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Why Is It Difficult To Fix Pakistan-US Relations? – Analysis


By Guner Ozkan

The times when U.S. U-2 planes took off from Pakistan and collected information about the Soviet Union were long gone. Also, there is no mention of the common goal that Pakistan and the U.S. achieved against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan and the U.S. both on the one hand fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda together and on the other use these two structures against each other. The U.S. not only strikes Pakistan with drones, but also collects intelligence. In November 2011, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by the U.S./NATO which increased the tension and thrown uneasy relations between the two into a sort of abyss.

Pakistan - United States Relations
Pakistan – United States Relations

Honestly, it is quite challenging to categorize Pakistani-U.S. relations today. Given the current circumstances, they are both allies and adversaries. Expecting that contradiction to end soon seems difficult considering the conflicting security interests between Islamabad and Washington over Afghanistan.

After Bin Laden

Pakistan and U.S. relations entered a new phase after the military intervention of the U.S. in Afghanistanin 2001. Especially after 2005, the American military and CIA units expressed that Pakistan provided refuge for top members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda,trained the recruits and supplied arms to the organization. However, the strategic value of Pakistan prevented the U.S. administration from taking Pakistan on for a long time.

The killing of bin Laden at Abbotabad in Pakistan in May 2011 by U.S. special forces without the notice of Islamabad was not only a token of the lack of U.S. trust, but also revealed the Achilles’ heel of Pakistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai explicitly pointed at Pakistan after the killing of Peace Ambassador Burhaneddin Rabbani, who was in charge of negotiating with the Taliban, in September 2011. After a short time, in November 2011, U.S./NATO combat aircrafts killed 24 Pakistani soldiers by striking the military station in Mohmand on the Afghanistan border. Related to this incident, the U.S. only extended condolences and remained silent against Pakistan’s request for an apology for a long time. Based on the insistence of the U.S. on not apologizing and the psychologic and political impact of that secret assault on Abbotabad, Pakistan shut down its territory for the logistics transportation route of NATO for Afghanistan.

In the situation that the bilateral relations get tense, on April 15, 2012, the Taliban striked Kabul in a broad daylight,especially targeting the British and German consulates, NATO HQ and hotels that accommodate citizens of Western countries. Many American experts and authorities including Leon Panetta, U.S. Secretary of Defense, held the Haqqani group which is claimed to be backed by Pakistani military intelligence responsible, and so did Islamabad.

Actually, Pakistan and the U.S. often displayed their intention to carry their bilateral relationship on a soft ground by intensifying their negotiations on reopening the supply route in June in Islamabad, but discussions were stalled and the U.S. side called its team back home. Then, on July 3, came Hillary Clinton’s call with Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. Clinton finally expressed her long-delayed few ‘magical’ words of US ‘sorry’for, and ‘mistakes’ made, in the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers. With an immediate effect, Pakistan opened up the gate for NATO supply tracks. In fact, US apology and re-start of NATO convoys carrying logistics to Afghanistan do not mean that the US-Pakistani relationship is and will be problem-free. The issue is pretty much related to what Afghanistan actually is today, what it will be tomorrow and how it will interact with its immediate neighbourhood.

India in Afghanistan

Pakistan is a country that lost three major wars with India, dating back to 1947, 1964, and 1971. Pakistan, which previously failed in terms of conventional power against India, struggles to balance power with nuclear weapons and missiles, and due to this, always considers Afghanistan through the lens of this deep strategy. Afghanistan having expanded relations with India, which even reach strategic levels, means that Pakistan is being surrounded and choked by India from the north.

On the other hand, the U.S. supports Afghanistan standing on its own feet and developing political, economic and military relations with outside world, and especially with New Delhi regardless of what Pakistan really thinks about. Because of this, Pakistan considers the U.S. presence in Afghanistan as a factor strengthening Indian presence in Afghanistan.

The root cause of the recent Pakistan-Afghanistan relations which are getting tense is actually the expanding economic and political affairs between Afghanistan and India. For example, by 2012, India had become among the most influential and important donors to Afghanistan by promising financial aid up worth nearly two billion dollars. Again, in January 2012, India’s Steel Authority received an operation license for the Hajigak iron mine, which is worth billions of dollars.
India has also been increasing its influence on Afghanistan in the fields of politics and security. The most significant indicator of this expanding relation between the Karzai administration and India is the Treaty of Strategic Cooperation signed in October 2011. This treaty, which was signed during the visit of Karzai to New Delhi, emphasizes that India will keep supporting Afghanistan in economic, social and political terms after 2014 as it does now.

Growing US Affection for India

Another element effecting Pakistan-U.S. relations is the intensifying cooperation between Washington and New Delhi. Pakistan is not content with the Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement signed in 2005 between Washington and New Delhi. The U.S., which had not been eager to share its anti-ballistic missile technology or cooperate with India for years, has now wanted to sell its most advanced anti-ballistic missile system called Patriot Advanced Capability 3 to India and become partners to improve it more. Besides, the U.S. does not object Israel’s sale of high-tech military radar systems such as Phalcon Awacs, Green Pine and Swordfish, and engagement in joint development projects with India, while the same U.S. prevents Tel Aviv’s attempts to contact China for similar aims.

The deepening cooperation between the U.S. and India leads to a deep frustration, rage and panic for the Pakistani army. In particular, the decision of the U.S. and India to cooperate intensively in terms of civilian nuclear activities is significant, because the U.S., via this cooperation, enables India to have some leverage against Pakistan in terms of nuclear technology. There is no doubt that the ongoing cooperation between the U.S. and India on missile defense systems—although it seems to be in opposition to China—somehow targets Pakistan.

The Target Is the Nuclear Program of Pakistan

It is unlikely for the U.S. to deeply engage in cooperation with Pakistan on military and technological terms. Washington expresses that it is deeply concerned about whether the Islamist radical groups possess Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, even though the Pakistani military executives declared that is impossible.

What is more, for a long time, the U.S. has been making an effort implicitly and explicitly to reveal the nuclear technology, missile systems and nuclear weapons of Pakistan. On this matter, Pakistan has got more anxious since the killing of Bin Laden in Abbotabad by U.S. special forces. This anxiety is clearly expressed in the article about Pakistan called The Ally From Hell in Atlantic Magazine by Goldberg and Ambinder in December 2011. According to the article, Pakistani military authorities believe that the U.S. is able to carry out multiple operations simultaneously against the Pakistani nuclear program, similar to the one in Abbotabad. Pakistan is reported to have been working hard to stop the U.S. and Indian access to its nuclear weapon facilities over land, air and space.

In conclusion, U.S.-Pakistan relations are an equation with multiple variables and dimensions. Afghanistan, India and nuclear weapons are three connected elements which directly effect and shape one another. Pakistan and the U.S. can sustain better and solid relations by acting on political and military conducts which are more considerate of the interests and sensitivities of these interrelated elements. Otherwise, much more dangerous confrontation between the U.S. and Pakistan will not be any surprise.

Guner Ozkan
USAK Center for Eurasian Studies

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JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

One thought on “Why Is It Difficult To Fix Pakistan-US Relations? – Analysis

  • July 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    A incisive analysis of US-Pak relations. However, the learned author needed to also highlight reasons behind Pakistan’s averseness to India’s growing influence in Afghanistan..Why is the world (US) not trying its best to resolve Indo Pak disputes existing since their inception…Water and Kashmir actually are the bane of all fault lines in our peaceful co-existence..
    Anyway a very balanced paper….


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