The Crossroads of Friendship


On the receiving end of world opinion for some time, the Chinese Premier’s visit was a much needed tonic for Pakistan. China has been a tried and trusted friend in need since 1965, how did we ever manage to loosen the remarkably strong bond with Pakistan’s friend indeed? And should we now compound the situation by turning away from the US altogether? One of the imperatives of foreign policy is that we must avoid extreme change, another is that change if it comes must be for good reason, next when change does come it must be gradual, than it must conform to prevalent national security imperatives and lastly, it must be in the national interest. Change must never be sudden, never for change’s sake and never for short term advantage. Above all, change must never be for an individual person’s gain. Far too long Pakistan’s foreign policy resembles a chameleon, changing shape to suit the occasion.

The metamorphosis of US policy vis-é-vis Pakistan is in keeping with para 5 (c) of the Memo dated May 21, 1965 of (then) US Ambassador to India Chester Bowles to US Secretary of State Dean Rusk to quote, “our present military alliance with Pakistan has become irrelevant to the present situation in Asia, this policy was created in a different era to meet totally different conditions”. Pertinent points from the same Memo, (1) with relevance to US objectives in Asia para 2, “India by virtue of it size, resources, potential and economic potential and geographic location is of great importance to US national interest, (2) with relevance of present US policy para 4, despite the fact that India’s domestic and foreign objectives coincide more closely with our (i.e. US) interests than do these of any other major emerging nation, we have been losing influence in India to extent that may begin to jeopardize our (i.e. US) interests throughout Asia and (3) military aid only confined to logistical and tactical requirements “for meeting the threat from Communist China”.

Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) were meant to contain possible communist threat in Asia from the Soviet Union and China respectively. After the 1962 India-China war and massive US military aid to India, these military alliances became redundant as we got closer to China, both countries emulating Chanakhya’s “an enemy of an enemy is a friend”. With the 1965 war came US suspension of military aid to both Pakistan and India. (Then) Foreign Minister Bhutto bitterly told the US Ambassador on 10 Sep 65 that the US was not displaying the position of an “ally” but that of a “neutral”, that suspension would make no difference to India which mainly used Soviet armaments but the attrition rate would definitely affect Pakistan which wholly relied on the US. In fact we would have faced a catastrophe if China had not stepped in quickly to fill the breach. During the intervening years American economic aid continued to the tune of plus/minus US $ 100 million annually. Nixon, a long-time friend of Pakistan, somewhat circumvented the emerging US policy imperatives in 1969 on becoming US President by offering a one-time military aid package to replenish badly needed spares. Pakistan provided the silent stepping stone for the greatest diplomatic initiative of the 20th century, Nixon’s historic opening to China. Despite the so-called US “tilt” towards Pakistan in 1971, secret documents recently released confirm that the US was resigned to accepting that Pakistan would be divided and had contingency plans in place soon after the Dec 70 elections, a year before Dec 16, 1971. China continued to publicly stand by Pakistan in 1971 in the same manner as it did in 1965, privately Chinese leaders encouraged Pakistan to resolve the East Pakistan problem by political rather than military means.

The US criticism of Pakistan’s attempts to go nuclear in response to the 1974 Indian blast was far more vociferous than US condemnation of India who actually carried out a nuclear explosion. President Carter pointedly bypassed Pakistan in 1978 when visiting India, despite this “most favoured associate” of the COMECON lining up always against the US in international forums like the UN in support of the Soviet Union. Bhutto (and later Gen Zia) made it to the western hit-list (Kissinger to Bhutto in 1976 “we will make a horrible example out of you!”) because of our efforts to go nuclear. By 1979 Gen Zia (and by extension Pakistan) had become international pariahs because of the Bhutto hanging. The Soviet adventure in Afghanistan in late 1976 made everything topsy-turvy, the US love-fest with India went on hold. Afghanistan was a wonderful opportunity for Pakistan but we not only botched it, we managed to convert it into an albatross around our necks. For the record, Pakistan was serving its own interests in Afghanistan, and in fact still is. Our interests simply coincided with that of the US. Could we afford Soviet forces parked on our borders with the warm waters of the Arabian sea (a Czarist dream) an open temptation only a helicopter ride away? We are hypocrites to now lament that the US abandoned us in Afghanistan once its own policy interests were served. If the US had not mounted the massive anti-Soviet effort the Soviets would still be in Afghanistan and we would still be helping the Mujhahideen. Compare the windfall Egypt has received (and continues to receive), for serving US interests to the pittance Pakistan got from the US for its troubles. But why should we blame the US, why didn’t our leaders hold out for more? The fault lies squarely on the shoulder of our leaders who miserably failed in protecting the vital interests of the country. What to talk of hard bargaining about economic and military aid, during and after the war, our (then) leaders priorities were to make their own and their children’s future bright. In 1964 in the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) we frequently pushed a “Morris Minor” car because the owner could not afford a car battery (a common-enough occurrence for an honest field-grade officer), we are now supposed to swallow the canard that his sons either inherited part of Fort Knox or had George Soros as an uncle! Accountability notwithstanding, nobody asks where did the billions of US dollars from CIA (and from other countries) go, only a pittance reaching the Mujhahideen fighting in the field?

