U.S. & Pakistan:
The Treacherous Alliance

Revolutionary Worker #1122, October 14, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

On September 19, the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, pleaded to the people in a televised address. "Trust me," he said, defending his decision to give Pakistan's full cooperation to the U.S. "war against terrorism." Musharraf said he was facing an American ultimatum--"join us or fight us" --and that he felt Pakistan's very survival was at risk.

Pakistan is in a strategically critical region of the world, bordering India, China, Iran and Afghanistan. And it was one of the first countries to be enlisted by the U.S. in its plans to attack Afghanistan.

Pakistan is an unstable neo-colonial state, dominated by and subservient to the interests of imperialism. It is in intense rivalry with India--and both countries have nuclear weapons. And Musharraf's regime is a highly repressive military dictatorship--serving a ruling class with competing power centers.

The new alliance between Pakistan and the U.S. is a treacherous one, and the U.S. faces a dangerous minefield of worst-case scenarios.

Throughout Pakistan there is huge support for Islamic fundamentalism and the Taliban. And the U.S. openly worries that if there are attacks on Afghanistan from Pakistan, Islamic militants in the country could rise up and overthrow the government.

Thousands of Pakistani Muslims have taken to the streets in support of the Taliban and to protest Musharraf's support for the U.S. On September 21, Islamic organizations called a day of strikes and protests across Pakistan and three people were killed in the port city of Karachi. On October 2, 50,000 protesters, many armed with sticks and swords, paraded in the Pakistani city of Quetta, chanting slogans supporting the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Scuffles broke out with police, who set up several heavy machine-gun posts and beefed-up security throughout the city.

Concern over this has led U.S. officials to repeatedly insist that its "war against terrorism" is not aimed at Islam in general. And when U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld went to the Middle East to build support for U.S. plans to attack Afghanistan, his itinerary did not include Pakistan--because such a visit would have surely provoked even more protest.

With its 1,400-mile-long border with Afghanistan, Pakistan is key to any U.S. attack on Afghanistan. And U.S. military officials had initially suggested that the U.S. use Pakistan as a major staging area for air and ground attacks. But it now seems like the U.S. wants to minimize the use of Pakistani bases, fearing that an extensive deployment there could seriously destabilize the situation.

Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, leader of one fraction of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam party said, "I will appeal to the Pakistani government that it should warn the U.S. and not allow it to use our airspace or any other facilities for a possible strike on Afghanistan. If America uses our soil then it means that we have lost our dignity and sovereignty... If that happened 140 million Muslims (of Pakistan) would retaliate against Musharraf's government."

Musharraf also has to worry about the two million Afghan refugees in UN camps near the border or in slums of Pakistan's cities. And millions more Afghan refugees have streamed into Pakistan since September 11.

''The country could be a tinderbox,'' said Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence bureau (ISI). ''A very dangerous game is in play,'' Gul said. ''If Pakistan provides real support to American attacks on Afghanistan, and many civilians die, the consequences will be terrible for Pakistan. We will be committing collective national suicide, torn apart between those siding with the government and the many people who believe they must make jihad against the U.S.''

One big problem for Musharraf--and the U.S.--is that Pakistan has a long history of support and ties with the Taliban that cannot be broken without serious political repercussions.

The Pakistani government has repeatedly denied it has links with two Islamic militant groups, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e Tayyiba, which have been specifically singled out in the U.S. State Department's Report on the Patterns of Global Terrorism for 2000. But U.S. intelligence insists there are close ties between both organizations and senior members of Pakistan's military and the ISI. And the U.S. should know--because during the 1980s, the CIA used the Pakistani military and the ISI to build and support the Islamic forces fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan (more on this later).

