Client State. Definition: A country that is dependent on the economic or military support of a larger, more powerful country
Setting the record straight
I think Americans who don't know anything about Pakistan tend to assume that the worst aspects of the society are rooted in extremist Islam imported from Saudi Arabia. That's not the case; it's just that when Wahabism intersected with the maharaja system, a way of life that had been preserved in certain Pakistan regions through various interventions, including the British Raj and U.S. actions during the Cold War, the outcome was perhaps the world's most toxic society.
Several Americans I've heard speak on the topic over the years also wrongly assume the U.S. government first got involved with Pakistan when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. That is incorrect. America was there, at the beginning of Pakistan's independence. Yet when you know something about the beginning you'll understand why it's rarely discussed in the USA.
Pakistan first became a U.S. client state in 1947, shortly after the country came into existence. The U.S. provided $411 million to the government to establish Pakistan's armed forces.
So it's a myth, which even many Western leftists believe, that the U.S. 'sided' with Pakistan's military against India because India was on friendly terms with the Soviet Union. That's not how things got started.
The U.S. chose Pakistan over India to make into a client state because Pakistan's feudal lords reigned supreme at Independence; that, coupled with Pakistan's rigid caste system, guaranteed that a military coup could derail any genuine democracy in the country. That made Pakistan's military, and the country's defense policy, easy for the U.S. to control.
India was a different story. From Scottish historian William Dalrymple's clear-eyed eulogy for Benazir Bhutto, which Pakistan's Chowk literary magazine republished from the U.K. Guardian:
Real democracy has never thrived in Pakistan in part because landowning remains the principle social base from which politicians emerge. The educated middle class -- which in India gained control in 1947 -- is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process. As a result, in many of the more backward parts of Pakistan the local feudal landowner can expect his people to vote for his chosen candidate.Americans, get to know a little more about your client state Pakistan
As the [Pakistani] writer Ahmed Rashid put it, “In some constituencies if the feudals put up their dog as a candidate, that dog would get elected with ninety-nine percent of the vote."
Even if the populace didn't want to elect the dog the majority would be hard pressed to arrive at an independent study of the political issues. That's because the majority of Pakistanis are illiterate, contrary to the government's propagada. As I reported in November 2007, even UNESCO wasn't fooled by the fantasy statistics the government provided.
Writing for Chowk in April 2007 a Pakistani financial analyst named Zarrar Said made mince pie with the government's method of fudging the numbers. The actual allover literacy rate for Pakistanis at that time was roughly 26 percent, and 12 percent for females; I doubt those statistics have changed much since then.
When you combine Islamism (the country was founded as an Islamic republic), widespread illiteracy and poverty, a caste system upheld by leftovers from the maharaja system, and whose only interests are protecting their high-caste status and land holdings, you have the perfect conditions for the most powerful elements of a brutal ruling class to support a military dictatorship. Just such conditions made Pakistan the perfect client state for the U.S. as the Cold War got seriously underway.
Caste in Pakistan
If you're surprised to learn that an Islamic nation has a caste system -- the chatter about Islam being egalitarian is for the tourists; anywhere the conquering Muslims found the caste system they continued it because it was so useful for keeping the conquered and their own lower classes in line. That's how it is for Pakistan, not only with their Hindu population (the "scheduled" castes) but also the Muslim one.
Those who're unaware of the caste issue among Muslims living in caste societies (or a diaspora caste community; e.g., Pakistanis in Norway) assume that gang rapes and murders among those communities are products of fundamentalist Islam. Yet these are often caste crimes; the rigidity of fundamentalism only makes for more brutal enforcement of caste.
In Pakistan any lower caste Pakistani caught consorting with a higher caste person or taking a job assigned to a higher caste can be gang-raped or worse by high caste Pakistanis.
For an excellent introduction to the subject read Shahbano Aliani's August 2009 essay, Caste in Pakistan: The Elephant in the Room. Just so you understand that by 'caste' I don't mean merely 'social station,' Aliani's essay begins with the words:
A pregnant woman from a remote rural village in Tharparkar goes to a private hospital in Hyderabad. The medical staff refuse to attend to her, saying they do not want to pollute their instruments and dirty their hands.Low caste does not only mean 'bottom of the human social order.' It also means subhuman. And where it is rigidly enforced low-caste people are treated as if they're subhuman.
