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Saturday, June 10, 2023

The linkage between the US military bases and Pakistan’s prosperity

The influx of US economic aid to Pakistan resulted in the creation of the famous twenty-two business houses which controlled Pakistan's economy during the 1960s and 70s. This was besides the wealth controlled by the landed aristocracy which, cheating Ayub Khan’s agricultural reforms, possessed almost eighty percent of the canal irrigated land in the Punjab, Sindh, and former NWFP.

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Some Pakistani pseudo-intellectuals on the payroll of foreign powers, particularly the US, have advised the clay-footed government of Shehbaz Sharif not to hesitate in granting military bases and Pakistan’s airspace to the US. They emphasize that, in the past, Pakistan’s military cooperation with the US has always increased Pakistan’s prosperity. They may be telling the truth in the sense that, in the past, transfusions of US aid did result in the creation of islands of prosperity in Pakistan which benefitted the privileged few, leaving the majority of the population impoverished.

Since 1947, Pakistan’s relationship with the US has followed a tortuous and unpredictable route. The relationship had all along been a transactional one – focusing on the immediate goals dictated by how each side perceived the ground realities during a particular period.

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Understanding the matter better

Throughout the strategic relationship, there has been a marked variance between the objectives of the two countries due to which economic and military assistance was provided to Pakistan for one set of reasons and received for another.

Pakistan needed US assistance to achieve economic self-reliance and offset Indian military superiority whereas the US provided aid on the condition that Pakistan entered the US-sponsored military alliances in recognition of the communist danger, and be part of the worldwide encirclement of the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War era.

PM Liaquat Ali Khan toured the US in 1950 after declining an invitation by the Soviet leadership to visit the former Soviet Union. In 1954 Pakistan joined the US-sponsored CENTO and SEATO military pacts. On May 19, 1954, the ‘Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement between the two countries was signed.

The Agreement facilitated nearly USD 2.5 billion in economic aid and USD 700 million in military aid to Pakistan between 1954 and 1964. The economic aid facilitated the Indus Basin projects (including work on Mangla and Tarbela Dams). It should be understood that the funding for Indus Basin projects was not pure aid, but low-interest-long term loans from the World Bank.

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What are the consequences of US aid to Pakistan?

The influx of US economic aid to Pakistan resulted in the creation of the famous twenty-two business houses which controlled Pakistan’s economy during the 1960s and 70s. This was besides the wealth controlled by the landed aristocracy which, cheating Ayub Khan’s agricultural reforms, possessed almost eighty percent of the canal irrigated land in the Punjab, Sindh, and former NWFP.

It was during this period when the coffers of West Pakistani industrialists and agricultural landlords were bursting from the seams. During the same period, the majority of the lower middle class and the lower class were just managing to survive. The Bengali alienation from the West Pakistani islands of opulence also reached its peak during Ayub Khan’s so-called “Decade of Development”.

US aid to Pakistan was not “free lunches”. The world knows about the Badaber air base leased out to the Americans, and the resultant Francis Gary Powers’episode, which ended in the shooting down, on 1 May 1960, of a USAF U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union. The plane had taken off from Badaber, in Peshawar’s vicinity. After the incident, the Soviet PM Khrushchev threatened Pakistan with nuclear retaliation. He said he had drawn a red circle around Peshawar.

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How did the US repay Pakistan for endangering its security at the altar of the US strategic interests?

In October 1965, a few days after the cease-fire between India and Pakistan, the CIA, with logistics support from India’s Intelligence Bureau, planted a nuclear-powered remote sensing device atop the 25,645-foot mountain feature Nanda Devi, located in India’s Uttarakhand state. Soon thereafter, another device was planted by the Americans on Nanda Kot, a nearby feature. Both the devices were planted to spy on China’s long-range ballistic missile program. Such was the extent of the US- India strategic relationship during the period Pakistan had been touted as America’s “Most Allied Ally”.

On 1 July 1971, when the India/Soviet-sponsored insurgency in East Pakistan was at its peak, General Yahya Khan facilitated the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China.  The US reciprocated Pakistan’s assistance by again suspending its military aid to Pakistan during the 71 War – for the second time in just six years.

According to Henry Kissinger, the US was not against the separation of East Pakistan and the emergence of an independent Bangladesh, but it had wanted the separation to happen peacefully. In his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, the Editor-in-Chief of “The Atlantic”, Kissingerreported 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).

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This was the extent of the strategic relationship between the US and Pakistan

While the US aid dropped dramatically during and after the 1965 and 1971 wars, it kept on trickling at low levels to cover the payments to US espionage networks in Pakistan. This also included funding Pakistani diplomats, media persons, and politicians on the US payroll.

A significant portion of the US economic aid to Pakistan is consumed in defraying the cost of salaries and other perks to the USAID employees (most of whom double as CIA operatives), and the batteries of US Trojan horses working in Pakistani media and NGOs. This includes the US-sponsored “think tanks”.

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Despite the US military and economic aid to Pakistan in return for granting military bases, and use of Pakistan’s airspace for overt and covert military operations, including drone attacks, Pakistan remains a basket case. It is because the US planners and their Pakistani clients made sure that the major portion of the US aid would go to line the pockets of their carpetbaggers and Trojan horses. Billions of dollars were received as US aid during the “Afghan Jihad” and the “War on Terror”. Despite this, the majority of Pakistanis today reel under grinding poverty. During the same period, Pakistan has witnessed a tremendous increase in the wealth of the civil and military bureaucrats, the Sharif and Zardari dynasties, and the media soldiers of fortune.


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.