Pakistan no more taken for granted by USA

Asif Haroon Rajann

There is no denying the fact that Pakistan suffered from leadership crisis after the untimely death of Quaid-e-Azam in September 1948. All those who held the reins of power after Quaid and Liaquat Ali Khan were selfish, power hungry, morally weak and pro-American. With feet of clay, they failed to build Pakistan as a modern, progressive Islamic welfare state as envisioned by the founder leader. However, it is also a fact that other than Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and some Baloch nationalist leaders, no leader hobnobbed with adversaries of Pakistan and compromised security of Pakistan. Hegemonic ambitions of arch enemy were kept in check.

When Indian forces illegally intervened in Kashmir in October 1947, cash-strapped Pakistan had nominal forces available to counter the threat. Quaid-e-Azam unhesitatingly ordered the Army to confront the Indian threat and thus saved one-thirds Kashmir. But for Nehru’s pleading for a ceasefire and UN intervention, Pakistan could have pushed out the intruders.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan was pro-American and had unwisely given Badaber airbase to US military, but he was profoundly admired and respected by the Americans because of his imposing personality, graceful demeanor and all-round achievements he made for the uplift of the country. American assistance helped him in executing his grand reform programs, building two dams, irrigation canals and infrastructure and in improving the economy and force modernization. But when he noticed that the US as an ally was drifting toward India and disturbing regional military balance by providing arms to India at a massive scale, he appraised Washington of Pakistan’s security concerns. When the US paid no heed to his entreaties and also took little interest in resolving Kashmir dispute, he altered Pakistan’s foreign policy by getting closer to China and opening up with Soviet Union. This tilt proved highly beneficial for Pakistan in the long run. His book ‘Friends Not Masters’ explains the depth of his frustration over the US duplicity.

When Nehru spurned Ayub’s offer of joint defence and refused to honor his pledge of granting right of self-determination to the Kashmiris and settle Kashmir dispute which was lingering since 1948, it was feared by the policy makers that given the quantum of arms received by India from USA, West and Soviet bloc, she would soon be in a position to tilt the equilibrium overwhelmingly in her favor, thereby tempting her to further her expansionist ambitions against Pakistan. Ayub Khan gave a go-ahead signal to the plan conceived by Maj Gen Akhtar Ali Malik and seconded by Foreign Minister ZA Bhutto to launch clandestine Operation Gibraltar in Occupied Kashmir by irregular forces together with commandos in August 1965 to revitalize Kashmir cause.

Operation Gibraltar failed to achieve its ends because of lack of preparations and support from the Kashmiris. Unannounced infiltration of the irregulars and air-landing of commandos had taken the Kashmiris by surprise. The informers disclosed their hideouts to Indian security forces which converted the venture into a fiasco. Conversely, Operation Grand Slam brought Akhnur within the grasping reach of invading forces. But for ill-timed change of command which caused an avoidable 24 hour pause in operation and modification of plan by the new commander Maj Gen Yahya Khan, Akhnur would have fallen like a ripe apple and occupied Jammu & Kashmir surgically cut from India.

In order to save Kashmir and to teach a lesson to Pakistan, Indian military heavily superior in men and material launched an undeclared war in the wee hours of 6 September 1965. Lahore was struck from three directions by forces of Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad. The invaders were so sure of their victory that Indian COAS Gen Chowdhury had arrogantly stated that he would have a peg of whisky in Gymkhana Club Lahore that evening. When Pak forces struck back, Gen Prasad ran away and was later found hiding in a freshly irrigated sugar cane field in disheveled condition. (1965 War – Inside Story, by R.D. Pradhan).

Not only Lahore offensive was effectively blunted, our fierce counter offensive launched from Kasur reached outskirts of Amritsar without much opposition. Gen Harbakhsh Singh reveals that not only Gen Chowdhury played a very small role in the entire war, he was so nervous as to be on the verge of losing half of Punjab to Pakistan, including the city of Amritsar. He adds that Chowdhury panicked so badly that he ordered him to withdraw to a new defensive line behind River Beas, thereby conceding half of Punjab to Pakistan. Harbakhsh refused to comply and saved the day for India. Indian armored division was grounded in the biggest tank battle at Chawinda in Sialkot sector. Although Indian air force had 5:1 air superiority over PAF, Pakistani pilots were unrivaled in air-to-air combat. They severely battered Indian airpower.

