What would happen if Pakistan and the US severed ties?

Published: July 21, 2011
The writer is the programme associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC

The writer is the programme associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC

Raymond Davis jailed in Lahore. Osama bin Laden discovered in the Pakistani Army’s front yard. US forces expelled. Strategic dialogue suspended. $800 million dollars in US military assistance withheld. And now a Washington-based Kashmir activist arrested for being an ISI operative.

Though US-Pakistan ties remain intact, hostility and mistrust are rapidly gnawing away at them. The troubled partnership hangs by thin threads, and one devastating blow could sever it completely. Most Pakistani and American officials cannot bear the thought of a shattered relationship. The fact is that neither nation’s interests would suffer if ties were severed; in fact, they may well be better served.

The paramount expectation of both governments is that the relationship helps attain their objectives in Afghanistan. For Washington, this entails using Pakistani roads to transport Nato supplies. However, if ties were ruptured, Washington would simply turn to Central Asian routes. Bilateral tensions have periodically prompted Islamabad to shut down Pakistani routes and vehicles are repeatedly attacked. Last weekend alone, one fuel tanker was bombed and another fired upon near Peshawar.

Washington also clings to the hope of a Pakistani Army assault on North Waziristan-based militants, who target US forces in Afghanistan. So long as the US-Pakistan relationship remains in effect, this represents an unlikely prospect, albeit one that cannot be ruled out. A collapse in ties would eliminate the possibility altogether — and this would be a good thing for both countries, given the unrest such an assault would unleash. A North Waziristan invasion would unite militant groups against Islamabad, intensifying violence that has already claimed 35,000 Pakistani lives. Additionally, an offensive would trigger a fresh exodus of militants into other tribal areas and across the Durand Line, where they would target international forces in Afghanistan, or add to the growing number of cross-border attacks.

Islamabad, meanwhile, expects the relationship to accord it a prime role in Afghan reconciliation. Yet there is little indication this will happen, given its disagreements with Washington over the role of the Haqqani network in future negotiations. Furthermore, America’s appetite for talks with the Taliban has dissipated after the group’s recent assassination campaign.

Another abiding wish of both capitals is to stabilise Pakistan — hence the infusions of aid into the country. Unfortunately, the current US economic assistance programme is limited and ineffective. If a rupture in ties ended such largesse, Islamabad would find replacement donors among the Chinese, Saudis, Britain’s Department for International Development, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank. Beijing, meanwhile, would fill the vacuum left by military aid cuts.

In short, Pakistan would be able to weather a US aid cut-off. Washington could use these monies to help staunch its spiralling debt and fund counterterrorism efforts in Yemen, which, according to the new US defence secretary, now poses more of a threat than Pakistan.

Given its radioactive reputation in Pakistan, Washington’s stabilisation-through-engagement efforts are bound to fail. The longer US-Pakistan ties persevere, the more anti-Americanism rises and militancy is fuelled. To be sure, America’s relations with Pakistan do not drive ethnic strife in Karachi or insurgency in Balochistan — yet they do stoke anti-state violence in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and southern Punjab. They also deepen fears that Washington seeks to seize Pakistan’s nuclear assets — a perception that reinforces widespread hostility towards America and strengthens militant narratives.

Cutting government links would cool such sentiments, and deprive extremists of a chief rallying cry. In this calmer environment, Pakistan and the US could take stock of what went wrong and recognise that neither side enjoys the leverage it believes it wields over the other. Perhaps a cooling-off period, with time, could even lead to renewed ties — albeit ties infused with more realistic expectations of what the bilateral relationship can deliver.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2011.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (41)

  • Abbas from the US
    Jul 21, 2011 - 10:47PM

    Cooling off may be a prerequisite to finding common ground. But neither the United States can afford to move supplies within the same budget and cost to its troops in Afghansitan nor can the Pakistanis not afford to be present at the end game table to ensure its interest are taken into account. If the US expects to maintain pressure on Iranian proliferation activities than a rupture in ties between Pakistan and the US will give Iran a release valve in the pressure buildup.


