Jamal Hussain |
The history of Pakistan – USA military alliances goes back to 1954 when as a member of CENTO and SEATO Pakistan became eligible for military assistance under the US Foreign Assistance Act. It has been an on and off relationship since then. As of December 2017, Pakistan continues to be a major non NATO US ally following the 9/11 twin tower attacks but the US administration is coming under increasing pressure from a powerful segment of the US legislators to expel Pakistan from the alliance. According to them, despite the very heavy military, financial investment and political support by USA in Pakistan, since 1954 the return on investment has been marginal, even negative and it is time to sever the relationship. A brief study of the cost/benefit ratio of the military alliances between the two sovereign states would clarify which of the two states has benefitted more from the partnership—the result could be an eye opener for those in the US Congress baying for Pakistani blood for short-changing them—or the truth is just the other way around—Pakistan is the aggrieved party.
Phase I (1954-65)
The beginning of US – Pakistan military alliance can be traced to May 1954 when Pakistan signed the Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement (MDAA) with USA and became a member of Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) in September 1954. A year later Pakistan joined the US sponsored Baghdad Pact, aka the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) along with Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The gist of SEATO and CENTO revolved around prevention of the spread of Communism by the alliance members with the help of US military and economic aid. The military aid to Pakistan consisted of weapons systems that had either become surplus to the US military after the end of the Korean conflict or had become redundant as more advanced systems had been developed and incorporated in the US military. While for America the weapons transfer had little financial impact barring the transportation charges and given the size of the US economy was practically peanuts, for Pakistan the arms significantly enhanced its war fighting potential. Pakistan’s real motive for joining the alliance was to strengthen its armed forces to a level where it could stand up to any military offensive emanating from its belligerent and powerful eastern neighbour India.
The first phase of the US – Pakistan military alliance had its ups and downs but effectively survived for just over a decade. The imposition of sanctions on export of American military hardware on both the warring factions at the start of the 1965 India-Pakistan War by USA eventually dealt a mortal blow to the MDAA. While the sanctions had little impact on India as its reliance on US military weapon systems was minimal, for Pakistan whose armed forces were primarily dependent on US weapons the severance of weapons supply hurt the nation’s war waging logistics stamina to a degree where by the third week of the conflict despite checkmating the Indian offensive and being in an advantageous position, it had to accept a ceasefire offer that was brokered by the Soviet Union.
The principal US objective of MDAA and the CENTO pact was the containment of the spread of Communism east of Afghanistan which was successfully achieved and where Pakistan had played a central role. The total military aid disbursed to Pakistan by USA during the period comes to just a trifle over $4 billion in addition to around $15.7 billion as economic assistance (all the figures have been adjusted for inflation and presented in constant 2009 dollar value). Besides standing as a bulwark that prevented the spread of Communism in its area of influence, Pakistan had even provided an air base from where the US spy planes flew strategic reconnaissance missions over Russia and China. The infamous shooting down over Russia of the American U2 spy plane that was operating from a Pakistani air base now had the Soviet leader issue a stern warning to Pakistan that its cities were under the crosshairs of the Soviet nuclear missiles.
For a paltry sum of under $20 billion the principal aim of containing the spread of Communism east of Afghanistan was achieved, with no US casualty, barring the capture and imprisonment of the U2 pilot Francis Gary Powell. Compare this with the cost of the US of the Vietnam misadventure around the same period was $777 billion dollars (in 2003 dollar value) while the overall price tag when casualties and veteran benefits are taken into account, the figure soars to around $1 trillion in 2003 dollars.
Pakistan did benefit from the supply of US military hardware and from the various military training programs, majority of which were gratis. Since the primary objective of Pakistan joining the US bandwagon was to shield itself from any military offensive from its much bigger and very hostile eastern neighbour India, the freezing of arms supply when the very survival of the nation was on line when India launched a major air and land attack across the international border defeated the very purpose for which it had voluntarily joined the alliance. Pakistan had earlier politely declined to be a coalition partner of USA in the Vietnam conflict and the arms embargo in 1965 could well have been initiated to punish Pakistan for its Vietnam stance.
Even if the American embargo could be justified when read with the fine prints of the Agreement, the fact that Pakistan was under attack by a country whose nonaligned status notwithstanding was totally in the Soviet camp, the champion of Communism, the American action is difficult to comprehend. Fortunately the soldiers, airmen and sailors of Pakistan bravely defeated the Indian offensive but just imagine if the Indians had prevailed—Communism led by USSR would have achieved a major victory that could well have resulted in a domino effect where a number of CENTO and SEATO members would have become red.
Pakistan’s alliance with USA was viewed as a hostile act by the Soviets during the Cold War period following the end of WW II. USSR not surprisingly aligned itself with India and threatened the use of its veto power to sabotage any meaningful implementation of the UN Resolution 47 on the subject of holding a plebiscite on the disputed State of Jammu and Kashmir. Keeping the historical record of events following the MDAA, who was the major beneficiary and who was short-changed should not be difficult to decipher.
