It is the faulty policy of continuous U.S. support to Pakistan’s military generals that has turned South Asia into a nuclear flashpoint, former U.S. Senator Larry Pressler has said. Mr. Pressler, known for the legislation that forced President George H.W. Bush to suspend aid to Pakistan in 1990, said the U.S. must designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. The Pressler amendment required the President to certify annually that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device.
Mr. Pressler spoke to The Hindu in an interview, coinciding with the launch of his book Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent , by Penguin Random House. The former Senator said the Pressler amendment was diluted and finally scrapped, as the arms manufacturing lobby and the U.S. Defence Department wanted supplies to continue. Holding the Pentagon responsible for the nuclear situation in South Asia, Mr. Pressler said: “I don’t think either Pakistan or India would have gone ahead with nuclear weapons if we were sincere about non-proliferation.”
Mr. Pressler said the U.S. political and administrative system is in the grip of the ‘military industrial complex’. He terms it the ‘octopus’ with its tentacles all over. “Pentagon is the most powerful part of the U.S. government. It is not only the Pentagon, but it is the arms construction business, law firms... it permeates all over. Secretary of Defense is not only a person, he is a system. When he goes to the Hill, he gives in to pressure from members of Congress. For example, Alan Cranston, a liberal from California, was a great champion of B-1 bombers, which I don’t think he ever believed in. That was about jobs in Los Angeles.”
He added: “This is not all bad. This is almost like a public works programme. Some people have said, our economy needs large pubic works programme and building arms is one such. It is also about national security. Lots of citizens support this, because of security concerns. ”
Mr. Pressler said American foreign policy has been a continuous warfare for several decades now. “The Pentagon and their allies are for arming everybody. I can’t say the Pentagon gave Pakistan the nuclear weapons directly, but they could have stopped it easily,” he said, adding that American generals preferred to deal with dictatorships rather than a democracy like India.
The former Republican senator who endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election is of the opinion that President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi could make good partners, but pointed out that “India has fallen into the same trap” of endless arms purchase from the U.S. “I am very saddened that a great part of the so-called great new relationship is military sales relationship. President Trump has spoken about all these American jobs because of these arms going to India...” He said India-U.S. ties have a bright future “but we (the U.S.) have to recognise that India is our friend, India is our soulmate.”
“We tear India down when our generals fly down there and encourage the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service). We need to stop doing that. We need to create a super India-U.S. alliance, one that is based on trade and development, and not based on arms trade,” he said.
Asked about his observation in the book that Mr. Modi has learnt to deal with the American system, Mr. Pressler said: “I am very hopeful about Modi. He seems to be much more flexible than I had expected. Modi is a phenomena to me, in the sense that... he was barred from entry to the U.S. — unfairly — when he was chief minister. There is a possibility that Trump is not hidebound by any previous thoughts. He could be the man who could change things. I am hopeful,” he said. According to Mr. Pressler, the appointment of Lisa Curtis as Senior Director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council by Mr. Trump is indicative of fresh thinking. “She has got this thing... terrorism and South Asia figured out.”