  • Javed
    Jul 21, 2011 - 10:57PM

    A very simplistic approach


  • Chandio
    Jul 21, 2011 - 11:20PM

    Severing of Pakistan’s dependency on the US (which in fact only serves the elite of this country) is the need of the hour. Lets dump the US.


  • Vinayak
    Jul 22, 2011 - 12:00AM

    Islamabad would find replacement donors among the Chinese, Saudis, Britain’s Department for International Development, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank. Beijing, meanwhile, would fill the vacuum left by military aid cuts.

    It is clear that this author believes that Islamabad will always need a ‘big-daddy’ to help it. This reflects total lack of self-esteem. Unfortunately this attitude is there even amongst Pakistan’s leaders.
    But even expecting any of these parties to take US’s place is totally wishful thinking. IMF and ADB are heavily controlled by US. Britain has always toed the US line. The total aid coming from Chinese and Saudis, does not come close to what US gives. Why should they become even bigger donors to Pakistan?


  • Nadeem
    Jul 22, 2011 - 12:26AM

    You have completely missed the bigger picture. Washington’s aid to ‘Pakistan’ since the 1960s is actually a bribe to ‘Pakistan Army’ so that American interests in this region (south asia, central asia, and the middle east) can be protected and promoted. Since 9/11, there has been an additional concern, that of keeping the nukes from falling into militants’ hands – hence greater the need for the US to keep Pak. army on its side. And what better way to do this than to give the generals an annual gift of a few billion dollars. These billions that have flowed over five decades never were meant for the people, and to them it won’t matter one bit if the gravy train for the generals stopped tomorrow morning. The army is now as addicted to US ‘aid’ as a heroin addict is addicted to heroin. Recent run-ins are no more than minor irritants that in no way threaten this symbiotic relationship. The only way I see this aid ever stopping is when US ceases to be a superpower. Bottom line: the money paid by Washington to GHQ has a deeper purpose and a broader scope than the War on Terror that started on 9/11 – hence it will continue beyond the WoT, until the American Empire joins the British Empire, Ottoman Empire, French Empire and all the other dearly departed empires in history books.


  • parvez
    Jul 22, 2011 - 1:14AM

    Honestly a bit surprised to read your view point. It seems your playing the devils advocate by writing this to judge the response.
    The man on the street will agree with you as he gets nothing out of this so called assistance from the US, which he sees as a crutch to keep a detested system in place.


  • Pakistan Thrives w/o USA
    Jul 22, 2011 - 1:47AM

    Pakistan would flourish and prosper without America.

    Yankee Go Home.


  • Arindom
    Jul 22, 2011 - 1:48AM

    Pakistan would rush to China and Saudi for money. They will demand and get a blanket permission to do what they want. The Chinese would completely take over what little domestic industry left in Pakistan and dump all West-rejected export defects on Pakistan which ordinary Pakistanis will lap up. goodbye to any development of local industry and export. The Saudis in turn would tighten their already-tight grip. Any religion or any other denomination of Islam other than Wahhabism will be banned in Pakistan. Hijabs will be imposed, Sharia law fully implemented and women banned from driving!!


  • Cautious
    Jul 22, 2011 - 3:16AM

    Islamabad would find replacement
    donors among the Chinese, Saudis,
    Britain’s Department for International
    Development, the IMF and the Asian
    Development Bank. Beijing, meanwhile,
    would fill the vacuum left by military
    aid cuts

    If Pakistan leadership believed that they would have broken the relationship long ago. The reality is that when the USA pulls the plug Pakistan doesn’t have ANY ready source of capital — certainly not the IMF, Brits, Asian Development Bank etc. As far as weapon sales — nothing prevents Pakistan from buying Chinese weapons right now — the operative word is “buying” because unlike the USA the Chinese don’t provide the financial aid to purchase weapons.


  • Rusty
    Jul 22, 2011 - 3:51AM

    The easiest solution is for the US is to completely pull out of the whole area (Afghanistan and Pakistan), then let al-Qaida, LeT and all other millitant groups take over Pakistan (their stated intent) and then reduce the entire area to the shape of a pancake.Recommend

  • Cynical
    Jul 22, 2011 - 4:11AM

    Pakistan will find new sugar daddies. As simple as that.


