arm Pakistan with sophisticated fighter jets to counter Al-Qaida's and Taliban's diffused militants, many of whom are in Pakistan's towns and cities and are patronised by Islamabad's intelligence agencies. ''The panel will look at how the F-16 program fits into the broader US strategy in the fight against terrorism as well as into the overall US relationship with Pakistan,'' a notification from the sub-committee read.
The House sub-committee is lead by Gary Ackerman, a known critic of the administration's relentless pandering of Pakistan with military supplies. He and other lawmakers have questioned the administration's recent decisions to provide funding for mid-life upgrades to F-16s, especially after government audits said Pakistan has been using US military aid to bulk up its forces against India rather than use it for counterterrorism.
In July, the Bush administration sought to shift $226.5 million in US counterterrorism aid for the F-16 upgrades. Ackerman said the subcommittee will seek witness testimony about the ''complete scope of the F-16 program with Pakistan including the number of planes, updates made to existing planes, proposed armaments, schedule of delivery and source of payment.''