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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2701

American Connection

By Asif Haroon

American connection has all along remained a key element of our foreign policy and has experienced several vicissitudes. All our political and military leaders apart from Quaid-e-Azam have pursued US centric policies. Major reasons for this tilt towards US camp have been our security concerns coupled with economic woes. Pakistan joined the US sponsored defence treaties in the early fifties to thwart Indian as well as Afghanistan and former Soviet Union aggressive designs and to possibly find a solution to the Kashmir dispute. The SEATO and CENTO pacts were in actuality meant to contain the spread of communism in this region and not to provide a security umbrella to Pakistan against India. We, however, somehow clung to the misperception that America would come to our rescue if attacked by India. The 1959 defence agreement signed in Karachi did hint at US assistance against aggression from any side in case Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty was threatened but was vague in contents.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan (1958-1969) moved closer to China and also opened up to Soviet camp consequent to American and western massive military assistance to India in the aftermath of Sino-India border conflict in 1962 in which Indian forces got severely drubbed. This assistance was in addition to what India was getting from Soviet Union. Our guarded tilt was however not at the cost of losing American friendship. The 1965 war with India was fought with American weaponry and our forces succeeded in stalling enemy’s onslaught resolutely. While the whole nation demonstrated unprecedented spirit of oneness and could have clinched the outcome of war in its favour, but USA let down Pakistan when it decided to stop the flow of military assistance to both the antagonists during the war. It did not cause any set back to India since its military infrastructure was chiefly built on Soviet armaments and that aid channel had remained open. Pakistan on the other hand was entirely dependent upon American military aid and as such felt the crunch when it was denied even the spare parts already in the pipeline.

Although Gen Yahya Khan (1969-1971) had played a pivotal role in bringing USA and China closer to each other by arranging a secret visit of Henry Kissinger to Beijing in mid 1971, however, because of crisis in former East Pakistan, USA stopped the supply of armaments that had already been contracted and restrained certain Arab countries from supplying any military hardware to Pakistan. It put no pressure on India to refrain from cross border terrorism in East Pakistan and to support the Bengali secessionists. It quietly watched the vivisection of Pakistan by Indian armed forces and emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country. Our western security pacts proved worthless. It is now an open secret that USA wanted East Pakistan to become an independent country under a secular leader and hoped to gain influence in the Bay of Bengal. Failing to achieve this objective and finding Mujibur Rahman tilting heavily towards India and Soviet Union, he was ruthlessly bumped off through a military coup in 1974.

It has now been widely documented in several books that Henry Kissinger’s threat to ZA Bhutto (1972-77) of making him a horrible example if he did not refrain from pursuing the nuclear path was turned into a reality. He was hanged to death in April 1979 during Gen Ziaul Haq’s rule (1977-1988). Ever since, the Pakistani society that was already divided between the Islamists and the seculars got further polarised politically, the effects of which are felt to this day.

Islamic revolution in neighbouring Iran in 1978 brought about by the followers of Imam Khomeini and fall of the US protégé Reza Shah Pehlavi was a big set back for USA in the region of great importance. Hardly had it absorbed this shock together with humiliation of hostage crisis in Tehran, USA got another jolt in the form of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The communist threat was too close to the vital Persian Gulf to be ignored. Soon after, Iraq under Saddam invaded Iran at the prodding of USA in 1980. The two sides got locked in mortal combat for eight long years with no side winning. USA desiring both sides to get weakened in the deadly conflict ensured that none achieved total victory.

Pakistan’s significance was again recognised when Gen Zia decided to support the cause of Afghan Mujahideen and free Afghanistan from the clutches of Soviet forces. More than three million Afghan refugees were allowed to pour into Pakistan and were provided with all possible assistance. After assessing the ground situation till early 1981, USA saw an opportunity to even up its loss of face in Vietnam by making Afghanistan a graveyard for Soviet Union.

Pakistan was turned into a frontline state and asked to perform the difficult task. Muslim warriors from all over the world were motivated and funded by USA, western countries and Saudi Arabia to join hands with Afghan Mujahideen and wage a holy war against the communists. For this purpose several religious seminaries in Pakistan were asked by USA to impart military training to the youth.

The extraordinary brave fight put up by the rag tag Mujahideen against the might of a super power was lavishly acclaimed by the US and western media and were painted as holy warriors. The Afghan war raged with full intensity for eight long years during which Pakistan was subjected to acts of terror by the RAW-KGB-KHAD agents combine to force the leadership to desist from supporting the Mujahideen. Air violations and missile firing by Soviet backed Afghan forces was another nuisance Pakistan had to bear with. ‘Al-Zulfiqar’ organisation led by sons of ZA Bhutto was yet another irritant that had resorted to acts of terror and hijacking of airlines. It was given requisite facilities by Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, former Soviet Union and India. Pakistan stood up to the external and domestic challenges boldly and ultimately the Soviet troops were forced to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1988. Afghan war claimed lives of 1.5 million Afghan Mujahideen and displacement of 7 million. Within two years of this historic victory the mighty Soviet Empire broke from within. But for Allah’s blessing and Pakistan’s all out support for which it had to pay a heavy price, this miracle was not possible.

Another significant event that took place in that timeframe was the uprising in Indian held Kashmir in 1989. Islamic revolution in Iran in 1978 together with Intifada in Palestine and laudable role of Afghan Mujahideen motivated the otherwise dormant Kashmiris to commence armed movement to get rid of Indian occupation. Brutal measures adopted by Indian security forces whose strength shot up to 700,000, failed to extinguish the burning flame of liberty. In the Gulf region, Iraq on encouragement from USA attacked and occupied Kuwait in 1990. This gave a good reason to USA and its allied forces to attack Iraq in the following year that had become militarily strong in the wake of Iran-Iraq war and was considered a threat to Israel. Decimation of Iraq made Israel the unchallenged power of the region.

No sooner the US objectives in Afghanistan were fulfilled and the cold war came to an end, and the global balance of power converted from bi-polarism to uni-polarism, USA took a somersault. Both Pakistan and the holy warriors who had suffered massive casualties and extreme hardships for nearly a decade were ditched. Rather than rewarding Pakistan for its commendable role, it was penalised through the application of infamous Pressler Amendment in 1990. To rub salt in Pakistan’s wounds, its arch rival India that had all along remained in the Soviet camp was befriended and laid the foundation for development of Indo-US economic and military cooperation. The Jihadis having been left high and dry had no place to go since their countries refused to accept them for fear of US reprisals and Afghanistan turned into a battleground between various factions of Mujahideen making it highly unsafe. Since about four million Afghan refugees were residing in Pakistan and there was no check on Durand Line crossing, it posed no problem for foreign elements to trek into FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan and to get settled. They mixed well with the locals on the basis of common religion and having suffered trials and tribulations of long-drawn Jihad together. Most got married and made Waziristan and adjoining areas into their permanent abode.

The Taliban under Mulla Omar appeared from nowhere in Afghanistan in 1994 and started capturing one town after another in succession like a whirlwind. By early 1997, they had overpowered most part of the country routing Northern Alliance led by Ahmad Shah Masud and pushing it to Panj-Sher Valley. The latter developed deep revulsion for Pakistan for they believed that without Pakistan’s active assistance, it was not possible for the Taliban to defeat them. Pakistan-Afghanistan moved very close to each other and Pakistan was amongst the three countries which recognised the new regime. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, Indian influence in Afghanistan almost vanished and Pakistan’s western borders became secure. Likewise, Iran’s influence in some of the eastern provinces of Afghanistan diminished considerably which clouded Iran-Pakistan relations.

The Taliban fell from the grace of USA that had reportedly played a role in bringing them to power. The change of heart took place because of refusal of the Taliban to tow their line over future pipeline projects of US Business Corporate in the vast untapped oil and gas resources in neighbouring Muslim states of Central Asia. Introduction of Shariah and possibility of influence of Sunni Islam spreading to Central Asia was another irritant they could hardly digest. The regime was thus subjected to intense propaganda and projected as a fundamentalist state and one of the biggest violators of human and women rights. It was put under heavy economic sanctions and grounds were prepared to affect a regime change.

Throughout the nineties during the two tenures of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, US government and its media subtly backed Indian policies and its propaganda dubbing Pakistan as a terrorist and a fundamentalist state indulging in nuclear proliferation and trying to manufacture an Islamic bomb. In the wake of Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May 1998 in response to India’s nuclear explosions, Pakistan was put under severe sanctions and within a year was viewed as a failed state. Although USA takes credit for averting an all out war between India and Pakistan over Kargil conflict in the summer of 1999, in actuality it kept twisting Pakistan’s arm to forego its gains and withdraw unconditionally. G-8 countries role was strikingly discriminatory and tilted in favour of India. The brilliant tactical manoeuvre which caught the jugular vein of Indian military and made it almost helpless was turned into a humiliating defeat.

Pakistan geo-strategic importance was again recognised by USA in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. The entire blame was pasted on Osama Bin Laden and his operatives’ al-Qaeda residing in Afghanistan and the Taliban were asked to hand over the accused or face the consequences. When the latter refused to oblige and asked for concrete evidence to prove the allegation, USA carried out a massive mobilisation to decimate the belligerents. The US led coalition military adventure to affect a regime change was made easy when Pakistan acquiesced to become part of the coalition to fight global terrorism. Pakistan provided logistic facilities, bases and intelligence to the American troops throughout the operation against Afghanistan from October 2001 onwards till the downfall of Taliban regime in November. It also sealed the western border by deploying 70,000 troops to nab the fleeing Taliban. Despite best efforts, many managed to sneak in and took refuge in the tribal belt of Pakistan and other parts of Pakistan. Their sympathisers sheltered them and also helped them in regroupment to carryout sneak raids against the occupation forces in Afghanistan.

America’s devastation of Afghanistan followed by hounding of al-Qaeda militants and religious extremists by Pakistan’s security agencies at the behest of USA as well as stories of torture suffered by the Muslim inmates of Baghram and Guantanamo Bay Prisons gave rise to anti-American sentiments in the country. Anti-American feelings became a principle motivating reason for the Mutahida Majlis Ammal (MMA), a conglomerate of six religious parties, to achieve impressive results in the 2002 elections. The MMA and other religious groups became more vociferous in their protests when the army started a military operation in South Waziristan in early 2004 to nab foreign terrorists and stamp out the scourge of terrorism along its western border at the behest of USA. Implementation of new policy dictated by USA to convert the heroes of yester years to terrorists over night rather than doing it steadily was imprudent.

Pro-active role of the military in FATA and killing of innocent civilians has become a cause of concern for the locals as well as the people of NWFP in particular. Pakistan army is seen as a mercenary army operating under the directions of USA and is thus losing respect of the locals. In spite of doing a great deal in combating terrorism, Pakistan is being constantly reminded by USA as well as Afghan government to do more. Such unwarranted reminders and accusations are despite below average performance of US-Afghan troops in preventing cross border movement. Hardly any al-Qaeda member has been nabbed at their end. Instead of carrying out ground operations and establishing piquets’ along the border, they have mostly resorted to aerial actions resulting in inflicting collateral damage to innocent civilians.

It did not take long for the fire of militancy to spread to other parts of FATA as well as to adjacent settled parts of NWFP. The pro-government elements are being systematically gunned down. So far, more than 1000 soldiers have got killed fighting the terrorists, while the latter unmindful of their casualties, continue to ambush moving military convoys, attack outposts, check posts as well as fire rocket on forts, and use of Improvised Explosive Devices and suicide bombers to force the army to withdraw from their domain.

Of late, the militants have started to kidnap soldiers in big numbers and are using them as bargaining chips to get their men released. Our tribal belt has virtually turned into a war zone where both sides have suffered casualties and it appears that over 100,000 troops have got irreversibly stuck in the area. The army has lost the trust and respect of the tribesmen. Use of force has so far not brought peace. Rather, the militants are becoming more aggressive and revengeful. They think that the army has intruded into their exclusive domain at the behest of the Americans and therefore feel justified confronting them and pushing them out. Military operation against the two seminaries in Islamabad in early July 2007 gave fillip to militancy and ever since cases of suicide bombings against military targets have intensified. Rawalpindi cantonment area has been hit several times.

India in the meanwhile has once again regained its presence in a big way in Afghanistan, thanks to non-Pashtun officials ex Northern Alliance, which are calling the shots. It has now been established that RAW is not only training Afghan agents and dissidents to carry out subversive activities in Pakistan but is also supporting the rebellious elements in Baluchistan, FATA and now in Swat and Shangla in the Frontier Province where military has been employed to quell Maulana Fazlullah led militancy. Our western borders have once again become hostile and unsafe. In order to neutralise China, India has gone out of the way to warm up its relations with China. Pak-Iran border belt is heating up and although the role of CIA is discernible, Pakistan is being blamed for it. Pakistan is being systematically isolated and left friendless. No country will come to its aid in case of any Indo-Pak war in the future, as was the case in 1971. The whole had world watched its dismemberment quietly.

The Indo-Afghan-US nexus duly complimented by Israel and other western powers has grave ramifications for Pakistan. The think-tanks in USA have started predicting gloomy scenarios for Pakistan and some predict that it would break into several quasi states by 2016. A strong and viable Islamic Republic of Pakistan with nuclear teeth is unacceptable to USA and Israel. Their guns are now trained on Iran. It is matter of time when Pakistan will be in the firing line. It is high time that we shun our ostrich like approach and start understanding the ground realities objectively and differentiate between friend and foe. We must set our priorities and our goals in correct perspective and work towards moral rearmament and develop faith in Allah rather than a mortal super power.

Asif Haroon is a retired Pakistan Army officer and a defence and political analyst who have authored several books.

- Asian Tribune -

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