The enduring triangle

Published : Oct 27, 2001 00:00 IST

The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies by Dennis Kux; Oxford University Press, 2001; pages 470, Rs. 495.

THIS book appears at a time when India and Pakistan are vying with each other for the affections of the United States. It is a diplomatic history of relations between the U.S. and Pakistan from 1947 to 2000 (when President Bill Clinton made his South Asia trip in March). The author is a scholar-diplomat who delved into a mass of published and unpublished material, held extensive interviews with leading figures in the U.S. and Pakistan, and brought to bear on his analyses insights gained as a diplomat concerned with India and Pakistan. It is excellently documented and contains revelations of current relevance. The web of relationships between India and Pakistan, on the one hand, and the major powers who interact with them - the U.S., Russia and China - on the other, make the book a fine guide for understanding some of the issues that face us today.

There are a few minor factual errors and at least two major ones. Jinnah did not preside "over both the Muslim League... and the... Congress" sessions at Lucknow in 1916 (page 2). He presided over the League; Ambika Charan Mazumdar, over the Congress. Jinnah did not speak "in impeccable English" (page 2). He was, as his devotee M.A.H. Ispahani gently wrote, "no master of languages... He best expressed himself in English, and even in this language, the meticulous Don would have found some flaws" (Qaid-e-Azam) Jinnah As I Knew Him, page 1,070). In truth, he spoke flawlessly only in Gujarati and Kutchi. The story that he was embarrassed when Gandhi asked him to speak in Gujarati is false. Foreign Secretary M.A. Ikramullah was not "a Bengali". His family hailed from Varanasi and settled down in Nagpur.

Robin Raphel, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, did not tell journalists that "the United States had never accepted the accession of Kashmir to India" (page 328). This is a sorry lapse. A correspondent asked her opinion on India's stand that Kashmir's accession to India made it "an integral part of India". She replied at the unattributable briefing on October 28, 1993, with the standard U.S. formulation: "We view Kashmir as a disputed territory", adding "we do not recognise that Instrument of Accession as meaning that Kashmir is forever more an integral part of India". This was no different from Nehru's stand in the Lok Sabha on August 7, 1952: "While the accession was complete in law and in fact, the other fact which has nothing to do with the law also remains, namely our pledge to the people of Kashmir... that this matter can be re-affirmed or cancelled or cut out by the people of Kashmir if they so wish".

More consequential is his misimpression that it was as "a flip response to a question" as to how large an army Pakistan wanted that Liaquat Ali Khan said at a press conference in the U.S. on May 4, 1950: "If your country will guarantee our territorial integrity, I will not keep any army at all."

On April 13, The New York Times published his interview with C.L. Sulzberger, on the eve of his trip to the U.S., in the course of which he expressed the view that the Commonwealth should issue a collective guarantee of the territorial integrity of India and Pakistan. Reuters reported under a London, April 14, dateline that "discussions have taken place between Pakistan and the United Kingdom Government" on the subject. "Mr. Khan would like to know definitely how far the United Kingdom and ultimately the United States of America would be prepared to take firm responsibilities in asking South Asian countries to take sides in the Cold War" (The Times of India, April 15, 1950). The author notes that "a year later, in May 1951, the United States approached Pakistan again about sending forces to Korea". Liaquat responded that his country was ready to commit a full division, but the "U.S. must give him a commitment that will assure his people" (page 38).

S. Gopal records that following the exodus of Hindus from East Pakistan "Nehru was ready to face war and to let this be known". He told Parliament on February 23, 1950: "If the methods we have suggested are not agreed to, it may be that we shall have to adopt other methods" (S. Gopal; Jawaharlal Nehru; Vol. 2; p. 84). The Nehru-Liaquat Agreement, signed in New Delhi on April 8, defused the crisis. But it had shaken Liaquat.

Pakistan's quest for a guarantee persisted. Not content with U.S. arms aid (1954) and the 1959 agreement, on January 8, 1980, Agha Shahi, Foreign Affairs Adviser, told the U.S. Ambassador, during negotiations on Pakistan's cooperation in a covert operation against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, "that his country wanted to strengthen U.S. security guarantees by replacing the 1959 executive agreement with a formal treaty, as well as a substantial economic and military aid programme" (page 248). When, in 1998, President Clinton tried to persuade Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not to emulate India by carrying out a nuclear explosion, "Sharif told Clinton that he needed a U.S. Security guarantee against India to hold off from testing. The President said that he could not give this but reiterated his intention 'to cut through the knot', of laws blocking aid and give Pakistan 'the tools you need to defend your country'. This was not good enough for the Prime Minister..." (page 346). This record of half a century reveals a deep sense of insecurity.

