We should worry more about Pakistan than North Korea

We should worry more about Pakistan than North Korea
© Getty Images

North Korea’s brazen and defiant nuclear tests last week have been keeping our leadership up at night, and for good reason. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s unsecured nuclear weapons program is even more dangerous and should keep all of us up at night.

Imagine this: A small group of terrorists buys a nuclear weapon from Pakistani generals with dark money and transports it to the port of Karachi in a pickup truck. From there, the weapon is hidden in a crate, cushioned amongst textiles and agricultural products, and loaded onto a container ship bound for the United States, where it could very easily destroy one of our cities. This operation could be carried out by a fairly small number of terrorists.

This scenario is a disaster waiting to happen because Pakistan continues to harbor some of the most hardened Islamic militants and terrorists within its borders and because the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is suspect, even though Pakistani leaders insist their program is safeguarded. The dangers of their nuclear weapons program are many: they are routinely moved around the country over dangerous and treacherous roads in unmarked vehicles with few defenses.

Pakistan’s leaders have essentially blackmailed us into providing aid for the War on Terror with threats to cease assistance in rooting out terrorists in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, we know full well that Pakistan allows terrorists to operate unfettered in large swaths of its southwestern province of Baluchistan and their potential access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons should keep us all up at night.

We let Pakistan use U.S. taxpayer money in the 1970s and 1980s to build their nuclear weapons program. Why do we now let them use U.S. taxpayer money to harbor terrorists? Without our money and military supplies, Pakistan would be powerless. Why do we continue to call Pakistan an ally? Why do we continue to be blackmailed?

As I state emphatically in my newly released book, “Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent,” Pakistan should be treated like North Korea, like a rogue state. The only reason Pakistan is not a totally failed state is that countries like China and the United States continue to prop it up with massive amounts of foreign aid. Unless Pakistan changes its ways with respect to terrorism, it should be declared a terrorist state. Indeed, the first Bush administration seriously considered doing so in 1992.

During my tenure as the chairman of the Arms Control Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I worked hard, along with my colleague Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of Pakistan, most notably through a piece of legislation called the Pressler Amendment.

Named after me, it was enforced under President Bush in 1990 when he could not certify that Pakistan did not have a nuclear weapon. As a result, all aid to Pakistan was immediately cut off. It was the ultimate diplomatic “stick.” Unfortunately, the generals in the Pentagon continued to find ways to fund the generals in Islamabad and the Pressler Amendment’s effectiveness and enforcement withered.

Now, the Trump administration appears to be ready to take a much harder line against this corrupt nation, and President Trump is advocating for a much stronger relationship with India, as evidenced by his strong rhetoric last week. U.S. Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE publicly stated that he would advocate for negotiations with the Taliban.

Indeed, for the first time in my lifetime, a fundamental shift in foreign policy towards Pakistan appears to be underway. News reports from that region indicate that Pakistanis are already angry about Trump’s statements. These policy changes signal a stark shift from previous presidents and are long overdue. But in my opinion, they are necessary because Pakistan will only respond to punitive action that hits where it hurts: in their pocketbooks.

I agree with Trump, but I would press for an even closer relationship with India. We must not equivocate. We must decisively choose India as our nation’s most favored ally in the world, on a par with the special relationships we have with Israel and the United Kingdom. Oddly enough, the election of Trump as president might be the best thing for the relationship between the world’s two largest democracies.

Larry Pressler served three terms as U.S. senator from South Dakota. He is the author of the newly published book, “Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent.”