“The Pakistanis are working in the belief that President Nixon told President Yahya that the US wished to seek an accommodation with Communist China and would appreciate the Pakistani’s passing this word to Chou En-lai and using their influence to promote this. Yahya is apparently debating whether to call in the Chicom Ambassador to convey the message or whether to wait until he sees Chou Enlai, probably some months hence.”

–A memo to Henry Kissinger’s word

from an American diplomat in Pakistan, 1969.

As a candidate and in press conferences as president, Richard Nixon argued that the United States and the world would benefit from engaging China. Nixon also saw China as a useful counterbalance to the Soviet Union. From the first days of his presidency he sought to signal China’s leaders that he was willing to talk. The Americans sent private signals through Paris, Warsaw, and via the leaders of Romania and Pakistan.

In 1970, Henry Kissinger Nixon’s National Security Advisor, wrote to President Nixon to report an exchange with Pakistan’s President Yahya via Ambassador Agha Hilaly. Yahya told Kissinger that the Chinese were encouraged by US initiatives, but they did not want discussions to signal Chinese weakness or fear. Kissinger told Yahya to tell the Chinese that press and other speculation could be avoided by working directly with the White House. Kissinger, then flew to Beijing from Pakistan. His meetings there produced an agreement that President Nixon would visit China. Nixon went in February 1972.

Pakistan thus had a role to play in the end of Chines isolation. Even apart from our role on the Afghan war, we were a useful friend to have in the region. However, times have changed. We don’t have the same importance exactly due to the fact that the US and China engaged in détente, and India has also gotten over its non-alignment caution. The end of the Cold War came with the end of Pakistan being America’s special friend.