103. Telegram 32 From the Embassy in Pakistan to the Department of State 1 2

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  • The Bhutto Government’s First Year: Foreign Policy Assessment

Summary: Assuming office in wake of disastrous December 1971 War, Bhutto administration has moved energetically to restore and redirect Pakistan’s shattered foreign policy. Primary effort has been aimed at overcoming effects of war and seeking new relationship with India to replace quarter century of confrontation. Effort has been hampered by historical atmosphere of suspicion and distrust, but negotiations have made some progress over past year and may continue to do so, although at deliberate pace. Attempt to work out relationship with Bangladesh, on other hand, has been fruitless [Page 2] to date. Impasse with BDG over interlocking problems of recognition, war crimes trials, and return of POW’s remains unbroken. Renewed moves to tackle issue can be expected after March Bangladesh elections, however. Looking beyond subcontinent, Bhutto government sees China as closest friend and supporter, with Chinese influence visible in various GOP policy decisions. Pak attitude toward Soviet Union is ambivalent, with GOP interested in improving rather cool relations but indicating a considerable concern over Soviet intentions toward South Asia—especially toward sensitive Pakistani provinces of Baluchistan and north west frontier. Bhutto government has taken active interest in Pak contacts with other countries of Third World, particularly Arab and Middle East states, and has maintained existing links (including CENTO) with Iran and Turkey. Relations with Britain, clouded by GOP suspicion of UK partiality to India, are cool. Relations with neighboring Afghanistan reasonably amicable but periodically plagued by latter’s espousal of Pushtunisian issue. US considered by Bhutto government as friend second only of Chinese. Bhutto has expressed appreciation for US support in 1971 and for US economic aid. At same time, GOP not inhibited from taking positions on issues at variance with those of US, although rarely without advance consultation. Bhutto government’s present policy goals appear to include accommodation to new “realities” although not at cost of accepting Indian hegemony; maintaining close ties with China and US; and improving relations with Soviet Union to extent possible. Beyond that, Bhutto’s foreign policy can be expected to remain active in propagating “independence” of Pak position, in seeking restore Pakistan’s shattered image abroad, and of winning as many friends as possible.

End summary.

This message is one of series assessing Bhutto government first year in office from standpoint of foreign policy, domestic political affairs and economic affairs (latter in Islamabad 10412).
Bhutto assumed office December 20, 1971, at time when Pakistan’s foreign policy, along with most other aspects [Page 3] Pakistan affairs, was in shambles as result Pakistan’s decisive defeat by India and dismemberment. Incoming Bhutto regime faced task of reassembling shattered policy virtually from scratch.
Bhutto has tackled this job with extraordinary energy. Within 90 days of assuming office President had visited China, Soviet Union and dozen or so Arab and Middle East countries, withdrawn from Commonwealth, broken (and in some cases had already restored) relations with several states, recognizing Bangladesh, released Sheik Mujib, and taken first steps to seek accomodation with India. Pace since then has been less frenetic but still active. As result, Pakistan’s new Bhutto-style foreign policy is well along in process of definition and implementation.
Relations with India: From very beginning of his regime Bhutto has demonstrated fairly realistic understanding of implications Dec 1971 War, including decisive shift in subcontinent power balance, futility of resuming confrontation, and necessity of reaching some sort of accomodation with India if Pakistan is to endure. He also realized that Pakistan had minimal assets for bargaining with India and Bangladesh, and number of his early moves were calculated in large part to increase those assets. Thus his whirlwind tour of Middle East in January to rally Pakistan’s old friends and assure them country was still alive and well, his largely abortive efforts (except as regards most other Moslem countries) to gain control of timing of third-country recognition Bangladesh and, most recently, his successful collaboration with China to keep Bangladesh out of UN.
Actual conduct Indo/Pak negotiations, beginning with officials meeting at Murree in April, has been extensively reported. However, that first real fruits—troop withdrawals from areas occupied in war—not realized until December, some months later than anticipated. Progress toward accomodation, hampered by quarter century of distrust and suspicion as well as by questions of prestige and subcontinental propensity for haggling, has been so slow as to lead various outside observers [Page 4] periodically to write off whole effort. Yet some progress has been made and we believe it will continue, although probably at slower pace than was anticipated at time of Simla. Here seriously questions that Bhutto is in earnest when he expresses hope for new era in relations with [Page 5] India. Timetable for achieving it, however, apparently will be set by subcontinental rather than outside calendar. In sum, coming year in Indo/Pak relations look like more of the same—slow, lurching progress toward normalization, with dramatic breakthroughs unlikely with chance of appreciable progress by year’s end.
Pakistan and Bangladesh: This is third and currently most difficult side of Pakistan-India-Bangladesh triangle. Bhutto’s release of Mujib in January, statesmanlike though it was, failed provide sufficient foundation to reconstruct any sort of relationship between the two. Nor have subsequent events during year brought them significantly closer. Impasse that developed between Bhutto’s insistence on pre-[Page 6]recognition meeting with Mujib and latter’s demand for recognition before meeting still unbroken despite various third-country efforts find compromise formula and several direct clandestine Pakistani-Bengalese contacts. Bhutto did not follow through on his apparent undertaking at Simla to submit recognition question to National Assembly in August, although strength of Punjab opposition to recognition as shown by demonstrations of past few weeks would appear to reinforce his contention that domestic political situation made it impractical to do so. In any event, Bhutto has now openly embarked on campaign to sell populace on need for recognition and is publicly committed to present issue to National Assembly. Time frame for latter keeps receding, however, and earliest date for recognition has now been pushed back to period after Bangladesh elections in March.
From Bhutto’s standpoint, hazard in recognizing Bangladesh centers primarily in threat of war crimes trials, which probably is at heart of his continued insistence on meeting with Mujib before recognition. Doubtful that realist Bhutto still harbors serious hope that Mujib will actually reverse himself on this. Call for pre-recognition meeting has instead taken on more or less symbolic meaning as euphemism for some sort of irrevocable pre-recognition understanding as to Bangladesh [garble] re war crimes trials (and perhaps such other sticky issues as overall return of POW’s and division of assets) once recognition granted. Massive war crimes trials in Dacca shortly after he accorded recognition would be severe blow to Bhutto’s position, and he is determined avoid this danger. (This does not imply that Paks are unprepared accept any war crimes trials at all; they have privately indicated that, if they must, they can live reluctantly with modest number of trials of those against whom specific documented charges can be made.)
POWs comprise other principal facet of impasse. Holding veto over their release, Mujib has it contingent upon Pak recognition. Yet here as well, Paks apparently feel they need firm undertaking from Dacca before moving
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[Pages 3–4 of Telegram Islamabad 0032 missing in the File at the National Archives.]

