Good ally, bad enemy?

"Anti-western propaganda was often unleashed precisely so Pakistani officials could argue that the United States had to support Pakistan against India, so as to preserve its alliance with them. Few Pakistanis knew how much their country and its armed forces had become dependent on US assistance.” (Husain Haqqani, Magnificient Delusions)

One of the most important planks in Pakistan's political history is the role that Pak- US relations played in affecting Pakistan's fortunes domestically and abroad. Two recent books, one by former Ambassador Husain Haqqani (Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding), and the other by Carlotta Gall (The Wrong Enemy: American in Afghanistan, 2001-2014), help us understand this awkward interaction in greater depth. The relationship between the two countries has ranged from indifference to "most allied allies" and at times, has been a marriage of convenience alone.

Pakistan's leaders, from Mr. Jinnah to more current governments, have expected far too much from the United States in terms of financial and military aid. Initially, the non-existent "communist threat" card was used by Pakistan's politicians to scare America into co-operating with the newly-created country. An interesting aspect of this issue is the duality that existed between the approach of Pakistani leaders to the United States, and public opinion regarding the United States in Pakistan. While Mr. Jinnah was trying his best to impress upon American diplomats and asking the United States for two billion dollars in aid, the newspaper that he founded was publishing anti-American rhetoric. When questioned about this, he was of the view that editors ‘simply reflected’ the attitudes of Indian Muslims in general towards America, and added jokingly that ‘they had to make a living’. Similarly, at one point during Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan's tenure, while political leaders of the country were drumming up the "threat of communist overtake" (despite the USSR giving no attention to the newly-created state of Pakistan), in order to attract American support, three thousand protestors attacked the US embassy in Karachi to protest American recognition of Israel.

This pattern has continued over the years and Pakistani hypocrisy has often irritated American benefactors.

The United States was the first country to open its embassy in Karachi and provided $10 million in aid to help Pakistan through teething problems. Despite Pakistan's more than subtle overtures and marketing, India was given more importance from a strategic point of view by the Americans. Pakistan's leaders tried their best to imply that Pakistan was located strategically with South East Asia at one end and the Middle East on the other, and that this should be used by the Americans in exchange for generous financial assistance and military supplies (for example, Defense Secretary Iskander Mirza demanded two hundred tanks in 1951).

In fact, Pakistan's leaders looked towards the US for help regarding the Kashmir issue and when the Afghans posed trouble along the western border. 

The first batch of American aid came in the form of wheat in June, 1953, because Pakistan was facing a drought at the time. John foster Dulles played a major role in initiating the relationship with Pakistan from the American side. Later, Vice President Nixon also toured the country and was impressed by the anticommunist sentiment on display.

Pakistan became a signatory to the Baghdad Pact (later renamed CENTO) in 1955, resulting in a commitment by the United States to provide Pakistan with equipment and training for five and a half new divisions at the cost of $171 million. Between 1954 and 1959, $425 million in American aid had been pumped into the Pakistani military. Pakistan’s army received Patton tanks, modern artillery, howitzers, and state-of-the-art communications and transportation equipment. The Pakistan Air Force was armed with F-86 jet fighters. This was on top of the $885 million in economic assistance, during the same period.

James L. Langley, American Ambassador to Pakistan (1957-59) wrote, “Pakistan’s forces are unnecessarily large for dealing with any Afghan threat over Pashtunistan. Pakistan would be of little use to us should perchance worse come to worst and India go communist… One of the most disturbing attitudes I have encountered in the highest political places here is that the United States must keep up and increase its aid to Pakistan, and conversely, that Pakistan is doing the United States a favor in accepting aid, in addition to the Pakistani pro-Western posture in the Baghdad Pact and SEATO and the United Nations, when actually these postures are in part dictated by Pakistani hatred for India.”

During President Ayub’s reign, Pakistan moved its troops surreptitiously inside the disputed territory of Kashmir; an ill-fated move that backfired. The misadventure was followed by war at the international border between Pakistan and India. American aid was suspended to both countries as a result. It was considered an act of betrayal by the Pakistani public. Anti-American sentiment was stoked by the adventurous military regime that failed in its pursuit during the Indo-Pak war of 1965.

Growing economic disparity and unrest amongst students became the downfall of General Ayub Khan and he was replaced at the throne by another general, Yahya Khan. General Yahya announced parliamentary elections in 1970 to control unrest prevailing in the country. On November 13, 1970, a massive cyclone devastated East Pakistan. The gales shrieked to 150 miles an hour, followed by a monstrous tidal wave over twenty feet high. According to estimates, at least 230,000 people died as a result. The Government of Pakistan did not respond adequately to post-disaster relief efforts while the international response from the United States, Soviet Union and Britain was much more visible. Sydney Schanberg of the New York Times was appalled by the Pakistani government’s lassitude about delivering aid. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The writer is a freelance columnist.


Abdul Majeed Abid

The writer is a freelance columnist. Follow him on Twitter

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