US-Pakistan relations: an appraisal

The US-Pakistan relations stand today at a critical juncture where multipolarity has gained ground

Ejaz Hussain December 09, 2016

The US-Pakistan relations were ensconced in the Cold War ontology of international relations wherein choices were limited for the developing countries that either sided the USSR or the US led bloc. Pakistan chose to ally with the US due to multiple reasons that included elite bias with the west to the ideological hate of communism. In a Pakistan led by the civil-military bureaucracy in 1950s, the discourse of foreign policy was determined by the former. During this period, reaching out to USSR and China was least bothered owing to the latter’s warm relations with Delhi. Little wonder, Pakistan got military aid and weapons from the US to quip its army against India. This approach went on till 1965 war which the US did not approve of owing to its being an anomaly in terms SEATO. Reactively, Pakistani leadership looked up other options that included China which founded a market to sell its low-tech military hardware. Interestingly, USSR too was approached by the Ayub regime and it started investing in, for example, Steels Mill of Pakistan. This embryonic relationship was a failure because Pakistan under Yahya Khan was seen playing an emissary role between Mao and Nixon administration.

Paradoxically, however, where the US and China were able to understand each other well with Pakistan’s efforts, Pakistan and the US could not consolidate trust in context of India-Pakistan war of 1971. Pakistani authorities once again blamed Washington of betraying it whereas the latter claimed to have helped save the West Pakistan by stopping Indira led India to attack it. Regardless, in the post-break up period, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the civilian CMLA, brought Pakistan, with the consent of its army, to China. Little wonder, Pakistan opted out the US led alliances such as SEATO and CENTO. Interestingly, under an otherwise secular Bhutto, the county was seen cobbling ties among the Muslin countries on Islamic basis. This coincided with Bhutto getting nationalist and appeasing the army by building a nuclear bomb. Pakistan’s nuclear project was indubitably India-centric. It was reactionary in character and primordial in nature for India, according to Pakistani authorises and its people, had caused the disintegration of Pakistan. Since India also outnumbered Pakistan in conventional weaponry, a nuclear capability was thought as a permanent defence. When the US got clue of the bomb in the making, its defence establishment reacted forcefully. Indeed, Kissinger tried hard to convince Bhutto to reverse it but in vain. This explains the low level of bilateral relations during the Bhutto years.

However, due to changed dynamics of geopolitics, US under Reagan put the nuclear thing aside and gave military and economic aid and assistance to Pakistan for its support against the USSR in Afghanistan. All went well till 1987-88 when the USSR and the US negotiated terms of disengagement from Afghanistan. At that final phase of the Cold War, the political and military leadership in Pakistan disagreed on an (non) exit plan. Having viewed the Junejo government as pro-US, Zia ul Haq dismissed it in May 1988. Zia could not live another day and died in an air crash the same year. The US ambassador to Islamabad also died in the crash.

Though this event could not rupture the US-Pakistan relations, however, the 1990s saw the application of Pressler Amendment that called for annual accountability of Pakistan’s plans for developing nuclear warhead. It was during this ear that Washington started viewing India as a country with huge economic potential. Before the US and Pakistan could go pole apart after the 1998 nuclear test, the neighbouring Afghanistan, accorded an opportunity to both the countries to embrace each other and fight the war on terror together. The issue of Pakistani nuclear capability remained on the back burner, and Pakistan under Musharraf received massive military aid and economic assistance. Pakistan assisted the US to do away with certain hardcore militants. However, Washington under Obama administration called for more. This year saw reduction in ISAF funds and non-sale on F16s to Pakistan.

The US-Pakistan relations stand today at a critical juncture where multipolarity has gained ground. The author attended the other day a seminar at UC Berkley which pondered over the US security under Trump. The participants including some serving army officers concluded that the US should not wage more wars and should disengage from ongoing conflicts. However, the US would apply ‘selective supremacy’ where required- this was with reference to Islamic state and any future attack the like of 9/11 on the US. In that case, ‘unilateral action’ would be taken. Importantly, the US foreign policy scholars argued for ‘collaborative leadership’, which is at the heart of neoliberalism. Regarding Pakistan, the panel urged the Trump administration to engage that country ‘carefully’ and non to disrupt relations. Herein lies an opportunity for Pakistan to reconcile its relations with the US on a sustained basis by revisiting its approach to the US concerns in and around Pakistan. The latter should realise the world is going geo-economically than geo-politically and cooperation is preferred to conflict. China-US and India-China trade ties are an example. In nutshell, the US and Pakistan know each other for long and, it wouldn’t be that easy to break up.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 10th, 2016.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Darth | 4 years ago | Reply @vinsin: Except India always worked against American and Pakistani interests. For example, Afghanistan being invaded by Soviets and India aligning with the Soviets. India primary culprit in breaking agreement with US on non-proliferation of civil Nuclear program, yet India was the first to create and conduct a nuclear test in South Asia. Not only that, the primary culprit which initiated the Nuclear Arms race between two South Asian countries.
vinsin | 4 years ago | Reply Good article, except that USA always preferred India over Pakistan but it was Nehru who was anti-west and anti-USA decided to move closer to USSR. Nehru declared war with USA regarding unification of Korea, existence of Nepal as an Independent country and gifting of Tibet suzerainty etc. India used to get free food from USA after Independence and after eating that food, India used to give rhetoric against USA.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ


Most Read