November Issue 2013
A Friend in Need?
This observation by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, the main driving force behind Pakistan’s Cold War policies, sums up the basic cause of periodic strains in the US-Pakistan relationship throughout the past six decades. In the same message to the US embassy in Pakistan, Dulles is reported to have pointed out that the development and maintenance of an effective military machine, the cost of which he thought Pakistan could bear from its own resources, would require growth over a period of years with a well-balanced economy. It was not within US financial capabilities that such an economy could be created by massive economic aid. It had to be built by Pakistan itself.
Quite often, Pakistan has wanted the United States to give it more aid than the latter had promised and has been told to exert more for the realisation of agreed objectives by improving its economy, governance and capacity to benefit from external aid. There have also been occasions when Pakistan has urged the US to not forget its responsibility to reciprocate Pakistan’s performance in securing the goal of friendship. The reason, on most occasions, has been a difference in the partners’ perceptions of their obligations under mutual assistance agreements and the substance of partnership deeds. The seeds of this divergence were sown quite early in Pakistan’s history.
If the conversations the US president’s special representative in India in the 1940s had with the Quaid-i-Azam are a correct indication, the United States had obliquely supported the creation of Pakistan if that was necessary to end the colonial raj. Even at that time the interest the US military authorities, like their British counterparts, had in Pakistan was limited to the possible use of air bases in the northern part of its territory in their plans to encircle and contain the Soviet Union. However, after Partition, the US showed little interest in Pakistan except for an occasional awareness of the need to prevent it from having ties with Moscow and nominal acceptance of its requests for economic dole. Also, the US was almost fully occupied with the Chinese Communists’ victory over Kuomintang and the threat to colonial rule in Indo-China.
The divergence of perceptions between Pakistan and the US was evident when Pakistan declined to send troops to Korea despite General Ayub Khan’s unauthorised acceptance of the US call. Pakistan also delayed ratification of the SEATO pact after its foreign minister had signed it because its demand for guarantees of support against India was not receiving a favourable response from Washington.
It was clear from the very beginning that the US sought Pakistan’s cooperation only in its war against Communism, and was not prepared to be involved in the South Asian conflicts because it considered India as a potential counterweight to China. When it did agree to give military weapons to Pakistan, President Eisenhower personally assured Nehru that these arms would not be used against India. Eventually, Pakistan’s military leadership prevailed on the government and it dropped its demand for a quid pro quo. However, it chose to tell the people that the US would come to Pakistan’s aid in the event of aggression from any side. After frequent references to this perception, the government of Pakistan itself started believing the fiction — that it was right in interpreting its accord with the US according to its wishes.
US-India relations had started improving around 1957 and American economic aid to India started exceeding its offering to Pakistan. However, General Ayub Khan, determined to prove to be the “most allied ally” of the US, chose not to accept the reality till India’s conflict with China forced it to abandon the pedestal of non-alignment, disregarding the interests of the third world. The 1965 war finally awakened Pakistan, though partly, to the consequences of relying on a subjective reading of military pacts. Yet Ayub Khan failed to realise the significance of the US decision to let Moscow broker peace between the sub-continental twins.
General Yahya Khan tried to revive the pre-1965 relationship with the US and was heartened by Washington’s lack of interest in supporting Sheikh Mujib. After having helped Kissinger reach out to China, he thought he would have Washington standing by his side in his war against the Bengali Pakistanis. His advisers were overly keen, especially after the Indo-Soviet pact of August 1971, to feed the people, and themselves, with tales of the US fleet coming to Pakistan’s rescue, but it was clearly a case of Islamabad’s wrong assessment of its friendship with the US. In the end, Yahya did not have time to shed his illusions.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was able to pick up the pieces without US aid and even then tried to mend fences with it, but his ambition to lead a Muslim bloc of nuclear powers had no place in the US script and he was disposed of the Mossadeq way.
In Zia-ul-Haq, the US found a man who was prepared to go along with its policies, regardless of the consequences to his own country. Washington obliged him by accommodating him to a greater extent than any of his predecessors, even allowing him to wreck the Geneva Accord and the chances of peace in Afghanistan, supplying him with more arms than he had lost in the Ojhri camp disaster, and which were enough to prolong Afghanistan’s agony. He too did not live long enough to grow out of his dream world, though one doubts that he ever wanted to.
By the time General Pervez Musharraf received the ultimatum to decide in a few seconds whether the US should attack Afghanistan with his support or without it, the country had lost the ability to defend its interest. something about which it could at least utter a few sentences 50 years earlier. The new strategic understanding that Musharraf developed with the Bush regime has been coming under strain due to a variety of factors. Perhaps the most critical of these is the US insistence that Pakistan should pay due attention to the need for economic reconstruction and democratic control of decision-making processes.
It is easy to blame the US for abandoning Pakistan each time its strategic objective is achieved, but the real issue is the Pakistani leaders’ expectation that the US policy-makers should forget what they consider to be their national interests as conveniently as they forget the interests of their own people.
Mr. I.A. Rehman is a writer and activist living in Pakistan. He is the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretariat.