Pakistan: From the Arms of Uncle Sam to the Lap of Aunt Xing
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Issue Vol. 33.1 Jan-Mar 2018 | Date : 28 Mar , 2018

Pakistan was a blessed state at the time of its birth due to its strategic location fitting well into Mackinder’s heartland construct. The location dominates the major land and maritime corridors. It also harboured animosity with its bigger neighbour India and felt cheated due to its failure to lure the Maharaja of J&K to accede to the Dominion of Pakistan.

Immediately after its birth in 1947, Pakistan toyed with the idea of remaining non-aligned like its bigger neighbour India. Socialist India under Nehru was perceived by United States of America (USA), as leaning towards Soviet Union though officially India had announced her desire to remain neutral during the Cold War. Pakistan was a blessed state at the time of its birth due to its strategic location fitting well into Mackinder’s heartland construct. The location dominates the major land and maritime corridors. It also harboured animosity with its bigger neighbour India and felt cheated due to its failure to lure the Maharaja of J&K to accede to the Dominion of Pakistan. Ever since then Pakistan considers Kashmir as an unfinished agenda of partition. Gilgit was strategically important to prevent the spread of communism to South Asia and assumed great importance for the USA and British in the game plan of the Cold War. USA recognised Pakistan as a perfect counter-foil to India and custodian of American interests in strategically important South Asia. The ruling party in Pakistan, the Muslim League was also pro-capitalist and pro-America. Moreover, the Pakistan Military and Foreign Services were also inclined favourably towards USA. On 20 October 1947, two months and six days after Pakistan’s birth, the United States established relations with Pakistan, making it amongst the first nations to establish relations with the new state.

In 1950, the United States extended an overture to Pakistan by inviting Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan for an official state visit. As the USSR had rebuffed capitalist Pakistan and aligned itself with Pakistan’s rivals, the country’s policy crafters found that maintaining friendly relations with both superpowers was impossible. Prime Minister Khan accepted the American invitation and paid an official 23-day state visit to the United States beginning on May 3, 1950. The friendly relations between the two countries began to take a concrete shape with the Pakistani political and military leadership (represented by Ayub Khan) deciding to embrace Uncle Sam with open arms. Pakistan allied itself with the USA during the Cold War era against the Soviet Union, and was an integral player in the CENTO and SEATO organizations.

In pursuance of its anti-Soviet agenda, Liaqat Ali Khan during his visit was requested by President Truman to let the CIA formulate a base in Pakistan, strictly to keep an eye on the activities of Soviet Union—a request which was not granted by Khan. However, this did not dampen the mutual relations. Close ties between the countries were further consolidated by a mutual defence treaty signed in May 1954, after which hundreds of Pakistani military officers began to regularly train in the United States. A US Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) was also established in Rawalpindi, then capital of Pakistan. Pakistani officers were not only trained in military tactics, but also taught leadership, management, and economic theory. Uncle Sam tightened the embrace with liberal doles and grants which Pakistanis gladly accepted. In 1956 Uncle Sam succeeded when Pakistan agreed to lease the Peshawar Air Station (PAS), which was to be used in intelligence gathering of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. After seeing fall of nearly seven Prime Ministers between 1951-58 and disappointed with the current system of governance, Iskander Mirza, the then President, imposed Martial Law in Pakistan on 8 October 1958 and appointed General Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator, who soon overthrew him in a military coup. Under the dictatorship of Ayub Khan, Pakistan enjoyed a very close relationship with the United States. The first flight from Peshawar Air Base to spy on Soviet Union took off in 1960. Military and Economic aid to Pakistan was further increased by the United States. West Pakistan’s high rate of economic growth during this time period brought wide regard to Pakistan as a model of successful implementation of capitalism in a developing country – in 1964, GDP growth was 9.38%.

Obsessed with India being its enemy number one, Pakistan took advantage of both China and USA simultaneously. It helped in connecting China and USA with each other and became a favourite of both.

Meanwhile, Pakistan also developed close relations with China particularly after the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict due to strategic reasons. In 1963, in order to further cement its ties with China, Pakistan illegally ceded the Shaksgam Valley (a part of Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir) to China that enabled China to link Xingiang region with Shaksgam Valley.

Uncle Sam lost its most favourite ally in Ayub Khan when he was forced to hand over to another military dictator Yahya Khan in 1968. However, it did not allow its relationship with Pakistan to weaken due to the Cold War compulsions. Obsessed with India being its enemy number one, Pakistan took advantage of both China and USA simultaneously. It helped in connecting China and USA with each other and became a favourite of both. Uncle Sam used the good offices of Pakistan to initiate secret contacts that resulted in Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China in July 1971 after visiting Pakistan. These contacts resulted in the 1972 Nixon visit to China, and the subsequent normalizing of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Pakistan was rewarded with full US support during the 1971 war with India and so did China.

