Echoes of the past

Published: October 2, 2012
SHARES
Email
The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999
tariq.fatemi@tribune.com.pk

The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999 [email protected]

The cancellation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s much-anticipated visit to Islamabad was deeply disappointing, as Pakistan was convinced that it could add an important new dimension to the country’s foreign policy.

Whatever the reasons — whether it was Moscow’s unhappiness with our responses to its economic cooperation proposals, or the continuing misgivings about our commitment to anti-terrorism efforts, or whether a neighbour of ours played a role in it — the truth will remain a mystery.

Putin’s aborted visit did, however, recall another similar episode that has become part of folklore. This relates to the widely held perception that Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan failed to respond to an invitation to visit the Soviet Union, instead opting to travel to Washington. This allegedly brought Pakistan into the US camp in the on-going Cold War and initiated decades of mistrust between Pakistan and the Soviet Union.

My postings in Moscow and long association with the Soviet desk in Islamabad, led me to explore the genesis of this widely-held belief. I was encouraged to do so by Foreign Minister Agha Shahi. Briefly, the records revealed that the Soviet Union’s first intimation of an invitation was made orally on June 2, 1949, by the Soviet charge d’affaires (CDA) in Tehran to Ambassador Ghazanfar Ali Khan, who conveyed it to the prime minister, while pointing out that “it came after the US president’s invitation to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru”. The invitation was accepted within a week and its announcement created quite a stir in London and Washington.

Since Moscow had suggested the prime minister’s arrival on August 15, it was pointed out that his absence on the nation’s Independence Day would not be appropriate. His preference, therefore, would be to leave Karachi the next day and, transiting through Tehran, arrive in Moscow on August 17. The Soviets responded only on July 28, but suggested that the visit be postponed to end of October or early November, as August was a holiday season in the country. Pakistan conveyed its acceptance of the new dates and proposed November 5. However, on August 14, our ambassador in Tehran was informed by the Soviet CDA that Moscow was now of the opinion that the visit be organised after establishment of formal diplomatic relations and posting of diplomatic representatives. Moscow was told that Pakistan was already in the process of identifying a suitable candidate to head our mission in Moscow. Mr Shuaib Qureshi was thereafter designated to be our first ambassador to Moscow.

Correspondence between the two capitals indicate diminishing interest by the Soviets in the prime minister’s visit, as they not only took a long time in according agre’ment to Mr Qureshi, but showed no interest in posting their own ambassador to Pakistan. Soon thereafter, the Soviet ambassador in New Delhi suggested another postponement.

In the meantime, the Indian press carried a number of stories indicating Moscow’s declining interest in Liaquat’s visit, while in Pakistan, a lobby led by Ghulam Mohammad openly began questioning the wisdom of good ties with the Soviet Union. Even after the US extended an official invitation to Liaquat, the latter instructed that the Moscow visit be pursued and in April, 1950, Ghazanfar Ali raised this issue again with the Soviet CDA. Liaquat’s seriousness about the Moscow visit is evident from the fact that even the official entourage was finalised. Incidentally, it included a Major Yaqub Khan, who was to later become ambassador to Moscow and also a most distinguished foreign minister.

This was a time when Cold War considerations were paramount in identifying potential friends and foes, with invitations used to extend influence in critical areas of the globe. Did the US and the Soviet Union engage in invitation diplomacy primarily to woo India? We may never know till Moscow opens up its archives. In any case, as Sir Winston Churchill stated as far back as 1939, Russia “is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (32)

  • Noor Nabi
    Oct 2, 2012 - 10:14PM

    Thank you Tariq for lifting the fog on the issue of the Pak-Soviet relationship from the era of the late Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan. For decades there have been various speculative theories on this subject. Your researching into it during your assignment in Moscow, which I am sure was carried out diligently and honestly, reveals that the Soviets were skeptical about this relationship right from the word “go”.

    Recommend

  • Falcon
    Oct 2, 2012 - 10:46PM

    Interesting one. Very confusing and bureaucratic response from Russians. Either they didn’t have their house in order or were truly using this to send out a signal to U.S. & India, specially because their first invitation was 15th of August rather than 14th of August.

    Recommend

  • BlackJack
    Oct 2, 2012 - 11:08PM

    After independence, many nations chose to disavow relations with communism and stay either non-aligned or in the US camp. Other than Pakistan, can the writer name any other nation that has suffered from association with the US? Countries like South Korea arose from total devastation to become highly developed countries; Japan, W Germany and Turkey rebuilt themselves on the ruins of war. So why did Pakistan fail? The answer to this question lies not in US exploitation but in Pakistan’s overt willingness to turn mercenary for the highest bidder. The scenario that the writer envisages with a tilt to the Soviet Union instead of the US would have resulted in exactly the same results based on the same set of misguided priorities.

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Oct 2, 2012 - 11:13PM

    @Falcon: The story is interesting if it can be substantiated by USSR archives. Otherwise, like many other lies and cover up – this could potentially be one such. Not accusing the author of lying but saying that official history could deliberately be recorded incorrectly in this instance – as it has in many others.

