Pressler against F-16s to Pakistan

New York, March 22 | Updated: Mar 23 2005, 05:30am hrs
Taking strong exception to demands made by some American lawmakers for supply of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, former US senator Larry Pressler has asked the administration to adopt a robust pro-India stance and said treating both the countries the same was a great mistake.

India is a democracy with a free market and a highly developed system of human rights, former Republican senator Mr Pressler said and called for a fundamental policy shift in Americas priorities in the subcontinent.

It could become our major bulwark against China in East Asia. It also has a large Muslim minority and, generally speaking, is an example of tolerance. And we have a mutually beneficial trade relationship with India that is helping us keep our technological edge, Mr Pressler said.

Pakistan, on the other hand, is a corrupt, absolute dictatorship, he said in an article published in the New York Times.

It has a horrendous record on human rights and religious tolerance, and it has been found again and again to be selling nuclear materials to our worst enemies. It claims to be helping us to fight terrorism, although many intelligence experts have suggested that most of our money actually goes to strengthening the rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, he said.

Calling for a fundamental policy shift in the subcontinent, he said, First, we should enthusiastically improve our treatment of India. We should not reject Pakistan entirely we need it as an ally but to treat India and Pakistan the same is a great mistake.

Instead, he urged Washington to speak frankly in public about Pakistans democratic and human-rights failures, as well as acknowledge that we can achieve our objectives in Pakistan with a much lower level of aid and a closer eye to ensuring that it goes toward the fight against terrorists. And we should not sell it any F-16s.

The United States, Mr Pressler said, should make it clear that it would favour India in all major regional disputes, including Kashmir.

Freeing ourselves from our profitless Pakistan policy would allow us to look clearly at the biggest problem in the region: China. We should tell Beijing that we will help India match Chinas arms buildup and that we will work toward a modified free-trade agreement with India to help it offset Chinas state-dominated trade practices, he added.

Noting that Pakistan is a declared ally in the fight against terrorism and the US gives huge amounts of military aid, Mr Pressler said F-16s have nothing to do with fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In this context, he notes that an amendment written by him had quashed a deal involving 28 of the planes but said that this time, the deal may go through. He said the cold war is long over and we have given the Pakistanis their due many times over.

The American military-industrial complex, which dominates the foreign policy, he said, favours Pakistan not only because we can sell it arms, but also because the Pentagon would often rather deal with dictatorships than democracies.