Pakistan & America are not strategic allies

Published: February 9, 2014
The writer is an Express Tribune staffer who has a master’s degree in Security and Intelligence Studies from the University of Pittsburgh

The writer is an Express Tribune staffer who has a master’s degree in Security and Intelligence Studies from the University of Pittsburgh

Those who think that Pakistan and the US are strategic allies or friends, remain delusional. Pakistan, during former president Pervez Musharraf’s regime, could have most certainly been considered a solid partner, but to say we were friends or allies would be ridiculous. We’ve been partners at best, as is highlighted in the language of the joint statement between President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his October visit to Washington last year; the word partner/partnership was used five times. Not just this, the statements of all US officials refer to us as a partner.

Countries that are considered friends and allies have common values –– governing systems, resemblance of culture, strong people-to-people contact, and most importantly, the convergence of interests. Citizens of both countries must be able to relate to each other, while on a governmental level, both sides must be able to agree on certain principles that ensure physical security of both countries. These values, then, become the basis of a strong bilateral relationship, where at least the concerns of preserving one’s way of life, and national security of both parties become mutual. For the US and Pakistan, the most important underlining factor –– trust –– does not exist, and for good reason.

Though the October joint statement mentions the existence of shared democratic values, with a particular emphasis on democracy as a preferred system of governance, any observer knows that Pakistan has a dismal record on human rights, freedom of speech, freedom in general, and the sad state of its minorities. But back to the transactional nature of this relationship, in order for the ties to be looked beyond the realm of security, Pakistan must deal with its terrorism problem, specifically abandoning the use of militant outfits to conduct foreign affairs and deny such elements sanctuary on its soil.

Face it, there is very little, if anything, that is common between the two countries. This relationship is bound to remain a transactional one, and so is the strategic dialogue, which is essentially an exercise for Washington to read Pakistan’s future course and evaluate its actions. US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson reiterated this when he briefed a select group of journalists in Washington. He said the dialogue was not meant to come up with specific “deliverables”, but for both sides to get a clear and better understanding of each other. Suggesting that this relationship is on the right track would be highly misleading. Unless trust is restored, our ties will continue as usual: transactional. Former defence secretary Robert Gates’ memoir and his bluntness is enough to certify this. He wrote that while the US prioritised countering terrorism, Pakistan pursued to maintain its influence in Afghanistan through the same proxies the US considered its enemies.

Though national security adviser Sartaj Aziz urged the US to redefine its relationship with Pakistan beyond just security priorities, the entire strategic dialogue aimed at security-related prerogatives. Energy and economics were a sideshow. The lowest ebb during this dialogue was when Aziz lamented the US for ‘historically not taking Pakistan’s security interest into account’. It’s ironic how a country’s national security adviser can expect another country to prioritise its security interests and concerns. Yet, it’s not entirely Aziz’s fault since a security policy still doesn’t exist. He also went so far as to referring to major events in 2011 as irritants ­­–– the US raid in Abbottabad and slaying of Pakistani troops at the border checkpost. This goes to show our delegation’s compromising demeanor, considering how these actions were characterised.

Policymakers in Pakistan must realise that Washington isn’t Beijing where 100-year plans are sketched. Due to the nature of American democracy and electoral politics, the agenda has the potential to change every four years. A new administration in Washington brings with it its own set of priorities. But instead of focusing on how Washington’s outlook will change, first we must define our own interests.

National security for the Americans is supreme, as it should be for any country. Nothing will ever influence US policy if it contradicts its national security objectives. And Pakistan’s actions have been constantly clashing with it. Thus, we will never be friends or allies.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • optimist
    Feb 9, 2014 - 12:44AM

    Though I agree with gist of the argument, strategic allies usually have strong interest too. If people to people contact/same values/similar governing system is indicator, then the author should not have contrasted Beijing with US. He should have stated that China, Turkey and USA are not our friends as we don’t share most of the things that he has counted as important for having strategic alliance or friendship.


