Senate and House committees voted yesterday to uphold the Reagan administration's sale of F16 warplanes to Pakistan, virtually dooming the drive by some lawmakers to block the $1.1 billion transaction.
A 10-to-7 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a 10-to-5 vote by two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees voting together rejected "resolutions of disapproval" that would stop the sale if adopted by both houses of Congress. The 30-day period in which such action could be taken ends Sunday.
Despite the lopsided votes, the debates in both committees included expressions of concern about the soaring sales of sophisticated weaponry worldwide.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who opposes the sale to Pakistan, said the United States is acquiring the reputation of "a discount house for arms" under a policy of selling weapons to all comers, which he termed "a supply-side foreign policy."
Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) said "the traffic in arms around the world has reached a volume that is truly frightening," threatening the economies of poorer nations as well as peace. He voted to support the sale nonetheless because of foreign policy considerations.
Undersecretary of State James L. Buckley, in testimony prepared for the House subcommittees, said rejection of the plane sale would "effectively scuttle" the drive to improve U.S. relations with Pakistan in the light of the Soviet threat from neighboring Afghanistan.
Regarding Pakistan's other neighbor, India, Buckley said the provision of the 40 F16s over the next four years "will not significantly alter the 4- or 5-to-1 advantage in modern aircraft" that India has over Pakistan. However, a letter from the Indian Embassy, read into the Senate hearing, maintained that the F16s will represent "a new generation of technology in the area."
Despite some early indications of swelling controversy, the proposed sales to Pakistan did not generate the same degree of opposition as the hard-fought sale of advanced radar planes to Saudi Arabia. For one thing, Israel was not involved to the same extent in the Pakistan case. Another factor, according to Buckley, was "a certain sense of exhaustion" on Capitol Hill after the Saudi vote.
Among the major concerns about the Pakistan sales was fear that Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq would take it as a sign of U.S. acquiesence in the drive to produce a Pakistani atomic bomb.
Buckley testified that the United States will continue its worldwide effort to impede Pakistan's nuclear program by preventing the export of equipment and technology from nuclear-supplier countries.
While opposing a Senate measure that would cut off all aid if Pakistan explodes a nuclear device, Buckley said such a blast "would alter the fundamental premises" of the U.S.-Pakistani security relationship. "It is difficult to see how the United States could go forward with an assistance program for Pakistan under such circumstances," he said.
A senior State Department official, who declined to be quoted by name, told reporters that it will be more than a year, "into 1983," before Pakistan is able to acquire enough nuclear material to make an explosion.