Yet people outside nations with a Muslim caste system know virtually nothing about the situation. This is particularly true in the USA, where the news media here refrain as much as possible from portraying Pakistan in a negative light. You won't even find mention of Pakistan's caste system at the U.S. Department of State website or the CIA one, or in Wikipedia's article on Pakistan -- although Wikipedia does make brief mention of the topic at their entries on Caste and the Caste system among South Asian Muslims.
There's very little reporting in the USA about Pakistan, period, except when there's a terrorist strike inside the country or when there's a report directly related to Pakistan's actions in the U.S. war effort. But such reports are narrow in scope; because of that few Americans who aren't of South Asian parentage know anything about Pakistan's society unless they're involved in certain fields such as international aid/development or human rights.
Discussion about the caste system in Pakistan is hard to come by even inside the country because it's off limits for public discussion. Few Pakistanis other than the country's communists are willing to publicly engage in frank analysis of the country's caste system. Not surprisingly, given the brutal repression of Pakistan's communist party in earlier days, the number of communists is very small.
Reign of terror
In addition the communists have to be careful how they frame the discussion of caste. Pakistan has a draconian anti-blasphemy law. Any derogatory remark about the Prophet, even indirectly or by innuendo, is punishable by death.
The law has also been very hard on Pakistan's Christians (less than 2% of the population), and false accusations of blasphemy against them are on the increase. From this recent report, Christians in the country are greatly concerned about widespread anti-Americanism there because it falls back hard on them. They are also concerned about spiking numbers of Pakistanis joining a fundamentalist madrassa (40% increase in enrollments during the past academic year, according to the report).
The situation in Pakistan has only grown worse while Western non-Muslims have tip-toed around discussion of the country's society, which was sick to begin with and got sicker with every passing decade since Partition.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the country's founding father, told Pakistanis in 1947, "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the state."
Actually, ending the caste system should be very much the business of the state, and Jinnah's assurance about freedom of worship and belief turned out to hollow. Underneath the veneer of a democracy Pakistan has not so much a police state as a self-imposed reign of terror. Thus, many in the country live in constant fear, which dampens frank public discussion about many things, including caste.
All the above underscores that discussions about the caste system in Pakistan and India are treated differently; the latter country has open discussions and condemnations of caste so there's been progress against the system.
More to the point of this writing, attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan are not launched from Indian soil, and India's government is genuinely cooperating with the USA and other Western governments in the war on terrorism. Pakistan's government, on the other hand, has found low-caste tribes within their purview to be useful idiots if they're willing to deploy terrorism against Afghanistan and India. That several of the tribes are now bringing the terrorism home -- file under "Blowback," the old CIA term meaning a nation reaps what it sows.
History that Americans need to confront
This said, the United States also experienced blowback because a client state can have a way of turning on its master, as happened with Pakistan. To examine how that all came about I'm going to rely with caution on Asad Ismi, who went Postal in a 2002 report titled A U.S.-FINANCED MILITARY DICTATORSHIP: Pakistan has Long, Bloody History as Terrorist Arm of U.S.
The report was published for the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, an "independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social, economic environmental justice. Founded in 1980, the CCPA is one of Canada’s leading progressive voices in public policy debates."
Translation: A bunch of leftist anti-globalists.
Thus, a number of Asad's conclusions are open to question (e.g., his assertion that Washington stopped dealing with the Taliban "when the two failed to reach an accord on sharing the oil riches of Central Asia.").
His picture is also distorted because it makes it seem as if the U.S.-Pakistan relationship was always a happy one, whereas it was often very stormy. And the picture omits much, including the Pakistan government's anger when the USA wouldn't support their 1965 war against India.
His account also ignores that at different times over the decades the U.S. withheld direct aid from Pakistan and finally imposed sanctions, which were lifted after 9/11. See the Wikipedia article on Pakistan-U.S. relations for details.
Also see Zia Mian's November 3, 2009 overview of the ups and downs of direct U.S. aid to Pakistan and for the more-or-less official U.S. version of the history of the Washington-Islamabad relationship. Mian is a physicist with the Program on Science and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus.
