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Sorcerers, Apprentices, Broomsticks: The US Has Not Done Enough to Support Democracy in Pakistan, Peace With India

09/01/2015 12:28 GMT | Updated 11/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Writing sensitive diplomatic documents is probably the world's second oldest profession. A mountainous, inaccessible central Asian country with immense strategic importance, causes a regional governor to urgently dispatch a memo to the equivalent of the State department. This country, he writes, autonomously governed 'ruled on theocratic lines, is likely to be a stronger guarantee against Soviet advance to the borders of India than any resumption of effective [he mentions a large neighbouring state] control'.

'This country' might have been Afghanistan, but the memo sent by Sir Olaf Caroe, governor of North West Frontier, in June 1935 concerned Tibet, at that time a semi-British protectorate in a 37-year reprieve from Chinese rule that has marked its porous history from the 18th century.

Olaf Caroe as well as being a 'Forward policy man' to his fingertips, was a proponent of the creation of Pakistan not only because he had a sentimental attachment to the Pathans, but because like many of his Indian Civil Service generation he was obsessed by the Soviet threat. After 1947 and as a regular visitor to Washington he influenced the Americans on the 'uncertain vestibule' of buffer states between the Soviet Union, the subcontinent and the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

His geopolitical treatise Wells of Power: the oilfields of south west Asia (1951) and his role in the formation of the 1955 Baghdad Pact, modelled on Nato, for the US, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq, allowed him to persuade Allen W. Dulles, the first civilian director of the CIA, that the imperial lessons of military hardware and a tight hand on the geo-political tiller was necessary to keep them aligned to the west. It was complemented by Seato, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation, founded in 1954 to prevent communism from gaining ground in the region. Pakistan was a member and hence a recipiant of US military aid.

In the 1950s Dulles modelled the fledgling CIA on British imperial lines, and staffed it with Ivy Leaguers. Within seven years the great games division of the CIA had a) deposed Mossadeq and backed the return of the shah in Iran on the slightest of rumours that the Soviets had an eye on Iran oil; b) overthrown the elected leftist prime minister (Jacobo Arbenz) in Guatemala to replace him with a military junta; c) begun the long process of pouring military aid into Pakistan (see Kamran Shafi's excellent article for Tribune Pakistan, "A gentle reminder", 2011) which culminated in the backing of Ayub Khan's military coup in 1958 and the decision to build a new capital at Islamabad suspiciously close to Rawalpindi GHQ.

Washington's reasoning on this was to do with India. Nehru's relationship with Moscow (five years plans, massive state nationalisation) which deepened under the successive governments of his daughter Indira Gandhi. The second volume of Christopher Andrew's and Vasili Mitrokhin's The Mitrokhin Archives shows how effectively the Soviet Union penetrated and bought India from the 1960s - their most successful client state outside Europe - in a combined policy of stagnation of its economy and repression of its political structures. It threw up a flurry of counterweight alliances - the US with Pakistan, China with Pakistan and from the 1970s Saudi Arabia with Pakistan, all of which came to benefit and inflate Pakistan's military and consequently make it almost impossible for democracy to take root.

As ever it was the decisions made in remote capitals that had the most devastating effects. At the time of the fall of East Pakistan in 1971 as Gary J Bass, professor of politics at Princeton, has shown in "The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide," disgraceful White House diplomacy attended the birth of Bangladesh. Washington gave the Pakistan military carte blanche to murder 300,000 Bengalis, most of whom were Hindus, and forced 10 million to flee to India. The cause: that Nixon and Kissinger in wanting to extract the US from Vietnam in a face-saving way - and obsessed as ever with the Soviets - opened a channel to split Moscow and Beijing with the help of Pakistan's military leader Yahya Khan. Yahya was Nixon's intermediary to Chou Enlai and he later helped prepare the ground for Kissinger and then Nixon to visit China.

If it sounds like the pragmatism of geo-politics to safeguard "the free world", The Blood Telegram also shows in the age of 'Reds under the Beds' Nixon and Kissinger to be stupid and vulgar especially in their attitudes toward the Indian administration, which they regarded in its pro-Soviet alignment as repulsive and shifty, and especially in their opinion of Indira Gandhi. "The old bitch," Nixon called her. "I don't know why the hell anybody would reproduce in that damn country but they do."

So it is not too difficult to imagine the scenes in the White House when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the civilian prime minister, sat down on a sofa with Mrs Gandhi at Shimla in July 1972 and talked about peace and the Line of Control. The meeting, the news got about in Foggy Bottom, was brokered from Moscow.

Kissinger made repeated efforts to warn Bhutto off, ostensibly on the grounds of Pakistan's nuclear programme (which they equally turned a blind eye to in the 1980s) but the reality is that Washington found Zulfikar Ali impossible to control - in contrast to the military establishments that Washington favoured - and they wanted him out.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, US-Pakistan policy was not so far removed from Caroe's 'theocratic lines'. Combined aid from the US and Saudi Arabia poured into Afghanistan to fund the mujahideen. Arnold Raphael, the serving US ambassador, who went down in the Bahawalpur plane crash with Zia and Pakistan's top military and ISI brass, in August 1988, was known to have lobbied Washington to have the hard-line director of ISI, General Hamid Gul with his links to the fundamentalist, acid-throwing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the Afghan Alliance, to take over from a failing Zia in Pakistan.

This may have been too much even for Washington. But the sideways consequence was the vast re-arming of the Pakistan military through the 1980s and the increase of the ISI from a staff of 2000 in 1978 to 40,000 (with a $1 billion budget) a decade later. Anatol Lieven notes that "Zia used the ISI to channel US and Arab aid to the mujahedin. A good deal of this money stuck to the ISI's fingers." With joint funding streams from Washington and the Gulf, the ISI /military was now able to direct foreign policy, influence media coverage in Pakistan, blackmail elected governments and undermine the democratic process. By the end of the 1980s the ISI enjoyed a position of status quo that even today is only slowly being eroded.

In this, most foolishly, the west was complicit: Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge intelligence academic noted in the chapter on Pakistan in The Mitrokhin Archives: The World, during the 1980s Zia's rule from a western perspective, provided near ideal conditions of stability.

For a great part of the first decade of this century it was said in the western media that the US-Pak relationship is one of mutual need. More accurately, it may also be read as one of mutual responsibility for Pakistan not being able over six decades to reach its economic, democratic and social development potential, and at times has been prevented from coming to peace with its neighbour India.

That is not to say that the geo-politics practised in and around the subcontinent by other states - Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, China have been any better. The Russian occupation of Afghanistan 1978-87 resulted in 876,825 deaths.

But with Washington seemingly once again turning a blind eye to democratic struggles once again in Pakistan in 2015, you might once again wonder at their under-used capacity to propel India and Pakistan to peace.

In the last week of January Barack Obama will be the state guest at India's annual Republic Day celebrations. He will be the first US head of state to have visited India twice, and it will be the second summit-level meeting between Obama and Modi in four months.

The issue, after 60 years, might be whether this is once again in response to the shifting geo-political alliances of the region, or whether Obama has his head screwed on the right way and might actually move US policy in favour of peace between India and Pakistan. That would be a first.