Intricate Pak-US Relationship

The US-Pakistan relations are characterized by increasing divergence between the two countries rather than the convergence. A potential convergence also exists on the end game in Afghanistan and a strategic cooperation leading to a broad partnership in other spheres but it will take a Herculean effort on both sides to overcome their differences. This relationship has served some important interests of the two countries over the past six decades. Yet the relationship’s failures have been as big as its successes, because it has never truly reflected a larger conceptual framework, a shared vision, or continuity.

The history of Pak-US relationship has always been on a rocky path as numerous ups and downs have been witnessed since its establishment. The relationship was based on seeking national interests. The very first visit of Pakistan’s first premier, Khan Liaquat Ali Khan, to United States in May 1950, was actually to seek financial, political as well as military support for the newly-born country to counter India’s aggressions and overtures. The prime minister had expressed in a news conference that Pakistan occupied an important strategic position that was why he was interested in procuring up-to-date equipments for Pakistan’s armed forces.

In the early phase, United States was least interested in relationship with Pakistan because it was looking towards Western Europe to contain the expansion of Communism. Western European countries were assisted economically in the shape of Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan.

The Korean war of 1950 changed the US perceptions; with the change of government in Washington; Eisenhower administration adopted the policy to find allies in important regions of the world. The US paid special attention to South Asia to frustrate the spread of communism. It co-opted Pakistan because India was unwilling to accept US advances.

The first seven years — 1947-1953 — passed without any actual bilateral alliance. The first mutual defence agreement between both countries was signed in 1954. Then, Pakistan joined SEATO and CENTO in 1954 and 1955 respectively. In 1959, Pakistan signed another agreement of bilateral cooperation with the US. By these agreements Pakistan received nearly 2 billion dollars as economic assistance.

During 60s, the first trust-deficit emerged in Pak-US relations. China was seen by the US as an emerging threat to its global hegemony. So, in Sino-Indian War of 1962, it supplied military aid to India without consulting Pakistan. Eventually, Pakistan aligned with China. The actions of both the countries made Pak-US relationship fragile. Under the mutual defence agreement, the US was bound to assist Pakistan in case of a war or an aggression against her but in Indo-Pak war of 1965, the US did not come to assist Pakistan.

In June 1968, Arshed Hussain, the then foreign minister of Pakistan, explained in National Assembly that Pakistan would no longer take any part in military side of SEATO and CENTO and will attend the ministerial meetings as an observer. Finally, Pakistan withdrew from SEATO and CENTO in 1971 and 1979 respectively.

In 70s, Nixon administration made some radical changes in its Pakistan policy. Nixon also wanted to use Pakistan as a bridge in building ties with China. For this reason, United States extended some help to Pakistan in the 1971 crisis. During 1976-77, nuclear issue put the relations under pressure again to such an extent that the US suspended its aid to Pakistan in 1978 due to its agreement with France for a reprocessing plant. In early 1979, military aid to Pakistan was stopped on the account that it was to be used in nuclear enrichment programme.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 brought abrupt changes in US policy towards Pakistan. In an address on January 23, 1980, President Jimmy Carter said:

“An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

This statement spoke volumes about the US intentions to contain Soviet expansion in the region. United States had realized that they had no option better than Pakistan. For this purpose, the US revived its aid programme to Pakistan, which was the third largest getter after Israel and Egypt at that time. In his State of the Union Address, President Carter said:

We’ve reconfirmed our 1959 agreement to help Pakistan preserve its independence and its integrity. The United States will take action consistent with our own laws to assist Pakistan in resisting any outside aggression.”

Pakistan fully cooperated with US in the proxy war against Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The mighty USSR was defeated with the help of jihadists supported by Pakistan. With the disintegration of USSR, the US became the sole superpower of the world. But, immediately after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US slapped sanctions on Pakistan in form of Pressler Amendment. The relations turned from cordial to adversarial once again. This gave birth to a huge trust-deficit in Pak-US bilateral relations that persists even today.
Pakistan’s nuclear tests of May 1998 provided the US with another chance to strangulate Pakistan. In response to Musharraf’s military coup of October 1999, Pakistan had to face more sanctions which further weakened this already fragile relationship.

The fateful incident of 9/11 changed the whole scenario of the world politics. The incident made the US change its foreign policy and the US once again turned to Pakistan. The then US President, George W. Bush famously said:

“Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

It was impossible for Pakistan at that time to afford tensions with the US and the whole world at large. So, it had to join the US-led war on terror. In this war, too, Pakistan has been — and is still — playing a vital role as a frontline state. The US immediately lifted some sanctions and Pakistan became a non-Nato ally in this campaign.

However, after 2005, some major issues emerged between both the allies including, but not limited to, drone strikes in FATA; Indo-US Nuclear deal; Haqqani Network and Dr A.Q Khan’s alleged role in nuclear proliferation. This schism further deteriorated the relations of both the countries and led to a huge trust-deficit between Islamabad and Washington.

The tumultuous events of 2011 also exacerbated the situation. In the first half of 2011, the Raymond Davis episode, killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and then the partial suspension of US security assistance to Pakistan again strained this relationship. Osama’s death intensified the distrust of Pakistan’s role in war on terror among the US authorities.

Another such incident was the Salala check post attack of November 26, 2011, in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were martyred by the US forces. The situation reached to such an extreme boiling point that Pakistan blocked the Nato supply routes to Afghanistan; got evicted the Shamsi Airbase from the US and also boycotted the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan that was to be held in Germany. Islamabad demanded an unconditional apology from Washington and after a formal apology, the supply lines were restored in July 2012.

The US was also infuriated by the signing of Pak-Iran gas pipeline. Despite the US warnings, former president Asif Ali Zardari went on to sign the agreement in May 2013.

China’s huge investments in Pakistan especially her involvement in Gwadar also irks the US as it considers that this jeopardizes its interests in the region.
The crux of the matter is that the US does not acknowledge Pakistan’s endeavours and sacrifices in war on terror. The ‘do more’ mantra created a lot of resentment in Pakistan and has further intensified the lack of trust in US among the Pakistanis. Pakistan is justified in this case. It is the time for Washington to realize that its policy towards Pakistan has been flawed and it still lacks balance that serves neither its interests nor those of Pakistan. The US treats Pakistan as a hireling. It has to be changed now for the sake of better Pak-US relations.

Pakistan too have to realize that the US has its own interests in the region. Islamabad cannot afford complete disengagement with Washington because of country’s debt ridden economy. Instead of being hostile to the US, Pakistan should strive to gain a rebalance in ties with Washington.

By:Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai
The writer is an MPhil scholar at the
Department of Political Science,
University of Peshawar.
He can be reached at

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