When Indian main offensive was identified in Ravi-Chenab, Amritsar offensive was called off and 1 Armored Division was speedily shifted from Kasur sector to Sialkot sector to join up with 6 Armored Division. Once the link up took place by 21 September, Pak Army gained superiority of strategic orientation over Indian military in Ravi-Chenab corridor. Our counter offensive force was well poised to launch maneuver of exploitation towards Samba-Kathua. Pak Navy did its bit by successfully striking India’s Dwarka Port. People of Pakistan imbued with animal spirits stood behind the armed forces like a solid rock and lustily cheered every act of theirs.
The situation became so precarious for India that she hastened to agree to the UN proposal to ceasefire on September 22nd to negotiate peace treaty at Tashkent. Had USA not abruptly stopped supply of vitally needed ammunition and military spares, Pakistan could have won the war. 17-day high intensity war was a classic case of unity, courage and fortitude of a nation pitched against a vastly superior adversary that had vowed to decimate Pak forces and undo Pakistan. Redoubtable PAF pilots flying F-104 earned world fame and world media paid rich tributes to Pak armed forces. In those happy days there was a common perception in Pakistan that one Pakistani was equivalent to ten Indians.

When Gen Yahya took over in March 1969 and came up against Indian supported insurgency in East Pakistan seeking separation, he took military action against the rebels to save Pakistan from splitting. He opted for the military option after all his efforts to find a political solution failed because of uncompromising Mujib and power hungry ZA Bhutto. An aerobridge was made and two infantry divisions airlifted from West to East Pakistan via Colombo to beef up marooned 14 Division. Direct air route had been purposely blocked by India in January 1971 following RAW fabricated Ganga plane hijacking incident. The military crushed the province wide rebellion, re-established writ of the state in record time of less than two months and put the derailed machinery back on the rail. General amnesty for all those who had fled to India was announced but India least desirous of peaceful and stable conditions blocked return of refugees and Awami League leaders and kept feeding the civil war.

When India found that Mukti Bahini would not be able to defeat Pak Army, ten time’s superior Indian Army backed by air and naval power and Soviet Union invaded East Pakistan on 21 November 1971 and made penetrations at 23 different points without declaring war. Pak forces deployed in penny packets all along the border were pinned down and their rearward routes blocked. When the situation on eastern front became precarious, Yahya activated the western front on 3 December with pre-emptive airstrikes on Indian airbases and launched offensives in several sectors to relieve pressure on eastern wing. Strategic reserves were also ordered to undertake the counteroffensive. Had the US played its role as an ally, or ZA Bhutto behaved more maturely, or Bengalis not collaborated with Indian military, India couldn’t have broken the eastern limb of Pakistan. Notwithstanding serious flaws in our war strategy and the tragic outcome, it cannot be said that the armed forces at any stage got overawed and were hesitant to fight and die despite being denied a level playing field.

After taking over power on December 20, 1971, the first step which ZA Bhutto took was to get Pakistan out of SEATO, CENTO and Commonwealth that had proved counterproductive. He forged close relations with Muslim world and reoriented Pakistan’s identity with Southwest Asia. Holding of Islamic Summit in Islamabad in 1974 was the manifestation of this linkage. When India carried out nuclear explosion at Pokhran in August 1974 and revealed her sinister intention against truncated Pakistan, ZA Bhutto wasted no time in laying the foundation of nuclear program and established uranium enrichment plant at KRL under Dr. AQ Khan. Libya under Qaddafi was in the forefront to fund the program. Bhutto didn’t relent despite being warned personally by Henry Kissinger that he will be made a horrible example. Bhutto deflated Afghan President Dawood’s belligerence after he gained the support of Afghan Islamists.

Gen Ziaul Haq has several feathers in his cap. He stood up against Soviet aggression in Afghanistan at his own. When the US and the West decided to back up Afghan Jihad in June 1981, CIA was kept at a distance. The ISI coordinated the entire Jihad single-handed and took it to its logical end. Soviet forces could not have been pushed out of Afghanistan without Pakistan’s whole-hearted support. Miraculous victory raised the stature of Pakistan sky-high. He also zealously pursued nuclear program and weaponized it in 1984 by conducting cold tests despite immense western pressure and threats of Indo-Israeli aerial strikes to destroy so-called Islamic bomb.

PM Benazir Bhutto and PM Nawaz Sharif during their respective stints together with Presidents Ghulam Ishaq and Leghari continued with the nuclear and missile development programs despite harsh US sanctions. Pak Army always maintained aggressive posture against Indian forces despite being on lower heights along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir and in Siachin and had an upper edge. All belligerent acts were promptly and forcefully responded. The Frontier Corps also countered intrusions by Afghans on the western border aggressively. PAF defended Pakistan’s airspace effectively while coastal belt and maritime interests were robustly safeguarded by Navy.

Nawaz backed by Gen Karamat withstood US and western pressure and went ahead with nuclear tests in response to India’s nuclear blackmail in May 1998. Pakistan became the sole nuclear power in Islamic world and seventh in the world and it earned respect of all including India. Kargil conflict which was triggered by Gen Musharraf in the summer of 1999 as a consequence to capture of large number of heights and 300 sq km of Indian held territory in Kashmir brought the Indian military might on its knees. India’s shattered prestige was salvaged by US led G-8 countries and its defeat converted into victory on the media plane.

