Thursday, April 9, 2009

Global power struggle and us By Masood Sharif Khan Khattak - Former Director General Intelligence Bureau

Mr Masood Sharif Khan Khattak, Former Director General of The Intelligence Bureau, Government of Pakistan

Global power struggle and us - Part 1 Dated Friday, January 16, 2009

Global power struggle and us - Part 2 Dated Saturday, January 17, 2009

From the 70s to date Pakistan has often been on the centre stage in the global power struggle and its role has always benefited the USA immensely. One such role was played when Pakistan brought about President Richard M Nixon's visit to China in Feb 1972. Nixon's visit to China helped USA contain USSR in the cold war era and also effectively neutralised the then growing Chinese nuclear threat.

In 1969, President Nixon decided that direct diplomatic contact with China ought to be established and the adverse relations between USSR and China must be used to the advantage of the USA. By Sep 1970, after numerous efforts made by USA to contact the Chinese leadership had failed miserably, Henry Kissinger decided to exploit Pakistan's excellent relations with China.

On 25 October, 1970, at the White House, President Nixon formally requested President Yahya Khan to convey to the Chinese leadership that the USA was desirous of establishing full diplomatic relations with China and would like the Chinese to agree to receive a high level delegation from USA. Assurances were also conveyed that the issue of Taiwan will not be raised during the suggested visit. Nixon's message was conveyed by Yahya Khan to Prime Minister Chou en Lai. Since no reply came through a similar American message was repeated to the Chinese leadership by President Yahya Khan on 5 January, 1971.

Eventually, on 21 Apr 1971, Prime Minister Chou en Lai responded through a written message to President Yahya Khan authorizing him to convey, verbatim, the same to the USA. Pakistan's ambassador to USA conveyed this particular message to Kissinger on 27 April, 1971. In that message the Chinese Prime Minister had expressed China's willingness to receive, publicly, a special envoy of the US President such as Henry Kissinger (then National Security Advisor), the US Secretary of State or the President of USA himself in Peking for direct discussions and that the arrangements of any high level meeting could be made through the good offices of President Yahya Khan of Pakistan.

When President Yahya Khan delivered Nixon's first and personal message to Prime Minister Chou en Lai the latter had told the Pakistani President that China had received many messages from the USA and through many different sources but China had not even responded to them. He said now that President Nixon has sent his message through Pakistan's President it shall be given due importance and will be considered by himself, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung and Vice Chairman Lin Piao. This illustrates how prominent Pakistan's role was in creating the USA-China thaw.

Prominent amidst many discreet contacts made between USA and China through Pakistan, in the year 1971, was the secret visit of Henry Kissinger to Peking in July 1971. Henry Kissinger was secretly flown to Peking by Pakistan where he met, secretly, the Chinese top leadership to pave the way for the projected visit of President Nixon to China. Even at the time that Kissinger was secretly flown to Peking the situation in East Pakistan had become perilously precarious. Yet, Pakistan's leadership failed to exploit its enviable position with China and the USA to stall India's efforts aimed at the creation of Bangladesh. Conversely, USSR supported India, wholeheartedly.

Eventually, President Nixon undertook a week long visit to China from 21-28 Feb 1972. So important was this visit that Nixon himself had termed his visit "as the week that changed history". The meeting with Chairman Mao Tse-Tung was dubbed by Henry Kissinger as "an encounter with history". It was Pakistan that had made this possible when every other effort made by USA had failed. Arguably, Nixon's visit to China was one of the biggest ever diplomatic successes achieved by the USA to date and Pakistan was a propelling force contributing immensely to that success.

Had the USA-China breakthrough not happened when it did and, instead, had USSR and China become allies in the seventies most of the world today would have been socialist and USA would not have been the sole super power of the world.

Together, China and USSR extended from the Pacific Ocean to the eastern parts of Europe and the Baltic Sea which gave access to the Atlantic Ocean. Who could have then stopped the march of socialism all the way to the American Continent, throughout Asia and most of Europe? President Nixon's breaking ice with China prevented these eventualities and Nixon's ice breaking visit to China was made possible, at that crucial point of time, by Pakistan. Then onwards while the USA moved, assuredly, towards winning the cold war and becoming the world's sole super power China too broke out of its isolation.

In 1971, while Pakistan was playing global power games to the detriment of the USSR the India-USSR combine was undermining Pakistan's integrity. Was the Indian effort to break up Pakistan in 1971 abetted by the USSR in order to teach Pakistan a lesson for creating a thaw in the US-Chinese relationship? Was our leadership not alive to this situation? Why do Pakistan and the USA not have the best of trustworthy relations in the light of history? Pakistan needs to search for answers as history seems to be repeating itself.

The late 1970s saw a series of Soviet-propelled political changes in Kabul. In April 1979, elements from the 40th Soviet Army Group deployed at Bagram near Kabul. This was followed on Dec 24 by a full-scale Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Pakistan's riposte to the invasion was spearheaded by the ISI. The heroic Mujahideen put together by Pakistan and the Pakhtun tribes of the NWFP had managed to stop the advance of the Soviet Army.

ISI-CIA relations entered a new phase. The ISI played the lead role while the CIA provided backup support in terms of funds and weapons. The Soviets began to realise that they were fighting a losing battle. Informal talks for a Soviet withdrawal had started as early as 1982. The Geneva Accords were signed in 1988.

Had Pakistan not engaged the Soviet forces within Afghanistan they would have consolidated the Afghan occupation in a few weeks and have certainly made a dash to the Arabian Sea. The USA and its allies would have had to fight the Soviet forces and thus start a third world war.

If Pakistan and the Afghans not fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the Soviets would have surely reached the warm waters after consolidating Afghanistan. Then, hypothetically speaking, Gwadar, Pasni and a few more naval bases would have been commissioned by the Soviet Union with Soviet warships, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines stationed there around 1980-81. The most modern Soviet aircraft would have been operating, unchallenged, in the skies over the Persian Gulf and most of the Middle East. Persian Gulf waters today would have been home to the Soviet Navy.

Above all, the Soviet Union would have still been there, thriving and vibrant with total control of the world's largest reserves of oil in the Middle East. It would have then been the USA which would have been cash strapped and deficient in energy. Fortunately for the west, the Soviets had not taken a leaf out of the volumes written on the German Wehrmacht's Blitzkrieg in World War II.

Look at all of this in the light of the fact that at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan US president Jimmy Carter had stated that the Afghanistan invasion was not an isolated event of limited geographical importance but was an event that threatened the Persian Gulf region. He also said that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the most serious threat to world peace since World War II. This potential threat to the Persian Gulf and world peace was blunted by the ISI directed operations of the gallant Afghan Mujahideen. Ironically, besides the ISI coming under heavy criticism today both, Pakistan and Afghanistan are considered as a threat to world peace.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, Pakistan and Afghanistan were left by the west to fend for themselves against warlords, guns, poverty, violence, unemployment, drugs and all the other ill effects that those years of conflict in Afghanistan had left behind. To-date stability is evasive.

This lack of farsightedness has now come to haunt the west all over again in Afghanistan. As things stand today, it is only time that will tell what history has in store and whether Afghanistan will finally be conquered, or not. Probably not. Pakistan is once again on the crossroads of global power struggle and history and it must make the right decisions in time.

The writer is former director general of the Intelligence Bureau, former member of the Central Executive Committee of the PPP and former vice president of the PPP Parliamentarian. Email:

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