Security Game: Seato and Cento As Instrument of Economic and Military Assistance to Encircle Pakistan


Abstract. Nations having common interests and objectives are impelled to enter into regional pacts to secure themselves from internal and external threats. A state seeks ways and means of self-defense but, in case of common threats, a state tries to make a common cause to align other states against it. Common ideology is also important factor, sometimes persuades nations to enter into pacts to secure their interests. Common racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds are normally helpful in inducing states to build regional arrangements. In 1950s, SEATO and CENTO were formulated by the US to secure the Asian region from the threat of communism. Pakistan aligned itself with the US and favoured American policies designed to frustrate the objectives of the Soviet Union. Pakistan was primarily interested in settling the Kashmir issue and preserving its security in the face of Indian aggression.

Both economic and military aid tempted Pakistan to join these military alliances since India was better off militarily and financially. The paper has explored cast and benefits of these alliances and role of Pakistani leadership under the American sphere of influence. American policy towards the region is also discussed.


Every state has its own way of dealing the world and defining its particular role. The foreign policy of a state is formulated according to its regional environment, national interest, capabilities, and ideologies. As “no nation can have a sure guide as to what it must do and what it need not do in foreign policy without accepting the national interests as that guide” (Morgenthau,1951). America has its own ways and policies influenced by its geographical location, historic experiences and political values and Pakistan’s external relations especially in the early years were founded on the geo-strategic realities and compulsions of the South Asian region. The basic contour of Pakistan’s policy was shaped by the Indian factor. Foreign policy was crafted with the aim of acquiring a bulwark against this giant neighbor. India remained the ‘arch-enemy.’ The situation remained same despite passing of six decades.

After the World War II, the US confronted with the formidable threat of Soviet communism and designed a global strategy to deter its expansion. During this period, Soviet communism was the dominant factor in formulation of American policy towards other states. This brought additional tension between the Soviet Union and the US. Both countries felt a higher degree of insecurity and both regarded one another as potential adversaries threatening territorial integrity and political independence. A bipolarization of the world led to a lengthy Cold War.

American Policy towards the Subcontinent in Early Years

During the early years, US policy towards the subcontinent was designed not only to contain the advance of Soviet communism but also to promote the exploration of energy resources. A strategic report confirmed the existence of great oil resources in the region that greatly enhanced the importance of the area (Husain, 1987:2). In pursuit of these twin objectives, the US took a keen interest in affairs of the subcontinent and tried to maintain cordial relations with each country. In previous times, the American view of Asia was limited to China, Japan and the Pacific. The British played an important role in focusing American attention on the subcontinent. Since Britain attached great importance to India, its policy toward newly independent Pakistan was unsympathetic. American policy makers also preferred India due to its size (which together with Pakistan was equal to the size of Europe). The US viewed India as a significant contribution to its bloc against the Soviet Union (Rao, 1985:2).

But India adhered to the policy of non-alignment and avoided the rivalry of the superpowers. India followed this policy in the name of world peace but non-alignment became source of many ups and downs in Indo-US relationship. In January 1947, John Foster Dulles, the American Secretary of State, commented during his visit to India that “Soviet communism had strong influence through the interim government of India.” Although President Truman said he did not believe it (New York Herald Tribune, 1947, January 18). Later American Ambassador Grady commented after his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that India wanted friendly ties with the US but at the same time it had some fears about US economic penetration. India was desirous of US exports particularly capital goods (Rao, 1985:4; Foreign Relations, 1973:582).

Despite a desire for friendly relations, India was not ready to be part of the American policy of Soviet containment. After failing to get support from India, the US offered Pakistan for alliance partnership and Pakistan gladly accepted it. From the very beginning, the American attitude was based on defeating the communist expansion. India was even more alive to Stalin- inspired threats for its security than was Pakistan (Rao, 1985:4). But India, nonetheless, avoided any alliance. As Nehru commented, “if there is a cold war today, certainly we are neutral, it does not matter who is right or wrong we will not join in this exhibition of mutual abuse” (Nehru, 1952). India tried to maintain friendly relations with both superpowers.