(I note that the year Mian names for when the U.S. first began giving aid to Pakistan, 1954, differs from the one provided by Asad Ismi, and which I quoted earlier in this post. I'll stick with Ismi's date of 1947.)
With all those caveats out of the way, Asad Ismi's report is still valuable. His research is a window on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in the early days and the horrors that emerged from it -- and yes, the descriptions of genocide and atrocities that Ismi provides are accurate. Mian, who is clearly not a leftist, and who is a strong supporter of the U.S. war on terror, spares the reader the gore in his overview of the history but tells the same basic truth that Ismi spits out:
U.S. money helped create a much larger army than Pakistan could afford on its own, equipped it with new American weapons, and trained young Pakistani officers in the United States in modern warfare. Bolstered by their alliance, Pakistan's generals went to war with India in 1965.In every way Pakistan's military, and the intelligence service that sprang from it, is America's creation. Now on to excerpts from Ismi's diatribe:
[...] When [Pakistan's] first democratic elections scheduled for 1958 threatened to reduce the army's power, General Mohammed Ayub Khan, the commander-in-chief, cancelled them and took over the government in a coup. This created a military dictatorship that continues to this day.If we build a railroad, that will make us into a productive nation
Pakistan became a U.S.-financed garrison state, spending 80% of its budget on the military, which massacred thousands of people and ensured that most of those not killed continued to be mired in poverty and illiteracy.
Ayub was an actual employee of the U.S. State Department, which paid him an annual salary of U.S.$16,000.
[If that amount sounds like peanuts remember the era; it was a good salary even for Americans in those days and a fortune in Pakistan.]
There is little doubt that the U.S. government was "fully aware" that the Pakistan army was planning a coup. A few years after the 1958 coup, Sardar Bahadur, Ayub's brother, alleged that the CIA had "been fully involved" in the coup.
Ayub declared Pakistan to be Washington's "most allied ally," and explained his takeover by claiming that "Democracy cannot work in a hot climate."
Ayub allowed the U.S. to use Pakistani air bases for the CIA's U-2 spy flights over the Soviet Union. The U.S. also controlled a signals intelligence facility near Peshawar which monitored Soviet military activity.
Such servility prompted John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State (during the 1950s), to call Pakistan "a bulwark of freedom in Asia."
As Milton Bearden, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan, recently put it, "[Pakistan is] the only country in South Asia that always did what we asked."
The Pakistan government's terrorism has mainly been perpetrated against its own people, with the U.S.-armed and trained military unleashing genocidal wars on all those who dared oppose its dictatorship. With U.S. arms, training, military aid, and encouragement, the Pakistan army butchered half a million to three million Bengalis in 1971 when their popular, elected, left-wing leadership had the temerity to demand provincial autonomy.
U.S. officials reacted to this slaughter by thanking General Yahya Khan, the Pakistani military dictator, for his "delicacy and tact." As one eyewitness described it, the army in East Pakistan was "like a pack of wild dogs," killing "on a scale not seen since the Third Reich." One thousand intellectuals were murdered in a single day at Dhaka University alone.
"Women were raped or had their breasts torn out with specially fashioned knives," one journalist (who fled) reported. "Children did not escape the horror: the lucky ones were killed with their parents; but many thousands of others must go through what life remains for them with eyes gouged out and limbs roughly amputated."
Losing East Pakistan (which constituted half the country) did not prevent the army from attacking another province only two years later. In 1973, four Pakistan army divisions assaulted Baluch tribal communities in the province of Baluchistan, wiping out "mountain villages and nomad caravans." Like the Bengalis, the Baluchi political leadership was elected, popular, left-wing, and also wanted autonomy.
Mirage fighter-bombers and U.S. Cobra helicopter gunships pummeled unarmed Baluch civilians for five years. Of the 5,000 Baluch men, women and children captured by the army in 1977, 95% were "brutally tortured."
As one account put it: "Apart from the standard practice of severe beatings, limbs are broken or cut off; eyes gouged out; electric shocks are applied, especially to the genitals; beards and hair are torn out; fingernails ripped; water and food are withheld."