  • Sexton Blake
    Feb 9, 2014 - 1:44AM

    The author, Shahzeb Shaikha, is almost correct, but not quite. America does not make friends, but has a long term plan which has been ongoing before any of us were born. To slightly misquote a popular term “America’s business is business”, and any country getting in the way of that is in trouble. That is why many countries such as Russia, China, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran are not popular with the US administration. The so called closest friends of America are those such as UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and that is because they are totally sub-subservient. There is also another not too shadowy control group in the background, which the US is subservient to, but that will have to wait for another day. One has to understand that Pakistan/India are almost part of the Western alliance group, but not quite, for a number of complex reasons, which are out of their control. In the meantime Pakistan is following a reasonably diplomatic path in the face of great difficulties, not necessarily of her own making. .


  • Anjaan
    Feb 9, 2014 - 4:45AM

    Pakistan wants the dollars, and the US want the job done … the truth of the matter is, the transactional relationship between Pakistan and the US suits both the parties. Pakistan has always done the bidding for the western powers for a hefty dollar price … and it will happily do the same in the foreseeable future … it is a perfect symbiotic relation … what more does anyone need … ?? … Why is there so much fuss about whether or not Pakistan is a strategic ally of the Americans or not … ?


  • polpot
    Feb 9, 2014 - 5:34AM

    The Kerry Lugar & CSF Largesse is about to end
    Pakistan faces economic political and militancy upheavals post US Withdrawal.


  • Feb 9, 2014 - 8:45AM

    Does it really matter? What you consider as your best friend, China, also ignore you if the real need arises.


  • Feroz
    Feb 9, 2014 - 9:20AM

    The last few lines are of great relevance to any relationship, even if it is an transactional one. Pakistan has tied up its existence and priorities with religion and disdain if not hatred for neighbors. When everything is viewed from that prism communication becomes difficult because the other side has no such prism to view the object. How will Pakistan survive without Aid is what should be exercising the mind of leaders — nothing else.


  • Agnostic
    Feb 9, 2014 - 2:22PM

    It would be more accurate to say that the Pak-US alliance is under stress. Obama’s Republican predecessor accorded Pakistan the status of Major Non-Nato Ally. That notification has not been rescinded.


  • optimist
    Feb 9, 2014 - 5:29PM

    @ polpot
    Opinions is a serious section. This article is written by a professional for those who wish to understand the complex nature of International Relations. Spare us your jibes.


  • Niiki
    Feb 9, 2014 - 5:37PM

    true; both are niether strategic allies nor true friends


  • Feb 9, 2014 - 6:29PM

    USA is a true enemy of Pakistan who are working on to destabilize and disintegrate Pakistan on which they will fail ultimately.Recommend

  • Truth Told
    Feb 9, 2014 - 8:35PM

    Pakistan and the United States were indeed allies in the true sense of the term during the Cold War Era. And, again, during Musharraf’s times, they were true allies once again. Now, however, with impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it might be necessary to find new avenues of understanding and cooperation, which benefit both. This is the present challenge and let us see if both the US and Pakistan can meet this.


  • unbelievable
    Feb 9, 2014 - 10:12PM

    while the US prioritised countering terrorism, Pakistan pursued to maintain its influence in Afghanistan through the same proxies the US considered its enemies.
    Spot on – says everything about USA/Pakistan relations and why the term “strategic partner” is rubbish. It should be added that the majority of the civilized World considers Pakistan’s “strategic assets” as terrorist/enemies which impacts how your viewed by most of the civilized World.


  • Vikas, Mumbai
    Feb 9, 2014 - 10:58PM


    Sir, Polpot’s comments are witty but sharp and do carry weight. Instead of snubbing, why not counter with logic and facts?

    By the way, where is Gauravi ?Recommend

  • Welcome
    Feb 10, 2014 - 12:13PM

    Let both the US and Pakistan concentrate on common interests as these are the only invariable elements that forge cooperation since there are no permanent friends or partners in International Relations.


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