In October 1999, I wrote two pieces on Pakistan, following the
coup that brought General, now President, Musharraf to power.
They are still applicable today. I present them here, with an
editorial update or two.
British India achieved independence in 1947 and was partitioned
into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. The region has been a
true "hot spot" since then. The resulting mass migration and
communal violence claimed over 500,000 lives and it was in ''47
that the long-standing war with Kashmir began.
Pakistan was initially divided into 2 parts: E. Bengal and W.
Pakistan, 1,000 miles apart. In 1955, E. Bengal became E.
In 1971, E. Pakistan declared independence as Bangladesh.
Troops from W. Pakistan invaded and the ensuing civil war
killed hundreds of thousands, while millions fled to India. India
was preparing to go to war with Pakistan. And it was this
conflict which also engulfed the Great Powers.
Back in ''71, the U.S. used the conflict on the Asian subcontinent
to its advantage. President Nixon and National Security Advisor
Henry Kissinger had been looking for ways to play off Moscow
India''s first prime minister, Nehru, spoke of non-alignment but
had then allied the nation with the Soviet Union, forcing Pakistan
to seek out the U.S. and China. But when Pakistan, which had
received large-scale American military assistance in the 1950s,
concluded that the U.S. would not help it assert its claims to
Kashmir, it increasingly turned in the 1960s toward Communist
China for support.
In 1971, the U.S. tilted towards Pakistan as Nixon increased arms
supplies to Pakistan as compensation for its services in
maintaining informal contacts with Beijing as Kissinger was
arranging Nixon''s opening of the door to China.
In August ''71, the Soviet Union concluded a Treaty of
Friendship. As former Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin
describes it, "As long as India stayed outside the nuclear club,
the Soviet leadership considered granting it protection against a
nuclear threat by China, but caution prevailed."
The fear was of a full-blown conflict between India and Pakistan,
involving W. Pakistan, as the civil war raged in the East. Nixon
and Kissinger assured the Pakistanis that, under an agreement
drafted by the Kennedy administration in 1962, the American
government would support Pakistan against Indian aggression.
Moscow actually played a positive role in preventing India from
attacking W. Pakistan. Kissinger ended up thanking Dobrynin
for Moscow''s part in preventing what may have evolved into
World War III. W. Pakistan eventually surrendered E. Pakistan
and Bangladesh was formed.
In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. stepped up
its support of Pakistan, Afghanistan''s neighbor, as there were
legitimate concerns that the Soviets would attack Pakistan from
Afghanistan. The ties were strengthened, even though Pakistan
certainly did not have a history of true democratic rule.
The coup that took place this week [ed., again, 10/99] was the 4th
military coup in Pakistan''s 52-year history. The country has
been ruled by the military for 25 of its 52 years [now 27 of 54].
Former Pakistani President Ayub Khan, himself a former general
who led a coup in 1958, once told Richard Nixon, "It is
dangerous to be a friend of the U.S., that it pays to be neutral;
and that sometimes it helps to be an enemy."
(In the summer of ''99), after more than 2 months of clashes
between Indian and Pakistani forces, then Prime Minister Sharif
bowed to U.S. pressure during a visit to Washington. One
official said later that the prime minister "had brought disgrace to
the Pakistani army by bowing down before the U.S.
administration for an abrupt pullout." The army was in a state of
turmoil afterwards. The government had betrayed them.
Of course it was Musharraf who first authorized the incursion
into the disputed region of Kashmir. Musharraf was humiliated.
And later, when India shot down a Pakistani navy training flight,
killing 16, Sharif rejected Musharraf''s demand for a tit-for-tat
response against India.
On top of the dissension that was developing, Pakistan''s military
leadership didn''t want the country to sign the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty until India agreed to sign it. Sharif, under
pressure from Washington, wanted to sign.
Was Prime Minister Sharif a good man? No. He was a corrupt,
ugly figure, rivaling the worst in Pakistan''s history. And once
under house arrest, no one took up Sharif''s cause, which speaks
volumes. So now the question becomes what kind of man is
Musharraf, (Ed., now 58), has a brother who is a resident of the
U.S., as well as a son living in Cambridge, MA. He speaks
fluent English, is known to be a courageous military man, yet he
is not very bright. And, most importantly, as it concerns world
peace, he is a hawk on India.
