When Zia met Brzezinski, they talked marriage

Dennis Kux employs the term ‘marriage of convenience’ in his book The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies (p.266) to elucidate the nature of the relationship between Pakistan and the United States.  Many scholars have since then borrowed this expression to reflect upon the status of this relationship capturing the whole range of drama this marriage has had to offer since 1947. A simple Google search on U.S.-Pakistan relationship/marriage produces 3,270,000 results. I have compiled my Top 15 list of insights into the status of this ‘marriage’ by simply glancing at the search headings:

  1. America’s marriage to Pakistan: Still loveless
  2. Pak-U.S.-Salvaging a troubled marriage
  3. U.S.-Pakistan’s marriage of necessity
  4. U.S. Pakistan must divorce as allies
  5. U.S. marriage of inconvenience with Pakistan
  6. A troubled geostrategic marriage
  7. Should the U.S. and Pakistan get divorced?
  8. Pak-U.S-a marriage of convenience
  9. Trapped in an unhappy geopolitical marriage
  10. A bad romance: Pakistan and U.S.
  11. The U.S. and Pakistan: An incompatible couple
  12. Pakistan and the United States: A Second Marriage?
  13. Pak-U.S-a marriage made in hell
  14. U.S.-Pakistan after Bin Laden: Bad Union, No Divorce
  15. U.S. and Pakistan locked in a Drone-Marriage

Let me take you to 1980.

“Our position is similar to that of Poland in 1939 when the Germans and Russians wanted territory and the UK had no power to uphold the guarantees it had given. Agreements and treaties are valid only as long as they can be implemented” said Zia to Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to President Carter for National Security Affairs during a meeting held on 02 February 1980 in Islamabad two months after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

During the meeting, Christopher Warren, Deputy Secretary of State, provided a breakdown of U.S. economic and military commitment to Pakistan in order to counter the Soviet threat proposing a sum of $200 million with no non-proliferation conditions attached. Zia immediately dismissed this offer as insufficient to meet Pakistan’s military needs stating, “$200 million would only buy, for instance, 12 mirages.”

In the afternoon session of the meeting, Zia began by addressing Brzezinski: “Like you, Dr. Brzezinski, I had to leave my home. My mother had to walk 80 miles in 1947 to reach the safety of Pakistan at the time of the massacre. I remained behind with the Indian army longer than anyone else and brought the very last stores, etc., with me to Pakistan in December 1947. Therefore, I will be forthright and frank.” He continued by discussing Pakistan’s expectations of security commitments from the U.S. to protect it against Soviet aggression or joint Indo-Soviet offensive and listed three priority items: “one, security guarantees; second, economic capabilities and third, military capabilities.”

Now pay attention. It is not what Zia said but that Zia said it that got me excited about sharing this bit of history with all of you, especially since his personal image is an unhappy memory for many Pakistanis:

“An antidote of the superpower is another superpower. The USSR is too much for us with or without Indian support. We could not cope with that attack, even if we had a massive military program of the kind you have provided to Egypt. Such a close “love-lock” may be impossible right now after the past differences we have had. In Islam, marriage contracts contain various stipulations, even including the amount of alimony to be paid in case of divorce. There is much talk of temporary marriage these days. The U.S. and Pakistani relationship, however, is not such a temporary marriage, but an Islamic marriage.”

So there you go. Next time someone says that Pakistan-U.S. relationship is a marriage of convenience or remark on its temporariness, please feel free to quote Zia on the Halal-ness or legitimacy of the Pak-U.S. bond and all that it entails.

Note: Halal in Arabic means ‘lawful’ and the usage of this word is not restricted to the context of permissible food items only, it can also be applied to stress the legitimacy of ‘relationships’ as well.

(Memo, National Security Council, “Pakistan: Brzezinski/Christopher Mission 2-10180,” Box 95 NSA North/South, Jimmy Carter Library)


Posted in , History, Pakistan, US

Rabia Akhtar

Rabia Akhtar is Director, Centre for Security, Strategy and Policy Research and heads the School of Integrated Social Sciences at the University of Lahore, Pakistan. She is a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs. She is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council South Asia Center. Dr. Akhtar holds a PhD in Security Studies from Kansas State University. She has written extensively on South Asian nuclear security and deterrence dynamics. She is the author of the book ‘The Blind Eye: U.S. Non-proliferation Policy Towards Pakistan from Ford to Clinton’. Dr. Akhtar is also the Editor of Pakistan Politico, Pakistan’s first strategic and foreign affairs magazine. She received her Masters in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and her Masters in Political Science from Eastern Illinois University, USA. She is also a Fulbright alumna (2010-2015).

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2 thoughts on “When Zia met Brzezinski, they talked marriage

  1. Rabia:

    Another fine post. I vote for a troubled geostrategic marriage.

    Will the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan change this troubled marriage? As in everything else about the US-Pakistan relationship, this is very tricky. Would bilateral relations be better if some US troops stayed, or if they all went home, thanks to Hamid Karzai?


  2. Thank you, Michael.
    Like all marriages, there will always be something that would tick. For years both have been using each other amid deep distrusts. And now it has become a case of ‘domestic violence’ where one partner is droning the other and the one being droned is taking the beating quietly instead of rising up against the abuse. It is simply not troubled anymore but has become a case of bad marriage. I doubt that presence or exit of U.S. forces from the region will change the equation much. Pakistan’s internal fight against terrorism and ensuing instability within will continue to provide enough ammunition for all concerned. What Pakistan needs, as a mature partner, is time out and construct a Berlin Wall of its own. It needs time out to deal with forces threatening its sovereignty. It needs to achieve internal peace before seeking external harmony. It does not need couples therapy. All it needs is to shut the world, resolve internal conflicts and heal its wounds so that it improves all its relationships…marital and extra-marital.

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