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Outlook India, Nov. 19, 2007

When Does History Begin?

For the people who rule the roost in Washington, history begins the day they wish to choose. But the least we can do, when deliberating over the present state of things in Pakistan, is not follow Washington.

C. M. Naim

On 9/11, the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) was in Washington. The next day he met with the Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, According to Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan's ambassador at the time and a witness to the meeting, 'Armitage started out by saying: "This is a grave moment. History begins today for the United States. We're asking all our friends--you're not the only country we're speaking to--we're asking people whether they're with us or against us."'

What struck me more forcefully when I first read that account last August was Armitage's reference to history: 'History begins today for the United States.' In fact, as I recall, he reiterated that observation on a TV show more recently. Somewhat boastfully he asserted that when the Pakistani visitor made some demurring sounds and referred to the prior US involvement in Afghanistan, he cut him short by saying, 'History begins for us today.'

I was reminded of that meeting this week, when I came across Jonathan Schell's excellent commentary, which begins with his version of that incident and uses for its title Armitage's other dictum: 'Are you with us, or against us?'

I don't think Armitage, a second-tier functionary, was expressing merely an individual's hubris. His remark, I'm convinced, was indicative of a more prevalent sickness. For the people who rule the roost in Washington, history does begin the day they wish to choose. Presently, they dictate that Iran's history with the United States must begin in 1979, and not in 1953 or earlier; that Iraq's history must begin with Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, and not when the United States, Saudi Arabia and indeed Kuwait outsourced to him their preemptive strike against Iran; and that Afghanistan's history should likewise begin from the day we launched an attack against the Taliban, and none should dare bring up--as the hapless Pakistani spook tried--the refugee camps where, for years, the United States directly helped the Saudis to preach sectarian Islam and bankroll foreign mujahideen.

As we deliberate here in Chicago over the present state of things in Pakistan, the least we can do is not follow Washington.

Pakistan came into existence in 1947, simultaneous with the start of the new global power struggle, known as the Cold War. It was 'cold,' of course, only for the two chief protagonists, who fought devastatingly 'hot' wars away from their homelands, and used as proxies places like Congo and Vietnam. The same Cold War also cruelly distorted the future for a great many other emerging nations, including Pakistan.

Pakistan had initially tried to win American assistance in two forms: direct developmental aid, civil and military, and diplomatic support against India. Its first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan toured the United States in 1950 at the invitation of President Truman, and the visit was seen by the Pakistanis as a triumph. But Washington was still hopeful of winning over Nehru and India, a bigger catch. Consequently, Pakistan received modest financial and military aid, but no diplomatic support against India.

So far I was factual. Now I must enter the twilight zone of Conspiracy Theory. By early 1951, when it became clear that the United States was not forthcoming with the kind of support that Pakistan desired--and what India had started getting from the USSR--Liaquat Ali began making some public noises that Washington didn't like. He even made plans for a trip to the USSR.

A few months later, in a public meeting at Rawalpindi, Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated. Moments later, the killer was also gunned down by the police officer on special duty. When, in due course a senior investigative officer was appointed to make an inquiry, he too perished, together with all his files, when his plane crashed and burned.

I now return to the factual. Liaquat Ali Khan was killed on October 16, 1951. [Please see update, Note #2 -- Ed.] Four days earlier, his finance minister, Ghulam Muhammad, had resigned from the cabinet for ostensible reasons of health. On October 18, however, the same Ghulam Muhammad became Pakistan's third Governor General. Here it is important to note that it was a post that was first held by Pakistan's founder, M. A. Jinnah, and thus had been the real seat of power till 1949. One of Liaquat Ali's major successes had been to bring that power back to where it should have belonged in the first place, namely with the nation's legislative assembly and its elected Prime Minister. Now it went back to the Governor General House.

I had thought that the United States' direct dealings with the Pakistani army in general and its intelligence section in particular began after the 1951 coup. But, according to Seymour Hersh in a 1993 article in the New Yorker that I found only this week, they had started in 1950. Hersh writes:

    'As early as 1950, the Pakistani government had effectively ceded remote areas of its northern provinces to the Central Intelligence Agency and to the National Security Agency--the larger and still more secretive group that ... is responsible for communications intelligence. It was from northern Pakistan that the N.S.A. eavesdropped on the Soviet nuclear facilities in Kazakhstan.'

Ghulam Muhammad ruled Pakistan by diktat, dismissing his first Prime Minister and appointing instead a man, who was not even a legislator but only Pakistan's ambassador in Washington. And when Ghulam Muhammad actually became physically disabled in the extreme, he handed over power in 1955 not to a politician but to a general: Gen. Iskandar Mirza. During the four years of his dictatorial rule, hand in hand with the Pakistani army and Washington, Ghulam Muhammad received the usual rewards. Time magazine is reported to have described him as the 'Reluctant Dictator'. It's also on record that in 1954, the United States increased its military support to Pakistan from 26 million to 105 million.

