Dawn News

March, 27 2015
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The foreign policy of Liaquat Ali Khan

IAQUAT Ali Khan, the first prime minister of Pakistan, served for a period of four years and two months until his tragic death on October 16, 1951. During this brief period, he set nearly all the parameters and main planks of Pakistan’s foreign policy. It is unfortunate that his immense contribution in making the foreign policy of the new-born country has not received due recognition.

His achievements include securing of UN resolutions calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir; championing the Palestinian and Arab cause at the UN; recognition of Communist China and establishing diplomatic relations with it; an overture to the Soviet Union and sending of an ambassador to Moscow; establishing close ties with the USA; lobbying for an Islamic bloc; and opposing colonialism. Over and above this, Liaquat’s outstanding contribution in foreign policy was the safeguarding of national security in the face of the most serious threats by India. At the same time, he sought to improve relations with India and signed a historic pact with India for the protection of minorities.

Three days after the creation of Pakistan, Liaquat said in an interview with the New York Times that Pakistan would not take sides in the conflict of ideologies between the two world blocs. This was a clear statement of a policy of non-alignment that Pakistan continued to follow during his lifetime and even afterwards, until 1954. He followed up this initial statement by reaching out at the same time to the USA, the Soviet Union and Communist China.

Relations with India perforce had to be given the highest priority by Liaquat. India adopted a hostile attitude towards Pakistan from the very start. The Indian leadership had only reluctantly accepted the division of India, more as a tactical decision, since it was convinced that Pakistan was an artificial creation and could not last. To make sure that Pakistan collapsed soon after its birth, India created a host of problems, which included withholding of Pakistan’s share of financial assets, unfair boundary award, genocide in East Punjab, pushing of more than ten million refugees in Pakistan, and stoppage of canal waters. But the most serious issue that brought the two countries close to war was the Indian military occupation of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. The partition formula was that contiguous Muslim majority areas would go to Pakistan. On that basis, Kashmir should have acceded to Pakistan. But India conspired with the Hindu ruler of the state to secure its accession to India. Pakistan protested strongly and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to assure Liaquat that the Kashmiri people would be given the opportunity to decide freely whether they wanted to join India or Pakistan.

At the same time, India accused Pakistan of sending tribal infiltrators into Kashmir and lodged a complaint at the UN Security Council alleging aggression by Pakistan. The UN Security Council did not accept the Indian accusation of Pakistani aggression.

Instead, it adopted several resolutions that the future of Kashmir should be decided by the people of Kashmir through a plebiscite. Foreign Minister Zafrulla Khan played a key role at the UN in the adoption of the resolutions on Kashmir. Though India had to accept this decision, but after Liaquat’s death, it reneged on its commitment. However, the Kashmir issue remains alive as neither Pakistan nor the Kashmiri people have acquiesced in India’s unlawful occupation. The legal basis for Pakistan’s stance remains the same UN resolutions on Kashmir that were passed during Liaquat’s tenure.

During the first four years of its existence, India threatened to invade Pakistan several times. Though Pakistan was militarily weak, Liaquat galvanised the nation and held firm in the face of Indian threats. His clenched fist (“mukka”) became the symbol of the nation’s defiance, and Nehru had to back down, claiming that India never had any war-like intentions. He offered to sign a No War Pact with Pakistan. However, Liaquat said that such a pact must also include an agreed formula ensuring fair settlement of disputes between the two countries. This has ever since remained Pakistan’s stance on the issue.

Pakistan took the initiative in April 1948 to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. The Soviet agreement was announced a month later. In May 1949, the US extended an invitation to Nehru to visit Washington, but no such invitation came to Pakistan. Liaquat felt the need to make an opening to Moscow by saying that “Pakistan cannot afford to wait. She must take her friends where she finds them.” He talked with the Soviet Ambassador, while on a visit to Tehran, and Moscow promptly extended an invitation to him to visit the Soviet Union. The dates suggested for this visit clashed with Pakistan’s Independence Day and hence Karachi asked for a slight change of dates. For reasons that have remained obscure, there was no reply from Moscow. However, the first Pakistani Ambassador arrived in Moscow in December 1949, followed by the arrival in Pakistan a few months later of the first Soviet Ambassador.

