The current visit by the US Secretary of State, Mr. Rex Tillerson further strengthened the view that the US and Pakistan are going through the era of their worst ever relationship today. However, it is time to ask if the US and Pakistan’s interests ever converged in the history, other than the times when the US required the military and logistic support from Pakistan. The US-Pakistan relations were at its peak, when US required assistance to spy on Russians and Chinese during the cold war, when the US decided to open dialogs with China, when the US wanted Pakistan to provide air bases, when Afghanistan was invaded by Soviets and the US wanted Pakistan’s assistance to drive Soviets out of Afghanistan, when the US wanted Pakistan to provide bases, flying rights and Ground lines of communication (GLOC). Even during those days, the assistance from the US to Pakistan was minimal and with time it started to decline and culminated to the highly conditional assistance which Pakistan was unable and sometimes unwilling to fulfill. At the other hand, the US political and security establishments had the fascination with India because it’s huge market and its strategic position to influence the growth of China and watch the US interests in the Indian Ocean. Even the days, during the cold war, when Pakistan was fully engaged with the US and it was “most allied ally” to the US, the US carefully watched its relations with Pakistan to not to annoy India – which was clearly standing at the other side of the fence than the US.
From the very beginning of Pakistan history, the rulers and founding fathers believed that Pakistan’s survival was in “renting” the country to some big power and the US was seen as a potential leaseholder. The US was told that after $2 billion which would be used to meet their administrative expenses for the first year, Pakistan would still need a regular source of finance to keep going. Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah – the founding father – sent his trusted aide Laiq Ali to the US, and when Laiq met with the US State Department officials, he appraised them the risks Pakistan was facing from the Soviet Union at its Western borders. The US officials were not too impressed. An Internal memorandum released by the Office for Near Eastern Affairs, after the meeting, clarified the US position, “It was obvious from this approach that Pakistan was thinking in terms of the US as a primary source of military strength, and since this would involve virtual US military responsibility for the new dominion [Pakistan], our reply to Pakistan request was negative.”
When the request was rejected, Laiq requested the US to help provide medicines and blankets for the refugees coming from India, but even that request was turned down by the US authorities, however, the US agreed that it “might” sell some military surplus to Pakistan on the rates much lower than the market value, just to mellow down its refusals to the permanent aid package and the assistance in dealing with refugees issues. Although Laiq Ali boasted the development as his diplomatic victory, however, Mr. Jinnah was not very impressed. He instructed another Muslim League’s leader – who became Pakistan’s Prime Minister later – Mr. Feroz Khan Noon to meet with US Ambassador in Ankara and convince him to pressure his administration in Washington DC to weigh Pakistan’s requests in return of its assistance against the threat of growing Communism. Mr. Noon wrote a blunt “secret” memorandum, mentioning how Pakistan is not even having Soviet Ambassador in Karachi (then Pakistan capital) while the Indians have an Ambassador in Moscow who is the sister of India’s Prime Minister, Mr. Jawahir Lal Nehru. In the memorandum, he boasted, “If the USA helps Pakistan to become a strong and independent country, then people of Pakistan will fight to the last man against Communism to keep their [the US] freedom and preserve their way of life.”
When the US Secretary of State Mr. George C. Marshall did not respond to the memorandum, Mr. Noon turned to Turkey for the military equipment but Turkey also declined to respond positively to the request and appraised their decision to the US. The Turkey knew it very well that the Soviet Union, Britain, and the US consider India as the single most important country in the region, not Pakistan. However, in 1950, when the Chinese troops pushed the US forces in North Korea back to the 38th Parallel, the US turned to Pakistan and began to understand some importance of Pakistan. The US slowly began to incorporate Pakistan in its security arrangements for the region. In 1953, Mr. Mohammed Ali Bogra, then Prime Minister of Pakistan allowed the General Motors to open its Assembly plant in Karachi and talked about the US-Pakistan strategic relationship on the permanent basis. The US – as a reward – send the shipment of wheat to Pakistan as an aid, and the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles called Pakistan, “a bulwark for freedom in Asia.” Actually, the wheat shipment by the US was partly for the domestic price support of wheat because of the large surplus. The top English daily in Pakistan, The Pakistan Times, rejected the gesture in its Editorial comments.
In 1954, to woo the US and west further, Pakistan publically demonstrated to be at the same side of the iron curtain as the US and its western allies, by joining the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and in 1955, the Baghdad Pact (also known as Central Treaty Organization (CENTO)). A large number of Pakistanis were against such moves but the government simply ignored the dissent. Sections in Pakistan did not see the sudden love affair from the US as some long-term people-to-people, strategic or economically beneficial relations but they saw it as the transactional relations with Pakistan’s military against the Communism and the US support of country’s slow drift towards the military rule. Their fear was somewhat materialized when the “Technical Assistance Final Report” of Senate Committee on Foreign Relation published in March 1957 – year before General Ayub Khan imposed first Martial Law in Pakistan. The report concluded, “The US military aid has strengthened Pakistan’s armed services, the greatest single stabilizing force in the country, and has encouraged Pakistan to participate in collective defense arrangements.”
