Summer 2003
Is Pakistan on America’s Hit List?

By Abbas Zaidi

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Much has been written about ideological and intellectual polarity between Pakistan's Urdu and English press. Correctly so, but with one exception: If you flip through Pakistan's Urdu- and English-language newspapers and periodicals of the past year, you will find a firm consensus there that Pakistan is becoming the United States' target in the latter's so-called war on terrorism. After using Pakistan against other Islamic countries for this purpose, Pakistan, according to the Pakistani press, will end up itself in the American line of fire. Some English-language journalists who never tire of lambasting the Urdu press for being reactionary, divisive and jingoistic on this issue join ranks with it and state that Pakistan will inevitably fall prey to the American military machine. One journalist even goes to the extent of advising Pakistan's policy- makers to think "laterally," a seemingly unfair demand on those who cannot even think literally.

Some of the reasons given in support of the argument are:

1. The United States is actually run by the Zionists, who do not want any Islamic state to become strong, economically or militarily. A nuclear Pakistan is not in Israel's interest. Hence, the Zionists must make Israel secure by destroying Pakistan's nuclear base. (Urdu press.)

2. The United States wants India to become a regional power. A strong Pakistan does not fit in with this scheme of things. Pakistan as an Indian satellite is a more appropriate scenario. (Mainly Urdu press, but English as well.)

3. The United States is run by the Christian fundamentalists. Bush is a front man; the show is actually run by people like Dick Cheney and other neo-Cons (comprised of Jews and Christian fundamentalists). The US government at present is anti-Islamic. It has already destroyed Afghanistan, a militant-ideological center, and Iraq, an oil giant. It will now destroy nuclear Pakistan. This destruction will continue till all Islamic countries are vanquished. Pakistan, Iran, and Syrian are on top of the list. One cannot say which of the three will next end up on the American agenda. (Urdu press.)

4. Pakistan is inherently a weak state. The influence of religious fanatics, a highly politicized army and dangerous ethnic, linguistic and sectarian groups have undermined Pakistan beyond redemption. Pakistan's nuclear weapons may fall into the wrong hands at any time. The US will not allow this to happen. Hence it will make sure that something is done about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. (English press.)

5. In the event of a war with India, Pakistan is sure to lose if the war is fought through conventional means. Pakistan will have to use nuclear weapons to halt India from staging a rout. (Urdu and English press.)

Such claims and fears are totally bogus. The United States will scarcely hesitate to target a nation that does not bow to her demands, as she did when Saddam refused to step down. But for those losing sleep at the idea that the United States will soon turn her guns on Pakistan, the following might be of some help:

1. Even in its nascent phase, Pakistan willingly undermined itself by playing second fiddle to the United States. Liaqat Ali Khan, Pakistan's first prime minister, refused Soviet overtures, choosing instead to pay a visit to the White House. That decision permanently palled Pakistan-Soviet relations.

2. In 1954 Pakistan joined SEATO and CENTO, the US-led defense alliance against the Soviet Union although Pakistan per se had no dispute with the USSR.

3. In 1955 Pakistan became a member of the British-led and US-backed Baghdad Pact. The purpose of the Pact was to contain possible Soviet influence in the Middle East. Strangely, Pakistan did not belong within the geographical arrangement of the Pact. It joined just to please the Americans.

4. In 1959 Pakistan allowed the US to establish secret intelligence facilities near Peshawar so that the Americans could spy on the Soviet Union. Pakistan constantly denied Soviet allegations that the US was spying on it using Pakistan’s territory. In 1960 the infamous U-2 spy plane was shot down by the Soviet army. The plane had as usual taken off from Peshawar. Khrush- chev threatened to attack Pakistan if the Peshawar-based espionage facilities of the US were not dismantled. Pakistan partially complied.

5. In March 1959 Pakistan-US signed a bilateral security agreement which called upon the US to take such appropriate action, including the use of armed forces. This was a total act of subordination on Pakistan's part because the commitment was restricted to instances of communist aggression. It made no reference to the US coming to Pakistan's help in the event of a conflict with its most likely adversary, i.e. India.

6. In January 1961 the new Kennedy administration increased assistance to India to $1 billion annually, while giving  only $150 million to Pakistan. Pakistan had done nothing to deserve this ill-treatment. 

7. In 1964 President Johnson conveyed his distress over Pakistan's good relations with China, but after a few years it was Pakistan which served as a go-between when the US and China began to normalise their relations.

8. In September 1965 Pakistan and India went to war. The US responded by suspending military and economic aid to Pakistan.

9. In May 1974, following India's "peaceful nuclear explosion," Z.A. Bhutto, then Pakistan's prime minister, pledged to press ahead with Pakistan's nuclear program. The US pressured him not to, but he stood up to the Americans. In 1976 he was threatened by Henry Kissinger with "horrible" consequences for pursuing a nuclear program. (Kissinger's exact words: "We will make a horrible example out of you." See Endnote 1.)  Soon after, he was deposed and executed by the Pakistani Army.

10. From 1979 to 1988 Pakistan fought the American cold war against the Soviet Union. Knowing full well that the Afghan crisis of the late 1980s could have destructive consequences for Pakistan, its rulers (the generals) became willing instruments of the Americans. This resulted in Pakistan's becoming a centre of mercenaries, illegal arms and heroin.

11. In 1989 the Soviet withdrew from Afghanistan. The US promptly forgot about Pakistan. In October 1990 George Bush invoked the Pressler Amendment and froze $564 million in economic and military aid already approved for 1991. He demanded that Pakistan cap, roll back and eliminate its nuclear program. He also blocked delivery of some F-16s which Pakistan had already paid for.