One bourgeois publication on U.S. intelligence warns that overt assistance from Pakistan may bring dire consequences for the U.S.: "Should the general [Musharraf] fall as a result of offering overt support to the USA in its campaign against the Taliban, the consequences--both for the U.S.-led alliance and the entire region--could be potentially catastrophic... General Musharraf came to power with the support of Pakistan's military. He is extremely vulnerable if the army, or at least a significant element of it, turns against him. If he were to be ousted during an anti-Western, pro-Taliban uprising organized by an alliance between Kashmiri militants and nationalist military officers, then the prospect of a full-scale regional conflagration might become very real."

Afghan Taliban: Made by the USA-CIA

The contradictions which make the U.S.-Pakistan alliance shaky and dangerous stem from a long history of Pakistan ruling class serving U.S. imperialist interests in the region. And the ties between Pakistan and the Taliban--which make Pakistan's role in the U.S. "war on terrorism" both useful and dangerous--are rooted in the way the U.S. used Pakistan to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the fall of 1979, the U.S. began offering aid to General Zia-al-Haq's brutal military regime in Pakistan. Soviet troops in Afghanistan represented a serious threat to U.S. domination in the region and the U.S. saw Pakistan as key to reversing this Soviet advance.

Pakistan was enlisted to train Afghan fighters, supply them with modern weapons, and provide logistical and diplomatic support. And in return, the U.S. gave Pakistan an impressive amount of military and economic aid.

Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence bureau (ISI) became the CIA's chief conduit for weapons and billions of dollars in funding for the anti-Soviet effort in Afghanistan. And when the CIA and Pakistan's ISI trained tens of thousands of Muslims from around the world to fight in Afghanaistan, Osama bin Laden was one of the key organizers of the effort.

Poverty-stricken refugee camps sprung up along the Pakistani border. And young men in these camps were educated in the madrassas (Islamic schools) and then recruited to be cannon fodder for the CIA/Pakistani-sponsored war in Afghanistan.

In 1989, after almost a decade of fighting, Soviet troops were forced to leave Afghanistan. This major defeat contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the U.S. emerged as the only superpower in the world.

In 1990 the United States aid package to Pakistan was $564 million; only Israel and Egypt received more. But with the end of the Cold War, U.S. money to Pakistan slowed and then dwindled. And Pakistan's economic growth during the 1980s--which had been fueled by U.S. aid--could not be sustained.

Meanwhile, thousands of mujahideen fighters remained in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's ISI became their primary sponsors. With little support from the U.S., Pakistan looked to the Islamic militants it had built up during the war as a base of support to counter India and secure it power in the region.

Political analyst Tariq Ali wrote: "The bloated Pakistan army--one of the Pentagon's spoilt brats in Asia--hated becoming a cold war orphan. 'Pakistan was the condom the Americans needed to enter Afghanistan,' a retired general told me last year. 'We've served our purpose and they think we can just be flushed down the toilet.' The army is no longer a unified institution. Well-organized groups of Islamic zealots have penetrated its core."

In 1994, Mohammad Omar, then a mullah and today the leader of the Taliban, created the Taliban, with the goal of uniting Afghanistan under strict Islamic law. The Pakistani government began hiring Omar's Taliban fighters to protect convoys traveling between Pakistan and Central Asia. And the Taliban grew as it waged successful struggles against local warlords.

The Taliban gained support among disaffected mujahideen and more recent graduates from the madrassas. And ethnic allegiance also fueled the Taliban's growth. Most of its members are Pashtun, the majority ethnic group that ruled Afghanistan for 2 1/2 centuries but lost power after the Soviet occupation. There are 20 million Pashtuns in Pakistan and 20 percent of Pakistan's army are Pashtun.

Benazir Bhutto served as a pro-U.S. prime minister of Pakistan from 1988-90 and again in 1993-1996. In a recent interview she explained why it was in the interest of Pakistan's ruling class to support the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. "Initially we thought the Taliban was a stabilizing force. My government was keen to establish ties with Central Asia, so we were quite pleased and we encouraged them initially.... We wanted to import wheat and export cotton to Central Asia and wanted a route that would give us access to Central Asia through Kandahar [where the Taliban is headquartered]. We were trying to bypass Kabul and establish an enclave in the south. The Taliban were supposed to give us safe passage.... Initially we gave them political and diplomatic support. We also gave them fuel, food, communications, transportation. The Taliban rose up and were embraced by us because we saw them as the ticket to our own economic interests regarding Central Asia."

