Pak-US ties in retrospect – Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Image Source: Pakistan Today

Ties between Pakistan and USA have historically remained bumpy and deeply flawed at many levels. Both the countries have found each other relevant in different situations and have also shown willingness to work together in spite of differences in given situations. However, in a new developing set of global alliances – with changing economic dynamics in light of Belt and Road initiative of which CPEC forms a part and USA leaving the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) – the ambitious posture of China with an assertive policy based on global outreach has raised a fundamental question;

Will it be China or the United States determining the future of global trade, security and development?

In these changing times, it will be pragmatic to retrace steps to outline the relationship between the US and Pakistan. The relationship has had its successes as well as its failures but in essence, they have never shared the same vision, set of strategies and a continuity of a relationship that strengthens over time. During the era of the Cold War, which spread over four decades, the US and Russia made the South Asian region, a battle ground for their rivalry. USA picked up Pakistan as an ally whereas Russia paired with India; with both the super powers using two arch enemies for serving their regional interests.

In 1956, Pakistan allowed USA, as requested by President Dwight Eisenhower, to use the Peshawar air base for the US army to keep an eye on Russian ballistic missile programme. In the 1960’s, Ayub Khan let the US fly spy missions to Russia using Pakistan’s territory. USA was appreciative of Pakistan joining the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) to contain communist Russia in 1954, and then the CENTO in 1955. Interestingly, in spite of Pakistan’s supportive role towards the US, the latter did not deliver on its promise of supplying Pakistan with arms during the Indo-Pak war in 1965. The seeds of distrust against the US were sown. The grounds used by US for not delivering as promised was that the treaty clause could only come in play if attacked by a communist country and not if attacked by India.

There was a paradigm shift in US policy then in light of strained relationship between Russia and China. Owing to India’s size, geography, resources and potential both on economic and political terms, it was in USA’s national interest not to push India in Russian arms. 1971 was the year full of trauma for Pakistan, where Pakistan lost the East wing of her country in form of Bangladesh. In spite of President Nixon declaring Pakistan a great friend, Dr Henry Kissinger in his book ‘White House Years’ summed up the relationship between the two countries succinctly, “Our relations with Pakistan were marked by a superficial friendliness that had little concrete content”.

In early 1971, the State Department of US stopped the arms delivery to Pakistan worth $35m. A few days later, Senator Walter Mondale and Senator Clifford Case submitted a resolution putting up a case against Pakistan to discontinue any sale of arms to Pakistan as well as all military assistance. A month later, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted for suspending all sales of arms to Pakistan till the civil war came to an end. India was presented with a win-win situation. With Russia supporting New Delhi and America not supporting Pakistan, India was in a position to launch an attack on Pakistan. Dr Henry Kissinger states, “The victim of the attack was an ally…to which we had made several explicit promises concerning precisely this contingency”.

With an end to the 1971 war, USA returned to a better footing with Pakistan. For the US, Pakistan still had a role to play. However, the embargos placed on Pakistan were further tightened under President Nixon. Sanctions placed under 1977 Symington Amendment were lifted in 1994 by the Glenn Amendment Between 1994-95 the shipments of ring magnets led to fresh limitations.

During Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, Pakistan’s bonding with US was strong. Billions of dollars were given to Pakistan for military aid and economic help. Most of this was used to launch the Mujahedeen by CIA and ISI in Afghanistan to roll back the Russians from Afghanistan. The year Russians were driven out from Afghanistan, the Berlin war too came to an end. USA was elated but it was Pakistan that bore the brunt of the help extended to US in the form of a surge of over two million Afghan refugees, proliferation of drugs cascading into Pakistan, and influx of weapons.

Mission accomplished! The US lost interest in Afghanistan, as Hillary Clinton rightly stated in a Congressional meeting, “We have a history of being in and out of Pakistan.” In 1990, the US introduced the Pressler Amendment, targeting one country only on grounds of a nuclear issue. Pakistan was disallowed any further help on military or economic grounds. Not only this, America banned delivery of 28 F-16 air-crafts and military equipment worth $ 368 million. Interestingly, payment by Pakistan was already made to the US.

