The American shadow

November 20, 2022

Political activities were strictly monitored under Zia and there were many curbs

The American shadow


merica has frequently interfered in other countries’ domestic affairs. This practice has a history spanning over at least a century. After the World War II, the policy was extended to more regions of the world. This included subversion and overthrow of governments in other countries.

US military personnel have served as advisers in the Pakistan military since 1954. Military cadets from Pakistan have consistently attended US military academies and war colleges. Zia-ul Haq was just one of the officers who received military training in US. He went to the United States in 1962-64 and attended the US Army Command and Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

After Pakistan entered SEATO and CENTO, the US military personnel were apparently meant to ensure that the armament provided to Pakistan for fighting the West’s Cold War rivals was not used against India. After the 1965 war military sales to Pakistan were stopped.

In 1971, Pakistan provided a crucial back-channel for communication that resulted in the diplomatic breakthrough in the US-Chinese relations. A decade later, it shared crucial intelligence with US agencies during the Soviet-Afghan War.

More recently, Pakistan had a role in the US-Taliban peace deal and the evacuation of US and allied forces.

In the 1970s, then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto claimed that there was an American conspiracy to remove him from power. He later wrote in his book, If I am Assassinated that he was targeted for refusing to give up Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Specifically, he claimed that Henry Kissinger had threatened to make an example of him. He also alleged that the CIA had funded the domestic opposition, particularly the Pakistan National Alliance. The Alliance had included religiously-orientated parties led by Mian Tufail Muhammad, Mufti Mehmood and Ahmad Shah Noorani on the one hand and secular leaders like Wali Khan, Sherbaz Khan Mazari and Asghar Khan on the other. The PNA street protests were massive and stopped only after Bhutto was removed from power by his handpicked army chief, Gen Zia, in what was called Operation Fair Play.

Under Zia, the society was militarised in the name of religion. I argue that the intellectual groundwork for Islamic militancy was prepared at the University of Nebraska in the US. That’s how a narrative of ‘jihad’ was re-invented. 

American hand was already alleged in the ouster of Sukarno (Indonesia) and assassination of Allende (Chile) and King Faisal (Saudi Arabia).

US-sponsored regime changes in Iraq, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya have been more transparent. From Latin America to the Middle East, America has a history of such strategic interventions. Recently, US President Joe Biden called for a regime change in Russia to oust President Putin. However, the statement was later retracted by his team.

When Gen Zia perished in a plane crash on August 17, 1988, many in Pakistan suspected US involvement. Zia had been a close ally of the United States for most of his years in power. Under Zia, the society was militarised in the name of religion. I argue that the intellectual groundwork for Islamic militancy was prepared at the University of Nebraska in the US. That’s how the narrative of ‘jihad’ was re-invented.

One may also argue that militant Islam was conjured up at the American behest and was not a natural outcome of events.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, America reviewed its policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan and Gen Zia lost most of his relevance.

Iqra Mumtaz says, “This was due to Zia becoming a liability for Washington after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Under Zia, political activities were strictly monitored and there were many curbs. Political participation was possible only with the establishment’s approval. This has been best described by Muhammad Waseem as ‘establishmentarian’ politics.

Benazir Bhutto, however, carved a niche for herself and her party in Pakistan’s politics.

In the post-Zia period, a troika (president, prime minister and army chief) was seen ruling the country.

It was then alleged by some that Robert Oakley, the American ambassador, was acting like a viceroy.

The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

The American shadow