On September 27, 1996, the Taliban occupied the capital of Kabul. By June 1997 the Taliban militia controlled two-thirds of the country. And today a reactionary government based on Islamic fundamentalism controls Afghanistan.

Taliban Support in Pakistan

Many Islamic clerics in Pakistan are ardent Taliban supporters. And Islamic fundamentalism has a strong base of support in Pakistan's military. It is now estimated that 30 percent of the officers in Pakistan's army consider themselves fundamentalist Muslims.

Support and ties to the Taliban are also strong in Pakistan's ISI. Hamid Gul, ISI chief during the war in Afghanistan, is a big supporter of the Taliban. And his successor at the ISI, Gen. Jarvid Nasser, underwent a religious conversion and became the first Pakistani general to wear a long Islamic beard.

Nationwide, religious political parties in Pakistan have never won more than 6 percent of the vote. But mass unrest and military coups--not elections--have frequently determined governments in Pakistan.

U.S Puppets in Pakistan

U.S. officials have referred to Pakistan as "an enduring ally of long standing" and a strategic contributor to United States' national interests in the region. In other words, the U.S. has supported brutal military regimes and corrupt dictatorships in Pakistan in order to further its own hegemonistic, imperialist interests.

Formal colonial rule by British imperialism over the Indian subcontinent ended after World War 2. And Britain carried out a divide-and-conquer policy, deliberately exacerbating divisions and differences between various nationalities and between the Hindu, Moslem and Sikh religious groups, which led to the partitioning of Pakistan as a separate Muslim state in 1947.

Analyst Hassan N. Gardezi, writing about "Democracy and Dictatorship in Pakistan," points out that, "The Pakistan government is driven by competing centers of power--the military in power, fundamentalist Muslim clerics, political parties operating under religious flags, feudal landlords who rule over vast rural estates, tribal chieftains with small private armies, and business tycoons presiding over more modern economic fiefdoms in the cities of Karachi and Lahore." And the Pakistani state, Gardezi says, "has evolved into a highly centralized, unitary and oligarchic instrument which continues to operate in a neo-colonial framework."

From the very beginning Pakistan's ruling class served as a bourgeois comprador class for U.S. imperialism and U.S. experts have played a central role in formulating and executing the basic model of Pakistan's economic development.

During its Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union, Washington put a high premium on insuring a pro- U.S. government in Pakistan: Pakistan could provide a base of support for penetration into Central Asia. As a "moderate" Islamic state, Pakistan could promote U.S. interests in the Islamic World. Pakistan could play a role in keeping Afghanistan under control. And Pakistan could help U.S. oil companies build pipelines from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan to the Gwadur port on the Makran coast in Pakistan.

Pakistan's importance to the U.S. was also conditioned by India's role during the Cold War. The U.S. and other Western powers had their hands in India, especially through the privately owned sectors of the economy. But the Soviets had major influence in the government and in the state-owned sectors of India's capitalist economy.

Today, India and Pakistan both realize that Bush's "war on terrorism" will involve much more than just an attack on Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan--and will put a focus on Kashmir, where a bloody fight against Indian rule has been going on for 11 years. Pakistan will have to decide whether to break its support for and ties with the militant Islamic groups fighting in Kashmir. And meanwhile, New Delhi worries that stronger ties between Pakistan and the U.S. will be at a cost to India.

U.S. Ties to Pakistan's Military and ISI

For 25 of its 50 years of existence Pakistan has been under military rule. (The current President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf--now being recruited into the U.S. coalition to "fight terrorism"--came to power through a military coup in 1999.) And for decades the U.S. has built up and maintained strong ties with Pakistan's powerful military and sought the loyalty of every brutal military dictatorship.