During a Cabinet meeting on September 7, 1947, Jinnah said: "Pakistan (is) a democracy and communism (does) not flourish in the soil of Islam. It (is) clear therefore that our interests (lie) more with the two great democratic countries, namely the U.K. and the USA, rather than with Russia". Kux, who was given access to minutes of Cabinet meetings for the period August-December 1947, remarks: "From the start, therefore, Pakistan's orientation differed from that of India, which sought the middle ground of neutrality" (page 20). He has overlooked the archival material published by Prof. M.S. Venkataramani in Frontline (April 9 and 23, and May 7 and 21, 1999) which revealed how, in 1948, bypassing the Indian Ambassador, Nehru not only sought arms but "a long-term military collaboration between the U.S. and India", that is, a military alliance.

The disclosure should cause no surprise for as late as on February 7, 1950 Nehru wrote in a confidential note: "If there is a world war, there is no possibility of India lining up with the Soviet Union whatever else she may do. It is obvious that our relations with the United Kingdom in political and economic matters are far close than with other countries. We have practically no such relations with the Soviet (sic.) nor is it likely that they will develop to any great extent for obvious reasons" (Gopal; Volume 2; page 64). Nehru warned the Chief Ministers on July 15, 1950: "We face today a vast and powerful Soviet group of nations, which tends to become a monolithic group, not only pursuing a similar internal economic policy, but a common foreign policy. That policy is an expansionist one... the approach of the rival group... tends more and more to encourage reactionary and military elements in various countries..." (ibid; page 102).

Nehru was extremely touchy. Although Liaquat drew a blank during his trip to the U.S., Nehru complained, on May 29, 1950, of "a concerted attempt to build up Pakistan and build down, if I may say so, India" (ibid; page 63).

Thoughtful Indians and Pakistanis must ask themselves why the two countries, which had a largely similar voting record in he U.N. General Assembly from 1947 to 1950, gradually drifted apart. For, at the outset, both were pro-U.S. and favoured a common foreign policy - yet ended as adversaries out to isolate, if not harm, each other, On the eve of Partition, on May 21, 1947, Jinnah spoke of a treaty between the two states "in the mutual interest of both and against any aggressive outsider". On the eve of his visit to Pakistan (April 26, 1950), Nehru told Sulzberger that both should "ultimately" develop "joint policies for transportation, irrigation, communications and national defence" and cited U.S.-Canada relations as a model. Newspaper editors of India and Pakistan were told (May 4, 1950): "We should try to develop a common policy in regard to international affairs, in regard possibly to defence matters and in many cases in economic matters. I am convinced that unless some catastrophe overtakes us, that is bound to be the inevitable."

Half a century later the "inevitable" is nowhere in sight. Jinnah damaged the prospect by his policy on Junagadh (vide the writer's "Jinnah and Junagadh"; Frontline, October 12 and 26, 2001); Nehru, by his policy on Kashmir ("Of the India-Pakistan Summit, 1955", Frontline, August 3 and 17, 2001). The principle of non-alignment has a crucial corollary - absence of a major dispute with a neighbour. If resolved, one of the two, the weaker generally, will seek borrowed clout, driving the other to the rival power. Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Bogra sadly admitted to Nehru when they met in Delhi on May 14, 1955: "But even their alignments with foreign countries were partly the result of their conflict with India. If that conflict ceased, no doubt that would have some effect on their international policy. I (Nehru) said that I agreed with this to a considerable extent" (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Second Series; Volume 28; page 251).

Nehru little realised that he was building on shifting sands. His Kashmir policy depended on one man, Sheikh Abdullah; as it depends now on his son - and even grandson. The Sheikh told the U.S. Ambassador, Loy Henderson, in "two secret discussions" in Srinagar in September 1950 held at the former's request "that in his opinion it (Kashmir) should be independent; that overwhelming majority population desired this independence". In fairness, he said also that "it would be preferable for Kashmir to go to India than to Pakistan" because of the religious bigotry there. Henderson reported: "Military observers and other foreigners in Kashmir with whom I talked seemed unanimous in their belief that if Vale should be given an opportunity to vote freely, it would prefer Pakistan to India. Most of them were also of opinion that population in general would prefer independence to any other solution" (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950; Volume 5; page 1435).

