Subsequently, from Liaqat Ali to the last Prime Minister, Feroz Khan Noon, before the takeover by General Muhammad Ayub Khan in October 1958, we did not pause to think of revitalizing our relations with the Soviet Union. We joined the expressly anti-communist alliances of South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and signed a Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement with the USA preparing the ground for Mutual Assistance Advisory Groups (MAAG), the training of our military and civil officers in the USA and Western institutes, and purchase of military hardware from the USA and the Western countries.
By 1954, the American influence over our foreign and domestic policies had risen to a record high. Qudratullah Shahab, the then Principal Secretary to the President, recollects in his ‘Shahab Nama’ that the US diplomats behaved like lords and felt no qualms in chiding senior civilian and military officials publicly. On having assumed as Governor General and later as President, Iskander Mirza along with General Ayub Khan who was holding the portfolio of Defence brought Pakistan more close to the USA. As affirmed by Air Marshal Asghar Khan in his ‘We never learnt from History’, “President Mirza believed to a greater degree than Ayub Khan that Pakistan’s destiny was linked with the West and felt and behaved like a staunch ally of the USA. He did not draw a line between the interests of the USA and those of Pakistan”. Later, the duo imposed Martial Law in the country, scrapping the Constitution of 1956 and cancelling the impending general elections with the knowledge of, if not encouragement from, the US and British leadership, added by Asghar Khan. All this further curtailed our options for having any meaningful cooperative relations with the Soviet Union.
In 1956, Shaheed Huseyn Suharwardy, though a liberal politician, sanctioned a military outpost for the USA to be established at Badaber about 10 kilometers from Peshawar, though the Soviet Premier, Nicolai Bulganin had offered technical and scientific assistance to Mr. Suharwardy to develop nuclear technology for peaceful use. This was the first consequential result of the membership of the Western military alliances. By this act, we had unwittingly become a party to the raging cold war between the two super powers. The American U-2 planes started using the facility for reconnaissance of the Soviet land space and intelligence gathering. In May 1960, one U-2 plane was shot down by a surface to air missile within the Soviet airspace. The pilot of the plane, Gary power ejected safely and was captured by the Soviets. First, the American tried to cover up. Nevertheless, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev outraged by the episode was ruthless in hitting hard at the USA leadership thumping the table with his shoe in the UN General Assembly and threatening Pakistan that Peshawar had been encircled in red and would be bombed to dust if we continued to host the spy station.
Nevertheless, when the Soviets came up with all the incriminating evidences including the CIA pilot, Gary Power, photographs taken by the plane while in the Soviet space, the spying system that was recovered unharmed from the wreckage of the plane, President Eisenhower was left with no other option than to accept the espionage mission of the plane. As put it by General K.M. Arif in his ‘Khaki Shadows’, Pakistani leadership feigned innocence saying, ‘Pakistan felt deceived because the USA had kept her in the darkness about such clandestine spy operations launched from her territory’. The incident took place just days before the East-West Summit to be held in Paris and created a lot of bad blood between the two world powers. The spy pilot was tried and sentenced to two years in prison. However, he was set free in February 1962.
Our first move to establish meaningful cooperation with the Soviet Union was initiated by Z. A. Bhutto as the Minister for Natural Resources when he took a delegation to the Kremlin in the frosty month of December 1960. The Soviet leaders received Mr. Bhutto warmly. Though tough in talks, they were keen to ink an agreement with Pakistan. Mr. Bhutto tackled their tough talk by a subtle diplomatic move. Ambassador Agha Hilaly writes in his Memoirs that on the third day of the talks, Bhutto directed the members of his delegation to pack their luggage and leave their suitcases outside the door of their rooms. This would be definitely reported to the Soviet team by the intelligence making them believe that the Pakistanis would prefer to return empty handed rather than accepting their tough terms for the agreement. This worked well.