The U.S. also has close ties to Pakistan's intelligence agency. The ISI's chief, Lt. Gen Mahmood Ahmed, was actually visiting Washington on September 11, and immediately agreed to share information about the Taliban with the CIA. Such loyalty is not surprising given the close relationship established between the CIA and the ISI during the war in Afghanistan.

The ISI was originally formed to collect intelligence in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and in East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh). It was modeled after Savak, the Iranian security agency, and like Savak was trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the SDECE, France's external intelligence service. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA built up the ISI to play a crucial role in covert actions in Afghanistan. Then, when Soviet troops left, the ISI played a key role in the rise to power of the Taliban--providing funds, military support and recruits. And there are still strong ties between the ISI and the Taliban.

In August 1998, after the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Clinton ordered a missile attack on what the U.S. claimed were Osama bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Pakistan was not warned in advance, but Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, then the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Pakistani officials at the precise time of the launch to tell them of the operation. He wanted to make sure Pakistan did not think it was under a surprise attack from India--which could have led to a nuclear war.

The U.S. failed to kill Osama bin Laden in this attack. And according to a recent Washington Post article by Bob Woodward and Thomas E. Ricks, in 1999, the CIA secretly trained and equipped some 60 commandos from the ISI to enter Afghanistan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The Post article says the operation was arranged by then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his chief of intelligence with the Clinton administration--which in turn promised to lift sanctions and provide economic aid. According to a former U.S. official, the Pakistani commando team was up and running and ready to strike by October 1999. But the plan was aborted when Sharif was ousted by Musharraf's military coup.

Carrot and Stick in Pakistan

When Pakistan's former Prime Minister Bhutto (now in exile) was asked, "What kind of leverage does the United States have over Pakistan?" she said: "The United States has a large degree of leverage. Pakistan's biggest problem is debt. Islamabad is looking at debt retirement. That's the carrot. The stick Washington has is its voice on the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank. If Washington opposes continued lending, it will be very difficult for Islamabad to withstand public reaction. We have very little money to pay salaries or to buy essential items like wheat. Washington has both a carrot and a stick."

Pakistan has a population of 140 million and is the world's seventh most populous country. About 75 percent of all Pakistanis reside in rural areas and are poor peasants. Pakistan's economy has relied largely on foreign loans and been dependent on, shaped and devastated by policies enforced by the IMF and the World Bank. For the last decade Pakistan has been hit with low growth rates, a high balance of payments deficit, growing unemployment and poverty and a foreign debt of $37 billion.

At one time, the World Bank proclaimed Pakistan to be a "model developing country." But today its economy is in a desperate state. With maximum exports of $9 billion, Pakistan imports up to $12 billion worth of goods and services. The country has to service an annual debt burden of $6 to 7 billion and is basically surviving on IMF bailouts.

Now, the threat of U.S. military attacks in Afghanistan has already begun to hit Pakistan with higher insurance costs, increased shipping rates and nervous customers. Textile exporters, which account for 85% of the country's total exports, report that some Western clients are canceling their orders because they fear Pakistani firms may not be able to deliver.

Given this dire situation, U.S. threats and bribes against Musharraf's regime have so far been effective. And the U.S. hopes that reinforcing Pakistan's fragile economy will help Musharraf's tenuous rule.

The U.S. has removed the economic sanctions it put on Pakistan for testing nuclear weapons in 1998. Together with the Japanese, the U.S. has rescheduled nearly $1 billion in debt and authorized $90 million in aid. And western diplomats say they have been in daily contact with Pakistani officials to discuss a wide range of assistance, including debt relief, greater access to export markets, and aid for education and health.


The U.S. empire will drag and force many countries into the madness of its new "war on terrorism." And Pakistan is critical to its military attacks on Afghanistan. But the alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan is fraught with complex and dangerous contradictions for U.S. imperialism.

Global oppressors can't deliver justice!

International bullies can't protect the people!

This planet doesn't need another unjust war!

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