MASTER AND FRIEND – US-Pakistan relations

by Wajid Shamsul Hasan

A Dodgem Relationship

To understand Pakistan’s relations with the United States, especially when they are at their lowest ebb, as they are today, one would like to refer to two extremely relevant books, most prominent in any library on Pakistan. Each one represents a period when Pakistan was the best of allies with Washington.

President Mohammad Ayub Khan’s book, “Friends Not Masters” is a sort of Shikwa (Complaint) against the super-power for its treatment of its most trusted ally.  On the opening page of his autobiography the author gives his quotation that says it all about relations that rose to sublime heights and then fell to the state of being ridiculous. In his own words, “People in developing countries seek assistance, but on the basis of mutual respect; they want to have friends not masters”.  The Field-Marshal entitled “the Asian De Gaulle” by the American and Western media, learnt much too late in the day the meaning of the American expression,“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.

There are two different views and explanations rooted in history regarding the how and the why of the initiation of the Pakistan-American relationship. Some academics claim that Pakistan was Anglo-American-centric from its inception and that for it to become an ally of the United States was only to be expected.  It had a pre-Partition knighted-foreign minister who was more than keen to have the new country affiliated with Washington.  So were our bureaucrats in the Pakistan Foreign Office.  They were British-trained and their mindset was Western-orientated. As such, and influenced by this mind-set, some academic rubbish was circulated saying that Pakistan’s first Prime Minisiter, Liaquat Ali Khan, was invited by the Soviet Union to visit Moscow first but he declined and preferred to go to Washington.

No doubt this orientation business was there when it came to seeking diplomatic ties with two super-powers. Historically, it has been proved that the Moscow invitation was not a fiction, as claimed by some writers.  He received the invitation from Moscow on his way back from London after attending the Commonwealth Summit in1949.  And there is truth that it was subverted. Since the pro-Anglo-American bureaucrats manning the Foreign Office did not know how deep the ties were between Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s, All-India Muslim League and the Communist Party of India, for them to take seriously the invitation from Moscow was sort of a joke.

Soon after MAJ and AIML made up their minds for an independent homeland for the Muslims of India, the Communist Party of India was directed by Moscow to get its young Muslim members to join AIML to help it become better organised, its organ “Dawn” to be galvanised into a strong voice and to help AIML’s propaganda machinery to be more effective. For the first time AIML had a cadred team inside with progressive re-orientation.

Moscow’s decision was far-sighted and so to invite Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, to visit Moscow first was multi-faceted. Ideologically the Russian Communist Party saw ingrained in Pakistan’s ideological moorings, common elements that encouraged the idea of greater understanding with each other. And, strategically speaking, the world’s largest Islamic state, committed to a liberal, progressive and secular Pakistan with equality for all its citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender, and with religion having nothing to do with the business of the state, had more pliable characteristics in it with Communism minus God. Geo-politically too, sound and solid relations with Pakistan would offer the Soviet Union an all-weather-proof bridge to spread its tentacles into the oil-rich Muslim Middle East.

Obviously, with this background, Pakistan Foreign Office bureaucrats considered it a patriotic act to subvert Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s possible visit to Moscow.  This view is upheld by many senior progressive Foreign Ministry officials who saw greater wisdom in developing ties with countries next door to us rather than seek friends many thousand miles away.  One of the most prominent Pakistan Foreign Service officials, Sultan Mohammad Khan, revealed that the excuse given for not accepting the Moscow invitation was that Pakistan had no embassy in Moscow, there was a lack of trained personnel to be posted there.  This was further reflected in the fact that for quite some time Pakistan’s Ambassador to Iran, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, had Moscow’s additional accreditation and his mission based in Teheran looked after Pakistan’s interests in the Soviet Union.

The Indian Prime Minister, Jawar Lal Nehru, gave top priority to developing ties with the Soviet Union. India’s first ambassador to Moscow was his real sister Mrs. Vijay Laxmi Pandit. In its ideological interpretation, Moscow considered India to be a bastion of the worst form of capitalism – the Banyas.  It was also strait-jacketed by the deeply entrenched caste system, exploiting its poor as a vehicle for economic progress.  It was indeed a matter of concern for Delhi that for nearly some days the Soviet Foreign Office did not condole them for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.  Only after it was conveyed that such an act was not diplomatic, someone from the Soviet protocol signed the Condolence Book.  Despite the avowed socialistic credentials of Prime Minister Nehru, the father of the country was considered by Moscow to be an imperialist agent.