The bilateral relations saw a slight dip during the Bhutto era but were revived fully during the Zia-ul-Haq regime due to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, ISI and CIA ran multi-billion dollar worth Operation Cyclone to thwart the communist regime as well as orchestrating the defeat Soviets in Afghanistan. Uncle Sam’s benevolence continued with a billion dollar economic and military aid to Pakistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, highlighted the common interest of Pakistan and the United States in opposing the Soviet Union. In 1981, Pakistan and the United States agreed on a $3.2 billion military and economic assistance program aimed at helping Pakistan deal with the heightened threat to security in the region and its economic development needs. With US assistance, in the largest covert operation in history, Pakistan armed and supplied anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan but at the same time clandestinely diverted huge amounts for the Pakistan military. After the demise of Zia and till the September 9, 2001 (9/11) terror attack on main-land USA, the relationship between Uncle Sam and Pakistan continued to blow hot and cold. There was a gradual drift towards China because it willingly supported Pakistan’s covert nuclear programme and China became the largest supplier of arms to Pakistan. But China unlike Uncle Sam only gave loans and not grants.

9/11 proved another windfall for the Pakistanis who by now had become fully dependent on foreign doles because its domestic economy had totally collapsed due to anti-India stance of the military which had again taken control in form of Pervez Musharraf. Liberal flow of funds for its collaboration with USA in its war on terror resumed. Large amount of funds were siphoned-off by the Pakistanis to finance terrorism against India. It was ironical that while on one hand Pakistan was allying with USA in war against terror and receiving huge financial doles and on the other hand it was deeply involved in financing and spreading terror against India and sheltering Al Qaeda leadership, USA’s enemy number one.

Prior to the September 11 attacks in 2001, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were key supporters of the Taliban in Afghanistan, as part of their “strategic depth” theory vis-a-vis India, Iran, and Russia. Uncle Sam was very liberal, in return for their support,in 2003, the US officially waived off US$1 billion in Pakistani debt, sanctions imposed earlier were lifted and Pakistan received about $30 billion in US aid since 2001, primarily military. In June 2004, President George W. Bush designated Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally, making it eligible, among other things, to purchase advanced American military technology. This made Pakistan increasingly dependent on American largesse. Blinded by this largesse and feeling that due to its strategic location Uncle Sam could not divorce it, Pakistan while embracing Uncle Sam started to gradually back stab it. The reality donned on the Americans when they learnt that Osama Bin Laden was camping inside mainland Pakistan.

Pakistan military, which rules the roost, is pushing the nation into the lap of Auntie Xing without realising that China unlike USA believes in giving loans and not doles and grants.

The increasing trust deficit between the two led to US strikes inside Pakistan close to Afghan border. Uncle Sam had also made a strategic mistake of putting all its eggs in one basket, i.e., Pakistan under its shrewd dictator Pervez Musharraf, who was eventually eased out of office when Obama became the new US President. In order to strengthen the civilian regime in Pakistan Obama administration almost tripled the non-military economic aid to Pakistan. The cracks in the alliance became obvious after the killing of Osama Bin Laden and increasing number of Americans blaming Pakistan for its double standards. The US military based in Afghanistan became more pro-active and frequency of drone attacks inside Pakistan territory increased. During the end of Obama Administration, the American think tanks, strategic analysts and opinion makers became more vociferous with the demand of forcing Pakistan to stop abetting terror in Afghanistan with particular reference to Haqqani network and Taliban. Afghan President Karzai squarely blamed Pakistan for terror activities inside Afghanistan.

The American effort to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan was hampered due to worsening security environment. Pakistan did not pay much heed to American warnings because it had by now strengthened its strategic ties with Aunt Xi (China). The cross border terror emanating from Pakistan suited the strategic interests of both Pakistan and Aunt Xi in the region.

Gradually, the anger against Pakistan in US increased with bi-partisan demands of acting against Pakistan as it got increasingly exposed as fountainhead of global terror. After President Trump assumed office, the American stand hardened. Trump put Pakistan on notice and sent emissaries including his Defence Secretary and the Secretary of State to advise Pakistan to start stop sheltering terrorists acting against Afghanistan, but to no avail. Finally on 01 January this year Trump tweeted, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Resultantly,the Trump administration announced its decision to suspend the aid amounting to $1 billion for military equipment and another $900 million in payments to defray the cost of counterterrorism operations, saying it would remain frozen until Islamabad takes “decisive action” against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. There is widespread anger in Pakistan and it has almost decided to let go Uncle Sam and jump into the thorny lap of Aunt Xi. Pakistan is unwilling to tighten the screw on Haqqani network and Taliban due to its strategic compulsions. The defiance would depend upon Pakistan’s capacity to manage without American doles because the economic aid is yet to be banned by Uncle Sam.

This probably is the last chance, Trump Administration is planning to give to Pakistan before it takes the ultimate decision of declaring Pakistan as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and cut off all types of aid. The immediate action to follow would be to remove Pakistan from the “most favoured Non-NATO ally” status.