  • vasan
    Jul 22, 2011 - 6:44AM

    “If a rupture in ties ended such largesse, Islamabad would find replacement donors among the Chinese, Saudis, Britain’s Department for International Development, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank. Beijing, meanwhile, would fill the vacuum left by military aid cuts.”

    Extremely unlikely as many of the countries/bodies mentioned by the author will not want to antagonize US. Saudis will be more interested in establishing more madressahs along with aid and China will dump more goods and aid Pakistan to purchase them. Are these good for Pakistan in the long run?


  • Ali
    Jul 22, 2011 - 9:27AM

    very naive in his assessment. the writer thinks that all our problems stem from our relationship with the US, and severing these ties will solve all our problems. i dont want to make a speech here to make my point but I’d say only one thing ” ask the Iranians whether severing ties with the US helped them”.


  • Jul 22, 2011 - 9:33AM

    Right Americans always used Pakistan as a tool.whenever they achieved their objectives then they immediately dropped it like hot potato. The samething happened after the withdrawal of Russian Forces from Afghanistan and on a number of occassions earlier.


  • Frank
    Jul 22, 2011 - 9:55AM

    Michael Kugelman

    Though US-Pakistan ties remain intact,
    hostility and mistrust are rapidly
    gnawing away at them. The troubled
    partnership hangs by thin threads, and
    one devastating blow could sever it

    It doesn’t need a devastating blow. It’s over already. China is your enemy but is our great friend and ally. India is your friend but our great enemy. Our future depends on the rise of China while you are desperately praying for a rise of India to counter China. Your propaganda machine tries to convince us that India is not a threat to us, but we just laugh at you. Our interests are totally divergent. We really have nothing to talk about and it’s time to say goodbye.

    To be sure, America’s relations with
    Pakistan do not drive ethnic strife in
    Karachi or insurgency in Balochistan —
    yet they do stoke anti-state violence
    in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and
    southern Punjab.

    You just have no idea how America has damaged Pakistan.


  • Hassan
    Jul 22, 2011 - 10:33AM

    @ tightDhoti, actually it is China that is the biggest donor in Pakistan since its independence, it does not believe in soft loans or grants but invests in infrastructure.


  • malik
    Jul 22, 2011 - 11:16AM

    @ Author:
    “In short, Pakistan would be able to weather a US aid cut-off. ” HOW? CARE TO EXPLAIN?

    This is the most important statement which you have dismissed in a single line. US can very well live without Pakistan, but can Pak even survive without the US billions?

    —If the ties are severed, Pak will have a huge price to pay.US will simply cut off the supply chain, and leave Pak in deep economic turmoil. There are no immediate donors in sight. Will China bail Pak out by paying its import bills? Will Saudi give crude oil at a subsidized rate to help their fellow muslims of the Ummah?

    —If you are watching how things are unfolding in US,and if you are reading between the lines of important people in Washington, then, it is crystal clear, that, the US is preparing the background for a final denouement vis-a-vis Pakistan. See the timing of the arrest of Fai. Did US not know about him all these days?

    —Arresting people in Pak, accusing them of being US sympathizers, and orchestrating a rabid anti-American campaign in media (right from Kerry Lugar to OBL fiasco) have really started US guys thinking about the wisdom having such ‘friends’.

    —Remember, US is just waiting for one final push to become a ‘shove’. Pak will have a hellish price to pay if they continue to antagonize US by painting US as a dark force of evil.

    Dear author, you are making people live in their dreamland, by giving them false hopes while completely ignoring the ground realities. You are doing a big disservice, by spreading feel-good propaganda to the whole population of Pakistan. Wake Up People !!Recommend

  • Hedgefunder
    Jul 22, 2011 - 11:47AM

    The author should be in employment of the GOP, as he has got all the answers for the problems!!!
    Its rather simplistic to suggest, that If US suspends their Largesse, than others will step in, i suggest you just feel the water about that very statement before making such hidious remarks !!!
    Its almost laughable to think, that without US endorsements the bodies such as IMF, ADB or even WB, would entertain Pakistan!!
    In regards to the Donar Nations !! Well this is going to very interesting, as i can vouch that its highly unlikely that UK will assist in any huge amounts as there is strong opposition to this at present and also due to our own economic crises!!
    In regards to the Saudis, well i don’t really think they are too impressed with Pakistan at present seeing it rubbing shoulders with the Iranians too closely!!!!
    The Chinese, well i would’nt bank on them too much as i don’t recall them giving anything for nothing!!!! Ask some of the African states, who also have special relationship with them and no doubt they will enlighten you as to how the chinese work!!!!
    The rest of the Dribble that you have wrote is just another illusion, nothing more.
    The Fact is That Pakistan simply can not Survive without US Aid.Recommend

