Bhutto never gained the trust of the USA leadership. He wanted to go into a tight embrace with the US but was kept at arm’s length by the Americans. Dr. Henry Kissinger returned to Rawalpindi in August 1976 to caution Bhutto about the USA concerns over nuclear proliferation. Bhutto declined to back down from his search for nuclear technology. Kissinger offered economic aid. Apparently, the talks with Kissinger, though tough and sensitive, did not lead to any acrimony. However, months later and after the general elections of March 1977, marred by allegations of rigging, Bhutto, as quoted by Stanely Wolpert, told the Canadian High Commission Mr. MacLellan that ‘in their meeting of August 1976, Kissinger was ‘all brimstone and fire and had threatened him that if Pakistan went ahead with plutonium reprocessing, he would have to pay a heavy price’.
Pakistan built its first civil nuclear power plant close to Karachi with the Canadian assistance in 1972. The program received a fillip and acquired new dimensions after the nuclear explosions of India at Pokhran in 1974. Bhutto had famously declared to his scientists that we should eat grass but achieve nuclear technology. Luckily, he laid his hands on Dr. A.Q. Khan in the Netherlands. He was later whisked into Pakistan and set on the task. He also inked a deal with France for the supply of a Nuclear Reprocessing Plant. However, the French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing could not withstand the USA pressure and put the deal on hold in 1977.
Bhutto was overthrown by General Zia-ul-Haq. Again, it is popularly believed that the General had a signal from the USA leadership to end the Bhutto rule. One good thing General Zia did was to continue apace our clandestine efforts for nuclear technology despite USA pressure. He too sincerely believed like Bhutto that the national security of the country could only be guaranteed by acquiring nuclear deterrence. The USA slapped tough economic and financial sanctions on all the states seeking nuclear technology including Pakistan under the Symington Amendment passed in 1978. Pakistan had to resort to indigenous resources or the nuclear gray markets. The forthcoming 5-6 years were crucial. By 1982, the world, by and large, knew that Pakistan had already acquired nuclear technology.
The Ally in Afghan War from 1980-2000
The Revolution of April 1978 in Afghanistan went sour with the violent counter revolutions of Hafizullah Amin and Babrak Karmel in quick succession drawing the Soviet forces into Afghanistan and instigating the USA and its Gulf allies to organize a resistance force to bog down the Soviets in the quagmire they had mindlessly waded into. Their sight turned to Pakistan having a 1700 kilometer-long border with Afghanistan as the potential USA ally. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s relations with the USA were at the lowest ebb. Besides the irritating nuclear issue, the execution of Bhutto and the mob attack on the USA Mission in Islamabad killing two American and two Pakistani staffers following the occupation of the Grand Mosque of Makah by miscreants in 1979 had marred relations. Notwithstanding these divergences, the two countries had common concerns about the situation arising out of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
President Carter relented in his hard position on nuclear non-proliferation to buy our support for their war against the Soviets. He dispatched his National Security Advisor Dr. Brzezinski and the Deputy Secretary of State, Warren Christopher to Pakistan in 1980. They were ready to lift the sanctions on Pakistan and reaffirm the Defence Agreement of 1959 with Pakistan. Prime Minister Margret Thatcher visited Islamabad. General Zia went to New York to address the UN General Assembly as Chairman of OIC in October 1980. He had talks with Jimmy Carter. The quid pro quo the USA leader offered was $400 million spread over 18 months which General Zia turned down as peanuts. The last two years of President Carter in office were difficult. The revolutionaries of Iran had stormed the USA diplomatic premises and took American diplomats as hostage. All this had almost ensured his defeat in the elections of November 1980. Therefore, General Zia in his talks with President Carter did not show any keen interest in any deal with him.
With the ascension to power by Ronald Reagan, the USA policy in South Asia underwent a big change. The USA policy to make Afghanistan the Vietnam of the Soviet Union began taking shape. The linchpin of this policy was the frontline state of Pakistan. The Reagan Administration began working on the Congress to turn ‘Pakistan into a stronger, self-confident and capable frontline state to resist direct and indirect Soviet pressure from Afghanistan in the wider interests of the free world in the region’. Pakistan which had been subjected to the relentless USA pressure and tough economic and financial sanctions for ending her nuclear program a few years ago became ‘an essential anchor to the entire South-west Asian region’ as testified by a senior official of the State Department, Mrs. James Coon, before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives in April 1981.