    Recommend

  • Dushmann
    Oct 2, 2012 - 11:50PM

    so basically the Russians have been trolling Pakistan since 1949.

    Recommend

  • realist
    Oct 2, 2012 - 11:55PM

    @Falcon:

    It is very likely that Russia in cancelling Putin’s trip to Pakistan sent out some signal to India/US/ and maybe even to China. Wonder what that would be?

    Recommend

  • realist
    Oct 2, 2012 - 11:57PM

    “whether it was Moscow’s unhappiness with our responses to its economic cooperation proposals, or the continuing misgivings about our commitment to anti-terrorism efforts, or whether a neighbour of ours played a role in it”

    You can rule out the first. Pak just does not have the money. Russia will not provide anything for free much like China and very unlike US. It is possibly a combination of 2 and 3 rd points above.

    Recommend

  • humaira kanwal
    Oct 3, 2012 - 12:20AM

    it shows how decisions turned history.The decision taken by Pak in 1949 gave us what and now the cancellation of Russian President Visit will lead us where .we can not predict but both decisions are Unfortunate ……..

    Recommend

  • Arindom
    Oct 3, 2012 - 12:53AM

    Pakistanis hunting for conspiracy theories – as usual!
    C’mon guys, give up for friendship with non-state actors, stop burning flags of other countries at the drop of a hat and extend genuine hands of trade & friendship to all neighbours ( ‘sweeter than honey’ rhetoric not really needed!). Everything else will fall into place and the world will look a much simpler place!!

    Recommend

  • realist
    Oct 3, 2012 - 1:30AM

    @humaira kanwal:
    You need to re-read the article again. Pakistan did not take any decision. It was the Russian decision in extending a lukewarm invitation to Liaquat.

    Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Oct 3, 2012 - 2:06AM

    Pakistanis are a funny lot – first you gloat that you broke up the USSR and now you get are all teary eyed because Putin cancelled his visit. Let me tell you, the Russians have good memory.

    Recommend

  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Oct 3, 2012 - 6:01AM

    I really fail to understand why these Indian national are always spewing venom at Pakistan. they must not have jobs,I mean a real job where a person is busy all day and don’t have time to be reading all the articles in Pakistani papers unless they are paid by their government to do so. I can’t even keep up with one paper of Pakistan let alone going to Indian papers. I could see why Pakistanis call them Trolls, because they are acting as such.

    Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Oct 3, 2012 - 7:51AM

    @naeem khan Manhattan,Ks: ” … I really fail to understand why these Indian national are always spewing venom at Pakistan. … ”

    I know the feeling brother. Felt the same way when your compatriots got off the boat in Mumbai, uninvited.Recommend

  • Usman
    Oct 3, 2012 - 8:31AM

    A most fascinating piece. We are grateul to the Ambassador for shedding valuable light on a mystery that has intrigued scholars for decades.

    Recommend

  • humaira kanwal
    Oct 3, 2012 - 8:44AM

    @realist: you r Right sir but i mentioned it intentionally because in our Pak Studies books(course in school college) like other lies and false information we always told that it was the then PM Liaquet’s decision to reject Russian invitation……….But its different debate that why we every time we are given false and vague information ?

    Recommend

  • Singh
    Oct 3, 2012 - 9:02AM

    @naeem khan Manhattan,Ks:
    After all day long of work I need some funny & entertaing story. story to fresh up for good night sleep. CNN, MSNBC or fox are boring so only source is Pakistani news paper.

    Recommend

  • M Umer Khan
    Oct 3, 2012 - 9:49AM

    Its unfortunate when these ex-bureaucrats/ambassadors join the political bandwagon and starting commenting on history….if they were steadfast and clear they should have highlighted these issues during their term of office. Talking about a 60 year old history wont change anything…need to look forward

    Recommend

  • Feeka
    Oct 3, 2012 - 11:49AM

    Feeka is trying to understand if Russia’s foreign policy objectives are strategic in nature and are not based on opportunistic considerations? but Feeka like about Russia “is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.

    Recommend

  • Observer
    Oct 3, 2012 - 11:57AM

    The most likely reason for the “cancellation” of Putin’s visit is that there was no visit really planned by him. Also unlikely is the planned summit with Afghanistan. If such a visit or the summit had been planned there would have been reports on that from Moscow. As such, there has not been any direct mention of this coming from the Russian official.

    It is clear that the Deep State planted this story to blackmail the US into giving concessions to Pakistan and showering more free dollars.

    Recommend

  • David Smith
    Oct 3, 2012 - 12:21PM

    You are speaking about a period when Stalin ruled the Soviet Union. He was deeply suspicious of “weak bourgeois states” that were still tied in some way or the other to their erstwhile colonial masters. He did not meet India’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Mrs.Vijayalakshmi Pandit, for example, during her tenure in Moscow, even though she was the sister of India’s Prime Minister. The perspective on India changed only after India’s role in the Korean war. I suspect the Soviets had other higher priorities, such as Europe. As for Pakistan, its quick embrace of the United States would have put in abeyance any meaningful Soviet gestures.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 3, 2012 - 12:22PM

    @Tariq Fatemi

    Sir,

    It appears Nehru visited USA but did not join CENTO,SEATO, whereas Mr Liaquat Ali did not visit USSR but Pakistan joined CENTO,SEATO.
    It seems the visit or its absence had little to do with the alignment. More likely, since India had chosen Non-alignment, Pakistan had to join a cold war block. US-NATO were certainly more resourceful and were also generous to Pakistan.
    A follow up article on these lines perhaps can reveal the ‘truth’.

