The uncertainty of Pakistan’s love-hate relationship with the US
Relations between Pakistan and the United States have improved during the past five months namely because Islamabad agreed to facilitate a dialogue between Washington and the Afghan Taliban for a political solution to the conflict — one which is also expected to provide a basis for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
The endurance of the current goodwill between Pakistan and the US is uncertain and a lot depends on the outcome of these talks. If these talks do not succeed, the US may return to its policy of public denunciation of Pakistan on issues relating to the insurgency in Afghanistan.
US-Pakistan relations are marked by a discontinuity and periodic ups and downs because they have been shaped by transient considerations and the typical dilemmas of interaction between a super power and a developing country. It is not an equal relationship rather, it is tilted heavily in favor of the US.
Their relationship is based on their respective national interests which often overlap but do not fully integrate. Consequently, their cooperation has always been transient. The US being a superpower has a global agenda, which shapes its priorities in South Asia.
Pakistan being a smaller power has a regional perspective and an agenda of its own. Additionally, a threat by India has shaped its security priorities. Pakistan’s anti-India agenda does not fit into American global priorities. The US’ interests pertain to the region around Pakistan rather than within Pakistan itself. On the other hand, Pakistan is willing to endorse America’s global agenda if it enables Pakistan to obtain weaponry, economic assistance, and diplomatic support. Whenever their national interests diverge or they no longer need each other in order to pursue their respective agendas, they downgrade their relationship.
US-Pakistan relations are marked by a discontinuity and periodic ups and downs because they have been shaped by transient considerations and the typical dilemmas of interaction between a super power and a developing country.
Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi
In the mid-1950s, Pakistan developed a close relationship with Washington by joining US-sponsored regional alliances for containing the Soviet Union and the spread of Marxism. Pakistan was not threatened by the USSR’s Communism, but it joined the American camp to obtain those things (weaponry, economic assistance and diplomatic support) in order to strengthen its security against India. Pakistan’s immediate security needs were met, but it was unable to obtain American diplomatic support vis-à-vis India. This became a major grievance for Islamabad which led Pakistan to explore the Chinese option in the 1960s. The US also developed complaints against Pakistan, arguing that Islamabad wanted to drag Washington into its regional conflicts with India which were not relevant to the American global agenda.
Relations between the two countries returned to a phase of sharing interests after the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979. They worked together to build an Afghan-Islamic resistance against the Soviet military’s presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan obtained economic assistance, military sales, and technological cooperation. The US ignored Pakistan’s strides in the nuclear field. Once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989, America’s interest began to wane in Pakistan. In October 1990, the US walked away from Afghanistan and imposed sanctions against Pakistan on the grounds that it was developing nuclear weapons. More American sanctions were imposed on Pakistan in 1998 and 1999.
Pakistan and the US revived their relations after the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, when Pakistan agreed to join the US-led global war against terrorism, targeting mainly Afghanistan. All American sanctions against Pakistan were withdrawn and Pakistan was able to obtain economic assistance and military sales. Furthermore, some Pakistani loans were either written off or rescheduled.
By 2011, the two countries developed sharp differences in their priorities toward addressing terrorism in Afghanistan. The US accused Pakistan of “duplicity” in pursuing a war on terror and Pakistan blamed the US for not paying attention to its concerns and interests in Afghanistan. This adversely affected relations between the two, with strains appearing during former President Barack Obama’s tenure.
President Donald Trump’s first statement on Afghanistan on August 21, 2017, contained sharp criticism of Pakistan’s alleged support to the Afghan Taliban groups, especially the Haqqani network. The subsequent statement by President Trump and his senior officials resulted in public denunciation of Pakistan. The US administration sought Pakistan’s cooperation for a dialogue with Afghan Taliban. Pakistan obliged the US on this issue which caused, once again, an upswing in their relations.
– Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi is a Pakistan-based political analyst.