The Pakistan army has provided Washington with an instrument for crushing or hindering progressive social movements, not just inside Pakistan, but also in South Asia. India's non-alignment and the good relations of both India and Afghanistan with the Soviet Union were anathema to Washington, which deployed Pakistan against both countries.
When a left-wing government came to power in Afghanistan in 1978, the U.S. decided to overthrow it, using Pakistan as a conduit. The New York Times described the main objectives of this government as being the implementation of land reform and the expansion of education for women. Afghan Islamic fundamentalist groups (known as Mujahideen) in exile in Pakistan were covertly armed by the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and sent into Afghanistan.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser in the Carter administration, knew that this policy would, as he put it, "induce a Soviet intervention in Afghanistan." Brzezinski stated in a recent interview: "That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap."
Once the Soviets invaded in December 1979, the U.S. poured $6 billion in military aid to the Mujahideen through Pakistan. The ensuing war destroyed Afghanistan, ending all hope of progressive reforms.
With the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989, Afghanistan became a centre for U.S. and Pakistani-backed international terrorism. Islamist fighters trained there poured into Central Asia and India, aiming to create a pan-Islamic state stretching from Kashmir to Kazakhstan. The Taliban was a CIA-ISI creation as well, and its relations with Washington only soured when the two failed to reach an accord on sharing the oil riches of Central Asia.[...]
You'd be grasping at a straw if you hope Pakistan's government has changed in any fundamental way since the days of General Mohammed Ayub Khan.
To return to William Dalrymple's eulogy:
More than anything, perhaps, Benazir was in the end a feudal princess with the aristocratic sense of entitlement that came with owning great tracts of the country [...]That's not the half of it. Benazir during her tenure was complicit in the deaths of thousands of innocent Indian Kashmiris, both Muslim and Hindu, who died because Pakistan's military launched a guerilla war against India in Kashmir.
Today Benazir is being hailed as a martyr for freedom and democracy; but far from being a natural democrat, in many ways Benazir was the person who brought Pakistan’s strange variety of democracy - really a form of ‘elective feudalism’ - into disrepute, and who helped fuel the current apparently unstoppable growth of the Islamists.
For Bhutto was no Aung San Suu Kyi. During her first twenty-month long premiership, astonishingly, she failed to pass a single piece of major legislation. Amnesty International accused her government of having one of the world's worst records of custodial deaths, killings and torture.
And for what? All that horror in Indian Kashmir, all that carnage, was about a railroad route. In 1995 the counterterrorism expert Yossef Bodansky reported:
[...] by the fall of 1994 the ISI [Pakistan's military intelligence agency] was already successful in consolidating control over the Islamist armed struggle in Kashmir. The ISI can now ensure that key operations and major escalation in Kashmir will serve the strategic and political priorities and interests of Islamabad.There's just one problem with Bodansky's analysis. Pakistan had nothing much to export beyond heroin, WMD technology, and terrorism. Pakistani A. Q. Khan, boasting of how his theft of nuclear technology from the West gave Pakistan a nuclear weapon, wrote:
This marked escalation in the ISI's support for the Islamist insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir is a direct by-product of Pakistan's national security policy and grand strategy. Ms. [Benazir] Bhutto has repeatedly emphasized the centrality of the annexation of the entire Kashmir for the long-term development of Pakistan.
The new rail-line that will connect Karachi and Central Asia must pass through Indian-held Kashmir to be engineeringly and economically effective. Ms. Bhutto's Islamabad considers the opening of the road to Central Asia by using Pakistan as the region's gateway to the Indian Ocean as the key to the growth of Pakistan's commercial activities. Kashmir is also Pakistan's true gateway to the PRC and into Central Asia -- the path of the new Silk Road. And there lies the future and strategic salvation of Pakistan.[...]
"The speed of our work and our achievements surprised our worst enemies and adversaries and the West stood helplessly by to see a Third World nation, unable even to produce bicycle chains or sewing needles, mastering the most advanced nuclear technology in the shortest possible span of time."Right; they couldn't even produce the most simple manufactured goods. It was China's government that wanted the rail line for exports.
