Given the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, yesterday, it’s safe to say that Pakistan will be in the headlines for days to come. A Cold War timeline gives us a quick picture of Pakistan’s — often stormy — relationship with the US.
1945: PAKISTAN was an idea, not a state. The original idea of a Pakistani state revolved around creating a homeland for Indian Muslims where they would not be dominated by the Hindu majority in a “one-man-one-vote” democracy. The assumption was that if Pakistan were to become a state, both Pakistan and India would remain dependent on Britain.
1947: Jinnah, the leading figure in the Pakistan movement, and Mohammed Iqbal, a poet-philosopher whose ideas underpinned the Pakistan movement, argued that the Islamic nature of a new Pakistan would enhance the defense of the South Asia subcontinent.
1947: Pakistan became a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations and, thus, a Cold War ally of the United States.
1954: Pakistan and Iraq signed mutual cooperation agreements with Turkey (a NATO) member.
1954: Pakistan signed a Mutual Defense Agreement with the US.
1955: Britain and Iran entered into security arrangements, and the ‘Middle East Defence Organization’, popularly known as the ‘Baghdad Pact’, was formed. It was loosely modeled on NATO. The US never became a full member. (The Baghdad Pact later became known as CENTO).
1955 (February): Pakistan became a member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), also called the Manila Pact. Like CENTO, it was designed to be a regional NATO that would block communist advances in Southeast Asia.
1958: The name of the Baghdad Pact was formally changed to the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) after the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown. CENTO had little formal structure but it dd give the US and Britain access to facilities in Pakistan such as an airbase outside of Peshawar from which U-2 intelligence flights over the Soviet Union were launched.
1965: Indo-Pakistani War. The US suspended the arms shipments to Pakistan that the country had received in return for its membership in SEATO and CENTO. The US also suspended arms shipments to India. The embargo remained in place during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and was not lifted until 1975.
1971 (July): Pakistan facilitated a secret visit by US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to Beijing. This visit led to a de facto US-China alignment directed against the Soviet Union. Pakistan took full credit for making this breakthrough possible. Some say that this signaled the beginning of the end of the Cold War because the communist movement was now seen as having a crack. From now on, the US made a distinction between major Communist powers that were friendly (China), and those that were antagonistic (the Soviet Union).
1971: Pakistan descended into civil war after East Pakistan demanded autonomy and, later, independence. India invaded East Pakistan in support of its people after millions of civilians fled to India. At the end of 1971, Pakistan was partitioned and Bangladesh was created out of East Pakistan. The Bangladesh movement received widespread public support in the US, as did India’s military intervention. But the US government supported Pakistan, valuing the alliance over human rights violations by the Pakistani army and good relations with India.
1971: After the war, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto becomes president of Pakistan. He believed that Pakistan had been deceived and betrayed by the US, and embarked on a policy that would lesson Pakistan’s dependence on the US.
- He moved to bolster Pakistan’s Islamic identity, creating new and strong ties with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Islamic states.
- Pakistan became a key member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a group that had been founded in 1969.
- He stressed Pakistan’s non-aligned and ‘developing’ credentials. He called his new policy ‘bilateralism’, implying neutrality in the Cold War.
- He withdrew Pakistan from SEATO and military links with the West declined.
- When CENTO was disbanded following the fall of the Shah of Iran in early 1979, Pakistan became a member of the nonaligned movement.
1974: India conducted a ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ or weapons test. Pakistan reversed its past policy and initiated a secret nuclear weapons program in response.
1970s (late): Nuclear issues became the sticking point of Pakistan’s relations with its former Western allies, especially the US. Cold War alliances became formally defunct.
1977 (June): SEATO was dissolved.
1979: CENTO is dissolved after the Iranian Revolution. It had never been a militarily effective organization.
[SEATO like CENTO had regional and non-regional members. France, the US, and Britain were members, as were New Zealand and Australia. Regional states included Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan. SEATO was never formally involved in the Vietnam War, in part because of Pakistan’s objection.]
1979 (December): The Soviets invaded Afghanistan. This revived the close relationship between Pakistan and the US.
1980s (early): Pakistan strategists concluded that with a bomb they could provoke and probe India without fear of escalating to a nuclear conflict or large-scale war.
1981: Ronald Reagan offered to provide $3.2 billion to Pakistan over a period of 6 years, to be equally divided between economic and military assistance.
1985: The US Congress passed the Pressler Amendment which required the president to certify to Congress on an annual basis that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear weapon. Otherwise, assistance to Pakistan would be cut off. For several years, President Reagan and President H.W. Bush provided the certification required for a waiver.
1986: The US announced a second package of assistance of over $4.0 billion. 57% of this amount was for economic assistance.
1989: The US ended assistance to Pakistan. With the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan and the end of the Cold War, the US discovered that it can no longer certify the absence of nuclear weapons.
1989-2001: Pakistan’s nuclear program remains the core issue in its relations with the US.
2001: The 9/11 attacks lead to a revival of the US-Pakistan alliance. The George W. Bush administration very quickly eliminates many sanctions against Pakistan. Washington declares Pakistan to be a ‘major non-NATO ally’, entitling it to buy certain military equipment at reduced prices. Pakistan serves as a support base for the US war against Afghanistan, and as a partner in tracking down al-Queda and Taliban leaders. A massive military and economic assistance program for Pakistan is initiated in return.
2008: The US Congress accuses Pakistan of not pulling its weight in combating radical extremism in Afghanistan and in Pakistan itself.
2011 (May 1): Osama bin Laden, the force behind the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in September 2001, is killed in Abbotabad, Pakistan, by US Navy SEALS.
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