WE ARE back to the ‘Friends, not masters’ mode of relationship with the US. Authored by President Mohammad Ayub Khan in the mid-1960s the narrative of the book sounded more like an outpouring of a jilted lover’s sentiments. Perceiving Pakistan to be its ideologically committed cold war camp follower the US by mid-1950s had started building the country’s economic and defence muscles with ‘generous’ aid both in terms of guns and gold. Pakistan, the recipient of this liberal monetary and military US assistance perceiving it to be a free lunch used the unencumbered dollars and almost free of cost weapons systems to settle its Kashmir score with India which finally resulted in the break-out of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. This did not fit into the global and regional strategic agenda of the US and by way of punishment an incensed Washington stopped all assistance to Pakistan forthwith. This was what actually prompted Ayub to write the book ‘Friends, not masters’. In the aftermath the world saw an economically very weak and militarily not very well equipped Pakistan and an India aided by the Soviet Union’s Friendship treaty clashing once more in 1971 in what looked a final war stopped by the international community at the last minute but not before Pakistan Army surrendered to Indian troops in Dhaka.
By mid-1970s we were back on talking terms with the US but sans any significant resumption in assistance, military or economic. Meanwhile, our nuclear ambitions had come into direct clash with America’s non-proliferation designs and once again a confrontation ensued between Islamabad and Washington that resulted in massive political turmoil in the country, toppling of the elected government of Prime Minister ZA Bhutto by the then Army Chief General Ziaul Haq and subsequent hanging of the man who had actually turned the national nuclear ambition into a concrete action plan. And it was a pariah state shunned by the international community that saw the Soviet troops invading neighbouring Afghanistan in late 1979. This was a signal for the other super power to plan its counter moves in the region. And it seemed to be a god- sent opportunity for the pariah state to get out of its isolation by offering its services to the US in return for guns and gold it needed to avenge its 1971 defeat at the hands of the Indian troops and also in the process, if it can, liberate the Indian held Kashmir. This second-honeymoon between the US and Pakistan lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. As it walked away from the region, the US handed over to Pakistan one war ravaged country—Afghanistan—, a huge cache of arms and ammunitions including stringer missiles and large squadrons of aircraft along with scores of madrasas producing jihadis recruited from all over the Muslim world by the hundreds. In the decade of 1990s Pakistan was happy to be left alone by the international community to go its own way unleashing non-state actors against the Indian troops occupying held Kashmir. On the one hand it handed over Afghanistan to militant jihadis called Taliban and on the other sent trained terrorists into the IHK to bleed India like the US bled Soviets in Afghanistan hoping that one day soon the jihad in IHK would cause the collapse of India and IHK would its on a platter. It was not the ‘Friends, not masters’ mode this time but what the crazy duo of Aslam Beg- Hamid Gul called the ‘strategic defiance’ that determined our relations with the US during this period. It was again, during this period that the same crazy duo came up with the hair-brained idea of strategic depth in Afghanistan. And all through these ten years we operated with funds from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf and Middle East countries and a Wahabi ideology without any need for patronage from the sole super power of the world or its ideology. In fact as the late Dr Mehbubul Haq once told me in horror: Look Ziauddin what we are doing. All through the cold war we had ourselves attached to the apron strings of the US and now after having been partly instrumental in the demise of the other super-power we jump out of the lap of the US and start making faces at it sitting on the fence. Indeed, during this interlude in our relationship with the US we did not feel like the jilted lover but like one that could shape the world in its own design through the instrument of Wahabi terror as a foreign policy tool. In the initial stages this strategy met with some significant successes as unable to take the onslaught of our non-state militant Jihadis anymore the then Prime Minister of India Atal Behari Vajpayee undertook the so-called bus yatra to Lahore and at a Minaar-e-Pakistan ceremony said: “My friends advised me not to visit Minaar-e-Pakistan because that would put my approval seal on the creation of Pakistan but, a strong and prosperous Pakistan is in our own interest”. A message was disseminated to all Pakistanis that India has fully accepted Pakistan as a sovereign country. The two countries also signed the historic Lahore Declaration. Earlier, in 1997 on the side-lines of SAARC Male summit, the then Indian Prime Minister IK Gujral as well as leaders of some of the other SAARC members complained to the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about the alleged shenanigans of Pakistani intelligence agencies in their respective countries requesting him to rein in these agency men interfering in the internal affairs of their respective countries. Even earlier, during the tenure of President George W Bush (1988-96) Pakistan’s policy of strategic defiance had attracted the US wrath against Pakistan already suffering sanctions under the Pressler amendment thanks to our nuclear ambitions. He was advised to declare Pakistan a terrorist state because of its alleged involvement in terror activities in many parts of the world. Even Hosni Mubarak, the then President of Egypt is said to have warned the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to desist from this policy. Since the advice had come very late in his tenure, the Senior Bush instead of signing on the dotted lines passed the file on to his successor, Bill Clinton.
Meanwhile, our establishment realizing the seriousness of the situation had made Nawaz Sharif the scapegoat and toppled him through a conspiracy and brought in Benazir Bhutto as the Prime Minister who it was thought would use her connections in the US political hierarchy and the Clinton couple’s personal admiration for her to get Pakistan out of this jam which she did with aplomb. Thus Pakistan escaped being declared a terrorist state in 1996 because of change of guards at the top in the US and the timely change of prime ministers in Islamabad.
During the decade of 1990s and as well as even until a day before the September 11, 2001, Pakistan’s foreign policy led overwhelmingly by the instrument of jihad had forced India twice, once when PM Vajpayee came to Lahore on Bus Yatra and again when he invited Musharraf to Agra in July 2001 for peace talks, to agree to discuss Kashmir and find an equitable solution of the problem. But on both occasions it was Pakistan’s inexplicable approach to the Indian peace initiative that caused the two opportunities to slip by without any positive outcome.
One felt as if Pakistan on both occasions had wanted India to offer the IHK on a platter without getting anything in return. Pakistan perhaps adopted this position believing that a bleeding India was on the back-foot and would finally decamp abandoning IHK. Also, despite having been shown the so-called indigenous freedom struggle inside the IHK for what it was during the Kargil misadventure our establishment thought even the international community would like India to agree to a settlement without trying to eke out a bargain so that the world would at last see the nuclear flash-point in South Asia disappearing for good.
But then 9/11 happened and things started getting out of Pakistan’s hands.
The US came back to the region and once again we offered our services, this time not against the infidel Soviets but against a Muslim Country governed by an Islamic regime. During the initial months we used to catch the fleeing Al Qaeda leadership and hand them over to the US but not the fleeting Taliban leadership because they assured our continued influence in Kabul and guaranteed that Indians would not find a foothold in an A-Qaeda- free Afghanistan.
Perhaps the US would have lived with the emerging situation but the announcement of the $46 billion China- Pakistan Economic Corridor project seems to have alerted the US and now Washington which has already been building up India as a counterpoise to China in the region is now planning even closer ties with India to bring Pakistan under pressure both from across its Eastern border as well as its north western border forcing it, in the process, to go back to the ‘Friends, not masters’ mode of relations with the US.