Phase II (1981-90)
The next major military cooperation between Pakistan and USA occurred in the 1980s, precisely from 1981 to 1990. Pakistan voluntarily joined hands with USA and Saudi Arabia to oust the Soviet forces from Afghanistan. USA was the principal arms provider, Saudi Arabia the chief financier and Pakistan the supply conduit, training ground and launching pad for the Afghan Mujahideen waging an asymmetric sub-conventional warfare against the conventional Soviet military. By 1988 the Afghan Mujahideen resistance had exhausted the Soviet will and resources and the decision to totally withdraw its military had been made. By 1990, Afghanistan was free of the Russian military occupation. The financial burden on the USSR on the Afghanistan occupation and the humiliation of defeat by a ragtag force eventually resulted in the breakup of USSR. USA by default became the lone and unchallenged superpower of the world.
USA had been engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union since the end of WW II and had spent a fortune in capital and resources and the result was at best a stalemate. In less than a decade, in cooperation with Pakistan, USA finally achieved its objective of neutralizing USSR (Soviet Union) as an entity. The final cost to US tax payer for the support to Mujahideen came to a paltry $3 billion. In addition Pakistan was provided $9.2288 and 3.855 billion in economic and military assistance respectively. In brief, for just over $16 billion thanks to Pakistan USA became the world’s sole superpower.
Pakistan also had some positives in its liaison with USA in the support to the Mujahideen. The $13 billion US combined aid package came in handy but perhaps the greatest benefit that accrued was the decision by the US administration to ignore the progress of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme as long as the mission objective of defeating the Soviet forces from Afghanistan by using the Afghan Mujahideen proxy was not achieved. On the negative side, the influx of Afghan refugees that grew to over three million became a serious economic burden on the already cash strapped national economy. The social cost was even more—the drugs and gun culture of the Afghan refugees spread like wildfire and violent crimes statistics in the country increased exponentially. The true cost in life, limb and resources because of the Afghan refugee factor is horrendous and almost impossible to calculate.
The strategy adopted by USA, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to actively promote the concept of the Islamic Jihad against the infidel Soviets eventually led to the creation of al Qaeda, the Taliban and a host of splinter groups within Pakistan and at the international level using religion to justify violence and acts of terror. The 9/11 attacks on the twin towers can directly be traced to the US-Pakistan-Saudi Arabian policies during the Afghan Mujahideen struggles in the 1980s.
Phase III (2001 to 2017)
The third US-Pakistan military alignment began immediately following the 9/11 attacks and on paper the alliance is still there. Pakistan was coerced into becoming an ally by the Bush administration during the US Operation Enduring Freedom. A wide air corridor through Pakistan was provided to the US air armada operating from the Arabian Sea to conduct offensive air raids against the Taliban military in Afghanistan. In addition, two airfields were made available for logistics support and as emergency recovery bases for their combat fleet of airplanes participating in the operations. Besides, USA was given full access to the main Pakistani port city of Karachi for logistics supply.
Within three weeks the Taliban government was ousted and the first phase of Operation Enduring Freedom was over. The use of US air power was the principal element in the military campaign and besides a handful of US Special Forces no American “boots on ground” were deployed. The price paid by the US tax payers for the first three months of the campaign was a mere $3 billion. The aerial blitz was possible because of Pakistan’s cooperation and for its efforts a “princely” sum of $ 4.681 billion (adjusted to 2016 dollar value) was given to the country from 2001 to 2004 in the shape of economic assistance and military aid. Without Pakistan’s acquiescence the entire air campaign could only have been conducted by first subjugating a nuclear armed nation with the attendant risk of a nuclear war—an option that could hardly be justified in the given circumstances, the presumed threat to “bomb Pakistan to the stone age” by the former US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, as quoted by the then Pakistani President General Musharraf.
Despite the battlefield victory in Afghanistan, USA is still deeply involved in military action in Afghanistan. In the fiscal year of 2013, the Pentagon budget for Operation Enduring Freedom that was mostly spent in Afghanistan totalled $77.7 billion. The cost estimate of US involvement in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2017 varies from $841 billion (Anthony Cordesman) to $2 trillion (Neta Crawford). During the period 2001 to 2013, Pakistan was reimbursed/paid an amount of $25.91 billion under the heads of economic assistance, military aid and Coalition Support Fund (The Nation June 27, 2013). The aid quantum since then has slowed down considerably but no authentic figures could be found.
