In 1969, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in his exposition of foreign policy in The Myth of Independence, wrote “Pakistan must determine its foreign policy on the basis of its own enlightened self-interest, uninfluenced by the transient global requirements of the Great Powers.” This idea of being able to determine ones own direction in international relations sound fair, but as Ayub Khan experienced during his dictatorship, it was virtually impossible to make the great powers of the time, the US, Soviet Union and China, play by this maxim of small power sovereignty.

Field Marshall Ayub Khan, now considered a “benevolent” dictator stated in his political autobiography, Friends Not Masters: “The principal objectives of Pakistan’s foreign policy are security and development.” The more one reads about the initial foreign policy direction that Pakistan tried to take in the 1960’s the more it seems that nothing has really changed.

The anti-Americanism that existed at the time of Ayub Khan is still around today. Pakistan’s Cold War alliance with America, resulted in a ten year growth surge is often referred to as the Golden Age of the economy. In retrospect, it was just an aid bubble coupled by Auyb’s focus on industrialisation. In 1954, aid flowed in and total assistance extended to Pakistan from 1954 to 1965 amounted to between $1.2 to $1.5 billion. Economic assistance in the form of Public Law 480 or other agricultural commodity programs, grants for economic development, technical assistance development grants, and loans of various kinds was much larger. Out of a total development outlay of $5.5 billion during the Second Five-Year Plan, the United States contributed $1.7 billion in the form of loans, grants, and other assistance, or about 30 percent of the total output. This was not sustainable in the long run, and neither was American benevolence.

The crunch came in the winter of 1962 as an aftermath of America’s involvement in the defence of India against Chinese. Pakistanis found it impossible to understand why neutralist India should suddenly be treated better than ideologically committed Pakistan, and why American leaders refrained from attaching effective political strings to their decisive military assistance, that would be used against Pakistan in the future. In 1958, in a letter to President Eisenhower Jawaharlal Nehru was of the view that Partition was a result of hatred and the Muslim League in Pakistan was continuing with that policy of hatred towards India. Ayub Khan actually had a plan for a collective defence treaty with India, a plan that India refused to negotiate on, along with the issue of Kashmir. India’s refusal to talk about Kashmir is not new, and has been a problem since the 1960s. Under Ayub foreign policy had to shift to being about development and security, because India, no matter what it did, had tacit American support. A lack of consideration, as Ayub saw it, for Pakistan’s vital interests finally convinced Ayub that the Kennedy Administration had decided to build India into the dominant power in South Asia. The US would always be a master, not a friend. And thus, as Bhutto saw it, there was no choice but to sign as many bilateral deals as possible. Thus, the move to China.

Pakistan’s present-day foreign policy is anchored in the strategic partnership with China. In the 1965 war with India, while America suspended aid to both countries, Chinese assistance was consistent. In 1963, taking advantage of the Indo-China border dispute, Pakistan was able to secure a border agreement that included the Pakistani-occupied areas of Kashmir, much to India’s annoyance, that provided the setting for China to reject the contention that Kashmir belonged to India. Pakistan then recognised China in the United Nations in 1964. Bhutto’s framing of this was, at the time, that the US need to fear any of these bilateral dealings, they were ad-hoc and a small state had to be on good terms with as many countries as it could. Bhutto also realised that an independent foreign policy was a myth, yet he persisted. The result was that the link to China was set up in the 1960’s is the only link that remains intact. When in 1966 China was angered by the Tashkent negotiations under Soviet auspices, there were no negative repercussions on the relationship. The Chinese could understand that some deals will happen in international relations that it need no bother itself with, as a Great Power, the American’s could not help but put their finger in every pie.

Under the realisation that Pakistan could never truly be independent, Bhutto wrote that it was “vital for Pakistan to give the greatest possible attention to nuclear technology, rather than allow itself to be deceived by an international treaty limiting this deterrent to the present nuclear powers.” Nukes, then, were necessitated by a lack of Indian cooperation and American betrayal.

Bhutto and Ayub made many mistakes, and most of them lie in their problematic domestic policies as well as the amateurish way in with they handled the question of Islamisation and Bengali nationalism. Their failures in foreign policy exist as well, in a mishandling of American perceptions from Pakistan, and Ayub’s heavy reliance on American assistance. Most of the money went into West Pakistan and the 1965 war proved to the East that they were vulnerable and unprotected by the West, even with all the aid and arms the American’s had poured into the region. And even with Bhutto’s intelligence and charm, because foreign policy had to be based on bilateral deals, it was simplistic and ad hoc.

Yet when one reads the details of the initial period of Afghan aggression, when under the Soviet supported Prime Minister Daud, Afghanistan and Russia refused to recognised the Durand line in 1955, with an army posted at the border, it was not much of a surprise that Pakistan ran first into America’s arms and then into China’s. Bhutto would have loved to have a bigger foreign policy portfolio, and he tried that by flirting with Pan-Islamism, but there were limited choices.

The choices are still limited and foreign policy still reactive and ad-hoc. If the past is any predictor of the future, it seems the 1960s determined Pakistan foreign policy trajectory. The rhetoric heard from the US and India today is identical to what it was then. Our declining reputation since in the 1960s then is not as much of a foreign policy failure, as it is a failure of the ability of our leader to develop a sustainable economy, and an inclusive social system. When Pakistan goes to the negotiating table it only has a military and nukes to show for itself. We can go to war with that, at any time, but we have no soft power. Thus we rely on China, as our only safety valve in international relations.