On April 13, Pakistan Today carried a special section ‘Bhutto trial in retrospect’ in which it quoted the late Premier Bhutto as saying before the Lahore High Court during his trial in 1978 that he was being punished on the orders of the United States for refusing to abandon the nuclear program. This was a sensational disclosure from Bhutto.
Why would US that was tens of thousands of miles away from Pakistan and which was itself a great upholder of the right to sovereignty of nation-states would act as a bully by threatening the head of a poor and weak Third World (a redundant term since the end of the Cold War) country like Pakistan? Was there something peculiar between the US and Bhutto or did the US have a history of arm-twisting those weaker nations that refused to submit to its imperial diktats? Was Bhutto’s disclosure a mere allegation or did it have some truth that could be substantiated?
The period from the end of World War II up to the disintegration of Soviet Russia in 1991 is characterised as the Cold War era. Today, America has identified radical Islam as its enemy number one whereas during the Cold War, its prime enemy was communism. Any ruler or regime, be it in Asia, Africa or Latin America if found pursuing a radical nationalist stance or toyed with Marxist rhetoric was considered fair game for destabilisation and regime-change by the US.
Just before the overthrow of Bhutto, the US had engineered the downfall of the Latin American Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973 at the cost of eleven million dollars just because his socialist policies were a direct threat to the private US investment in Chile which stood at $1.1 billion out of a total foreign investment of $1.672 billion in 1970. A quick look at how Allende’s government was overthrown would enable us to understand the secret tactics employed to change the regimes.
The rot started at the top because the decision to remove a ruler was taken by the US president and then communicated to the CIA head for execution. On September 15, 1970, President Nixon informed the CIA Director Richard Helms that the Allende government was not acceptable to the US. Consequently, millions of dollars were covertly fed to the political parties opposing Allende. Furthermore, the Agency doled out $1.5 million to El Mercurio, the largest newspaper to spew out venomous propaganda against Allende. Similarly, to turn the business community against him, over a million dollars were dished out to private business organisations.
While the US was successful against Allende, all of its efforts failed against Castro’s regime in Cuba. Castro’s ‘cardinal crime’ was the adoption of communism as the economic model. Every state is free to choose whichever system it likes but communism was not acceptable to the American President John F Kennedy, who clearly stated in his first State of the Union message that “Questions of economic and trade policy can always be negotiated. But communist domination in this hemisphere can never be negotiated.” A few days later, he confided to one of his aides, “We can’t go on living with this Castro cancer for ten years more.” In effect, he issued a memorandum to the Secretary of State directing him to “use our available assets… to help Cuba overthrow the communist regime.”
While Cuba became a target owing to its communist policies, the government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, the President of Guatemala was removed by the US in 1954 not because of communism but because he had started a progressive land reforms program as 2 per cent of the population owned 70 per cent of the land—the greatest landowner being the United Fruit Company of Boston, US. Nine years later, on June 10, 1963, President Eisenhower, while addressing the American Booksellers Association in Washington DC, admitted the American hand.
A horrendous fate awaited Patrice Lumumba, the Prime Minister of Congo in Africa. He was an African nationalist, who liked to play the Marxist rhetoric. There were reports that he had secured £1 million from China. In addition, the Soviets had supplied him with transport planes, air force crew, army officers, technicians and tons of communist literature. As Congo was strategically placed in the heart of Africa, it became the symbolic battleground between the Soviet-American rivalries in Africa. The American Cold War warriors thought that a Soviet stronghold in Congo could spur the spread of communism throughout the African continent especially after Lumumba had garnered the support of other African leaders such as President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Thus, Lumumba had to be taken care of. Consequently, he was kidnapped and later assassinated in January 1961, allegedly, on the orders of President Eisenhower.
The countries that became victims of covert US interventions in Asia were Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Iran, Indonesia and Cambodia. In Cambodia, the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk was subverted by a clandestine US operation in March 1970. Much before that, he had survived a CIA assassination plot in 1959 because he was lucky to have been tipped off by President de Gaulle of France, who was unhappy with the American intrusions. What was Sihanouk’s ‘sin’? Well! He was certainly not a communist; however, his firm belief in the principles of neutrality of states in the Cold War and deep commitment to the Afro-Asian Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) annoyed the Americans. On top of it, despite all kinds of cajoling and pressures applied on him, Sihanouk had refused to put Cambodia in the US sponsored anti-communist military alliance, the South-east Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).
The list of such covert US interventions is quite long; whose victims were mostly the Third World leaders. So, Bhutto’s allegations against the Americans cannot be dismissed just out of hand because they have a history of bullying those that had refused to tow their line.
The writer is an academic and journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]