On the other hand since Operation Enduring Freedom that sucked Pakistan into a war which was not theirs, the nation has according to various estimates suffered over $120 billion losses in revenue under various heads and sacrificed upwards of 80,000 citizens that include about 8500 security personnel on terror related attacks (the Express Tribune Pakistan, March 29th, 2015). The sum total of US economic and military assistance to Pakistan since 1947 to 2010 comes to about $77 billion and just the financial cost to the nation since 2001 amounts to $120 billion—has Pakistan benefitted or lost in its political and military alliances with USA—do your math.
In summary, during the three major military alliances Pakistan had entered into with USA, it delivered on all counts. In the first instance Pakistan helped prevent the spread of Communism east of Afghanistan; in the second it was a key player in the dismemberment of USSR thus promoting USA as the sole superpower of the world and in the final one was instrumental in the uprooting of the Taliban government in Afghanistan by providing US military the air and land access during Operation Enduring Freedom. In return the country received military hardware that modernised its armed forces, was given economic assistance to tune of $70 billion in the seventy year period and in the 1980s convinced USA to turn a blind eye to its rapid advancement towards developing nuclear weapons.
On the negative side, the US alignment in the 1950s antagonised the USSR whose Veto power prevented any meaningful solution to the burning Kashmir dispute. Pakistan was abandoned in 1965 when its very existence was threatened by the Indian military offensive. In the 1980s, as a consequence to the support of the Mujahideen in partnership with Saudi Arabia and USA, besides the financial burden of hosting around three million Afghan refugees, the social fabric of the society was fractured by the introduction of gun violence, drugs and religious/sectarian based terrorism. USA was the major beneficiary of the associations while with hindsight it is abundantly clear Pakistan would have been much better off if it had not sought US aid and friendship to overcome its fear of an Indian military takeover.
In the US – Pakistan relationship there are other important lessons for the USA to ponder on. Despite being a military ally in the 1960s, Pakistan had disagreed with the US military intervention in Vietnam and if its advice had been heeded, the Vietnam fiasco would have been avoided. When it sided with USA against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, USSR disintegrated in the process. Pakistan had discouraged the US interventions in Iraq (2003) and Syria, while in Yemen the Saudi offensive with the political support of USA was opposed by Pakistan, at a considerable cost to its friendly relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. American estimates put the true cost of the Iraq blunder to around $3 trillion and beyond (Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda Blimes September 2010) and of the Syrian war the cost could escalate to $1.3 trillion by 2020 (Jessica Hartogs, Special to CNBE.com). The Saudi Arabian Yemen campaign is in a total mess. Historical lessons suggest the US legislators and administration should heed Pakistan’s viewpoints on international relations more carefully.
Despite very clear historical lessons about Pakistan being the aggrieved party in all the military liaisons between USA and Pakistan, the almost deafening silence among the American academia and think tanks to challenge the “do more” mantra by the US administration and legislators is a bit of an enigma. Perhaps nationalism and patriotism may partly explain the phenomenon at the academic level. By making Pakistan the scapegoat for the failure of the US military in Afghanistan it would deflect the blame and shield the mighty US armed forces, considered invincible and loved by the American public, from negative fallouts. The US administration has been conditioned to exploit the weaknesses in Pakistani leadership that allowed USA to forge military relationship with the latter that overwhelmingly favoured the former. This current stance by the current leadership to show some spine and declare “enough is enough” is difficult to digest for Donald Trump and his Generals.
Pakistan today is still vulnerable on many fronts but public pressure built up through the print and electronic media has convinced the Pakistani administration kowtowing to the US demands and pressures is no longer an option. The full spectrum nuclear deterrence has given the nation the confidence that even USA will be deterred to do an Iraq or Libya to them. Economy remains a weak link but the realisation has dawned that reliance on financial handouts which compromises of national sovereignty is a losing option. CPEC serves as a strong bond for the future progress and security of China and Pakistan and the economic activity it has started to generate allows Pakistan to withstand the threat by the Trump administration to sever all economic aid to the country unless it follows the US diktats.
For the people of Pakistan it was refreshing to hear their top civilian and military leadership announce that their country can do without US aid if it comes attached with conditions that impinges on the country’s national interests.
US Pakistan Military Alliances: Lessons for USA
Summary of US aid to Pakistan 1948-2010
Economic Assistance, Total
Economic Assistance (through USAID)
Military Assistance, Total
Coalition Support Funds
Note: All figures are in US$ (millions). Figures are adjusted for inflation and presented in 2009 constant dollars
Source: Wren Elhai, Center for Global Development, 2011
Air Commodore (retd) Jamal Hussain has served in Pakistan Air Force from 1966 to 1997. He was awarded Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the year 1982. He regularly contributes articles on defense-related issues in the Defence Journal from Pakistan, Probe Magazine (Dhaka – Bangladesh) and Dawn, The News, and The Nation English Dailies from Pakistan. He is the author of two books on ‘Air Power in South Asia’ and ‘Dynamics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.