An uneasy partnership

Print edition : February 16, 2002

The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies by Dennis Kux; Woodrow Wilson Centre Press, 2001; pages 469, $30.

DENNIS KUX was on diplomatic assignments to Pakistan twice - once in 1957 and then in 1969. He was also interested in India. Being of a scholarly bent of mind, Kux spent five years studying and writing about relations between the United States and India. He worked for another five years to write this book, on relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. For over five decades now, relations between the two countries have not been steady; they have been at times volatile.


This book was written before the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington. The author has made use of official U.S. documents, both classified and unclassified. He could not get such documents in Pakistan. Therefore, he conducted extensive interviews with people who were involved or who are knowledgeable.

Kux has neither broken new ground nor brought to light any sensational material. The book is an honest appraisal of the relations between the two countries. The merit of the book lies in the fact that it gives in one volume all the significant happenings and assesses them objectively.

When Pakistan was founded, the U.S. government was not particularly interested in the new state. Ordinarily, even Americans of some standing are not interested in the affairs of other countries. Often, one is amazed at their ignorance or even indifference. Kux quotes from a dispatch from a British diplomat about Liaquat Ali Khan's lunch engagement in Los Angeles. At the function, an American businessman asked the Pakistani Prime Minister whether the blank space between the twin flanks of Pakistan (West and East Pakistan; the latter became Bangladesh subsequently) as shown in the menu card was Africa.

But after the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) came into existence in 1954, its principal architect being U.S. Secretary of State John Forster Dulles, there was a new-found interest in Pakistan. A conversation between Dulles and one of his foremost critics, the journalist Walter Lippmann, is revealing. Dulles told Lippmann that he wanted the fighting men of South Asia. According to him, Pakistanis were the real fighters. The U.S. could not do without the Gurkhas. Lippmann clarified that Gurkhas were not Pakistanis but Indians. (In fact, they are from Nepal.) Dulles replied that even if they were not Pakistanis, at least they were Muslims. Lippmann explained to the Secretary of State that Gurkhas were in fact Hindus. Given this background, it is not surprising that in the course of his electoral campaign, when asked about the Taliban, George W. Bush said that it might be a rock band.

Kux mistakenly compares Kashmir with Hyderabad. It is not true that the Indian Army went into Hyderabad without giving the Nizam any time to change his adamant stand. Besides, he had already declared that his state would be independent. He even wanted to have diplomatic relations with Pakistan. All this was beyond the scope of the Partition scheme approved by leaders of both India and Pakistan.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had his own worldview and did not want India to be embroiled in Cold War politics. This annoyed the Americans. They thought Pakistan was more amenable. It is noteworthy that whenever relations between the U.S. and Pakistan were at a low ebb, some international situation developed, which in turn would help Pakistan reverse the unfavourable trend. This does not mean that the U.S. was always enthusiastic about helping Pakistan financially or militarily. It was the politics of the Cold War that brought the two countries closer. It was, however, merely a marriage of convenience.

This is why we find President Dwight D. Eisenhower complaining about the burden of helping Pakistan. Initially, the U.S. was to give a small amount; but it ballooned to $500 million. Eisenhower wrote to the National Security Council: "We had decided some time ago that we wanted Pakistan as a military ally. Obviously it had proved costly to achieve this objective. In point of fact we were doing practically nothing for Pakistan except in the form of military aid. This was the worst kind of a plan and decision we could have made. It was a terrible error, but now we seem hopelessly to be involved in it." This hopeless involvement has been carried on to this day.

Ironically, it was during Eisenhower's presidency that the American involvement in Pakistan grew significantly. Peshawar was chosen as a base for U-2 spy planes that had to be stationed near the borders of the erstwhile Soviet Union. In exchange, Pakistan received F-104 planes, which had been denied to it for quite some time.

It was Pakistan's military dictator Muhammad Ayub Khan who broke the ice with China and resolved the border dispute. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto built on this base and gradually the two countries came closer. The Americans were suspicious of this relationship. But when the U.S. wanted to open a new chapter in its relations with China, Pakistan served as a broker.

Using substantial documentation Kux points out that although Pakistan raised objections, both John F. Kennedy and his successor Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to improve relations with India. Neither President succumbed to Pakistan's plea to make aid to India conditional. Pakistani leaders came under fire from their own countrymen for playing second fiddle to America which, they pointed out, was extending more aid to India than Pakistan. Of course, this criticism is not valid, as the per capita aid to India was lower when compared to Pakistan.

The policies of President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger changed the balance in the subcontinent. In order to establish good relations with China, they requested Pakistan to play the role of a middleman. Kux gives the details about all these dealings and also criticises the duo for lying to the Chinese as well as to the American public and for giving false information to the Pakistani leaders that China would put pressure on India in case it attacks East Pakistan. Both Chinese and Soviet leaders did not buy the argument of Nixon and Kissinger that India would extend the war to the West and decimate the Pakistan Army. In this context, Kux could have quoted the then Soviet Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly F. Dobrynin, who conveyed to Nixon and Kissinger the finding of Soviet sources that India had no such intention. According to Kux, Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Z.A. Bhutto agreed informally to accept the Line of Control in Kashmir as the international border. He could have sourced reliable material on the issue from P.N. Dhar's book Indira Gandhi, the 'Emergency,' and Indian Democracy.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan radically changed the situation in the subcontinent. It gave Pakistan President General Zia-ul-Haq an opportunity not only to advance his politics of hegemony but also to checkmate his political rivals. He started madrassas in order to impart religious education. As Kux rightly points out, it was the madrassas that became the recruiting centres of the Taliban. Saudi Arabia provided large amounts of money for this venture. Meanwhile, the Americans, who were engaged in defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, poured huge amounts of money and weapons into that country through Pakistan. Although Z.A. Bhutto initiated Pakistan's nuclear programme, it was Zia who made striking progress on this front. The Americans were suspicious on this count, but it seems they were willing to be deceived. Thus, the 1980s brought the two countries closer.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Afghanistan, the U.S. also withdrew from the scene, leaving Pakistan to fend for itself. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army and the whole system became more corrupt and came under the influence of fanatics. Kux has correctly analysed the malady, which has corroded the body politic of Pakistan. The U.S. warnings about the Taliban came too late. Moreover, Pakistan always played down this menace. If the U.S. had acted tough, it could have reined in Pakistan in time. With the war in Afghanistan taking an unexpected turn, once again Pakistan is getting substantial help from the U.S. Nevertheless, serious differences exist between the two on issues such as terrorism and nuclear devices.

According to Kux, Pakistan should put aside its obsession with India and try to solve its political and economic problems. Pakistan should ask itself why very often, it finds itself on the verge of bankruptcy. This time the war on terrorism has helped Pakistan. But it may not be sufficient. Besides, the war on terrorism might unleash forces within Pakistan that may pose it serious problems.

This book was written before September 11, after which the situation has changed radically.

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