Pakistan-US Relations: A Brief Overview


The independence of Pakistan brought the subcontinent on the verge of new challenges. Being a newly born state, Pakistan was prone to multiple internal and external challenges including foreign policy vis-à-vis major powers. The choice for the time was limited in nature i.e. USSR and USA.

The history of Pak-US relations dates back to 20 October 1947. Primarily this relationship was grounded on economic and military assistance by US; the SEATO & CENTO signed by Pakistan and she become the second biggest receiver of economic and military assistance from US. But the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 gave a clear message to the Pakistani leadership and a vivid understanding was developed in the Pakistan that US is not a reliable partner, as US did not supported Pakistan during the time of dire need.

Surprisingly, in 1979 US vested interest brought both countries closer to each other when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan dragged the US to step in the war by using proxy agents. The mutual interest of both US and Pakistan led them to conclude joint policies to kick soviets back to home. In 1981, Pakistan and the United States agreed on a $3.2 billion military and economic assistance program aimed at helping Pakistan deal with the heightened threat to security in the region and its needs for economic development. The amazing historic fact is that whenever there are US interests in the region the relations becomes vigorous among Pakistan and US, but after the job gets done a mandatory break up in the relations is observed. The Cold war can be considered a best example of such relations as right after the withdrawal of soviet from Afghanistan and disintegration of the Soviets the Pak-Us relationship goes to lowest ebb.

The limited scoped foreign policy approach of Pakistan vis-a-vis India created hindrance in the development of social and economic dimension of Pakistan. Indian factor contributed ample motivation for Pakistan to boost-up the arm race in the region, nuclear stock piles, territorial disputes and alliance formation with the major players. Chinese factor in the formulation of foreign policy remained equally significant at times when the Chinese leadership is pronouncing that “Pakistan is as important for China as Beijing”. The incident of 9/11 proved to be a hallmark in the history of world. The direct impact of this incident enveloped the South Asian region into its sphere.

A notable phenomenon is that the attack on Afghanistan in the name of War on Terrorism and presence on international forces in shape of NATO, ISAF and US has not only highlighted the strategic importance of the region but dragged the region into limelight as ever before. The Pak-US relation took an up side down change as a result of prevailing regional situation. It is an open secret that Pakistan served as proxy trouper against the Soviets by supporting Anti-Soviet forces in the Afghanistan, which was primarily funded by United States of America. The 9/11 episode once again opened the gates for the west and particularly for the US to hunt the target as per their wish by chanting the slogan of “War on Terror”. Since Pakistan was left with a bottled neck option so she has no other choice but to node yes! As Pakistan showed off that she was with world not with terrorists.

Since the time Pakistan joined the US led War on Terror, it got a number of traditional & non-traditional security challenges to deal with. The political & economic turmoil is worsening the social setup, which is polluting the country’s over all environment. The drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan are considered as a clear violation of a state’s sovereignty.

Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011, by a US Special Forces Unit in the Abbottabad (a city having elite Army Training Academy). The wiki-leaks allegedly disclosed that Pakistani security services were tipping off Osama Bin Laden. This maneuver distrusted the Pak-US engagement on War on Terrorism. The Osama Bin Laden episode was another significant shift in the relations between Pakistan and US. The hunt of Osama Bin Laden from Abbottabad, right under the nose of Pakistani elite Military training center has crafted huge anxiety in the top military leadership. This event was quite shocking not only for military elite but for the lay man of this country.

The US has repeatedly committed a number of violations with reference to international law and norms. One of the significant episodes out of such violations is Indo-US nuclear deal. Which has been signed clearly violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This has fueled an already prevailing conflicting environment in the region. The chances of upsurge in arm race in the South Asia are more imminent now. As Pakistan might follow the suit and try to go for a similar kind of deal in any other sympathizer state or ally from P5.

During the 2011, the US government suspended deferred high-level contacts with Pakistan after Raymond Davis incident occurred. Raymond Davis, a suspected secretive security outworker was on an American diplomatic mission in Pakistan when he gunshot two Pakistani natives and coined that it was in self-defense after the two tried to steal from him. Pakistan acted tough on Davis despite US demands for him to be freed because he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. The case of Raymond Davis showed the covert presence of American agents disguised in multiple covers in pursuit of their objectives. This gave the message to the Pakistani leadership that there is certainly a covert agenda involved behind such presence of CIA sponsored thespians.

In the same way, the statement of the Iranian officials disclosed the sensation that US is involved in spying the nuclear facilities of the Pakistan and there are clear evidence that US may go for the nuclear sabotage against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in near future. This sounds factual when US leadership declares that we (US) have clandestine plans for the safety & security of Pakistani nuclear facilities, as there have been evidence that US conducted the simulation military exercises during last decade to secure the nuclear weapons of Pakistan during the state of instability/state failure.

Later on, the attack on Pakistan army’s Salala Check Post close to afghan border by the US air forces/NATO forces infuriated the Pakistan, as the deaths of the soldiers from Pakistan Army were considered as an alarming puzzle for the Pakistan as a whole. The blockade of the NATO supply at that moment was inevitable and Pakistan had to do it because of growing internal pressure. The situation of blockage of NATO supply was a unique experience in the history of Pak-US relations. As neither Pakistan nor US have witnessed a complex situation like that before. This stand off between US and Non-NATO ally took lot of time to resolve, as internal pressure from Pakistan was converted into a generous support in form of Defa-e-Pakistan movement.

The western presence, role of US and ISAF military has proven to be a safe heaven for India in the Afghanistan and it has created unrest for the Pakistan. The huge Indian involvement in Afghanistan supported by US and India has also offered to train the afghan forces after the 2014, this would further the existing security anxiety of Pakistan. This can be clearly understood by the words of an Indian scholar Sumit Ganguly, who believes Indo-Pak relation given the long history of discord and mistrust but Indian’s presence in Afghanistan has generated apprehend threat for Pakistan. And that is happening with the US support to Indian regional hegemonic agenda. Since India is playing the role of fifth largest aid donor to Afghanistan so her presence in the Afghanistan will drive Pakistan into a new security dilemma. This is because of the fact that Pakistan is engulfed by a two front war with traditional and non-traditional security challenges by State and Non-State-Actors. In such a situation, Pakistan is over burdened with economic load as it is allocating a huge amount of budget in the security and Defence matters. Security analysts believe that all such developments by India are backed by US and if US play a responsible role that Indian factor can be deteriorated from the Afghanistan.

The current scenario of the Pak-US relations reveals that there has been number of high intensity issues which may define the future nature of the relationship between Pakistan and United States of America. The war on terror has gifted the following bounties to Pakistan so far;

  • Constant Drone Attacks
  • Plenty of people have been killed by the Taliban (approximately 35,000) by American drone attacks (approximately 9000).
  • Pakistan was blamed that she is supporting Haqqani Network through clandestine means, but Pakistan denied such linkages and support officially.
  • Pakistan has approximately arrested over 500 terrorist and handed them over to the US. Even than the wish is to “Do More”
  • As a result, Pakistan had sanctions lifted and has received about $10 billion in US aid since 2001.
  • Pakistan was pronounced as major Non-NATO ally in 2004.
  • Being Non-NATO ally of US in War on Terror and biggest recipient of US military assistance, Pakistan expects to receive approximately $20 billion.
  • The Obama Leadership promised to triple non-military assistance to Pakistan to $1.5 billion per year over 10 years, and to tie military aid to progress in the fight against militants.
  • However, in the upshot of the Osama Bin Laden episode, Pakistan Army annulled a $500 million training program and directed all 135 US instructors back to home.

The religious leadership in Pakistan doesn’t sound happy over such aid as they view this aid and cooperation from US as;

  • A tool to pollute the Socio-political environment of Pakistan
  • Weaken the Pakistani society by crafted the western culture
  • Defame the religion and religious forces in the garb of aid by a hidden evil agenda
  • To improve the soft image of the US by propaganda mean of the Media etc.
  • To get benefit by geostrategic significance of the country by Us presence in the region and funding the state i.e. USAID

Since 2011, there is huge criticism and blame-game on each other regarding the stance over War on Terror, which has drifted the mutual cooperation into a stalemate at times. Furthermore, it can be said that the present decline in Pak-Us relations has primarily caused by Raymond Davis case, Black Operation (killing for Osama Bin Laden) and Salala Incident. The Pak-US relations are severely damaged and also at a crucial stage in the history of bilateral relations.

Keeping the context in mind it can be concluded that Pak-US relations have observed many ups and downs throughout the history but US policy makers managed to use Pakistan at the time of need, whereas Pakistan lacked such policies. They might have done it with Aid or trade, but the Pentagon has leant the art to tame and use Pakistan at times as per their vested interests.
Since the mutual cooperation between Pakistan & USA exist in the form of Non-NATO Ally in War on terror and US is pouring aid for the development as well. So this is high time for both Islamabad & Washington to revisit their policies for the peaceful future relations.

The current policies if reexamined could reflect the common aspirations of the Pakistan and the US to live in the atmosphere of peace and security and pursue economic opportunities in a better way. Both states must work to continue to extend mutual relationship and work to overcome common challenges. Despite the fact that the last year was quite bitter vis-à-vis Pak-US leadership, but the probability of cooperation can not be ruled out in future. So, there is dire need to remove the prevailing trust deficit and responsible roll of policy makers in bringing the parties to same table. On the other hand US must adopt non-discriminatory foreign policy towards the region in general and particularly towards Pakistan, so that a peaceful and viable way out could be devised for the coming generation.

One Response

  1. jawed yusufzai February 23, 2013

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