The world strategic scenario was undergoing a rapid change with the introduction of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and the nuclearized submarines in the arsenal of the two global powers. This had effectively reduced the relevance of regional alliances in the world strategic calculations. Pakistan, with Z.A. Bhutto as the Foreign Minister, was already tilting to bilateral economic and political relations with China and the Soviet Union. Actually, he introduced this concept in Pakistan’s foreign affairs with his landmark visit to the Kremlin in December 1961 as the Minister for Natural Resources and the signing of the first ever agreement with the Soviet leaders for the exploration of oil and natural gas in Balochistan. The Soviets had sanctioned 120 million Rubles for the project and sent a team of their geologists and engineers to Pakistan in the following years.
The life of President John F. Kennedy was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet on 22 November 1963 and the Vice President Lyndon Johnson took over as the new USA leader. Johnson was being consumed by the worsening position of war in Vietnam. He was using all the American might to crush the Vietcong. A man of enigmatic disposition, he had earlier visited the Subcontinent on a goodwill tour and struck friendship with Bashir Ahmed, an owner of a camel cart in Karachi who had put a large banner round the neck of his camel thanking him for the supply of wheat to Pakistan. At his invitation, Bashir was dispatched to USA where he enjoyed his personal hospitality and returned to Pakistan with loads of gifts and a good pack of dollars.
Having been generously armed by the USA and UK against a perceived threat from China, Indian strategists began feeling confident enough to start unsettling peace in South Asia amassing their forces in the disputed Runn of Katch region. They created a tense situation in the area in the early 1965. Fearing any sudden attack by India, Pakistan moved military equipment including US-supplied Paton tanks to the area to the strong resentment of the US. President Johnson cancelled the scheduled visit of General Ayub Khan to Washington in April 1965. Also the meeting of the Consortium for the funding of the Third Annual Development Plan of Pakistan was postponed. This was a great snub to the Pakistani leader. Ayub Khan was advised by Foreign Minister Z.A. Bhutto, to visit Moscow. He was warmly received in the Kremlin. He made an explicit request to Soviet leaders for supply of military equipment. Within a year, the Soviet arms started flowing into Pakistan in order to wean him away from the USA.
In the Runn of Katch skirmishes, the Indian forces were beaten and pushed back. The Pakistani leaders, confident of their new-found military strength, thought of another blow to India in the Jammu and Kashmir sector. This led to the covert launch of ‘Operation Gibraltar’ in August 1965. The central plank of the operation was infiltration of Kashmiri militants across the border into the Indian held Kashmir for violent protests against the Indian occupation giving a chance to Pakistan military for a massive thrust across the Line of Control to cut the only land link between India and Srinagar. In this simplistic plan, the Indian attack across the International Border was ruled out.
To the horror of the Pakistani planners, there was no uprising in the valley. Pakistan’s military advance to Akhnor was stalled by the Indians. They also launched counter attacks across the International border threatening Lahore. Pakistan was almost at the end of her economic resources and military hardware after two weeks’ war with her adversary. With the intercession of the USA and UK, the war was stopped. The USA imposed sanctions on both the countries for using the American arms and equipment against each other in the war which were supplied to them for use against any aggression by a communist country.
The sanctions hurt Pakistan more than India as the latter had other sources of arms supply especially the Soviet Union whereas the former was solely dependent on the American equipment. The stalemated war of 1965 added to our disillusionment with the USA. We began looking for opportunities to strengthen our relations with the Soviet Union and China. This prompted us to accept the intermediary role of the Soviet leaders in talks with India in Tashkent. Thus, the Tashkent Agreement was signed between Pakistan and India under the watch of the Soviet leaders. The agreement had no reference to the dispute of Kashmir to the annoyance of Z.A. Bhutto as put it by Ambassador Iqbal Akhund in his ‘Memoirs of a Bystander’.
In December 1965, President Ayub Khan went on a two-day visit to USA as scheduled previously. He made it clear to the USA leaders that our emerging friendship with China was not meant against the West. Pakistan was simply keen to normalize relations with her neighbours. The Joint Communiqué released at the end of the visit termed the discussions between the two Heads of State as frank, wide ranging and productive. They were in agreement that all the differences between Pakistan and India should be settled peacefully. There was no direct reference to Kashmir. However, it affirmed the USA support to the UN Security Council Resolutions on Kashmir passed earlier in September and November. The American military and economic assistance remained suspended.
