Richard Holbrooke, US President Barack Obama's point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told Congress on Tuesday that the American F-16 fighter aircraft provided to Pakistan -- which India has argued has always been used against it -- will be used to fight the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other extremist groups, and that US pilots have told him that Islamabad has already used them in some sorties against these groups.
The top diplomat said, "I am told by F-16 pilots that an F-16 with modern avionics can be used as a counterinsurgency tool, but quote honestly, it requires very sophisticated training."
Holbrooke said that Pakistan "did use the aging F-16s in their battles in Bajaur Valley and in the Swat. But they can only be used in daylight and with good visibility -- they can't be used at night."
With regard to the sale of the new 18 F-16's that Pakistan has requested -- the C/D block 50/52s combat aircraft, he said, "We have not come to a final decision on how to proceed with this, and I know your body is looking at it very carefully," Holbrooke told Congressman Gary Ackerman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia.
"Right now, we have approved the mid-life upgrades so they will be able to convert planes for counter-insurgency use," he added.
Asked by Ackerman, what he could tell Congress in open session "about the ISI and their double-game strategy as some people have called it, in cooperating with terrorist elements," Holbrooke told Ackerman, "Ever since I began working on this difficult issue, I've been well aware of the allegations to which you refer, and we have looked into them very carefully in the first 100 days of this Administration."
He explained that "I have had lengthy talks with the director of the ISI, General Pasha, who is in Washington today and who I hope will get a chance to meet with some of you."
"General Pasha wishes to state and would tell you if he were here that ISI does not do these things anymore. But he does not deny nor does anyone else that in the old days, ISI and the American intelligence services worked together to set up some of the organizations which have now turned against the United States," Holbrooke said.
"And there may be some serious legacy issues."
He added that "it concerns me greatly and we need to put the most possible pressure on our friends in Pakistan to join us in the fight against the Taliban and its allies."
Holbrooke reiterated as he had several times during the hearing that "we cannot succeed in Afghanistan without Pakistan's support and involvement, and that means working with the Army and the intelligence services in that regard."
When Ackerman asked him how much pressure had been exerted on Pakistan to make AQ Khan, the nuclear proliferator par excellence and the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, available to the US for interrogation, the diplomat blamed the previous Bush Administration for not pressuring Pakistan to do so, and said the Obama Administration had more important things to deal with than A Q Khan.
Holbrooke said, "I find it hard to understand and I said publicly as a private citizen, I found it inexplicable that A Q Khan was not immediately made available to the United States. We had no access. And, I just don't understand it, quite frankly, given the immense amount of damage he did."
He said that "I have raised it with the Pakistani government, (and) their response is, this happened under the previous government."
Asked by Ackerman if it's a good idea to make the sale of F-16s to Pakistan conditional on Islamabad making A Q Khan available for questioning by the US and to find out to what extent he might have given technology or materiel to terrorist organisations, Holbrooke argued against such a move.
"I do not think that linkage will help either half of the equation," he said. "But, I certainly share your concerns. I raised it on my first trip there. I've raised it publicly. I will continue to raise it. But, I think that the linkage would work against both issues, but I understand the importance of it. I share your view."