Moscow’s invitation to Liaquat was used by the Foreign Office to extract an invitation for Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan from Washington. This was readily accepted and the American leadership went out of the way to give an unprecedented welcome to the “Leader of Asia”.  This subversion was the beginning of a relationship with a master and not a friend. It manifested in his assassination when Liaquat, being a no-nonsense man, said firmly “no” to providing operational space to Washington to get rid of Iran’s popularly-elected Prime Minister, Dr Mossadegh, when he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, ending an overly-exploited relationship.  Liaquat’s assassination in 1951 changed the whole complexion of Pakistan’s politics. Domestically, a social-welfare-state, based on the principle of equality, was hijacked by the emerging establishment power-troika (comprising of military generals, bureaucrats and judges-all British-trained) in cahoots with the feudal class, plus those religious elements who had opposed Quaid and his movement for Pakistan. After the unconstitutional dismissal of Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin in 1953, the successor to Liaquat and a founding father, by a former civil-servant, then Governor-General, Ghulam Muhammad, the installation of an imported Prime Minister,Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Mohammad Ali Bogra, our foreign policy, from being independent and neutral, got tied to the apron strings of the United States. The Mutual Defence Treaty of 1954 laid the foundation of Pakistan’s total reliance on American arms and our economy was underwritten by US financial assistance.

In his treatise on foreign policy, “Myth of Independence”, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto further sizes up from where Ayub left in his book, Pakistan’s bitter exploitation by the United States through its ingress in various institutions, including defence.  Based on his experience of being a key member of the Ayub government, as well as its foreign minister, he states that the situation Pakistan found itself in was such that every decision of any importance, even as regards matters that ought to have been of purely internal concern, was affected by some aspect, real or imaginary, of international relations, especially of commitments to the United States of America.  Even, on occasion, America interfered in the posting of Section Officers. He became a thorn in the eyes of the Americans when, in 1960, as Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources, he negotiated with the Soviet Union for an oil agreement. It was significant since it was the first break-through towards improving relations with Moscow. “I was convinced that the time had arrived for the Government of Pakistan to review and revise its foreign policy.”

Ayub Khan was so totally sold-out to the Americans that he allowed them an air base near Peshawar to fly their spy planes for surveillance over the Soviet Union until the day when Russian fighters caught the American spy plane U-2, piloted by Gerry Powers, and brought it down to the ground.  Soviet Premier Khrushchev was so furious that he red-pencilled Peshawar and threatened to destroy it in case of any repetition.

Bhutto, as Pakistan’s foreign minister, changed the direction of foreign policy and diversified defence procurement. He took Pakistan closest to China despite the fact Ayub offered India “joint defence against the common enemy from the north” during the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict to please American President John F. Kennedy.  Pakistan owes it to Bhutto’s wisdom that not only has it become self-sufficient in defence when previously it suffered repeatedly from US arms embargo.

While all his efforts to diversify and have an independent foreign policy met American resistance, it was his fast track pursuit of a nuclear programme after the break up of Pakistan in 1971 and the Indian explosion of a nuclear device that got Americans so angry that he was informed he would be made a horrible example and the person who later in 1979 executed this threat was Army Chief General Ziaul Haq.

Pakistan’s foreign policy fell from the sublime to the ridiculous when it became a pathetic extension for the pursuit of American strategic interests vigorously followed by General Pervez Musharraf. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had warned the elder Bush in 1989 not to sustain and build Taliban as they would grow into a Frankenstein monster, impossible to control. As you sow so shall you reap. Both Americans and Pakistan are paying through their noses for helping a religiously fanatic force to bring down communist Soviet Union.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of American leaders like President Woodrow Wilson, fighting a war to make the world safe for democracy and the like, in the foreign policy of a nation it is its national interests that matter most. the Cornerstone of American foreign policy has been the Monroe Doctrine. It first spelled out briefly in 1823 American policy as isolationist and that it would not allow the European colonial powers to enter or interfere with states in South America. President James Monroe asserted in his annual message to Congress: “The American continents … are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonisation by any European powers.”

Being cornerstone as it is, it has remained a key factor in American foreign policy whether it is Cold War, a stand-off with the Soviet Union over the Bay of Pigs or its current pursuit of geo-strategic interests by creating uncertainties around the world.  Its War on Terror on sexed-up dossiers to attack and destroy Iraq on its mythical possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the invasion of Afghanistan since Taliban allegedly posed a threat to its security after 9-11, President Trump’s recent diatribe against Pakistan—are all a manifestation of free-market imperialism aimed at seizing the resources of other countries wherever possible. Afghanistan is believed to be tremendously rich in natural resources.

It is good to know that both “master” and “friend” have agreed to keep themselves engaged to resolve issues and not to let things further deteriorate.  Obviously it has been an imperative for Washington to withdraw from the edge of the precipice since Pakistan is the road to peace and stability in Afghanistan as it was the bridge for President Nixon to visit China in 1972.

The author is the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a veteran journalist

Image: President Ayub Khan and First Lady (United States) Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy