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My Turn: Jim Langley – our man in Pakistan

The new president of Pakistan, Mohammed Ayub Khan, who also holds office as defense minister and martial law administrator, is shown Nov. 1, 1958, with recently sworn in members of the Presidential Cabinet in Karachi.  From right to left:  President Khan; Lt. Gen. Mohammad Azam Khan; Lt. Gen. W.A.K. Burki; Mohammad Ibrahim; Lt. Gen. K.M. Sheikh; Abul Kasim Khan; F.M. Khan; Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto; and Mohammad Hafizur Rahman.  (AP Photo)

The new president of Pakistan, Mohammed Ayub Khan, who also holds office as defense minister and martial law administrator, is shown Nov. 1, 1958, with recently sworn in members of the Presidential Cabinet in Karachi. From right to left: President Khan; Lt. Gen. Mohammad Azam Khan; Lt. Gen. W.A.K. Burki; Mohammad Ibrahim; Lt. Gen. K.M. Sheikh; Abul Kasim Khan; F.M. Khan; Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto; and Mohammad Hafizur Rahman. (AP Photo)

James McLellan Langley owned the Concord Monitor for nearly half a century, writing more than 13,000 editorials and compiling one of the most notable careers of any Concord resident in the 20th century.

Langley also had a small but secret role in the Cold War.

Civic achievements earned Langley the distinction of “one of Concord’s most influential citizens,” wrote Richard W. Osborne in Crosscurrents of Change: Concord, N.H., in the 20th Century. Using power in a way that would be labeled conflict of interest in the 21st century, Langley made Concord a planned community run by a city manager, not a politician. He created Concord Hospital, today the city’s largest employer, and brought to New Hampshire the Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance plans that helped residents pay for their health care. Langley’s charitable endeavors included creation of a local Community Chest, now the United Way, and leading the Daniel Webster Council of the Boy Scouts. The list goes on, and that’s why the controversial road past the hospital is named Langley Parkway.

Langley was proud of all this, but he was uncharacteristically reticent about serving as U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. In Langley’s self-written obituary, written in advance of his death in 1968 and republished in the Monitor last fall, Langley talks more about the ambassadorship to the Philippines that he didn’t get than the job he actually held.

The newspaperman’s foreign policy contributions are revealed, and praised, in a new book by a longtime student of U.S.-Pakistan relations. Langley perceived clearly the ambivalent relationship that was emerging between Washington and Karachi. Had America’s Cold War leaders heeded his warnings, the United States might have created a relationship that did not leave Pakistan an ambivalent ally in the 21st century war against terrorism.

“This roller-coaster ride of US-Pakistani relations” can be understood only by including “the circumstances of Pakistan’s creation, the worldview of its elite, and the miscalculations by both leaders that have made the two countries military allies amidst mistrust and without really being friends,” writes Husain Haqqani in Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding. The book is in the Concord Public Library.

Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington from 2008 to 2011 who is now in exile as a professor at Boston University, concludes, “Many of the issues Langley raised in 1957 have resurfaced with alarming regularity over subsequent years.”

Langley got his ticket for the roller coaster a decade after Pakistan left the British Empire to be an independent Muslim nation separate from Hindu-majority India in 1947. The charismatic founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and his military officials decided that Pakistan’s best strategy for survival was to win millions of dollars in U.S. economic and military aid. So Pakistan volunteered for the Cold War, seeking to become Washington’s ally next door to the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, Haqqani says, Pakistan’s first anti-American demonstration erupted in Karachi in 1948, just one incident in a parade of coups and military clashes between Pakistan and India. By the time Langley arrived, Pakistan had seen six prime ministers come and go.

Langley’s secret turned out to hiding in plain sight: the massive State Department compilation Foreign Relations of the United States. His letters and cables were as unvarnished as they were perceptive:

Dec. 27, 1957: “I was told that Pakistan constitutes a cornerstone of U.S. policy in this part of the world, that Pakistan is the anchor of the Baghdad Pact, and of SEATO, that the Paks are strong, direct, friendly and virile, and that Pakistan constitutes a bulwark of strength in the area, etc. What concerns me is that all this is in real danger of being wiped out if something is not done to arrest the current deterioration in many aspects of Pakistani life.”

Politics in Pakistan, Langley wrote, were “byzantine” and economic conditions were deteriorating despite U.S. aid. Military expenses soaked up 65 percent of Pakistan’s tax revenue as army and air force generals prepared for war with India. “It would not be too difficult,” Langley wrote, “to make a rather convincing case that the present military program is based on a hoax, the hoax being that it is related to the Soviet threat.”

July 1, 1958: “I have been very careful not to become an intermediary between Pak leaders. I have respected the confidences of each of the leaders. It is true that some of them have on occasion urged me to take certain positions with others, and even in this I have chosen to cleave to United States policy. . . . Actually, perhaps because of my newspaper training, I seek and get a lot of information, but I very, very seldom give advice or make suggestions.”

Dec. 13, 1958: “Unless there is government in Karachi that takes what happens in Afghanistan seriously and seeks good relations, seems to us that inevitably Afghanistan will draw closer to the Soviet Union. . . . In conversations with senior Afghans we have repeatedly given assurance that US arms have been provided Pakistan to help build bulwark against Communism and that such arms will not be used against their neighbors . . . Now our assurances do not appear to be convincing.”

Langley’s point of view was apparently shared by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who on May 2, 1959, sent a note to Pakistan’s president, Malik Firoz Khan Noon, delivered by Langley. Eisenhower lamented that both Pakistan and India “are now devoting increasing amounts to their defense budgets at the expense of development,” and that U.S. aid was not designed for the military, but to help both countries improve their economies.  Identical language went to India’s prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

“In hindsight,” Haqqani wrote, “it appears that the former owner-editor of a small-town New Hampshire newspaper had understood the emerging trends in US-Pakistan relations rather well. But neither his insights nor the questions the president, among others, raised immediately altered the course of American policy,”

Langley had won his ambassadorship because he backed Eisenhower in that 1952 “beauty contest” presidential primary, in which voters picked individual candidates, not delegates, in an election that transformed American politics. A Langley crony, New Hampshire’s Gov. Sherman Adams, had become White House chief of staff.

Adams left the White House in 1958, accused of influence peddling, and Langley lost his pipeline to Eisenhower. Langley returned to the Monitor after the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960.

None of this explains why Langley was so reticent about discussing his service in Pakistan. My guess is that he didn’t want to discuss his negotiating role in some of America’s most secret Cold War initiatives – setting up an NSA installation in Badaber, near Pakistan’s northern border, to eavesdrop on Soviet conversations and nuclear missile tests, and establishing a base for U-2 spy planes in nearby Peshawar. These were secrets Langley apparently intended to carry to his grave.

(John Milne of Concord was editor of the recent city history, “Crosscurrents of Change: Concord, N.H., in the 20th Century.”)

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