As a result of elections held on December 7th 1970, the Bengali nationalist party, Awami League (AL), swept elections in East Pakistan and Mr. Bhutto’s People’s Party (PPP) gained advantage in West Pakistan. Mr. Bhutto refused to let AL form a national government and the generals used the ensuing political impasse to unleash brute force on Bengalis, under the guise of “Operation Searchlight.”
Gary Bass, in his recent book “The Blood Telegram” documented the role played by the American President at that time, Richard Nixon, and his advisor Henry Kissinger during the East Pakistan debacle. Archer Blood, an American diplomat posted in Dhaka chronicled the excesses committed by Pakistan’s armed forces and reported them to his superiors at the State Department, in the form of a telegram that became known as the “Blood Telegram.” According to Mr. Bass,
“Pakistan was an ally—a military dictatorship, but fiercely anticommunist. Blood detailed how Pakistan was using US weapons—tanks, jet fighters, gigantic troop transport airplanes, jeeps, guns, ammunition—to crush the Bengalis. In one of the awkward alignments of the Cold War, President Richard Nixon lined up the democratic United States with this authoritarian government, while the despots in the Soviet Union found themselves standing behind democratic India. Nixon and Henry Kissinger were driven not just by such Cold War calculations, but a starkly personal and emotional dislike of India and Indians. Nixon enjoyed his friendship with Pakistan’s military dictator, General Muhammad Yahya Khan, who was helping set up the top secret opening to China. The White House did not want to be seen doing anything that might hint at the breakup of Pakistan—no matter what was happening to civilians in the east wing of Pakistan.”
India’s Prime Minister at the time, Indira Gandhi, “tried to persuade [Henry] Kissinger to recognize the need for more robust US involvement. She said that Pakistan has felt all these years that it will get support from the United States no matter what it does, and this has encouraged an “adventurous policy.” India is not remotely desirous of territory, and to have the Pakistanis base the whole survival of their country on hostility to India was irritating.” (Magnificent Delusions,pg 378).
India did attack East Pakistan in November 1971, following skirmishes initiated by the Pakistan Army on the western border. On 14th December, President Nixon ordered deployment of aircraft carrier USS enterprise in the Bay of Bengal, but the tide had already turned. East Pakistan seceded on 16th December, 1971 and Yahya Khan was dethroned due to a junior officers-led uprising in the Army. Mr. Bhutto was summoned from Geneva to take the reins of the country.
Following the accession of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as President and Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), demands for supply of weapons including tanks, submarines, armored personnel carriers and trucks was made via Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington DC. The American charge de’affairs “could not understand why Pakistan was focusing on rebuilding its military before anything else. After all, the country was short of resources; poverty, disease and illiteracy were rampant; and the loss of East Pakistan meant that it had fewer borders to protect. Still, Pakistan sought fighter jets and tanks.”
During Mr. Bhutto’s reign (1972-77), American aid kept flowing in despite anti-American Rhetoric from the rulers of Pakistan. Pakistan received almost $1 billion in US economic assistance from 1972 to 1977, the years that Bhutto governed the country. But military aid during this period stood at a meagre $1.87 million, most of it in the form of training for officers and spare parts for US made equipment. Pakistan’s generals attributed Bhutto’s failure in reopening the American aid pipeline to his socialist leanings and past anti-American rhetoric. In July 1977, Mr. Bhutto’s government was toppled by General Zia ul Haq. There was initial discord between Zia’s regime and the United States, but the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR changed things in Zia’s favor. Pakistan received substantial military aid and support during the Afghan conflict. As a compromise, America turned a blind eye towards Pakistani efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
When Zia was approached by an American diplomat who conveyed the anxiety on America’s part regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development, Zia said: “I am an honorable man. We are an honorable people. I ask you to tell your President that I give him my word of honor as President of Pakistan and as a soldier, that I am not and will not develop a nuclear device or weapon.” He also implied America’s Jewish Lobby was trying to punish Pakistan’s support for its Islamic partners on the Arab-Israeli issue.
American relations with Pakistan, after the conclusion of the first Afghan war, cooled down considerably and till the 9/11 attack, the status quo was maintained. Following 9/11, General Musharraf pledged complete support to the Americans while keeping military’s assets in Afghanistan secure. Carlotta Gall’s book is a must-read to understand the Afghan perspective during the second Afghan war. She concluded, “Pakistan, supposedly an ally, has proved to be perfidious, driving the violence in Afghanistan for its own cynical, hegemonic reasons. Pakistan’s generals and mullahs have done great harm to their own people as well as their Afghan neighbors and NATO allies. Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy.”
The patron-client/love-hate/master-slave/on again-off again relationship between the two countries was best summarized by Daniel Markey, in his book ‘No Exit From Pakistan’:
“There is a nugget of truth to the Pakistani lament that American has used their country when it suited the superpower’s agenda and then tossed it away when inconvenient. Ever since Pakistan gained independence from British India in 1947, Washington has viewed the country as a means to other ends, whether that meant fighting communism or terrorism. When Pakistan was helpful, it enjoyed generous American assistance and attention. When Pakistan was unhelpful, the spigot was turned off. Yet, for all the Pakistani complaints about how the United States has never been a true friend, the fact is that Pakistan also used America. Pakistani leaders dipped into America’s deep pockets to serve their purposes, sometimes parochial or corrupt, and oftentimes driven by persistent geopolitical conflict with neighboring India.”
The writer is a freelance columnist.