During 1992-93, Washington made threatened Pakistan that it would designate the latter as a state sponsoring terrorism. In 1993 more sanctions followed on Pakistan under Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) under allegation of receiving Chinese help in missile technology. It was in 1995 that Benazir Bhutto requested Clinton to lift embargos on Pakistan during a visit to the US. The result was the Brown Amendment that was passed agreeing to deliver military equipment worth $ 368 million for which Pakistan had already paid, but sanctions on arms were still not lifted.

Under Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1998, as a result of nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan in retaliation to the one tested by India, the Glenn Amendment was passed against both nations suspending all aid by US. It was not till the 9/11 attacks that Pakistan became ‘important’ for the US yet again. Pakistan’s services were used to broker a deal with Al-Qaeda to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US. The deal did not come to pass. Pakistan allowed the US to use her soil to launch attacks in Afghanistan from their military bases. Timing it perfectly, the US in 2001 lifted the sanctions imposed on Pakistan under the Pressler and Glenn amendments.

In 2003, USA wrote off a loan to Pakistan worth $1 billion as a token of appreciation and the very next year George W Bush granted Pakistan the status of a non-NATO ally, which awarded Pakistan the privilege of buying advanced military equipment. During the years of War on Terror that followed, the US has on and off accused Pakistan of supporting terrorists, also misusing the funds awarded by the US and tipping off the Taliban. In 2009, in the backdrop of distrust by the US, the notorious Kerry-Lugar Bill was passed. Non-military aid worth $7.5 billion was awarded upon acceptance of stipulations that were not favorable to Pakistan.

One clause within this Bill was interesting. ‘For fiscal years 2011 through 2014, no security-related assistance may be provided to Pakistan in a fiscal year until the Secretary of State, under the direction of the President, makes the certification required under subsection (c) for such fiscal year.’ There was no comment in the Bill or clause stating the outcome of such a certification is rejected. Who will arbitrate, if at all? Will it be a one sided decision of the donor to deliver a decision on whether or not Pakistan has delivered on various grounds & stop aid if they feel it has not? More surprising was acceptance by Pakistan of such terms.

In 2011, there was the famous Raymond Davis case and the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO air strike leading to Pakistan’s demand that US Army must remove itself from Salala air base; being used at that time for attacks on Taliban. Over time, faces at both ends have changed, but the distrust has remained constant. US strategies over time have kept on changing with time with complete disregard to policies of her ‘ally’ Pakistan without allowing the latter the right to safeguard her own interests. Pakistan’s legitimate concern of India using Afghanistan as strategic depth against Islamabad stands ignored.

At best, the relationship between USA and Pakistan has remained unequal from the start. Evolving new global alliances has Pakistan in the camp of China and Russia. Whereas, after leaving TPP, all the US is left with is fear of China’s outreach. If the Indo-US partnership succeeds in destabilizing Pakistan for the next few years, China will lose the momentum and the thrust of a “model project” that is CPEC. Very recently, in a speech, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson stated that “the Indo-Pacific – including the entire Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific, and the nations that surround them – will be the most consequential part of the globe in the 21st century” and that “the greatest challenge to a stable, rules-based Indo-Pacific is a China that has taken to reworking the international system to its own benefit.”

The Trump administration’s threats and accusations to Pakistan make imminent sense if one looks at a bigger global scenario. This does not mean to say that Pakistan should allow militants to enter mainstream politics (as seen in recent by-polls) without renouncing terrorism and violence in all forms, give up militancy and de-weaponize. Terrorism in any form must be dealt with, not because it is demanded by US but because it the need for our own survival and progress. The US, on the other hand, needs to adopt a balanced approach towards Pakistan. However, in light of the new economic developments globally, her interests are not in line with that of Pakistan. Which leaves Pakistan with a million dollar question: Is Islamabad’s strategy up to date in terms of evolving global alliances?

YasmeenThe writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9

1 comment

  1. Best part in the article: This does not mean to say that Pakistan should allow militants to enter mainstream politics (as seen in recent by-polls) without renouncing terrorism and violence in all forms, give up militancy and de-weaponize. Terrorism in any form must be dealt with, not because it is demanded by US but because it the need for our own survival and progress.

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