  • Anuj Mehta
    Jul 22, 2011 - 12:15PM

    @ Hassan
    And where is the infrastructure that they have build since independence…….oh, if whatever infrastructure you have is built by china since then, it might take a little long than 200 years to get it done completely…..isnt it…


  • Lahore Da King
    Jul 22, 2011 - 12:27PM

    US Aid cut to Pakistan Military is USD 800 Million. Groupon.com sold for USD 1.2 Billion. It’s a website that sells group discounts on brownies and haircuts! What a load of fluff. Do you really think the Military will stall just by a minor aid cut. Perhaps we should, as a national focus on money making so we can support our army!


  • observer
    Jul 22, 2011 - 12:28PM

    If a rupture in ties ended such largesse, Islamabad would find replacement donors among the Chinese, Saudis, Britain’s Department for International Development, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank.

    A. China has made it very clear that it does not believe in ‘Cash Grants’ and the author presupposes that China is quite happy with the way Pakistan has handled Al Qaeda and allied extremists and would like to support the same policy for the future.

    B. Last round of Saudi aid came bundled with Wahabi maderssas and organisations like Jundullah, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Laskar-e-Jhangavi, do we want more of the same.

    C. Since when have DFID ,IMF and ADB become interested in defying the US.

    D.Iran is a more likely source of aid, but only with concessions favouring non-Taliban elements in Afghanistan.


  • Adeel759
    Jul 22, 2011 - 12:37PM

    No country would like to full in for US, not that they cant afford but they dont trust these rulers. They know for the fact that no money is spent on people. Yet, if there is real leader, Pakistan can generate enough revenues through Taxes and Minimizing corruption. Threats the only solution, no China or KSA will rescue Pakistan.Recommend

  • Expakistani
    Jul 22, 2011 - 1:16PM

    Begging bowl will break!!


  • Jul 22, 2011 - 1:30PM

    Beginning of a new kind of cold war


  • faraz
    Jul 22, 2011 - 3:43PM


    China dumps third class products in our markets which have wiped out our small and medium scale industry. Our exports to China are worth 1.5 billion dollars while imports are over 6 billion. Our exports to US are worth 8 billion dollars.


    China is not an enemy of US. US-China bilateral trade is over 400 billion dollars. China holds over 1 trillion dollars’ worth US T bills.


  • Alsahdiq
    Jul 22, 2011 - 4:09PM

    Nothing has changed, nothing will change for the oppressed people of the world. Not until people, all people, take the courageous initiative to come to unite. It is true people make the most fatal mistake of looking towards their rulers to take this initiative. It has been a futile hope. It is a futile hope. Why do they not see that their rulers are under duress to keep them divided? Every soul is under direct command from the Lord to come to unite with fellow humans in order to solve all their social, economic and defense problems themselves through self help and self reliance. So why this most important matter is not uppermost in the minds of the people of the region. “Ruler and the Ruled” is sheer injustice. Injustice is lawlessness. Lawlessness breeds lawlessness and resultant violence and bloodshed.
    So, Oh’ people come together. Come together to eliminate all injustices. Come together to eliminate the unjust system of “Ruler and the Ruled”. This is the way, only way to the unity we all need most. This is also the only way to peace, peace, peace. No one will come to change our pathetic condition. We all have to do it ourself. Yes ourselves or else. Or else slavery will remain our fate as t has been for centuries.Recommend

