Roger Morris, who served on the National Security Council staff under Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, has written a fascinating history of the United States’ many interventions in Pakistan. It’s the sordid story of “the world’s longest running military despotism, and of America’s most generous and tragic patronage.”
War in Context:
Benazir Bhutto was a precocious 23-year-old in 1976 when she noticed Army Chief of Staff Mohammed Zia ul-Haq come and go at the office of her father, Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. “A short, nervous, ineffectual-looking man,” she remembered the general, “whose pomaded hair was parted in the middle and lacquered to his head.” Along with the hair, Gen. Zia’s thick mustache and diffident manner seemed to Islamabad politicians a Punjabi version of English comedian Terry Thomas. “Bhutto’s butler” they called him.
Then, suddenly, in July 1977, Gen. Zia was no longer amusing when his junta arrested Mr. Bhutto and his cabinet, and imposed martial law. There followed more than a decade of military tyranny as Pakistan became, in Salman Rushdie’s phrase, “a nightmarish land.” That era and its sequels would be the setting of Benazir Bhutto’s political career, climaxing in her assassination Dec. 27. She was emblematic of her country’s nightmare, and of the tortuous role the United States played in it. It is a history—forgotten, denied—that haunts us all.
Benazir was a year old in 1954 as Washington adopted Pakistan as its Cold War client, lavishing the first of what would be billions of dollars on a military that by the end of the 1950s seized power amid the country’s chronic poverty and hostility with India. It was cozy, enduring patronage. Pentagon and CIA men shared with their Pakistani peers an occupational contempt for non-alignment and the hindrance of democratic politics.