    Recommend

  • farooq
    Oct 3, 2012 - 12:46PM

    You might have narrated the facts correctly, based on the correspondence you saw. However, you failed to analyze the real reason behind the cold shoulder given by the Soviets later. A parallel analysis of how India carried out their relationsip with Soviets during the same time period might provide the answer. If India had reached the station earlier then us, surely we had missed the train. Our beauracracy and establishment needs to change its mindset of blaming others for all our failures.

    Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Oct 3, 2012 - 12:49PM

    @naeem khan Manhattan,Ks:

    I really fail to understand why these
    Indian national are always spewing
    venom at Pakistan

    You should complain if Indians lie in their posts or they are being illogical. Otherwise, I do not see any reason for you to complain.

    Recommend

  • Usman
    Oct 3, 2012 - 1:44PM

    A most fascinating piece. We are grateul to the Ambassador for shedding valuable light on a mystery that has intrigued scholars for decades

    Recommend

  • Introspection
    Oct 3, 2012 - 1:49PM

    Russia is an ‘old man’ with a broken back, and a gloomy doomy future, with the roots of Marxism and Communism still embedded…was a bad and a misguided beginning. Thanks to the Mujahideen and our Soul Brothers (USA)!

    Recommend

  • Shabbir
    Oct 3, 2012 - 4:49PM

    Why should Pakistan care?
    It already has 3 strong supervisors.
    Amrika, Saudi and China.

    Recommend

  • Introspection
    Oct 3, 2012 - 5:42PM

    @naeem khan Manhattan,Ks:
    In my opinion, for two reasons: One PSYCHOLOGICAL, and the other PHYSIOLOGICAL. Consciously, Subconsciously, or even Unconsciously, they are quiet aware of their Destiny (Final End), and will wish on that Fateful Day that they had died Muslims. The other reason is quiet natural, they meditatively draw all their venom from the image of the KING COBRA / INDIAN COBRA…

    Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Oct 3, 2012 - 6:51PM

    @Introspection:

    Russia is an ‘old man’ with a broken
    back, and a gloomy doomy future,

    PSYCHOLOGICALLY, this can be diagnosed as a case of sour grapes

    Consciously, Subconsciously, or even
    Unconsciously, they are quiet aware of
    their Destiny (Final End), and will
    wish on that Fateful Day that they had
    died Muslims

    Sir, is your real name Zaid Hamid?

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Oct 3, 2012 - 8:49PM

    @Yuri Kondratyuk: “You should complain if Indians lie in their posts or they are being illogical. Otherwise, I do not see any reason for you to complain”.

    SOmetime back I had seen an episode of Sochta Pakistan which had Naseem Zehra and Ejaz Haider as the Pakistani guests and Shashi Tharoor as the Indian guests. Ejaz had the same complain as Naeem Khaan – to which Shashi Tharoor pointedly asked – but is it false what they are saying? There was a silence. Then the moderator asked, well but is it false what Pakistan is saying? And Shashi Tharoor said – yeah some of it is. He gave examples and there was no rebuttal.

    Recommend

  • Sudheer
    Oct 3, 2012 - 11:26PM

    I think the readers of this article must also read the opinion of Pakistan’s veteran diplomat Mr.Zafar Hilaly on the same issue, which was published in the “The News”. I think his analysis is much more closer to the reality than this author provided us here, though, I give him full credit for providing the historical background of Soviet-Pak relations during the cold war.
    I find Mr.Zafar Hilaly’s opinion on the current state of Pak-Russian relations as more realistic and sensible.
    The link to Hilaly’s opinion piece is here.
    http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-135239-Friendships-and-isolation

    Recommend

  • Introspection
    Oct 4, 2012 - 7:25AM

    @Yuri Kondratyuk:
    No, my real name is not Zaid Hamid, but I take it as a compliment. Thank you. Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid’s ‘insight-profundity’, is indeed a ‘must read / listen’ in his articles and discussions.

    Recommend

  • Introspection
    Oct 4, 2012 - 10:53AM

    @Yuri Kondratyuk:
    Hi Yuri, if by ‘sour grapes’ you mean that we (The Islamic Republic of Pakistan), should have been like USSR/Russia, or even India for that matter, in achievements and couldn’t, then my friend my answer is an emphatic NO! That is not the case. You need to fairly and objectively refresh on Pakistan’s major achievements of global acclaim and standings in its short 65 year history…We’ve done marvelously well, Alhamdulillah, and are progressively and effectively enhancing on that!

    Recommend

More in Opinion