Larry Pressler talks about India policy in the corridors of Washington

In his new book, Neighbours in Arms, ex-Senator Larry Pressler’s references older policies and they unnervingly reflect the ground realities in Capitol Hill today too

Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Zafar Agha

Larry Pressler is a familiar name in Indian foreign policy establishment. He has been rather an India man at Capitol Hill, Washington DC, when he was senator at the American Congress. Pressler amendment during HW Washington presidency in early 1990s acted as a watchdog against Pakistan nuclear programme.

But American policy during the 1990s and even earlier was highly tilted towards Pakistan. Americans treated India as a Soviet proxy all through the cold war period. Non-alignment was considered a Soviet conspiracy to keep the third world block away from the Western block. Naturally, India was highly suspect in all tiers of American policy makers while Pakistan virtually acted. an American client-state.

Larry Pressler was one of the few buffers for India at Capitol Hill in such hostile environment. He was one of the very few policy wonks who tried to persuade American policy makers that India is a better bet for Americans rather than Pakistan. So, he was an Indian friend without being a lobbyist.

Pressler has now come out with a book titled ‘Neighbours In Arms’ which thoroughly reveals what went on behind the scenes when Pressler amendment was in force. This amendment made it incumbent on the American president to certify that Pakistan is not going the nuclear path. At one point of time when Bush the senior failed to certify it, Pakistan F 16 deal and other military aid were stopped only because of Pressler amendment.

The author in this fine book not just goes back and reveals what went on within American policy system to circumvent Pressler amendment. But the book gives an interesting insight into functioning of various tiers of American policy formation institutions like State Department, Pentagon, Congress, lobbyists and finally the office of president. Pressler calls these Washington power circles “Octopus” in his book under review.

The book not just makes a interesting reading in understanding the America-Pakistan nexus. But it gives a deep understanding of how ‘Octopus’ operates within American establishment. It is this context the book not just makes interesting reading revealing many hidden facts of the time when Larry Pressler made the life of Pakistan diplomats hell in Washington.

But it is a must-read book for both Indian foreign office and PMO operatives who deal with Washington. It is a key to understand Washington power circles which in turn makes our diplomats and policy framers job easier. It also explains Pakistan style of functioning in Washington.

Pressler has not just been a senator. But he is a highly educated guy with his academic grounding as a Rhodes Scholar, Law Harvard. The book, therefore, has both academic depth with deep understanding of the American system from close quarters. It is a must read for all Indians interested in Indo-US relations.

Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator's Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent; Penguin/Viking; Rs 699

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