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A U.S.-Financed Military Dictatorship: Pakistan has Long, Bloody history as Terrorist Arm of U.S.

By Asad Ismi

The United States’ choice of Pakistan as an ally in its “war on terrorism” provides the spectacle of the two leading terrorist states on Earth “fighting terrorism.” The U.S. has killed more than eight million people in the Third World since 1945, while Pakistan slaughtered almost three million Bengalis in the Eastern wing of the country in 1971. This caused the break-up of the state, with East Pakistan separating and becoming Bangladesh.

Since 1951, Pakistan’s main purpose has been to act as the U.S. government’s South Asian terrorist arm, serving to destabilize the former Soviet Union, India and Afghanistan, and crushing all attempts at domestic democracy.

Washington’s instrument has been the Pakistan army, which U.S. officials have called “the greatest single stabilizing force in the country.” Its major “military” campaigns have been launched against its own unarmed people.

Soon after Pakistan’s independence in 1947, the U.S. provided $411 million to establish its armed forces. When the country’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.

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. 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 eye witness 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.

According to Professor Michel Chossudovsky at the University of Ottawa, “Since the Soviet-Afghan war, recruiting Mujahedin to fight covert wars on Washington’s behest has become an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. A 1997 document of the U.S. Congress reveals how the Clinton administration had “helped turn Bosnia into a militant Islamic base,” leading to the recruitment through the so-called “Militant Islamic Network” of thousands of Mujahedin from the Muslim world. “The ‘Bosnian pattern’ has since been replicated in Kosovo, Southern Serbia and Macedonia.”

India has long been the kind of Third World state that Washington detested. It had close relations with the Soviet Union, followed an independent foreign policy, opposed Western imperialist adventures, and created a significant public sector industrial base and a protected domestic economy which included two communist states (West Bengal and Kerala). The U.S. response has been to “bleed India” through Pakistan’s support for secessionist insurgencies in order to open up the Indian economy to American penetration.

In the 1980s, Pakistan trained and armed Sikh militants who fought for a separate homeland in Indian Punjab. Today, in the disputed state of Indian Kashmir, Pakistan has been “sponsoring terrorism” for more than a decade. Islamic militants trained and armed in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been fighting for Kashmir’s integration with Pakistan, leading to about 60,000 deaths.

On October 1, 2001, these groups exploded a car bomb that killed 38 people (most of them civilians) near the state legislature building in Srinagar. On December 13, 2001, two Pakistan-based terrorist groups attacked the Indian parliament in New Delhi. Fourteen people were killed, including five of the terrorists. India moved half a million troops to its border with Pakistan and the two armies–both possessing nuclear weapons–still stand on the brink of war.

No doubt heavy-handed Indian policies have alienated Sikhs and Kashmiris, and India is guilty of massive human rights violations in Kashmir; but, as The New York Times put it, “Since 1994, the role of native Kashmiris in the insurgency has diminished as heavily-armed outsiders from Pakistan and Afghanistan have stepped up the violence.”

These insurgencies have sapped India’s ability to build its economic infrastucture. This, according to one observer, has “slowed the pace of growth and development, and precipitated demands for rapid privatization and reliance on foreign investment.”

The rewards for being a U.S. terrorist arm in South Asia have been lucrative for the Pakistan military’s officer corps. During the war against the Soviets, Afghanistan supplied 60% of the U.S.’s heroin. Pakistani generals “were deeply involved” in this drug trade, and three of them were counted amongst the twelve richest generals in the world.

The most prominent was General Fazle Haq, known as “Pakistan’s Noriega.” Haq was appointed governor of the Northwest Frontier Province (bordering Afghanistan) by General Zia-ul Haq, Pakistan’s military dictator during 1977-1988. As governor, Fazle Haq was in charge of Mujahideen military operations. He also protected the production of 200 heroin labs near the border. In 1982, Interpol identified Haq as “a key player in the Afghan-Pakistani opium trade.” Haq. who had $3 million in his bank account, was protected from drug investigations by Zia and the CIA.

In 1993, Raoof Ali Khan, Pakistan’s representative to the UN Commission on Narcotics, said that “there is no branch of [Pakistan’s] 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.”

Drug trafficking is just one part of the Pakistani military’s parasitism. The armed forces own an airline, sugar mills, chemical plants, a cereal factory, and several hospitals. Officers and their families are supplied with free servants, education, and medical care, and the best real estate in large cities is reserved for them.

The price for their country’s being a U.S. terrorist base has been paid by the Pakistani people, who for 55 years have been massacred, tortured, denied education (the illiteracy rate in Pakistan is 90%), medical care, housing, adequate nutrition, and political rights. Pakistan ranks near the bottom of the UN’s list of countries by every measure of human development, including infant mortality, life expectancy, the poverty rate, and the population growth rate.

With India and Pakistan almost perpetually on the brink of nuclear war, continued subservience by Pakistan to U.S. dictates exposes its oppressed people to total eradication.


Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, June 2002.

Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor‘s international affairs correspondent. He has written extensively on Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.