Pak-US Relations in Early Years

The atmosphere of bipolarity produced a constant competition in global politics as both superpowers strived to further enhance their power. Defense analysts in the US were busy in defining US interests and recognized the geographic value of Pakistan. Meanwhile, newly independent Pakistan was wrestling with overwhelming political and economic problems. It was also trying to set up the administrative structure of its federal government and organization of its armed forces. In American eyes, geographical location was very important. (Sattar, 2007:25). George Marshall, secretary of state, wrote to President Truman on 17 July 1947, “Pakistan with a population of seventy million persons will be the largest Muslim country in the world and will occupy one of the most strategic areas in the world.”

Marshall also knew about the old Soviet-German agreement and confirmed that “the area in south of Batum and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf is recognized as the centre of the aspirations of the Soviet Union” (Husain, 1987:3).

President Truman sent a message to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, first governor general of Pakistan, on the eve of its independence, “I wish to assure you that the new dominion embarks on its course with the firm friendship and goodwill of the United States of America” (Venkatramani, 1984). Jinnah, a visionary leader responded positively as he foresaw the urgent need of military equipment for the armed forces and economic aid for the country in general. In 1947, defense assets were divided between India and Pakistan but the agreed share to Pakistan was blocked by India intentionally as India wanted to weaken the young state. It also planned to inflict on newly-born state in as early as October 1947. The Maharaja of Kashmir had signed an instrument of accession and included his state into the Indian Union.

Accepting this accession, Lord Mountbatten stated that as soon as law and order had been restored in Kashmir and its soil cleared of ‘invaders,’ the question of state accession would be settled by reference to the people (Ibid). Through measures such as these, India was trying to smother Pakistan in its infancy. On the northern border, Stalin had undermined the very concept of Pakistan and tried to instigate Afghan leaders in 1946 by contesting the legality of Durand Line, which was drawn by British India and Afghanistan in 1893 to delineate the boundary between the two countries. Jinnah was sensitive about this historic threat. Since the time of its demarcation, the Durand Line was reaffirmed by successive Afghan regimes: 1919, 1921 and 1930 (Husain, 1987:1).

Although Pakistan was little known to America yet the US was one of the first countries to recognize it as a new nation. This was announced by the American press during the visit of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1950 (Sina, 1957:17). M. A. H. Ispahani was the first ambassador of Pakistan to Washington. Presenting his credentials on October 8, 1947, he told President Truman that the Pakistanis were decedents of great Muslim rulers from Central Asia and the Caucasian Mountains. Since the later was original home of the American, both nations shared common ancestry. Truman responded positively saying, “We stand ready to assist Pakistan in all appropriate ways which might naturally benefit our two countries and the world and we have profound hope for continuing peaceful and constructive collaboration between Pakistan, her sister dominion and other countries” (New York Times, 1947, October 9; Department of State Bulletin, November 27, 1947:886).

A few months later, US Joint Chiefs of Staff highlighted the geo- strategic importance of Pakistan. They viewed Karachi and Lahore as vital bases to launch air operation against the Soviet Union. It was also a strategic area for defense of oil resources in the Middle East. The US considered Pakistan’s army as the best force of the region (Sattar 2007:41; Arif, 1984:15). During those years, Pakistani leaders were trying to promote the country’s strategic importance. Ghulam Mohammad, then the minister of finance and later third Governor General of Pakistan, needed economic aid to alleviate the fiscal problems of the country. He contacted American Charge d’ affaires Charles W. Lewis in Karachi but Lewis was not in the position to offer any assurance.

He suggested that government of Pakistan should prepare a document estimating required assistance, which could then be sent to Washington. He also proposed that request be submitted through Pakistani ambassador in Washington. Lewis also alerted the Secretary of State as to Pakistan’s request...

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