I must emphasize here that in his expropriation of every possible constitutional authority, Ghulam Muhammad was fully supported by Pakistan's Supreme Court, in particular by Chief Justice Muhammad Munir. Ghulam Mohammad's 'Ordinance for Emergency Powers,' and Munir's 1954 opinion that sovereignty in Pakistan resided with the Governor General and not the Legislative Assembly, are even today two of the supports of the constitutional stance taken by the present General/President. At a time when the New York Times and the bosses in Washington are showing an unusual congruency of thought in declaring Benazir Bhutto to be the next champion of democracy in Pakistan, it might be useful to remember that 50 or so years ago it was not the Pakistani army that forcibly grabbed control of Pakistan's politics. It happened the other way around: a majority of Pakistani politicians and judges willingly handed over power to the army. And the destruction of democracy in Pakistan was approved and rewarded by Washington at every stage.

In 1954–55, the United States expanded its containment of the USSR by establishing two new treaty organizations on the pattern of NATO.

Central Treaty Organization, or CENTO, and South East Asian Treaty Organization, or SEATO. CENTO consisted of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Again, we must recall that in 1953 the United States had toppled Iran's elected government, and replaced it with the Shah, while Iraq--created and adorned with a non-Iraqi king by Lawrence of Arabia, was de facto still ruled from London. Significantly, Pakistan was the only Asian country that was a member of both CENTO and SEATO.

In 1957, when U-2, America's most valuable spy plane was commissioned, one of its two overseas bases was set up in Pakistan, at Peshawar, from where it conducted aerial surveillance of the USSR. This cooperation between the United States and Pakistan remained hidden from the world until 1960, when the Russians managed to shoot down one of the planes, and put on trial its pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Meanwhile, General Iskandar Mirza, after appointing four Prime Ministers in his two years, had handed over Pakistan to his good friend General Muhammad Ayub Khan, and retired to live in Iran as a guest of the Shah.

Ayub Khan ruled Pakistan from 1958 to 1969, using various constitutional guises or devices. And though Ayub, after the 1965 war with India in which the United States again disappointed Pakistan's expectations, turned to China for military equipment, the clandestine ties with the United States were not affected, and the overt aid grants continued as before. Pakistan's close ties with China later became valuable to the United States, when the next General/President, Yahya Khan facilitated Henry Kissinger's secret trip to China, which took place in July 1971, at the height of Yahya's military oppression of Pakistan's Bengali citizens. [1] Incidentally, that was also the time when many Islamists, Bengali and non-Bengali, lent support to the army, gaining entry into its confidence. That first foothold grew firmer and extensive when radicalized POWs returned from India grew more disillusioned with the secular politicians. When Zia-ul Haq grabbed power in 1977, he was not only an army man but also, in equal measure, an Islamist.

I stop my historical narrative here. Let me conclude by saying that the 'menace du jour' in those days was Communism. Today, it is Global Terror. And only a fool or an angel can predict what length 'Washington, Inc.'--Republican or Democrat--would go to in the new crusade. As we talk, our man in Islamabad is John D. Negroponte. Long before becoming the first Director of National Intelligence for President Bush in 2005, Negroponte had been our man in Honduras from 1981 to 1985. The entries on him in Wikipedia and SourceWatch are worth a read. The following brief quotation from the first, I feel, may predict the course of future events better than anything.

'In 1995, The Baltimore Sun published an extensive investigation of U.S. activities in Honduras. Speaking of Negroponte and other senior U.S. officials, an ex-Honduran congressman . . . was quoted as saying: "Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed."

For their cooperation with the US, the Honduran government had its military aid increased from $4m in 1981 to $77m in 1985.

C. M. Naim is Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago. He made the above remarks at a roundtable on Pakistan at the University of Chicago, on Nov 17th 2007


1. The documents concerning that secret trip were declassified in 2002 and provide fascinating reading, in particular document 3.

2. Update: A friend expressed surprise at my precise dates, which made me go back to the internet and our library. I was mistaken when I claimed that Ghulam Muhammad had resigned on Oct. 12, 1951. It seems that by that date, Liaquat Ali Khan had decided to dismiss Ghulam Muhammad from his cabinet. The ‘fig-leaf’ offered was: his resignation due to ill health, and a posting to Washington as Pakistan’s Ambassador for the same reason. When the offer was broached to Ghulam Muhammad, his response was something to the effect: ‘over my dead body.’ Liaquat Ali Khan was killed on the 16th, and the same evening Ghulam Muhammad became the Governor General, though he was sworn in office on the 19th. I also found that the police officer who had so promptly killed the assassin was also killed in 1960. The three killings and the air crash still remain unexplained.

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