12. Throughout the 1990s Pakistan remained the mainstay of the Taliban, with a nod from the Americans. But when the US decided to destroy the Taliban, Pakistan bent over backwards to accommodate the US.

The Americans would be hard-pressed to find a more well-equipped army like Pakistan's that is willing to serve US interests unquestioningly. One telephone call from Collin Powell to General Musharraf transformed the Islamic, pro-Taliban Pakistan Army into a band of American-led terror- busters. Just consider the statements of Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State before 9/11; they pour scorn and ridicule on Pakistan: Pakistan-US relations were without substance; Pakistan should stop taking US support for granted, etc. (See Endnote 2).

Yet Pakistan has always proudly and shamelessly claimed to be America's most trusted ally.

The question is: Why does Pakistan play this role for the US?

The answer is simple: Pakistan has mostly been ruled by the Army, directly or indirectly. The Army and their flunkies, the politicians, are totally corrupt (See Endnote 3). There is no viable infrastructure to make the country econom- ically strong. All the money Pakistan receives by way of aid or loan is siphoned off to the overseas accounts of the Generals. Pakistani Generals are known to be world's richest (See Endnote 4). The rule of law exists only in books read by no one.

The United States is the Pakistani's Army's main source of income. If the United States or the IMF stopped pouring money into Pakistan, the gov- ernment there would not be able to pay its employees. When easy money is so readily available, when the elite can maintain mansions and bank accounts in the West and hold passports and visas so as to be able to leave Pakistan quickly in case of an emergency, why should they work to build up the nation? Talk to even to a low-ranking Army officer and you will hear him refer to "civilians" in the most contemptuous way possible.

When Pakistan is willing to do anything, even undermine the integrity of its own polity, to get hold of American greenbacks, why would America put it on its terrorist hit list? Where else could the Americans raise an army of hundreds of thousands willing to do anything for US interests at a negligible price? 

Sailors may protest the state of affairs in the brothel they visit on shore leave, but they will not destroy it.


1. A lot has been written on this threat. It is said that it was Bhutto himself who leaked Kissinger’s threat. See the following for some detail: 
www.pakistanspace.tripod.com/1976.htm; www.middleeast.org/forum; Mohammad Shehzad’s article, “Revival of Pak-US defense ties: A double-edged sword?” published in Pakistan’s daily The News on March 2, 2003 as well as in Issue No. 11 of SikhSpectrum.com. 

Mahir Ali in Dawn (11 December 2002 writes, “As far as Pakistan is concerned, he [i.e., Kissinger] threatened Z.A. Bhutto with dire consequences for pursuing a nuclear programme.” 

In his "If I am Assassinated" that he wrote in his death cell, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gives the following account of his encounter with Kissinger, “He [i.e., Kissinger] told me that I should not insult the intelligence of the United States by saying that Pakistan needed the reprocessing plant for her energy needs. In reply, I told him that I will [sic] not insult the intelligence of the United States by discussing the energy needs of Pakistan, but [by] the same token, he should not discuss the plant at all.” (Page 138) 

2. Clinton had warned Pakistan that it stood on the brink of being included in the terrorist watch list for harbouring Islamic extremists. He also enforced Pressler sanctions on Pakistan, which drastically reduced aid. Of course, everything changed after  9/11. The Army-led government of Pakistan is now an American darling. 

3. Pakistan’s politicians are selected, groomed and put into office by the Army. They are later kicked out by the Army too once they have passed their usefulness, or become assertive. Benazir Bhutto was allowed to take office in 1988 only after she accepted the Army’s demands that her government would have no say in the matters of national defence and foreign affairs. Nawaz Sharif was removed and exiled when he began asserting his authority vis-à-vis the Generals who made him prime minister in the first place. 

4. Although 70 percent of Pakistan’s budget is spent on defence, and only one percent on education, it is impossible to document the extent of the wealth of the Generals. Pakistan must be one of the few countries on earth whose defence budget has never been audited, because the Army would not let that happen. Anyone who questions the Generals’ wealth faces all kinds of hardship. In 1999, weeks after the Army took over, some members of the suspended parliament made statements against the Army; they were then kidnapped and brutally beaten. 

Recently, a member of the Punjab Assembly, Sanaullah, taunted the Generals over their fabulous wealth. He disappeared for several days. When he returned he had multiple fractures. He tried to bring some Generals to justice, but no one would listen to him for fear of the Army. In the 1980s Time published an article giving a brief account of the wealth of Pakistan’s generals, but that issue was banned in Pakistan. At that time the Internet did not exist; so the people had no access to it. 

However, once in a while muted, almost negligible protest is made about the richest generals in the world. For example The Friday Times of Lahore once quoted a former bureaucrat to that effect: …ex-IG police Rao Rashid said that four Pakistani generals were counted among the world's eight richest generals in the world during the Zia era. He added that in those days the big generals and politicians were involved in heroin smuggling. See www.punjabilok.com/pak_newsletters/pak_generals.htm. Also see “Granting Lands to Pakistan Army Generals Continues Unabated” in South Asia Tribune; the article refers to Pakistan’s defence budget and the Army’s wealth: www.satribune.com/archives/may11_17_03/P1_armylands.htm. Also see “Discuss Story” part of this article for a number of very informative and authentic postings. 

(Abbas Zaidi <manoo@brunet.bn> was editor of The Ravi (1985), Pakistan's premier and oldest academic magazine published by Government College, Lahore. He also edited Interface (1990-91) for the Program in Literary Linguistics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Zaidi has taught English Literature in Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and worked as assistant editor for The Nation, Lahore.)