Pakistan-US ‘On-Off’ Relationship

The US “strategic relationship” with India aims to not only contain China but exploit the economic opportunities made possible because of 1.2 billion population, writes Ikram Sehgal in the context of US-Pakistan relations.

Posted on 05/3/18
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
United States remained top supplier of sophisticated weapons to Pakistan. But Islamabad is gradually reducing its reliance on the US for it weapons needs. (Photo by Rob Schleiffert, CC license)

It is easy now to criticize Pakistan’s leaders of the 50s for becoming a member of the Baghdad Pact in 1954, could our armed forces have repelled any concerted attack without being equipped in the 50s and 60s with US arms and equipment, particularly with India having weapons assiduously supplied by the Soviet Union?


We fought the Indians to a standstill in 1965 because of the three “As”, Air Force, Armor, and Artillery”. Though vastly outnumbered our magnificent pilots flying American-made F86s (Sabres) ensured air superiority. The US-made Patton tanks outfought a much larger Indian armor concentration near Sialkot in one of the biggest tank battles after World War II. With American-made heavy and medium artillery our gunners precision stopped the Indians’ two-pronged attacks on Lahore and Sialkot dead in their tracks. An “A” should have acknowledged “Allah” and an “I” for “Infantry”. Implementing a most confused higher operational plan, starting with the ill-conceived total disaster “Operation Gibraltar”, we can only thank God that the Indian High Command plan failed because of the raw courage of our Young Officers'(YOs) and soldiers’.  Badly outnumbered the poor forgotten foot-sloggers took the brunt of the casualties in pitched battles. India did not dismember Pakistan in 1971, this happened mainly because of rank stupidity across our political, economic, civil and military divide.


Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto saved us from Indian-imposed hegemony in South Asia like far Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives by ensuring a “Mutually Assured Deterrence” (MAD) acquiring the nuclear potential “even if we had to eat grass”.  The US-Pakistan relationship was rapidly cooling despite our membership of SEATO and CENTO because of our opening to China (the 1963 Border Treaty). The US imposed an arms embargo because of the 1965 Indo-Pak war. While India kept being supplied by the Soviet Union, for Pakistan almost entirely dependent on the US for arms supplier, this was a catastrophe. Friends like China on one side and Turkey, Iran, and Jordan on the other, ensured we kept being supplied. Diversification and self-reliance on indigenous production was a by-product. Our nuclear ambitions further put us in the US doghouse in the 70s. Things changed drastically with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. For hanging Bhutto, from being a “pariah” Gen Ziaul Haq instantly became the free world’s great bulwark against communism. Because Zia sold us cheap we are still paying the price today, three million refugees, a drugs/Kalashnikov culture, daily reprobation by the Afghan government, etc. Once the Afghan War was done and we were not needed anymore, the “Pressler Amendment” was invoked in the early 90s, even the F-16s paid for by us were denied delivery. Shunned by the west like Zia for having ousted “democracy” in 1999, Musharraf similarly revelled in becoming after 9/11 the darling of the west, selling our services and facilities even more cheaply than Zia on the strength of one telephone call by the US Secretary of State Gen Colin Powell. Suffering huge casualties engaging the Talibann and as a transit for US military goods to fight the Afghan war resulting in total degrading of our transportation infrastructure, we got a pittance.


The US “strategic relationship” with India aims to not only contain China but exploit the economic opportunities made possible because of 1.2 billion population. After 9/11 things fell apart, the American groom left the Indian bride at the altar for Pakistan. After the “Arab Spring” stability in the entire Middle East region came undone and Israel, the cornerstone of US policy in the region, really became vulnerable, as also the major sources of world oil, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, etc.  The US marriage with India was finally been Gen Ziaul Haq 15 years later. The second Iraq war successfully rid Iraq of Saddam but the peace complicated the sectarian divide, almost destroying Iraq and starting the destruction of Syria. In a disparate changing scenario Libya remains in turmoil, the Moslem Brotherhood” revolution in Egypt has been reversed. Turkey escaped a devastating civil war only because of Erdogan’s courage and his popularity in the streets. Iran continues to stoke trouble abroad, not only in Syria and Lebanon but for the past year or so in Yemen. Not to be outdone in spreading carnage, the Arab monarchies have struck back in a proxy war against Iran, supporting the rebellion against Assad in Syria and against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Israeli-India nexus having the tacit support of the Arab monarchies is worrying for Pakistan.


While we have assiduously pushed the Palestinian cause, Yasser Arafat and his successors only gave lip-service to supporting Pakistan on Kashmir. To quote an extract from my article, “Visiting the Forbidden Land” of 2003, “The raging debate in Pakistan over Israel ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. Why Jews are bad-mouthed in the country is a mystery. On coming into contact with Jews I found them to be as good (and as bad), human beings as anyone else. Why have we been demonizing an entire race on the basis of religion? I certainly condemn the Israeli brutality against the Palestinians and have full sympathy for the plight of Palestinians. I also condemn ‘suicide bombings’ and the loss of innocent Israeli lives. Every action has a reaction and this deadly cycle must stop. I strongly feel that dialogue with Israel will bring them in from the cold and help in making a permanent peace based on co-existence with the Palestinians possible. Recognition of Israel must not be weighed in terms of pluses and minuses of which one can enumerate many but on the need to bring all human beings into the world’s melting pot, irrespective of race, religion or creed. We must convince Israelis about our sincerity of purpose by reaching out to them. For that, we must recognize Israel’s right to exist as a nation. If the cost of a permanent peace is to ensure an honorable place under the sun for Israel, that is a very small price to pay”, unquote


While Turkey’s relations with Israel have cooled, Egypt has again become like Qatar and Morocco very close.  The surprise development, of which my good friend Frank Neuman has been telling me for four years, has been Saudi Arabia tacitly accepting Israel. Why not be pragmatic like the young Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman? Frank Neuman told me years ago about Pakistani troops maintaining the peace in the Arab part of Jerusalem, is that a fantasy to dream of?


Second in a series of articles on US-Pakistan relationship by Ikram Sehgal, a defense and security analyst.

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