As a so-called front-line State in the Reagen-esque fight of “good against evil” in Afghanistan we basked in the adulation showered by the west, putting our relationship with China on a back-burner. Instead of the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude towards distant cousins, we should have held on to China’s economic and military apron strings, benefiting enormously from the economically resurgent China of the 80s and the 90s. Putting it bluntly, we had a ticket but we missed the boat! We naively assumed Pakistan as a “cornerstone of US policy” was for eternity, the US saw it as a God-given one-time chance to “Vietnamize” the Soviets in Afghanistan and took it. We made bloody fools of ourselves in believing that such an “alliance of convenience” would last for ever. In the late 80s, as the Afghan wound down, (then) US Ambassador Robert Oakley, Jr a blunt person who was nicknamed “the Viceroy”, would tell anyone who would listen in Pakistan that the US President’s certification would be withheld if the nuclear route was continued to be pursued, bringing the Presler Amendment for anti-nuclear sanctions into automatic effect. When the aid dried up with the sanctions, we felt betrayed! Why the surprise? We had a chance to redeem things during the Gulf War but the “strategic defiance” concept was the mother of all blunders! Egypt was forgiven its debt of over US $ 12 billion, Pakistan which had more troops facing Iraq close to the action in the Gulf War were not forgiven a penny. Chagai ensured we descended rapidly in western favour, with Kargil we skidded much faster down the slippery slope.

The “conspiracy theory” that the US is somehow inimical to our existence is a load of hogwash, quoting from the same Chester Bowles’ May 21 Memo about US objectives, viz, para 1 (3), to achieve dynamic and sustained economic growth in India and Pakistan, and para 1 (4), to reduce tension between India and Pakistan to the maximum extent possible, while in para 5 (c) give aid as a carrot to draw India and Pakistan into mutually beneficial cooperative economic ventures with military aid to India conditional on India’s willingness to work toward a reconciliation with Pakistan and lastly, as US influence increases with India, to moderate India’s relationship with Pakistan. US Secretary of State Gen Colin Powell last week confirmed this very even-handed rendition of policy before the US Senate Appropriations Committee, thirty six years after the famous Chester Bowles Memo.

US foreign policy has now come a complete circle since 1971, back to the containment of China. The Hainan incident is Godsent for Pakistan, it has confirmed the broad brush Bush, Jr viewpoint about China as a “strategic competitor” of the US. With nothing to show except the blessings of a strategic geo-political location, Pakistan regains its pre-eminent status as a trusted Chinese friend. We certainly do not deserve another chance but God seems to like us for some reason, maybe Mosharraf’s amazing luck is finally rubbing off on Pakistan. Long-term policy objectives should give China a pride of place. PM Chou En Lai told Kissinger in 1971, “do not forget the bridge (sic Pakistan) you have used, you may have to use it again”. Understanding long-term US policy objectives the same conversely stands good for Pakistan’s relation with the US, being less bitter about being “abandoned” would help us pursue a more mature friendship with the US, our best interests are served by not “making inveterate friends or inveterate foes among nations”, to quote the first US President George Washington in his farewell address to the nation.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

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