That day, the Soviet leaders softened their terms and came round to accepting Pakistan’s demands. The Soviets sanctioned a financial assistance of 120 million Rubles and agreed to send a team of geologists, scientists and explorers for the exploration of gas and oil. They found a rich field of gas but not oil in Balochistan. The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev was in great form and held a reception in the honour of Pakistan’s delegation. Ambassador Hilaly quotes a senior Soviet official remarking about late Bhutto that “your Minister is young but very intelligent”. When the agreement was inked in January 1961, Bhutto had entered the 33rdspring of his life.
In April-May 1965, relations between Pakistan and India deteriorated to greater extent over the Runn of Katch. Pakistan moved military ground forces along with the US-supplied Patton tanks to ward off any Indian adventure in the disputed region. At the behest of India, the Americans resented the movement of the Patton tanks and their possible use against India in the impending military confrontation. They took the plea that the weapons supplied to Pakistan by them under the Mutual Assistance Pact were supposed to be used not against India but in self defence against any aggression by a communist power. This reflected the disadvantage of alliance between a developing country and a superpower. To further pressurize Pakistan, President Johnson cancelled a scheduled meeting with General Ayub Khan.
The scheduled meeting of the consortium for sanction of funds for the Five Year Development Plan of Pakistan was also cancelled. The snub was too embarrassing for Pakistan. The Foreign Minister, Z.A. Bhutto advised the General to balance this disadvantageous alliance with the USA by exploring the available Soviet option for supply of arms. He knew that the Soviet leaders including Podgorny and Kosygin were eager to befriend Ayub Khan to wean away Pakistan from the Western alliances. He immediately contacted the Soviet Ambassador and arranged Ayub Khan’s sudden visit to Moscow. The Joint Communiqué issued at the end of the visit, inter alia, referred implicitly to Jammu and Kashmir. It contained the oblique reference of ‘Soviet support of those fighting for their self-determination’. Within years, the Soviet arms started flowing into Pakistan. This was a great and timely rebalancing of relations with the Soviet Union by Pakistan.
The war of 1965 with India was brought to an end by the intervention of the USA and the UK. The USA imposed sanctions on Pakistan for having used the US-supplied weapons against India in the war. The USA and the British leaders were not willing to play an intermediary role between the two countries, leaving the field open for the Soviet leadership. The Soviet Prime Minister, Kosygin and Foreign Minister Gromyko undertook to host the leaders of the two countries in Tashkent. This was how the Tashkent Pact was inked between the two countries. The pact created an unbridgeable gulf of differences between President Ayub Khan and his Foreign Minister, Z.A. Bhutto, portraying the former as a weak leader to the enraged populace in the country. Bhutto was shown to the door at the behest of the USA leaders. President Ayub Khan remained a lame duck leader during the subsequent years of his power grappling with his rapidly declining health and the growing public protests against his authoritarian regime. With the exit of Bhutto from the foreign affairs, Pakistan was circuiting back to the USA stables.
The Tashkent event created a kind of bonhomie between Pakistan and the Soviet Union. There was apparently a change of heart on the part of the Soviet leaders towards Pakistan. They seemed eager to balance their relationships with Pakistan and India. By this time, Bhutto had started vehemently criticizing the Tashkent Agreement which kept annoying the Soviet leaders particularly Prime Minister Kosygin who had taken great pains to bring the two countries round to signing the agreement. In April 1968, he visited Pakistan for a couple of days. Among other things, he also reviewed with his Pakistani hosts the implementation of the Tashkent Agreement. He advised Pakistan to improve relations with India ‘step by step’ concentrating on economic and trade cooperation between the two important countries of South Asia.
From Pakistan, he flew to India for a four-day visit. Again, he visited Kabul and Islamabad in May 1969 to discuss the possibility of convening a conference of the major countries of South Asia including Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey to promote cohesive economic, political and strategic policies to strengthen regional and international peace. This was the time when the Soviet relations with fellow Communist China had deteriorated to the lowest ebb. Some Western and local analysts of the time viewed the Soviet diplomatic initiative as a serious bid to isolate China. Therefore, the initiative received a lukewarm response from all the countries except India.
(To be concluded)