On return, Ayub Khan dropped Z.A. Bhutto from his cabinet. The opposition to the autocratic rule of General Ayub Khan gathered momentum in 1968 spearheaded by Z.A. Bhutto, Air Marshal Asghar Khan and Shaikh Mujeeb-Ur-Rehman and Moulana Bhashani. General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan took over in March 1969. The latter’s rule witnessed important events taking place in the country and in international affairs in which Pakistan played leading roles. Richard Nixon, having been sworn as the 37thPresident of the US, took two landmark decisions to withdraw from Vietnam War and to recognize China and establish diplomatic relations with it. These decisions changed the direction of the world power politics.
The USA leaders, though always frowning at Pakistan’s relations with China, decided to use Pakistan as a bridge to reach China. First, Dr. Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor paid clandestine visits to Pakistan with messages from President Nixon for the Chinese leaders to be carried to them by special messengers from Pakistan. Pakistan arranged his visit to Beijing. This paved the way for the historic visit of President Richard Nixon to Beijing in early 1970. The whole affair was kept so secret that the prying international press or the ever alert foreign intelligence agencies failed to have a whiff of the three-way transpirations until President Nixon stunned the world by stepping on the forbidden land of China. Pakistan incurred the anger of the Soviet Union by facilitating this détente between the US and China.
The Soviet Union took its revenge from Pakistan in 1971. The USA and China couldn’t do anything to save Pakistan from dismemberment. However, President Richard Nixon sent strong messages to Prime Minister Indra Gandhi to keep her hands off West Pakistan. This was what he could only repay for our role to bridge the gulf between his country and China. As put it by a British scholar, ‘Pakistan was divided, defeated, demoralized and, in the eyes of the world, disgraced’. The disgrace was, indeed, enormous. After the loss of East Pakistan, the military junta transferred power to Z.A. Bhutto in the new Pakistan. He had daunting challenges in rebuilding the remaining Pakistan into a viable country. He needed political support within the country and diplomatic, economic and financial assistance from foreign friends. He visited important Muslim capitals and Moscow and sought Kremlin’s support in addressing the post-war issues with India.
He undertook his visit to Washington from 18thSeptember 1973. He had enforced the 1973 Constitution with a parliamentary form of government and taken over as Prime Minister. He was warmly welcomed by President Nixon. In his welcome address, the USA leader declared the “integrity and independence of Pakistan as the cornerstone of the USA policy”. The ceremony was held indoor instead of the Rose Garden due to torrential showers. Bhutto was at the peak of his eloquence. “I am sorry the ceremonies were marred by rains, but nothing can mar eternal friendship and warmth between our two people”, he told his host. Dr. Henry Kissinger was present in all the ceremonies and talks. In the Joint Statement issued at the conclusion of the visit on 20thSeptember, President Nixon promised “strong US support to Pakistan”. Though there was no official word on the easing of sanctions against Pakistan, President Nixon in his one-on-one meeting with Bhutto had pledged to allow the shipments of spare parts for the USA-supplied arms and equipment.
Kissinger made a stopover in Pakistan in the last week of October 1974 while going to Kabul and Tehran for official visits. He was accompanied by his new bride, Matilda. Bhutto received them warmly recalling fondly his waltz with Matilda. While toasting Kissinger, Bhutto asked him to convey his regards for President Daud telling him that ‘we would like to be friends with them’. He also asked him to convey ‘warmest regards and affection and respect to His Majesty, the Shah of Iran’. Dr. Henry Kissinger who was in the knowledge of Bhutto’s remarks about the Shah of Iran to President Nixon did not miss the clever move of Bhutto to use him as an emissary to reach out to the estranged Shah. Dr. Kissinger had brought an invitation from President Gerald Ford for another state visit to Washington early in the coming year. Bhutto promptly accepted the invitation.
Bhutto flew to Washington on 3 February 1975. He had meetings with Gerald Ford and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, the State Secretary, Kissinger and the World Bank President, Robert McNamara from 5-7 February. His talks with the USA leaders were productive and yielded immediate results. The decade-long embargo on the supply of arms and ammunition to Pakistan was lifted. This was a big breakthrough. Gerald Ford made another friendly gesture by sanctioning a cargo of 300,000 tons of wheat for Pakistan. This was in addition to the 100,000 tons sanctioned last month for the flood hit regions of the country. The USA aid to the flood victims was also increased manifold. Bhutto returned to Pakistan with a sense of gratification after enjoying Vice President Rockefeller’s sumptuous dinner in New York.
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