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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Expendables in Pakistan

Pakistan’s romance with the U.S, or vice versa, started soon after independence when Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first PM, made an official visit to the U.S after ignoring a similar invitation by the erstwhile Soviet Union. The visit laid the foundation for the U.S. – Pakistan relationship.

A few days ago, Pakistan observed the 75th year of its independence. When we look back, we find that during those tumultuous years, while the national landscape kept changing, three factors remained, and remain, constant. These are 1) Exploitation of religion in secular life 2) Indo- Pakistan rivalry and 3) The U.S. policy to use Pakistan as the Cat’s Paw.

People who managed to climb up the ladder of prominence in our country used these factors as stunts to promote themselves. In this article, I shall focus on discussing the U.S. factor.

Read more: Non-Traditional Security Threats and Institutions’ Role in Pakistan

Those whom the U.S. used as its Trojan horses in Pakistan were always regarded and treated like tissue paper – discarded when the U.S. objectives during a certain period were fulfilled. On the other hand, these same people bent over backward to prove their loyalty to their U.S. paymasters. For this purpose, they even distorted history to prove that the U.S. was Pakistan’s natural ally. Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S, on assuming ambassadorship spun a story about Quaid e Azam.

He said that the Quaid, replying to a foreign correspondent’s question about Pakistan’s financial viability, had replied that America will look after Pakistan. I spent considerable time on the internet trying to find out the reference to Haqqani’s tale but failed. Haqqani was lying through his teeth.

Not for nothing was Haqqani called a Spin Doctor by Ardeshir Cowasjee

Pakistan’s romance with the U.S, or vice versa, started soon after independence when Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first PM, made an official visit to the U.S after ignoring a similar invitation by the erstwhile Soviet Union. The visit laid the foundation for the U.S. – Pakistan relationship. Simultaneously, it created a long-drawn-out animosity with the Soviet Union – deep heartburn that lasted throughout the Cold War period.

Being a refugee from East Punjab, Liaquat had no local constituency and therefore played in the hands of West Pakistan’s powerful civil and military bureaucracy. Liaquat Ali was terminated in October 1951 at the hands of an Afghan national during a public meeting in Rawalpindi’s Company Garden, renamed Liaquat Bagh after Liaquat’s assassination. In a society where rumors are the major source of information, people suspected that some Punjabi bureaucrats were behind the murder. To this day, we don’t know who pulled the strings.

After a game of musical chairs that lasted for almost a decade, General Muhammad Ayub Khan was catapulted to power in a bloodless coup in October 1958. Before becoming the first military ruler of Pakistan, Ayub Khan was the Commander–in–Chief of the Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s defense minister. Inducting a serving general into the federal cabinet was the beginning of military intervention in Pakistan’s politics. This was done by the civil bureaucracy and some politicians to keep the political circus going.

Read more: The power game and the future of Pakistan

Pakistan signed the Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement with the U.S in 1954. Soon thereafter, Pakistan joined two U.S.-sponsored military pacts, CENTO and SEATO, and earned the American sobriquet – “The Most Allied Ally”. The US and its allies, particularly the U.K., sculptured Ayub Khan’s persona and promoted him as the “Asian De Gaulle”. Pakistan received significant U.S. military and economic aid between 1954 and 1965. Ayub Khan’s detractors accuse him of becoming cocky and emboldened by the military aid. Goaded by the hawks in his cabinet, particularly Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the foreign minister, Ayub Khan embarked on the disastrous 1965 War with India.

This war had upset the U.S. applecart in South Asia, resulting in Ayub Khan’s ouster at the end of a Cloud Burst agitation. The agitation suddenly started in October 1968 and ended with Ayub’s resignation in April 1969. Ayub Khan was replaced by Yahya Khan who promised a return to civilian rule through the general elections which were scheduled in December 1970. Yahya also facilitated secret negotiations between China and the U.S.

Henry Kissinger, the U.S. national security advisor, traveled in a PIA plane to reach Beijing where he held parleys with the top Chinese leadership, laying the groundwork for Richard Nixon’s China visit in February 1972. Whereas Yahya Khan had played a prominent role in the opening of China to the U.S., Nixon remained indifferent to Pakistan during the 1971 Indo- Pakistan war. Kissinger, who had used Pakistan as a conduit for the secret journey to China, stated in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, the Editor-in-Chief of “The Atlantic” that his country was not against the separation of East Pakistan and the emergence of an independent Bangladesh, but the US had wanted it to happen peacefully.

