Washington did not openly encourage these developments, but neither did it do anything to restrain Islamabad from pursuing this dangerous course. At the time, American policymakers were quite confident that there could be no better foe of the Soviets than the orthodox Muslims; as far as India was concerned, despite being a leader of the nonaligned nations, New Delhi was widely considered to be closer to Moscow than to Washington. Some even considered India a socialist nation.
“¦Pakistan first tested its nuclear devices in 1998, many within the U.S. establishment had been fully aware that they were under development.
Thus, throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Pakistan remained the chosen, if wilful, prime ally of the United States against the godless Soviets and was rewarded with much money and a lot of arms. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the USSR, Washington began to take a fresh look at Pakistan. What it saw was rather unsettling. Islamabad’s nurture and control of terrorist groups and its covert development of nuclear weapons caused the first chinks in Washington’s blind faith. In 1998, after President Clinton’s failed mission to stop then-Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif—like Zia-ul-Haq, a close ally of Saudi Arabia—from testing nuclear weapons, Pakistan virtually fell off of the Washington “trust list.”
Although Pakistan first tested its nuclear devices in 1998, many within the U.S. establishment had been fully aware that they were under development. But since Pakistan was heroically battling the Soviet Red Army next door, this apprehension was generally kept under wraps, though the issue emerged from time to time to embitter relations. The Pressler Amendment, for instance, enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1985, specifically prohibited U.S. assistance or military sales to Pakistan without annual presidential certification that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device. But according to journalist Seymour Hersh, it was a farce because Washington did not want to handcuff Pakistan during the West’s battle against Soviet communism. “The certification process became farcical in the last years of the Reagan administration, whose yearly certification — despite explicit American intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program — was seen as little more than a payoff to the Pakistani leadership for its support in Afghanistan,” Hersh wrote in the New Yorker on 29 March 1993.
Once the Soviet Army had retreated from Afghanistan, in the fall of 1989, the George H. W. Bush administration handed a letter to Pakistani foreign minister Sahibzada Yaqub Khan demanding that Pakistan destroy the cores of its nuclear weapons, disabling the weapons. Pakistan did not do so. In retaliation, the U.S. then imposed sanctions and cut off U.S. aid. However, Washington almost immediately softened the blow, waiving some of the restrictions in 1991–1992. Further, military aid was allowed to get through. In 1992, Senator John Glenn wrote, “Shockingly, testimony by Secretary of State James Baker this year revealed that the administration has continued to allow Pakistan to purchase munitions through commercial transactions, despite the explicit, unambiguous intent of Congress that ‘no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred to Pakistan’” (International Herald Tribune, 26 June 1992). The sanctions were officially lifted later, a short time after the 9/11 events.
Pakistans “India card” played well in Washington, where Indias nuclear weaponisation had been fiercely opposed. The argument served to pry open the sanctions imposed on Islamabad and divert the issue of Pakistans bomb.
Despite periodic friction, U.S.-Pakistan relations stayed on the rails even if they did not move forward. Pakistan maintained that despite differences over the nuclear issue, the two countries should act to limit further damage to their relations. Bilateral ties, Islamabad argued, ought not be viewed though the single and exclusive prism of nuclear proliferation, and a second track should be evolved to make progress in areas of convergence. Pakistan and the U.S. shared a number of goals at the regional and global levels that made it essential not to allow relations to become hostage to a single issue, Islamabad pointed out.