Kux records how Nehru repeatedly foiled attempts at a settlement, no matter how favourable to India's interests. In June 1952, Henderson's successor, Chester Bowles, who was a strong supporter of India, met Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nazimuddin. "An upbeat Bowles cabled Washington after the session: 'It is difficult to see how Nehru can turn down this proposal'... But Nehru turned Bowles down... asserting that 'ratios (of troops on both sides) were not the way to approach the problem since this implied (the Pakistanis) had definite rights in Kashmir which (the) Indians had consistently denied" (page 41). However, Nehru himself had conceded its locus standi in his plebiscite accords with Pakistan (August 13, 1948 January 5, 1949 and August 21, 1953).

On November 28, 1962, Ayub Khan "appeared to agree that a plebiscite was not the best way to settle the dispute and that Pakistan could not expect to receive all of the Kashmir Valley". So he told emissaries from the U.S. and the U.K. who, no doubt, conveyed it to Nehru. Ayub Khan "understood that any fair settlement would be unpopular in both countries" (page 135). Nehru rejected this overture effectively. Another Nehru admirer, U.S. Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith, shrewdly summed up the reason for Nehru's wrath whenever a compromise was proposed: "Nehru is unquestionably angry, in part at my pressure, much more at the fact that I have translated his vague talk of wanting a settlement into firm concessions that he doesn't want to make" (page 140). It was the same story on the border dispute with China. He simply would not negotiate.

In 1953, Pakistan dropped its demand for guarantee once the U.S. agreed to give it the arms. "Although both Liaquat and Nazimuddin had sought U.S. arms, neither had been willing to commit fully to the Western camp in the absence of a security guarantee against India. Pakistan's new rulers had no such hesitations about taking sides in the Cold War in return for military and economic assistance. Even if Washington remained unwilling to give Pakistan a commitment against India, Karachi believed that the expected arms aid would substantially bolster the country's security."

The new Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was an enthusiastic dupe. Pakistan manipulated the U.S., concealing its objectives by flaunting anti-communism. (Dulles thought that the Gurkhas are Pakistanis.) On January 3, 1957, President Eisenhower admitted: "It was a terrible error, but now we seem hopelessly involved in it." James Langley, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, wrote in December 1957: "The present military program is based on a hoax, the hoax being that it is related to the Soviet threat." U.S. arms bolstered the Army in Pakistan, which staged the first coup in 1958, and emboldened Ayub and Z.A. Bhutto to launch a war in 1965 with consequences disastrous to their own country.

Differences cropped up once the U.S. decided to help India in the wake of the war with China in October 1962 and over Pakistan's growing friendship with China. Pakistan extracted from the U.S., on November 5, 1962, a pledge "that it will come to Pakistan's assistance in the event of aggression from India". Pakistan's charges of U.S. betrayal in 1965 and in 1971 are baseless. The pledge did not imply support to Pakistan's aggression (1965) or help against Indian intervention (1971) when Pakistan's Army was on a genocidal rampage in East Pakistan. There is greater validity to the charge in respect of the U.S. volte-face in 1990 once Pakistan had served its purpose as a front-line state against Afghanistan.

Kux's survey demolishes the theory that, in contrast to non-alignment, alliances entail loss of independence. States pursue their interests in different ways. The non-aligned freely accepted curbs on speech and conduct, apart from tacit alliances, as allies freely broke ranks when it suited them. Moral superiority belonged to neither. Ayub Khan refused to submit to Lyndon Johnson's "arm-twisting" on China (page 158). Zia rebuffed Jimmy Carter's emissaries on Afghanistan (page 251). Pakistan consistently defied the U.S. on its nuclear programme right until the tests of 1998.

"These instances are only some examples of the United States' limited ability to influence Pakistan's policies. Time and again Washington has been shown no clothes in dealing with its erstwhile ally, unable to translate superior military, political, and economic strength into effective policy leverage with Islamabad. In more recent years, Pakistan has rebuffed repeated U.S. urgings to reduce its not-so-covert support for Kashmiri insurgents, to rein in Islamic extremists linked to terrorism, and to take a harder line with the Afghan Taliban."

Jimmy Carter put Zia in the dog house on the nuclear issue. The Afghan crisis helped Zia drive a tough bargain with Ronald Reagan in 1981. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would not deal with the Mujahideen directly but only through the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). "When Shahi and Arif bluntly told Haig that Pakistan would not compromise on its nuclear programme, the Secretary of State responded that the issue need not become the centerpiece of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. But, Haig warned the Pakistanis, if Islamabad were to detonate a nuclear device, the reaction in the U.S. Congress would make it difficult to co-operate with Pakistan in the way that the Reagan administration hoped. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jane Coon, the State Department's senior South Asia specialist, sensed that there was, in effect, a tacit understanding that the Reagan administration could live with Pakistan's nuclear programme as long as Islamabad did not explode a bomb."

ON human rights, Secretary of State Haig said: "Your internal problem." Zia did not get a treaty of guarantee. The $3.2 billion, equally divided between economic and military aid, sufficed. The nuclear item created problems, as Kux ably narrates. Eventually in 1990, the U.S. applied the Pressler Amendment. The loss of arms and other military supplies worth about $300 million a year was a heavy blow.

Relations did not improve much in the Clinton years. Afghanistan, bin Laden, the nuclear tests, Kargil and the military coup in October 1999 exacerbated the tensions. However, Pakistan readily acceded to U.S. demands for capture of terrorists on its soil - Ramzi Yusuf in 1995 by the Benazir Bhutto government, and Mir Aimal Kansi in 1997 by the Sharif government. Pervez Musharraf's response in 2001 should cause no surprise.

U.S.-Pakistan dialogue was never suspended. Sharif warned Clinton, in a letter of April 3, 1998, that India intended to test a nuclear weapon. "Much as the Pakistanis would have liked to gain favour in Washington by arranging for the capture or departure of bin Laden, the action would have cost Sharif dearly both at home, where the Saudi had become an anti-U.S. cult hero, and in Afghanistan, where the Taliban would have been outraged."

The author makes a most important disclosure regarding the Clinton-Sharif accord of July 4, 1999, on Pakistan's withdrawal from Kargil. Vajpayee was party to it. Clinton secured his consent to the deal on the phone (vide the writer's "Kargil diplomacy"; Frontline, August 13, 1999). "In turn, Clinton promised that he would take an active interest in efforts to address the Kashmir problem." The author's disclosure of what followed is very relevant now: "Clinton soon followed up on the July 4 accord, asking Sharif to send an envoy to Washington for confidential talks on Kashmir. After a considerable delay, and to the surprise of the Americans, who anticipated a low-key representative, the Prime Minister dispatched his high-profile brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab and a close confidant. By the time Shabaz arrived, his main concern was not Kashmir but the threat of an Army coup. After he pressed for a U.S. warning against a military takeover, the State Department issued such a warning" - and cooked Sharif's goose. The coup followed.

The Vajpayee regime foolishly exaggerated the U.S.' ire at Pakistan and its tilt towards India. After years of distrust, the U.S. was happy at the upturn in Indo-U.S. relations, but had no plans for discarding Pakistan. Every Pakistani and Indian government has, over the years, sought U.S. support against the other. It was the Bharatiya Janata Party regime alone which sought an exclusive relationship, a demand no U.S. or any other government can accept. Vajpayee told Le Figaro (February 17, 2000) that India wanted a defence partnership with France. "But for that, your country has to make a strategic choice between the great democratic power that India is and Pakistan, a small country under military dictatorship."

The demand was not made as brazenly of the U.S. It was implicit in Vajpayee's remark to the Asia Society in New York on September 8, 2000: "We feel, as do your policy makers, that India and the USA are natural allies." The expectation was arrogantly unrealistic, counter-productive and unworthy of a great country like India. It is arrogant to prescribe to a third state its relationship with a neighbour be it Pakistan, Nepal or Sri Lanka - except to aid clearly aimed at Indian interests. No power will yield to such demands, either. It will only cast doubt on the quality of the relationship India seeks of the U.S.

Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh said in New York on September 26, 1999: "India being a great country, cannot and should not remain preoccupied with what Pakistan does or does not do and should look beyond the Indo-Pakistan bilateral context." This became a boringly, but unconvincingly, recurring theme in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's pronouncements - do not "view India through the Pakistani prism," and "drop the hyphen in Indo-Pakistan relations". Kargil, the coup and Clinton's visit boosted confidence. The rage in the aftermath of attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 springs from the belated realisation that the two year-old efforts to expel Pakistan from affections of the U.S. have failed dismally. The rage is confined to the BJP alone. None of the other parties shares it. All others censured Jaswant Singh for his characteristic impetuosity in offering unsought operational help to the U.S.

When asked if it included logistical help or a staging ground, Jaswant Singh replied with an emphatic 'Yes'. The Cabinet Committee on Security endorsed this (The Times of India, September 14). He also said: "We do not need to stand on formalities" (The Times of India, September 15). The government was sharply censured for this at an all-party meeting in September 15, not for supporting moves against international terrorism but for rushing to offer help that was not sought of it. The Prime Minister's letter of October 1 to President George W. Bush, complaining of the terrorist attack on the Kashmir Assembly building was attacked by "a key ally of the NDA" (The Hindu, October 4).

The U.S. had never left anyone in doubt about its policy towards Pakistan. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Alan Easthan said in Islamabad. "In the context of the sub-continent we would like the situation to change from India hyphen Pakistan to India comma Pakistan" (The Hindu, April 18, 2001).

It is very much in the U.S.' interests to be friends with both. India as a regional power should feel secure enough not to be nettled by Pakistan-U.S. relations and mature enough to accept that geography, history and politics combined to make Pakistan a front-line state now. Did the BJP regime aspire to that status?

The Lahore daily News reported (August 17) a U.S. request to Pakistan for active support, including secret deployment of U.S. Special Forces in northern Pakistan, for an operation to arrest Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Evidently, none in Delhi cared to follow the developments after Bush became President. Significantly, Pakistan has calculatedly not pitched its demands too high in the aftermath of the U.S. strikes on October 7.

Pakistan retained a strategic importance not only for the U.S. but also for China and, as Putin's remarks on Kashmir in New Delhi last year showed, for Russia as well. Having sought, first, to quarantine Pakistan and, next, to exclude it by jumping to offer help to the U.S., the NDA regime felt "sidelined" as it saw both ploys collapsing. Doubtless, U.S.-Pakistan relations will grow, but the U.S. will not, cannot, be privy to any move to undermine Indian interests. It has distinct interests in its relationships with India and Pakistan. Neither is used as a balance against the other, neither can be overlooked in the relationship with the other. Their internecine conflict renders that impossible. Archival material published by Roedad Khan (The American Papers; Oxford University Press; 1999) reveals that not once was the U.S. oblivious to India's greater importance as a regional power.

Sadly, in 2001 this regional power seeks, as it has particularly since 1999, U.S. help to contain Pakistan in the name of combating its terrorism in Kashmir. The fight against terrorism there is perfectly justified; only, it needs two political components - a dialogue with the Kashmiris and one with Pakistan. The Vajpayee government scorns both and expects the U.S. to do the job for it in Kashmir. A policy that ignores a record of half a century is doomed to failure.

In 1948 India moved the U.N. Security Council to stop Pakistan's military venture there. It had no option but to accept its mediation on the political aspects. In 2001 India seeks U.S. intervention to the same end. How will it respond if the U.S. were to take the same stand as the U.N. Secretary-General did in his statement on October 2?

It reads thus: "The Secretary-General utterly condemns the terrorist suicide bombing that occurred yesterday in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir." U.N. maps carry the legend: "The final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been determined." Annan concluded: "This tragic incident once again underlines the need for a political solution to the long-standing dispute over Kashmir."

President Bush said on September 20: "I think we have an opportunity to refashion the thinking between Pakistan and India." Unless they refashion their thinking by themselves, none can blame the U.S. for helping them to do that since both seek its help now - as they did 50 years ago. The only alternative to Indo-Pakistan rapprochement is deeper involvement in South Asia not only by the U.S., but also by China and Russia. The subcontinent is not an island.

Over the years, India's power and importance can only grow. So will Pakistan's. Then disparity in power might grow, but their parity in status as sovereign states will survive. Each will ever retain its own relevance to the great powers. Is it impossible for their leaders to break from the past and achieve a reconciliation that reckons with the realities and sentiments and offers to their peoples a future which conflict and confrontation will assuredly deny them.

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