Kissinger reported that after the opening of China via Pakistan, America engaged in increasingly urging Pakistan to grant autonomy/ independence to Bangladesh. In November Yahya Khan agreed with Nixon to grant independence in the following March (1972, sic). Indira Gandhi, however, did not want a peaceful resolution of the civil war in East Pakistan. Instead, she had labored over a plan to invade the beleaguered Pakistani province and render the Bengalis beholden forever to India for assisting them in the Awami League’s quest for secession.

The Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan on a Christmas Eve

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan, the country which was going to be in the eye of the storm for the next nine years, remained silent, at pains to comprehend the situation before evolving an appropriate response. The United States and its allies initially reacted stoically as, according to their reasoning, Afghanistan, since long, had been considered a country within the Soviet sphere of influence. Intellectuals and diplomats in the West considered the invasion as yet another step towards the fruition of the centuries-old Russian dream of reaching the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Zia seized power in July 1977 by toppling the Bhutto regime. On 4th April 1979, he executed Bhutto on charges of masterminding the murder of a political opponent. The intended victim of the murder had survived, though, and his father was killed instead. Zia’s action had provoked worldwide condemnation. The world had not accepted Zia’s coup against Bhutto’s popularly elected government.

His government was facing the problem of political legitimacy. By hanging Bhutto, Zia had further isolated himself in the world. Moreover, the country he governed was in danger of being squeezed out of existence by India and the Soviet Union. As a result of the invasion, refugees, along with Soviet and Khad agents, had started pouring into Pakistan, further aggravating the already precarious security and economic situation.

Read more: Pakistan’s leadership role in the Ummah

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a windfall for Zia’s martial law regime. If somehow he could rally support from the world, particularly the United States, he would have access to the much-needed borrowed power he was desperately in need of. He needed the borrowed power both for his survival as well as for Pakistan, which was threatened simultaneously by India to the east, and the Soviet Union along its western border.

Being a cautious man, Zia turned to Akhtar Abdur Rehman, his spymaster, for evolving an appropriate response to the multiple challenges spawned by the Soviet invasion. This was happening when the Americans were still waiting on the sidelines for the events to evolve further. In the absence of support from the United States, what Akhtar produced was a bold plan which committed Pakistan to the military option without provoking the Soviets into a confrontation.

The plan called for covertly supporting the Afghan resistance to wage a guerrilla war in Afghanistan. For this to happen, Pakistan would offer the border areas of the NWFP and Balochistan as sanctuaries for both the refugees and the Mujahidin (Yusuf & Adkin, 1992). The ISI had based its plan on its assessment of the level of Soviet troop motivation and the contradictions and weaknesses inherent in the Soviet system.

This assessment widely differed from the picture painted by the US

As things proved later, America would strongly support Zia’s regime as long as he followed the American policy of “sowing shit in Russia’s backyard”. There were frictions, though, as Zia effectively quarantined the CIA from dealing directly with the Afghan warlords. Though it immensely irked the Americans, the alliance of seven Afghan fighting groups was controlled by ISI. Whereas the CIA provided weapons and money, it was the ISI, which distributed the funds to Afghan warlords, trained the Afghan fighters at its dedicated training facilities, and stored the American, Chinese, Czechoslovakian, Egyptian, and Indian supplied weapons in its warehouses.

Read more: What is the future of US-Pak relations amidst US baleful intentions?

Yes, India was not averse to making some quick bucks and had also been providing, on payment made by the CIA, .303 rifles, and their ammunition, for the Afghan insurgency (Yousaf& Adkin, 1992). The author refrains from quoting the remarks made by the CIA about the Indians.

Zia had started with Afghanistan, added held Kashmir in his scheme of things, and later expanded his canvas by including Central Asia. Perhaps only he knew how he would achieve his objectives. However, he had overstretched his ambitions. In 1987 the stakes had become almost insurmountable for him. Throughout the Afghan War, Americans had tried their best to keep Zia pliable and use him as a tool for the accomplishment of their strategic objectives in Afghanistan. While he was a thorn in the flesh of the Soviet Union and India, nothing irked the Americans more than Zia’s independence. We will not waste time here discussing, for the umpteenth time, the conspiracy theories behind Zia’s death.



Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.