  • AnisAqeel
    Jul 22, 2011 - 4:29PM

    Author has taken it as a very simple and no harm done approach, not so. If USA severed its ties (that will not happen in near future) it will be labeled as if Pakistan severed these ties to satisfy peoples false ego for political consumption and behind the closed doors policy will be entirely opposite. Pakistani leadership will sell themselves to convince USA before completely throwing itself to China, Saudi Arabia and Iran and altogether it will be a short sale compared to the price USA is paying to achieve control over that area. With that terrorism will disappear but USA will have full power with a fat portion of an Indian share in the sub-continent. That can shape Pakistan into a military state like Burma or N. Korea. Recommend

  • Jul 22, 2011 - 4:54PM

    No country has truly responded to Pakistan cries of victimization at the hand of the US for at least 10 years. With the wild accusations making the US out to be a monster, they would have intervened by now. But, they haven’t done so beyond paying you supportive lip service for the sake of stability inside their own borders. That’s because an outsider has the vantage point to see it from all sides, unlike people in Pakistan. Also, for those who saying they get nothing from the aid it has been recently revealed that it has been benefiting you all this time. There was an official decision between US and Pakistan that they would not advertise the things the aid was helping due to fears of those things being targeted for attack if the were to be pointed out. That was also Pakistan’s idea. Considering what people say about the aid and anti-Americanism. They’ve been taking all the insults and accusations of the Pakistani citizens/uninformed politicians and helping them at the very same time. They sacrifice their image so that the Pakistan government’s support makes gains to foster stability. Yeah, the aid should stop. Not because it’s hurting you but because you just don’t deserve the help.

    Furthermore, people often speak of US money running out. Do you really believe other countries will be seeing you as a good investment if even the US stops? They’d see you as a financial black hole. They may offer you good will but, there’s no way they”ll offer you any form of significant aid to even remotely fill the void the US would leave. Pakistan is simply terrible investment for anyone but people who sell bomb making supplies.Recommend

  • harkol
    Jul 22, 2011 - 4:58PM

    Folks who think US will just go home leaving Pakistan alone – think again. USA will wreck havoc with Pakistan, if Pakistan doesn’t do its bidding. US is perfectly capable of fighting a war with Pakistan, but it won’t.

    The same $1-2billion/year US gives Pakistan, can also be diverted and used against Pakistan and breakup Pakistan up within a decade. Proxy wars are cheap to sponsor, expensive on the nation that needs to fight it.

    Pakistan needs to get out of the mess it is in, without making a enemy of the most powerful country in the world(by a long distance).


  • blithe
    Jul 22, 2011 - 6:19PM

    Good article.

    We should not cut off diplomatic ties but we should stop US supply routes and focus on nation building and trade.
    We need to get away from the security state musharraf made us amd become a a trade corridor where talent and capital is attracted.

    If we limit our relationship with the US, it will not mean doom and gloom. There is no virtue like necessity and we will find how to stand on our own two feet.


  • Hedgefunder
    Jul 22, 2011 - 8:05PM

    @Lahore Da King:
    What you call minor , is a big deal for the firm concerned!! However in regards to Pakistan i suggest you multiply that by 86.22 @ today’s rate and one will see if that is significant or not!!!!
    Anyway, if this is minor, than why is GOP making so many noises about it ???
    Nothing is minor when it comes to Money, and for Pakistan, which is virtually dependant on Aid, its a Huge Issue !!
    Rest Assure, don’t believe everything you read in your local media !!!


  • Michael Kugelman
    Jul 22, 2011 - 8:07PM

    In my attempt to be somewhat provocative, I may have also been misleading — which I regret. My point about Pakistan finding other donors to compensate for the loss of U.S. economic assistance was referring specifically to the KLB aid, which in theory should be $1.5 billion a year. This is a relatively modest figure that I’m sure could be recovered from others — whether Europeans, Chinese, or the like.

    What I am NOT arguing is that any of these countries or organizations would become Pakistan’s chief source of economic assistance. I should have been more clear in the article. And, of course, as several have said, Pakistan ultimately needs to wean itself off external assistance if it is to enjoy sustainable development.

    These are great and useful comments — much appreciated!


  • Hedgefunder
    Jul 22, 2011 - 8:10PM

    Yes ! You are quite right , however is anyone listening to this ???
    They are too busy listening to manipulated things.
    There is a very small Minority in Pakistan, who actually have grasped the situation and trying desperately to leave the country at present , as they know that future is not Bright, but rather Uncertain !!!!Recommend

  • Bangash
    Jul 23, 2011 - 1:35AM

    Pakistanis don’t need aid we will use “ghairat” to pay our bills and fuel our cars.