After the imposition of Martial Law by General Ayub Khan in 1958 – as was expected by the large part of political and intellectual communities in Pakistan for a long time – General Ayub Khan and its security establishment decided to allow the secret Airbase at Badabir near Peshawar. Even the Pakistan’s acting Foreign Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was not allowed to visit the base. In 1960, an American U-2 spy plane flew from the Badabir, was shot down over the Soviet Union and the pilot Gary Powers was captured. The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced that he knew from where the plane came and he declared Peshawar as its target. After the Power’s incident, the US leadership once again tried to woo Indians by convincing Pakistani dictator, that, to assure the safety of subcontinent from the Communist invasion a joint defense system should be formed which should include India. However, when Ayub Khan suggested this to India’s Prime Minister, J. L. Nehru, he outright rejected such offer and made it clear to General that India did not see Soviets as a threat. In 1961, for the “job well done”, and after rebuffed by the Indians, the US President John F. Kennedy decided to reward Ayub Khan by inviting him to the Washington DC. Ayub was given the red carpet treatment and the opportunity – which even Pakistan’s democratically elected leaders rarely had – to address the joint session of the US Congress.
After India’s defeat in its war against China in 1962, the US and Britain provided India with modern war equipment and during the war, the Kennedy administration even weighed the option of using a nuclear bomb against China if China would proceed further than the disputed territories. Ayub was disquiet but he could not complain. He decided to stay out of the war because of the hope that the US would help Pakistan and pressure India to resolve the Kashmir issue – although it is a widespread belief that that was the only opportunity for Pakistan to not only resolve the Kashmir issue but also with the help of Chinese, cut the Northeastern state of India by capturing the Siliguri corridor. That could be the huge blow to India, and maybe India would not be able to impose the East Pakistan debacle on Pakistan. In 1971, when India found the opportunity it did not miss the chance and assist to break Pakistan. In 1965, when Pakistan engaged in second war with India on Kashmir, the US refused to help Pakistan’s armed forces but the Nixon administration tried to mitigate the intensity of war and pressured Pakistan to pull back. However, when the China broke up from Moscow, the US once again saw Pakistan’s importance to help to open diplomatic channels with the Chinese.
After the April 1979’s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, brought Pakistan into the limelight in the corridors of power in Free World led by the US. Pakistan became once again the “most allied ally” for the US and the military dictator – Gen. Ziaul Haq – became a statesman. The US wanted Zia to work with Afghan nationalists under the leadership of former monarch Zahir Shah but Zia had his own agenda. He wanted to exploit this opportunity to empower the right-wing Muslim extremists so that he could later use them to control Afghanistan and extend their influence in Pakistan to impose his version of Islam which came from the Saudi religio-political establishment. The US leadership not only turned their blind eyes to it but also they supported those extremists. President Ronald Reagan even invited Afghan militants’ leadership to White House and drew parallels between them and the founding fathers of the US. Once the Soviets pulled back in 1986 from Afghanistan and Pakistan came under the democratically elected government of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan became once again the pariah state which was “stealing” technology to create a nuclear bomb, and the leadership in Washington began to mend its relations with India which was — due to the collapse of Soviet Union – looking towards West to have new allies. In 1999, when another dictator in Pakistan General Musharraf toppled the elected government, the US President Bill Clinton decided not to shake hand with him in front of cameras during his short visit in Islamabad, however, same Musharraf became the “close friend” to President George W. Bush, when, once again, Pakistan’s services were needed by the US after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.
Looking at the history of the US and Pakistan relations, it is very obvious that the US has no strategic interest in Pakistan, while India has a lot to offer. To further woo India, it’s necessary for the US to rebuff Pakistan and assume the Indian narrative about the South Asia and the region. Although Pakistan does not rely too much on the US assistance, however, the US has a strong influence on the Financial Institutions like IMF, World Bank etc., which Pakistan has to engage because of its financial needs. The role of Arab countries also depends on how the US sees Pakistan. After Nawaz Sharif’s refusal to send troops for the Saudi war against Yemen, and also India’s increasing influence in the region because of its closeness to the US, the Arab monarchies are reluctant to assist Pakistan if Pakistan would face any financial crisis. Now, Pakistan is observing its drift toward a new possible regional alliance which includes China, Russia, and Iran.
Pakistan must not hope to have the relations with the US which it enjoyed during Ayub’s, Zia’s and Musharraf’s dictatorship, however, it is important for Pakistan to get engaged with the US and keep its communication channels open. The role of the Secretary of State in the US was significantly diminished during President George Bush’s presidency, which was somewhat recovered during President Obama’s administration, but after President Trump’s administration took the office, this role is further reduced and went into the hands of Secretary of Defense and the National Security Advisor. Although, during Trump administration, there is no hope that the office of Secretary of State would be playing its role which probably Gen. Collin Powel and now Sec. Tillerson would like to play, however, after the Trump presidency, sanity may prevail, and the diplomacy would be the preferred option than threats and wars.