Gen Musharraf maintained forceful stance towards India after he took over as head of state and put up an impressive show during the ten-month military standoff in 2002. His governance and economic policies were also sound. However, he is criticized for capitulating to American pressure and accepting all the seven demands. His detractors say his easy capitulation emboldened Washington to such an extent that thereon it started taking Pakistan for granted. During his eight-year rule, the CIA and FBI for the first time penetrated into each and every department of Pakistan including media. The US officials started behaving like viceroys and micro-managed Pakistan’s domestic affairs. Shaukat Aziz as Finance Minister and then as PM was US man. Under the nauseating mantra of ‘do more’, Pakistan kept submitting to each and every demand, as if it was the 51st State of USA.

The US apologists in Pakistan still maintain that by teaming up with USA, Musharraf saved Pakistan and its strategic assets from destruction. They termed the US support and alliance as life saving oxygen without which Pakistan wouldn’t have survived. Notwithstanding overly pro-US policies, none can deny that lots of development works took place during Musharraf’s tenure and GDP rose to 7%. All economic indicators were in positive and public sector corporations were in profit. Nuclear and missile development work continued at a high pace. First successful cruise missile test was carried out in 2006 and work on development of non-weaponized and weaponized drones started in his time.

By the time Musharraf left the scene and went into exile under US brokered deal, CIA network had got well-entrenched in Pakistan and internal security situation had become tense thereby making the task of new security team that much difficult. Kashmiri freedom movement had lost its impetus as a consequent to ban imposed on Kashmiri Jihadist groups in 2002/03, erection of fence along the LoC in Kashmir and stoppage of movement across LoC. The US and UK installed NRO cleansed puppet regime in March 2008 wholly subservient to Washington’s wishes further compounded the security situation. While Bush administration had done the initial groundwork of softening up Pakistan, Obama was required to execute the final phase of destabilizing, denuclearizing, enfeebling and discrediting Pak Army and then Balkanizing Pakistan with the help of India.

Af-Pak policy followed by Kerry-Lugar Bill, acceleration of drone war, induction of Blackwater and additional 7000 CIA agents, expansion of US Embassy in Islamabad, intensification of propaganda war against Army and ISI, appointment of Richard Holbrooke as Special Envoy, group attacks in major urban centres, Raymond Davis episode followed by cross border helicopters attack in Abbottabad, alleged ISI’s linkage with Haqqani Network, ruthless attack on Salala border posts, heating up of western border, and stoppage of CSF were steps in that direction.

To the bad luck of USA and its strategic partners and to the good fortune of Pakistan, the devious plan has run into snags and has almost been grounded since the plotters have themselves got caught in the whirlpool of Afghanistan. The whole edifice of intrigue and deception built by Indo-US-Israeli-UK-Germany-Afghanistan nexus has started to crumble in the face of Taliban generated hurricane and defiance of Pak Army. Even the week-kneed government showed some guts by blocking NATO supply lines for seven months and closing Shamsi airbase in 2012, and just before quitting deciding to hand over Gawadar Port to China and sticking with Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project despite US pressure of sanctions. The US is no more taking Pakistan for granted and is belatedly once again recognizing its geo-strategic significance.

Gen Kayani has done exceptionally well in restoring the bruised image of Army and keeping it cohesive and in thwarting series of home-made and foreign-made conspiracies. Although he has offered Army’s shoulder in support of democracy and holding of free and fair elections, people are so fed up of sham democracy that they have started remembering Gen Musharraf. Pro-Musharraf lobby is projecting him as the right choice for caretaker PM for next two-three years to set things right. Imran Khan promising a change has become a popular leader. Even Tahirul Qadri wanting electoral reforms before elections attracted huge crowds.

So far the Election Commission has disappointed the nation. It could not block pre-poll rigging, couldn’t carryout delimitation of Karachi, and has failed to elicit requisite information from politicians to ensure proper screening of contestants. So far consensus on caretaker PM has not been achieved and overall security situation is bad. Some are cautioning that elections will be bloody. Under the circumstances, holding of free and fair elections seems a pipedream.

Notwithstanding the darker aspects of the five-year democracy, it cannot be denied that Punjab government under Shahbaz Sharif maintained semblance of order and produced impressive results. But for Punjab’s notable performance in comparison with other provinces, which has catapulted the popularity graph of PML-N, together with emergence of third political force that have rejuvenated some hopes in democracy, the situation seems ripe for another round of military rule, which the people would welcome.

The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. Email:

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