Ismi also outlined the Pakistan government's involvement with the narcotics trade. I'll bypass the discussion except to quote these observation:
In 1993, Raoolf Ali Khan, Pakistan's representative to the UN Commission on Narcotics, said that "there is no branch of government where drug corruption does not pervade." The CIA reported to the U.S. Congress in 1994 that heroin had become "the life-blood of the Pakistani economy and political system."Blowback
By the 1990s, as the Wikipedia article I mentioned above points out, the stage was set for a break in relations between the U.S. and Pakistan:
[...] Pakistan found itself in a state of extremely high insecurity as tensions mounted with India and Afghanistan’s infighting continued. Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S was strained due to factors such as its support for the Taliban and public distancing of the Pakistani government from the U.S.Behind the public posturing, Pakistan, which had started out a pro-American country, had struck a bargain -- with America's enemies!
In 1995 Yossef Bodansky revealed the details of the bargain. Here is an excerpt, which I republished on my blog in 2007:
The Rise of The Trans-Asian AxisNow just see one of the downsides when a government creates a client state: much in the manner of Frankenstein, or to be more precise in the manner of the prototype ED-209 RoboCop, it has a way of malfunctioning. (See the above illustration of the ED-209.) However, one can hardly blame China or Iran for wanting to create an alliance, if one looks at things from their point of view:
A new cohesive strategic global bloc is emerging amidst the fractured structure of the post-Cold War world. This bloc emerges from the consolidation of an essentially anti-US/anti-West alliance led and guided by the People's Republic of China (PRC) and stretching from North Africa to North East Asia. [...]
The Chinese strategic cooperation with both Iran and Pakistan intensified in the wake of the visit by PRC President Yang Shangkun in the Fall of 1991. In this visit, Beijing introduced this new grand strategy to its most important allies and won its commitment to close cooperation.
In Islamabad, Yang discussed the expansion of defence cooperation with both Pakistan and Iran. Yang finalised the details of an "essential agreement on the signing of a joint pact" with both Pakistan and Iran aimed at countering the nuclear threats from the US and India.
Pakistani and Iranian officials stressed at the time that the tripartite agreement would remain clandestine: "These three nations will not sign a treaty officially, but in the event of foreign aggression against the one of these nations, the other two will treat the aggression as aggression against itself and will rise to its defence."[...]
China had encouraged Pakistan's use of terrorism to destabilize India and had given Pakistan help in their development of a nuclear weapon. But America's use of Muslim tribes in China's back yard to push the Soviet Union to the brink, and the skill with which the CIA carried out the shadow war, greatly alarmed the Chinese and Iranian governments. Both governments were dealing with restive tribal populations in their own countries. As Zia Mian observed:
The 1970s saw a superpower détente. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship languished, and U.S. aid to Pakistan dried up. The United States began to pressure Pakistan not to follow India in developing nuclear weapons.The rest turned out to be our present, as well, and which I'll discuss in Part 2.
But 1979 brought the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, an intervention incited by the United States. The United States needed an ally bordering Afghanistan to help organize and fight its proxy war. Pakistan's generals were more than happy to oblige. The army had taken power again in 1977 and was under international pressure to restore civilian rule and to give up Pakistan's nascent nuclear weapons program.
The demands to restore democracy and give up the bomb quieted down. Instead, money and weapons poured in. The Pakistan army bought new American fighter jets and other high-tech weapons that could serve in a war with India. It worked with the United States to raise, train, fund, and equip an international Islamist army to fight in Afghanistan. With American help, Pakistan's generals learned how to organize guerrilla fighters, how to provide a safe haven, and how to cover their tracks. The rest is history.
For readers who're unfamiliar with the name Alden Pyle, it belongs to a fictional American character in Graham Greene's The Quiet American, which was set in Saigon in 1952 during the closing years of the First Indochina War. I say with a cackle that you'll never in a million years figure out why I used Pyle to introduce this post if you try to learn about the character from the Wikipedia article about Greene's novel -- or, for that matter, by reading the novel. Allow me to be mysterious a bit longer.
This entry follows on two earlier ones: Pakistan-U.S. relations: Why General Stanley McChrystal is going straight to hell (Nov. 21) and How the U.S. government built a perpetual-motion war machine in Afghanistan and sacrificed American values in the process (Nov 25).