A delegation of senior civilian and military officials notably including General K.M. Arif headed by Agha Shahi visited Washington in April 1981. The delegation was warmly received. Extensive talks were held with the Secretary of State, General Alexander Haig. The delegation was also received by the Vice President George Bush and President Ronald Reagan. Earlier in 1978, the former Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, had declined to receive Agha Shahi for a meeting. How the Afghan situation had deeply impacted the foreign policy calculations and the security concerns of the USA was illustrated by the warm and extensive hospitality accorded to Pakistan’s delegation. Now the Americans were amenable to our demands for enhanced economic aid, supply of arms and military equipment that included F-16 aircrafts.
We accepted the tight embrace ever willing to play host to the Afghan refugees and political leaders and help Afghan Mujahidin, train and launch in Afghanistan. One of our conditions was the CIA would have no direct contact with the Mujahidin commanders or the Afghan political leaders. The financial assistance to them would pass through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This suited the USA security concerns in the South-west Asia and the Middle East. The supply of F-16 aircrafts posed some difficulties in the beginning. However, with the intervention of President Reagan, the Americans agreed to supply the first batch of the aircrafts within six months. We settled on an economic and financial package of $ 3.3 billion spread over 5 years from 1982-1987.
To avoid to be seen in alliance with the USA which would have undermined our credentials as a non-aligned country, we decided to pay a portion of the cost of the military supplies. The USA Congress approved the military part of the aid package with the condition that the moment Pakistan would transfer a nuclear device to or receive a nuclear device from any country, the aid package would be suspended. This was needed to circumvent Pakistan-specific Pressler Amendment, and that the military and economic aid would not disturb the balance in South Asia alluding to India.
To many, we were fighting a war for our own security to stop the advance of the Soviet Union to warm waters of the Arabian Sea through Balochistan. To some, we were putting the security of our country in jeopardy by antagonizing one superpower at the behest of the Western world. The generous financial aid coupled with the supply of arms and equipment that included the much sought-after F-16 aircrafts, the relaxation of the USA pressure on our nuclear program and the international legitimacy accorded to the military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq were too strong an incentive to resist. We plunged into the fray. In 1986, another deal was clinched for further 6 years from 1987-1993 with enhanced economic and financial aid of $4.03 billion.
Though huge amounts were flowing from the generous USA and Gulf treasuries and being injected into the economy relieving the country from the chronic shortage of Foreign Exchange Reserves, we were confronted with some serious consequences arising out of our hospitality to Afghans. The poppy cultivation in our tribal lands increased manifold; the heroin factories from Afghanistan were unobtrusively relocated on this side of the border and lethal Russian Kalashnikovs smuggled in large quantities into the settled regions of the country. The population of the drug addicts increased from zero in 1979 to 1.5 million in 1987.
By 1987, it was becoming clear that the Soviets had exhausted their will and resources for a prolonged stay in Afghanistan. Later, the Geneva Accords were signed by the Soviet leaders to withdraw from Afghanistan. The cumulative effect of all these events was gradually changing the attitude of the USA leaders towards their alliance with Pakistan. Thus, we began facing an increased pressure for signing the Non-proliferation Treaty and rollback our nuclear program with frequent warnings for the suspension of the aid package. However, President Reagan and his team continued to stand by this allied relationship until August 1988, the year of the death of President Zia-ul-Haq in an air crash and the election of George Bush as the new USA leader in November, the same year.
Relations between the two countries scaled down from a closest ally to normal contacts from January 1989 with the USA leaders tilting to India. The two successive civilian governments of Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif did not have much involvement in our nuclear program. The Army Chief and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan kept the two young Prime Ministers at a distance from this sensitive national issue lest they may bend before the USA pressure. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the election of the Democratic Bill Clinton as the new USA leader in November 1993, India began to receive more importance in the USA foreign and security policy calculations.
The USA policy on non-proliferation was nuanced to augment pressure on Pakistan only though Pakistan was still cooperating in US war against terrorism and in their peacekeeping efforts around the world particularly in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Congo and the capture of Ramzi Yousaf, Mir Aimal Kansi. The most important US help to Pakistan in the 1990s was to help avert a full war between the two nuclear states of South Asia arising out of our adventure in Kargil before the overthrow of the Nawaz regime by General Pervaiz Musharraf.
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