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charged Soviets with direct intervention on India’s side. Bhutto promptly reversed this stance on assuming power. From outset he took pains to consider bygones bygones and to improve relations. This was followed by his Moscow visit in March results of which, while equivocal, contributed toward lessening tensions.
Since Bhutto’s Moscow trip, Pak policy toward USSR has followed divergent paths. On one hand, GOP has continued indicate desire for better relations and has encouraged greater Soviet economic role. On other, there has been considerable show of Pak uneasiness and suspicion of Soviet intentions toward South Asia. In [Page 9] particular, Paks have expressed concern over alleged Soviet meddling in north west frontier and especially Baluchistan, provinces where opposition parties control local governments. This widely expressed suspicion of Soviets has various facets: there is undoubted element of genuine GOP fear of what Russians may be up to in this area. Beyond this, however, GOP appears to some extent to be deliberately playing up “Soviet threat” as means attracting greater support from US and China. Bhutto regime also no adverse to bandying charges of subservience to foreign interests as means undermining domestic political opposition in frontier and Baluchistan.
GOP relations with Soviets over coming year will be affected by Pak reading of Soviet intentions in area as well as by course of Sino/Soviet dispute. Paks unlikely take any steps toward USSR that would jeopardize special relationship with China. Two factors, however, point toward some further improvement in relations. Bhutto fully aware that Moscow is only great power with significant influence with New Delhi at present. Beyond that, Bhutto’s own percept1on of proper future course for Pakistan’s foreign policy envisages balanced relationship (“triangular bilateralism”) with each of the big three, which would require elevating ties with USSR to general level of those now enjoyed with other two. Over next year or so, Pak/Soviet relations thus appear ripe for continued moderate improvement although susceptible to reversal as result possible Russian meddling in area or heating up of Sino/Soviet dispute.
Relations with other countries: before 1971 war, Pak preoccupation with India left little room for active policy elsewhere in world except as adjunct to policy toward India. Aside from commonwealth ties and religious-based links with several (generally conservative) Arab and Middle East states, Pak interests and influence in outside world thus were relatively minor.
Once he took office, however, Bhutto promptly embarked on campaign not only to reactivate existing ties with various other countries but also to scout out new [Page 10] areas to show flag. This demonstrated most dramatically by his numerous foreign trips during first half of year, which took him as far afield as Ethiopia and Guinea. Result has been appreciable expansion in range of Pakistan’s contacts with rest of world.
Bhutto has paid particular attention to relations with Arab states, including those more radical states hitherto not close to Pakistan such as Algeria and especially Libya. At same time, ties with more traditional friends such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan not ignored. Bhutto has also moved energetically to exploit opportunity extend Pak political and economic influence into new oil-rich Persian Gulf states.
Bhutto regime has continued policy of close friendship with Iran and Turkey, although with somewhat less fervor than predecessors. Pakistan has retained and upgraded CENTO membership despite additional difficulties this poses in seeking more neutralist image. (Wish to accommodate Tehran and Ankara is, however, only one of reasons why Bhutto has stayed in CENTO: desire to use membership as leverage with US as least equally important.) RCD agreement linking Pakistan, Iran and Turkey is periodically heralded here as model of regional cooperation, but appears to have more form than substance.
Loss of East Pakistan virtually terminated direct Pak interests in Southeast Asia, which in any event have been latent in recent years. Bhutto regime during past year has shown tendency to follow lead of China in shaping policy toward this area, as illustrated by withdrawal from SEATO, recognition North Vietnam and anticipated recognition of Sihanouk government.
Relations with Britain have been rocky since beginning of East Pakistan crisis in early 1971. Yahya regime was convinced British unduly favored India, and Bhutto has tended share that view. Major development of past year in this area was Pak withdrawal from commonwealth, occasioned by what Paks viewed as precipitous British recognition Bangladesh. Relations since then have been [Page 11] correct but cool, and there no signs any early change.
