In the second of a three-part opinion series, Senator Larry Pressler writes that several high-level conversations among administration officials in the US suggest that Trump is seriously considering labeling Pakistan a terrorist state. You can read the first part here.
The White House is currently undergoing a review that will likely change my nation’s policy towards Pakistan and India. Pakistan is not going to like it.
Despite President Trump’s ostensible naïveté about foreign policy, his administration might turn out to be a boon for India. From several conversations I have had with high-level administration officials, Trump is seriously considering labeling Pakistan a terrorist state. This would constitute a stunning shift. As I outline in my new book, Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent, Pakistan should be treated like North Korea—a rogue state. The only reason Pakistan is not a totally failed state is that countries like China and the U.S. continue to prop it up with massive amounts of foreign aid. But that is slowly changing.
Already, Trump’s new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, has withheld an additional $50 million in funding for Pakistan because he was unable to certify that Islamabad “has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani Network,” the second time in recent history that the U.S. has slapped Pakistan on the wrist. Mattis’s predecessor under Obama, Ashton Carter, withheld $300 million last year for the same reason. I believe Pakistan should expect even harsher punitive action from the Trump Administration.
I recommend the enactment of something similar to the Pressler Amendment—a piece of legislation with real teeth. Under this 1985 law, which went into force in 1990, all aid to Pakistan depended on the president’s certification that Pakistan did not have a nuclear weapon. The impact was immediate and severe. But, over time, this law eroded due to forces I call the “Octopus.” The Octopus is the great-grandchild of the “military-industrial complex,” the pestiferous beast that President Eisenhower identified in his farewell address to the American people in 1961.
The military-industrial complex started out as a relatively simple organism, but it has mutated and evolved over the five decades of my time in Washington into a true monster with multiple tentacles. It includes law firms, lobbying firms, consulting agencies, public relations firms, defense contractors, and the intelligence community writ large. These groups are not a monolith, but they find ways to act in the shadows, opaquely, to circumvent laws and regulations. In the case of the Pressler Amendment, the Octopus and its tangled tentacles used verbal gymnastics to find ways to continue to legally give aid to Pakistan. Because of the Octopus, the Clinton Administration—which ironically campaigned on a platform of nuclear non-proliferation—eventually killed it.
Many countries enlist the Octopus by hiring lobbyists to achieve their goals in the United States. For example, investigators are currently examining how President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian government officials have hired a myriad of people—including lobbyists, public relations professionals, lawyers and investigators—to repeal U.S. laws that are detrimental to them. They set up a fake NGO called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation to make their efforts seem charitable. This NGO then hired several other groups, including the law firm Baker Hostetler, a strategic consulting firm called Fusion GPS, the marketing and public relations firm The Potomac Group, and the lobbying firm Cozzen O’Conner Public Strategies. Further, it helped produce fake documentary that debuted at a museum in Washington, with an audience consisting of multiple members of Congress. They even engineered a meeting with presidential candidate Donald Trump’s son, luring him with tantalizing bait: damaging information about his father’s rival, Hillary Clinton. All this effort and all these proxies were working—at arms-length—on behalf the Russian government. They are slick.
Today, I have no doubt that the Octopus and its allies in Pakistan will employ the same tactics to avoid any draconian shutdown of aid to this failing state. Pakistan was notorious for feeding the Octopus during the era of the Pressler Amendment. Islamabad hired multiple law firms, public relations firms, and lobbyists to devise ways to circumvent the Pressler Amendment. Thus far, diligent journalists and investigators have followed the digital trail and rebuffed attempts by Russians to deploy the Octopus. So, too, should investigators and journalists contend Pakistani efforts to circumvent any U.S. attempt to cut off aid.
But never underestimate the furtiveness of the Octopus. It will find a way to slink around in the shadows and will leave slime everywhere in its wake. Expect Pakistan’s lobbying machine to try to influence the Trump Administration’s current policy review. We can’t let this happen. Pakistan must be held accountable for its recklessness.
Senator Larry Pressler served in the US Senate for 18 years and was the principle author of the “Pressler Amendment,” which limited foreign countries from using USA to develop nuclear weaponry. Pressler is the author of new book Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent. PenguinViking 2017. Twitter: @larrypressler