  • Hedgefunder
    Jul 23, 2011 - 2:19AM

    Yes ! You are right, perhaps everything will run on Ghairat, Incidently please show the rest of the world too, How it works as we all need to find solutions for our high fuel bills and also to pay loans and bank overdrafts too !!!!
    I am sure, that lot of people in west will follow Ghairat, if that can solve their problems !!!


  • gp65
    Jul 23, 2011 - 8:35AM

    You say:We should not cut off diplomatic ties but we should stop US supply routes and focus on nation building and trade”. Do you know that $ 8 billion out of $24 billion of your exports are to the US? And how much does the wonderful China buy from Pakistan? $1.5 billion. If you want to go the aid not trade route, even then this policy of unnecessarily defying US must be re-examined.

    The notion that IMF and World Bank will step in to plug the gap made by US aid is fanciful at best. IT is not clear if you have reviewed news articles that say that IMF considers Pakistani economic managers deceptive and it was only US pressure that led to the original US$11.5 billion loan by IMF. In any event loans have to be repaid unlike grants that US gives. Let us temporarily forget the fact that UK rubber stamps all US policies, and if US withholds aid, in all likelihood UK would follow suit, But you should surely be aware that they are themselves going through really tough economic times and there would be little appetite for increasing aid to Pakistan which is already the highest aid recipient.

    The current economic situation including the circular debt crisis has resulted in high levels of load shedding and the lawlessness in Karachi which generates 50% of the nation’s taxes will only make the economic situation worse. 3 top members of the country’s finance/economic team are on their way out. At a time like this, losing the crutch of US aid would have consequences that are too grim to contemplate.

    It is time that that the politicians step back from bravado and adopt some humility if they have any concern for the poor of Pakistan – who ultimately wlll pay the price in terms of unemployment, hunger and poverty if the economy has to suffer any further shocks.Recommend

  • gp65
    Jul 23, 2011 - 8:53AM

    @Michael Kugelman:
    Your willingness to graciously accept feedback and introspect is commendable.

    I wiould like to point out that it is not just$1,5 billion of Kerry Lugar Bill aid but also $2 billion of security aid that Pakistan would lose. As many other readers have pointed out cogently, it would not be as easy as you believe for Pakistan to replace this aid.Recommend

  • s.g.jilanee
    Jul 23, 2011 - 12:12PM

    Yes, Pakistan can survive without the US billions. China survived worst famines that took toll of 20 million lives. Dean Rusk was restlessly expecting China’s request to pour US food aid. But China didn’t sway. It’s a matter of self-esteem. Have self-esteem (Iqbal’s khudi) and starve or sell it for dollars and green cards. Stick to the dream of conquering the Kashmir valley and mortgage Pakistan to the US or be practical and reduce dependence on US. Your option.


  • Alphaxcelent
    Jul 24, 2011 - 3:09PM

    Pakistan has to realise that USA…britain and EU they all have one goal.And that maximam profit,nothing less nothing more. They will accept any form of goverment dealing with other countries as long as they can make money.
    We the people of pakistan have us to blame us,that includes our army the so called leaders of this unlucky masses.As long as usa aid is concenerd all this money goes to some chosen thieves.with whom usa prefer to deal coz it can blackmail them.And any one with little wits can figure out that a healthy chunk of this so called usa aid goes back to usa as so called kick backs.
    in reality pakistans economy and and people are suffering much much more.And we as a nation are going down hill fast forward.
    The only sincere person as now i can see is Imran Khan.Who is atleast not corrupt or greedy.If this land can b lead by the right people we do not need any AId but just in few years,all these USA EU countries will b standing in line to do buisness>


  • Rana Asghar
    Jul 24, 2011 - 6:38PM

    It’s not that simple & easy like you have mentioned in your article! Get real.


  • Ahmee
    Jul 31, 2011 - 3:12PM

    Typical Anti-Pakistan not to mention Pro-Indian!!!


More in Pakistan