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Our friend in the US

PASSING THROUGH: LARRY PRESSLER

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

The first time India figured on Larry Pressler's consciousness was in Oxford in 1964, when as a Rhodes scholar he, along with pal Singh Ahluwalia, undertook a bus journey across England debating the Vietnam war.
 
For Pressler it was a dangerous enterprise. He was in the company of celebrated de-racinated Leftists such as Tariq Ali. Pressler says he argued incessantly with Ali, but has only hazy memories of what Ahluwalia said about the war. "He must have been against the US then. Everyone was," he recalled with a chuckle.
 
The paths of the two friends diverged then. Pressler went off to join the US Army and fought in Vietnam. Ahluwalia returned home to rebuild India. "Isher and have been friends ever since," he said. "is a real smart guy. He's a better economist than I can ever hope to be. And when I read about the Singh-Singh partnership and the way India is reforming, I'm filled with pride and admiration," said Pressler.
 
Since the time he decided to write his doctoral thesis on economic development in India (which he left unfinished because Vietnam got in the way) Pressler, who has been a lobbyist, a Republican Congressman and a Senator, has kept up his interest in India.
 
He has been an influential supporter of everything New Delhi has done and is a recognised detractor. He criticised his own (Republican) government for issuing travel advisories after India launched Operation Parakram in the wake of the attack on Parliament and advises continued wariness when dealing with
 
"is inherently unstable," he says. "Dealings with them are like playing with matches in a forest."
 
In Pakistan, Pressler is a hate figure not only because he cost so much money but also because he was on several Senate committees.
 
He was Republican senator from South Dakota in 1986 and the sponsor of the to the US Foreign Assistance Act, under which all American military and economic aid to was stopped in October 1990, when President George Bush (senior) said he could no longer certify that did not possess nuclear weapons.
 
The resulted in the US cutting off all military aid to Pakistan, including the delivery of 28 F-16 fighter aircraft, which were part of a larger order for 42 F-16s that had placed with of the US in 1988.
 
The aircraft were to be paid for in instalments under the programme. The wound up the order, but the Nawaz Sharif government went on paying for the aircraft, in the belief that the Amendment would be overturned.
 
It was only in 1993 that the government in changed and decided to suspend payment for goods it had not received. Then, they found they had to pay another several million dollars as parking fees for goods ordered but not taken delivery of. In short, Senator is not a very popular figure in the establishment.
 
He did however, build substantially during this period on his relations with India. Despite being a Republican he came to India as part of President Bill Clinton's entourage.
 
"I believe the spirit of real business lives in small companies. It is these companies that create work and foster entrepreneurship. I find it thrilling to work with them and see them create wealth," he said.
 
He was in India this time to attend a meeting of the HR Summit, that tracks and operates infrastructure functions for infotech and infotech-enabled service companies. Pressler is on the board of the company.
 
India is like a second home to him. He is also on the board of Infosys and therefore understands Indian sensitivities to issues like outsourcing.
 
"I believe India and the US should have a free trade agreement," he said. "It is only then that the two countries will be able to realise the full potential of their relationship," he added, as he got ready to leave for a meeting "" with who else, Singh Ahluwalia "" at the Planning Commission.

 
 

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