390. Letter From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Merchant) to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Irwin)1

Dear Jack: During his recent period of consultation in Washington our Ambassador to Pakistan, Mr. William M. Rountree, discussed with us in the Department several matters relating to United States military personnel in Pakistan. He also raised them during his call upon Mr. Knight on April 25, during your absence.2 I write at this time to express the Department’s support of Ambassador Rountree’s recommendations on these matters, as outlined below.

The first of Ambassador Rountree’s recommendations was to retain indefinitely the provisional prohibition against sending dependents to the USAF Communications Unit in Peshawar. As you know, this facility has been the target of propaganda attacks by the Soviet Union and Communist China, and has also been severely criticized by the governments and press of neighboring Afghanistan and India for bringing the “cold war” to South Asia. It has thus proved to be a source of some embarrassment and irritation to the Government of Pakistan. The community relations problems which might arise following the introduction of large numbers of dependents at Peshawar, as in similar situations in other parts of the world, would be susceptible of further exploitation by Pakistan’s critics and might even jeopardize the very continuation of the Unit.

Moreover, the Peshawar facility happens to be physically situated very near Pushtun tribal territory and only about twenty miles from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This, as you know, is the territory in question in Afghanistan’s so-called “Pushtunistan” dispute with Pakistan over which Afghanistan has been carrying on a virulent propaganda campaign. The Government of Pakistan has recently begun to take strong measures to counteract this propaganda and has prohibited until further notice all travel by foreigners within the nearby tribal territory of Pakistan. In Ambassador Rountree’s judgment it would be a serious mistake to place Air Force dependents in this politically sensitive area in the foreseeable future. In his view responsible officials interested in the substance of the work performed by the Communications Unit should be aware of the dangers of sending the dependents to Peshawar.

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The second question also concerns dependents to Pakistan. It is our understanding that the Headquarters of the United States Air Force has recently agreed that a USAF training team of 36 officers and men should be sent to Pakistan to augment the Military Assistance Advisory Group there. The USAF is understood to be recommending that the additional personnel serve a normal tour (24 months) and be accompanied by dependents. Evidently, the team will be assigned in succession to Peshawar, Sargodha, and two airfields at Karachi for periods of three months each and thus will be away from Karachi, the permanent duty station, for much of its time in Pakistan. In view of the housing, schooling and other problems involved, as well as the planned utilization of the team and the over-all policy consideration of keeping the numbers of United States personnel in Pakistan to a minimum, Ambassador Rountree and the Chief of MAAG in Pakistan consider it undesirable to station the dependents of this team in Pakistan. Rather, it is the Ambassador’s recommendation that the new personnel be assigned on a one-year unaccompanied basis.

Thirdly, the Ambassador has long believed that the use of U.S. dollar currency should be discontinued at the USAF Communications Unit in Peshawar. The Ambassador informed us that a Pakistani official recently called to the Embassy’s attention the fact that the continued use of dollars by the Unit in Peshawar contravenes Pakistani currency regulations; at the time this official also expressed concern over the possibility that black market operations would develop in the Peshawar area, and inquired as to the adequacy of measures by U.S. authorities to prevent such a development. Ambassador Rountree is convinced that the adverse political consequences of possible black-marketing of dollars could seriously affect the present satisfactory relationship between the Unit and the Government of Pakistan.

As I indicated earlier, the Department supports Ambassador Rountree’s recommendations, but does wish to note that its position that dependents should not be sent to the USAF Communications Unit in Peshawar is of course without prejudice of future reconsideration should circumstances change. I would appreciate knowing what actions might be taken by the Department of Defense with respect to these problems.3

Sincerely yours,

Livingston T. Merchant 4
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 711.551/6–460. Secret. Drafted on June 1 by Spengler of SOA and William T. Carpenter, Jr., of NEA/NR, and concurred in by INR, SOA, NEA/NR, E/OFD/FN, L/MS, and L/SFP.
  2. No memoranda of these conversations have been found.
  3. Irwin responded to Merchant in a letter of June 7, in which he stated that the Department of Defense believed it desirable to resolve the issue of dependents in Peshawar as quickly as possible and hoped to arrange a meeting shortly for that purpose. (Department of State, Central Files, 790D.5/6–760)
  4. In a letter to Irwin of June 16, Merchant referred to a meeting that was held on June 9 and attended by [less than 1 line of text not declassified] himself and other officials of the Departments of State and Defense during which it was decided that, after consulting Ambassador Rountree, “the Department of State would not object to a ‘lean operation’ whereby the USAF might station a limited number of dependent families at the Peshawar installation.” Merchant noted that the decision, taken to increase the operational efficiency of the unit, would affect only key technical personnel. (Ibid., 790D.56311/6–760)