Pakistan military, which rules the roost, is pushing the nation into the lap of Auntie Xing without realising that China unlike USA believes in giving loans and not doles and grants. The loans carry large interest rates and failure to repay leads to strict actions by Aunt Xing. The recent example of what happened in Sri Lanka, Humbantota Port, has failed to awaken the Pakistanis. The analysts predict that the way Pakistan is becoming dependent on Aunt Xing, it may one day become its colony, recalling the days of East India Company. There are murmurs in Pakistani civil society against the same but their voices are muted when the all-powerful military is portraying the Chinese Belt Road initiative, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a panacea of all ills Pakistan is faced with. China’s interest in Pakistan is driven by both geopolitics and geo-economics.

China has played a major role in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure, especially when increasingly stringent export controls in Western countries made it difficult for Pakistan to acquire plutonium and uranium enriching equipment from elsewhere such as the Chinese help in building the Khushab reactor, which plays a key role in Pakistan’s production of plutonium. A subsidiary of the China National Nuclear Corporation contributed in Pakistan’s efforts to expand its uranium enrichment capabilities by providing 5,000 custom made ring magnets, which are a key component of the bearings that facilitate the high-speed rotation of centrifuges. China has also provided technical and material support in the completion of the Chashma Nuclear Power Complex and plutonium. China can easily be targeted for nuclear proliferation.

Pakistan has managed to skilfully exploit its geography and the strategic compulsions of both China and USA to its advantage for the most part of its existence so far.

As for Pakistan’s hope/expectation that China may come to its rescue if US aid is cut off, it should consider the first ever White Paper published earlier this year on China’s foreign aid to the rest of the world. In the 60-year period between 1950 and 2009, China’s cumulative foreign aid to the entire world was only $39 billion (an average of just $650 million per year). Of this, 40 percent of the total was grants, with the remainder divided evenly between interest-free or low-interest loans. Compare this with USA’s annual foreign operations budget in excess of $ 26 billion. In contrast, USA has given to Pakistan more than $ 2 billion in economic and military aid in a single year itself. Can Aunt Xing replace Uncle Sam is for the Pakistanis to decide?

2442 km long, CPEC is essentially a group of infrastructure projects that will connect Kashgar in western China to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar in Pakistan. The corridor is part of furtherance of China’s desire to find a shorter, more direct, route to the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and rest of the Western world. Currently it has to trade with these regions by sea through the very long route passing the Malacca strait. CPEC is targeted to be completed by year 2030 and envisages an investment of US $ 50 billion. Apart from its much touted economic character it also has an obvious strategic and military character. India is opposed to CPEC because it passes through Indian territory of Gilgit-Baltistan under illegal occupation of Pakistan.

CPEC, in fact, is a deep rooted Chinese conspiracy to colonise Pakistan. The plan envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese business houses and culture. Much against the popular belief the investment is not being done by the Chinese government but the Chinese financial institutions at very high rates of interests and strict conditions of repayment and default. The repayment of interests will have severe impact on already fragile economy of Pakistan. Pakistan will be used to produce raw material which will be transported to China for production of finished goods. The fertile farm lands of Pakistan will be used by the Chinese farmers to carry out experiments in the guise of ‘demonstration projects.’ China also intends to create a surveillance system for 24×7 monitoring of movement on Pakistani roads as well as take control of internet and broadband media of Pakistan. Also plans to take control of terrestrial broadcast thus affecting the Pak print and visual media. The Pakistanis need to realise that none of the loans are interest free.

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The fact is that CPEC favours China and meets its strategic needs while the Pakistani interests have been subordinated. Soon China will be running all the enterprises in Pakistan and will have unprecedented clout over the governments in Pakistan virtually dictating their policies. “Earlier it was Allah, America and Army who called shots in Pakistan. Now it shall be Allah, China and Army in future.” But Pakistanis would be well advised to note that unlike Uncle Sam, Aunt Xing is unforgiving.They would miss the cosiness of embrace with Uncle Sam and prepare themselves to sink into the thorny lap of Aunt Xing, as the reality dawns. They have consciously chosen this option, so be it , Allah Sahare” (at the mercy of God Almighty).

Pakistan has managed to skilfully exploit its geography and the strategic compulsions of both China and USA to its advantage for the most part of its existence so far. However, its deceit has been understood by Uncle Sam who is demanding accountability and action from Pakistan. Pakistan appears to be in a fix for the time being. For how long will it continue is a million dollar question? Will new South-Asia policy of the Trump administration succeed or fail will to a large extent depend on the situation in Afghanistan and the distance India is willing to travel with relation to the Indian role envisaged by Uncle Sam in Afghanistan. The presence of Indian boots in Afghanistan will threaten Pakistan with presence of Indian military on both its borders and may yield positive results.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Anil Gupta

is Jammu-based political commentator, security and strategic analyst. 

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