Afghanistan was first foreign country to be visited by Bhutto after taking office, and his government has attempted maintain cordial relations with Kabul despite built-in problem of Pushtunistan. Paks were pleased at Kabul’s correct behavior during December 1971 war but have since expressed concern over periodic Afghan public statements on Pushtunistan issue. Paks recognize Afghan domestic compulsions in such statements but still do not like them, especially since they involve one of politically most sensitive parts of Pakistan. General awarenesss of feebleness Afghan Government prevents them from taking matter too seriously, however, of considerably greater concern is spectre of USSR in background.
Relations with US: At end of 1971 war US was second only to China in Pak esteem since, as Paks saw it, only US—apart from China—among major powers had shown sympathy for plight and had given any political support to Pakistan in its time of crisis.
Fact that Bhutto met with President Nixon immediately [Page 12] before returning Pakistan to take office made it unnecessary to balance Moscow and Peking visits with trip to US in 1972. Meanwhile Bhutto has publicly expressed keen appreciation for US role in 1971 crisis and for subsequent resumption US economic aid. Desire to accomodate US also reflected infrequencey of official criticism and muted press treatment of YS position in Southeast Asia despite fact both GOP and populace at large are opposed US policy there.
At same time, has been made clear that Bhutto does not consider friendship with US necessarily requires modification Pak policies or adjustment to US interests. Pak position on variety of issues—recognition of Hanoi [Page 13] and Pyongyang, withdrawal from SEATO and UNCURK, terrorism resolutions in UN, etc.,—has been at variance with that of US. Bhutto had, however, seen to it that this has been done without rancor and in most cases with adequate advance warning and explanation. (On another issue, reduction of UN assessment for US, GOP has found it advisable to meet US requests for support.)
Bhutto regime seeks from US general political support and continuation US role as main supplier economic aid. Third area of primary current interest to Paks is that of military supply. GOP attaches particular importance to easing of existing USG embargo on military supply, although indications are that Pak expectations are not excessively inflated. Their immediate hopes are focused on lifting ban on sales of spares for existing US-supplied equipment.
Policy of friendship with US had its limits. Bhutto regime will not pursue it to extent of alienating China or losing out in GOP efforts secure viable participation in Third World club. At same time, Bhutto keenly aware of value of US friendship and is most unlikely to cast it aside out of pique or for frivilous reasons.
Conclusions: Bhutto prepared accept new framework of relationships in subcontinent if it can be brought about without too great loss of Pak prestige. GOP is willing recognize Indian preeminence but insists it will strenuously resist Indian domination or hegemony. Whether this willingness to accomodate to new “realities” of subcontinent will be sufficient to overcome past history of hostility, distrust and suspicion remains open question, however. Great deal will depend on terms and style of Indian Govt in dealing with GOP on content and nature of their new relationship. Most that can be said is that, if Bhutto fails in moving from “confrontation” to “peaceful coexistence” as specified in Simla agreement, prospect of success for any successor regime likely to be grim.
Looking beyond subcontinent, Bhutto appears at present to be concentrating primarily on maintaining and strengthening [Page 14] relations with the two major powers he considers essential to Pakistan’s security by drawing Soviet Union away from partiality toward India into more balanced relationship. Without jeopardizing Pakistan’s ties with major powers, believe he also hopes to stake out position of more “independence” in foreign affairs in order give Pakistan greater voice in Third World. Peering further into future, Bhutto’s own style suggests that he may seek considerably more active role for Pakistan in world affairs in general if and when accodomation with India reaches stage permitting diffusion of his considerable energies into other areas.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, Political and Defense, POL 1 PAK. Confidential. It was repeated to Dhaka, Hong Kong, Kabul, Karachi, Lahore, London, Moscow, New Delhi, and Tehran. Sober offered a separate assessment of the Pakistan domestic political situation in Telegram 355 from Islamabad, January 11. (Ibid.)
  2. The Embassy assessed the Bhutto Government’s first year in power, with a specific focus on Pakistan’s foreign policy.