Pakistan’s foreign policy: why it aligned with the US

saddam hussain samo
Saddam Hussain Samo on Pakistan’s foreign policy: why it aligned with the US

Pakistan was created in 1947 when the cold war between the two powers, the United States of America and Soviet Union, was under way. It was a very crucial period for the newly independent states. Under these circumstances, Pakistan was left with three options, as far as its foreign policy was concerned. It should have aligned with either of these two countries or remained neutral. Pakistani leadership, initially, adopted neutrality towards the conflicting powers. It was neither tied to the apron strings of the Anglo-American bloc nor was it a camp follower of the communist bloc.1 Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said,  “we want to live peacefully and maintain cordial and friendly relations with our immediate neighbors and with the world at large.”2

However, the foreign policy experts soon realized that the neutrality policy was not helping Pakistan from its indigenous economic crisis and military threats faced from its immediate neighbors__ India and Afghanistan. Indian leaders agreed to the creation of Pakistan under 3rd June Plan because they were sure to reunite it, once the British had left. Gandhi said, after accepting the partition proposal, “The two parts of India would ultimately reunite!”3 Mrs Vijaya Pandit__ sister of Nehru who served as Indian ambassador to the US told an American newspaper in 1951, “We agreed to the partition because failure to do so would have perpetuated foreign rule.” In order to undo Pakistan, India had delayed the cash share of RS 750 million to Pakistan for two days to create economic difficulties. Besides, in April 1948, it cut off the water in the irrigations canals to ruin its agriculture and pressurize it to submit to Indian wishes. It also created Kashmir dispute by sending its military in the territory and refusing to accept the resolution of Security Council to solve the issue by holding plebiscite. .

On the other hand, Pakistan faced threats from Afghanistan. Kabul refused to accept “Durand Line” as a legal boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghan Foreign Minister argued in May 1947, “As long as the British Government remained responsible for the control of the Frontier, the Afghan had nothing to say but now the people of NWFP be given an opportunity to decide whether they wish to rejoin Afghanistan or form a separate independent state.”4 on 30th September 1947, Afghanistan also voted against Pakistan’s membership in the United Nations Organizations (UNO). Abdul Ghaffar Khan of erstwhile NWFP was an important Pashtun political figure of the territory. He supported Indian National Congress and was known as “Frontier Gandhi.” In 1946 elections, Ghaffar khan’s party and the Congress remained the dominant political force in NWFP. He was against the partition and demanded the Pashtun areas including NWFP, FATA and some parts of Afghanistan be allowed to form a separate state called Pashtunistan. It was another challenge for the newly created and fragile Pakistan.

Keeping in view these challenges faced by Pakistan, it decided to align with one of the super powers to seek economic and military help and take advantage of the cold war. Many experts believe that it was because of the cold war that Pakistan survived; otherwise, it would have been collapsed as projected by India. Pakistan had two options: either to join the US or Soviet Union. Its decision to become the most aligned ally of America was due to the following main reasons:

Firstly, Pakistan got independence in the name of religion and the Soviet was a communist country. It was imposing anti-religious values in its partners. For instances, Afghanistan had been under the influence of the Soviet Union since Sardar Daud’s coup of 1973. Undoubtedly, the Soviet assisted Afghanistan with economic and military aids.  By the time Daud seized power in 1973, Soviet aid, at 1500 million dollars between 1953 and 1973, was more than three times that of America (450 million dollars) and there were probably some 3000-4000 Russian technicians working at all levels in Afghanistan.5 However, the soviet backed communist government was banning dowry, promoting co-education and asking residences to shave their beards. These anti-religious values angered the local Afghans and they turned against their government that finally led to Soviet Afghan war in 1979. Pakistan feared that the same policies of the Soviet would create unrest in the newly formed religious country.

Secondly, America had rebuilt Europe by unleashing “Marshall Plan.” Pakistani policy makers predicted that the US would launch a similar package for the Asian countries to resist the expansion of communism. For example, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan told the United Press in an interview that the United States should initiate an aid package similar to the Marshall Plan to benefit the Middle East and Pakistan.6 Thus, Pakistani leaders were sure that it would be the US not Soviet that could launch a generous aid plan that could solve Pakistan’s economic crisis.

Thirdly, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, although asked to remain neutral but preferred the US to the Soviet. For example, on September 7, 1947, Jinnah declared at the cabinet meeting: “Pakistan [is] a democracy and communism [does] not flourish in the soil of Islam. It [is] clear that our interests [lie] more with the two great democracies namely the UK and USA rather than with Russia.”7

Finally, the US was in good position to support Pakistan military and economically. The Soviet was recovering from the devastating impacts of World War 2.  It had lost around 20 to 30 million people in the war. The US, on the other hand, was a wealthy country, accounting for over 40 per cent of global production.8 Hence, the US was reliable option for Pakistan.

Thus, Pakistan, officially, aligned with the US during cold war in 1954. The US policy makers also considered it as an important country to stop spread of communism in the territory and prevent the Soviet to reach warm waters.  But, Pakistan could not receive as much aid as expected by its people and leaders. The US resisted the supply of defense equipment and financial aid generously because it was tilting India, an important country with enormous population towards the Soviet. India also tilted towards the Soviet during this phase to protest American decision to help Pakistan against the spread of communism.

List of References:

  1. Dawn, Karachi, 9 March 1955.
  2. Jinnah statement on 11 March 1948.
  3. The Times London of 5 June 1947.
  4. A.G. Noorani, “The Durand Line Revisited” in Criterion Quarterly, Vol.3, 33-5.
  5. Griffiths, John C. 1981. Afghanistan__ Key to a Continent. Boulder: Westview Press, p.174. Cited by Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan: Between mosque and military, 2016 edition, p.187.
  6. Husain Haqqani, Magnificent Delusion, p.39
  7.  Minutes of Cabinet Meeting, September 9, 1947, 67/CF/47, National Documentation Centre Islamabad.
  8. Abdul Sattar, Pakistan’s Foreign Policy 1947-2016, p.39-41.



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