It is unfortunate that a myth later developed in Pakistan, fed by some leftists as also anti-Liaquat circles, that Pakistan’s subsequent difficulties in relations with Moscow stemmed from Liaquat’s inability to visit the Soviet Union. The fact is that there were no discernable strains in bilateral relations till well after Liaquat’s death. It was Pakistan’s membership of military pacts in 1954 that aroused Soviet hostility. The Soviet veto on Kashmir was not applied until 1957. The Soviets themselves have never put the blame for unfriendly relations on the inability of Liaquat to visit the Soviet Union. It also needs to be noted that it is common in diplomatic practice to issue invitations to dignitaries of other states. Inability to respond to such an invitation has hardly ever become a cause of long term strains in relations.

In December 1949, Liaquat received an invitation from President Truman to visit the USA. This was readily accepted and the visit took place in May 1950. While on US soil, Liaquat confirmed that he intended to visit the Soviet Union. Liaquat’s visit to USA brought the two countries closer. This was shown by Pakistan’s support for the use of force by the UN in June 1950 against North Korea to secure its withdrawal from South Korea, as also support for the peace treaty negotiations with Japan in 1951. The Soviet Union opposed both of these developments.

In October 1949, the Communists came to power in China. The US strongly opposed this development and refused to recognise the Communist regime. It continued to recognise the ousted Kuomintang regime of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek as the legitimate government of China. The US also managed to prevent most countries in the world from recognising Communist China which was thus kept out of the UN as well. However, Liaquat decided to extend recognition to Communist China in January 1950. The Chinese Ambassador arrived in Karachi in September 1951, a month before Liaquat’s death, and the first Pakistani Ambassador presented credentials in Beijing in November 1951.

Pakistan thus became the first Muslim country, and one of the few countries in the world, to establish diplomatic relations with Communist China. This wise decision laid the foundation for strong relations with China that have since become a pillar of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Liaquat’s logic probably was that Pakistan already had adverse relations with one neighbour (India) and could not afford to antagonise another powerful neighbour who would be having veto power in the UN Security Council.

Moreover, Pakistan needed to have trade with China, particularly because India had snapped commercial ties with Pakistan in 1949. Pakistan could also have calculated that friendly relations with China might be helpful at some stage against its traditional rival India. This is what actually happened. In pursuit of this policy of wooing China, Pakistan avoided any criticism of China when it annexed Tibet early in 1950 or in the context of the Korean War that broke out in June 1950.

Another plank of Pakistan’s foreign policy from the very outset was to establish close relations with the Muslim world.

Pan-Islamism was part of Pakistan’s ideological moorings. Even before independence, Indian Muslims took a leading part in supporting Turkey during the Khilafat Movement of 1918-24.

The Muslim League was highly critical of the British policy in Palestine during the 1930s and 1940s. Soon after its creation, Pakistan strongly opposed the proposal in the UN for the partition of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state. Foreign Minister Zafrulla Khan was a leading voice at the UN, as early as November 1947, in opposing the creation of Israel. Pakistan refused to recognise the state of Israel when it was set up in May 1948. Support for the Palestinian and Arab cause has ever since remained a plank of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

From the beginning, Pakistan actively pursued a policy of establishing close ties with the Islamic world. The possibility of an Islamic bloc was explored by Pakistan in its formative years, though this made little headway because of the disparate nature of the Islamic world and Egypt’s suspicion that Pakistan was seeking to become leader of the Islamic world. In this context, Pakistan hosted an International Islamic Economic Conference at Karachi in 1949.

It is worth recalling that a Soviet magazine New Times criticised this conference by observing that its purpose was to prepare the ground for a “Muslim military and political bloc.” In February 1951, there was a meeting of the Motamar-al-Alam-al-Islami in Karachi. Addressing this gathering, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan said that Pakistan came into being as a result of the urge of the Muslims of the sub-continent to secure territory where Islamic ideology could be practised and demonstrated to the world and, since a cardinal feature of this ideology was to make Muslim brotherhood a reality, it was a part of Pakistan’s mission to do everything in its power to promote fellowship and cooperation between Muslim countries.

Pakistan supported Indonesia’s fight for independence when the Dutch used force against its former colony in December 1948.

Zafrulla Khan called it “an affront to the soul of Asia.” When Indonesia became independent in August 1949, Pakistan celebrated this event by declaring a public holiday. Pakistan played a leading role at the UN in securing independence of Muslim countries, including Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Somalia and Eritrea. From the very beginning, Pakistan’s stance on anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism was that “whenever there is a question of liberty and independence from imperialism or of opposing colonialism, of pushing forward a people’s march towards freedom, Pakistan is always to the fore and second to none.”

From the foregoing, it is clear that Liaquat laid the foundations of the main elements of Pakistan’s foreign policy. He believed in an independent foreign policy with emphasis on Islamic unity.

The writer is a former ambassador.


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