[Ed., A few months ago, you''ll recall that Musharraf met with
Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee, but the summit broke up with
no real progress in the relationship.]
Back in the 1980s, half of the Pakistani generals had been
through U.S. training schools. Now the figure is 10% or less.
We have lost touch with our ally''s military leadership and that
isn''t a good thing.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, herself a totally corrupt
figure who ruled from 1988 to 1990 and 1993 to 1996, had the
following to say when asked by a Newsweek reporter to
comment on the awful situation in her country. "Many
Pakistanis have been talking about this - that we need to wake up
and save our own nation because the rest of the world can''t save
But Pakistan has been a basket case since it was granted
independence in 1947. And with the military having ruled for
half of the ensuing 54 years, the question remains, "If Pakistanis
are not competent to govern themselves, why would Pakistanis
wearing uniforms be any different?" Let''s explore this in more
When the Indian Empire was split in 1947, it was split between
Hindus and Muslims. Hindus in India, Muslims in Pakistan
(though there is a large Muslim population in India as well).
A.M. Rosenthal has written, "Both India and Pakistan have a
powerful sliver of their population who are plain villains -
politicians who deliberately splinter their society instead of
knitting it, men of immense wealth who zealously evade taxes
and the public good, (and) religious bottom-feeders who spread
violence between Hindu and Muslim in India and Muslim and
Muslim in Pakistan."
Robert Kaplan, author of the book "Balkan Ghosts," writes of the
population growth in Pakistan, as well as other countries in
similar situations, like India, Indonesia, and China. "Pakistan is
just one of many countries in which high population growth has
fueled urbanization, unemployment and depletion of resources,
which have made the state increasingly hard to govern except
through tyrannical means."
Take the city of Karachi, for example. Teeming with 10 million
people (the total population in Pakistan is around 140 million)
and growing by 500,000 each year, many of the inhabitants live
in abject poverty. Huge numbers of young people reach working
age without any education or prospects of employment. It is a
breeding ground for extremist religious movements, which are
often the product of urbanization because family links weaken in
impersonal cities and religion replaces the social cohesion of
village life. Karachi has witnessed an urban civil war among
Sunnis, Shiites, and other groups.
Over time, the people have no other choice, it seems, but to turn
to the military for solutions. Steven Weisman writes, "The
original building blocks of Pakistani society - the clergy,
military and the wealthy feudal lords who owned most of the
land - have fractured. Today, the military is split into secular
and Islamic camps. The landlord''s power has flowed to a newly
wealthy business class represented by former Prime Minister
Sharif. The clergy is split into factions, some of which are allied
with Saudi Arabia, Iran, the terrorist Osama bin Laden, the
Taliban in Afghanistan and others." Weisman adds:
"The Pakistani army generals are trying to convince themselves
that defeat in Kashmir was snatched from the jaws of victory by
Sharif and his stupid diplomats. This theory recurs in Pakistani
history, and it is very dangerous."
Pakistan spends about 30% of its government budget on its army
of 500,000 soldiers. By contrast, India spends 15% on the
military, a force that now numbers some 1.1 million. Pakistan
and India have fought countless wars and Pakistan has been
defeated each time. So to make up for its deficiencies, Pakistan
has felt it necessary to proceed with a nuclear missile program.
Of course, the fact that India is also proceeding with its own only
And who controls the nukes? Benazir Bhutto says that while she
was prime minister she had no control of the program. It was all
handled by the military. And when you look at the situation
today, with a new military dictatorship in the offing (don''t
believe all of these peace overtures Musharraf seems to be
making), and a leadership which has links to the Taliban of
Afghanistan as well as other Islamic terrorists, it''s easy to be
As for the U.S. and its influence, it is virtually nonexistent.
We hitched our wagon during the Cold War to Pakistan over
India. That may have been a big mistake.* And, after years of
sanctions levied on Pakistan to protest its nuclear program, we
are now at the mercy of a total stranger in Musharraf.
*[Ed., In hindsight, based on today''s developments, who the
Pakistan has been a nation in desperate search for its identity.
The military seems to be defining Pakistan''s purpose as an
endless jihad against India. And as the country implodes, those
nuclear weapons that they possess, primitive as these may be,
pose a real threat to the world. A conflict here can escalate
"In Confidence," Anatoly Dobrynin
"Oxford History of the 20th Century," Howard & Louis
Various wire service reports
New York Times