An Overview of Bumpy Pak-US Relations

Asif Haroon Raja

Historically Pak-US relationship has always been marked by convergence and divergence of national interests that kept on switching from friendship to friction. The US gained more during the times of convergence of interests but periods of divergence outweighed the former.  Although Pakistan earned the title of ‘most allied ally of USA’, it is also the most sanctioned country in the world. By putting all its eggs in the basket of USA, Pakistan gained less as it was not given the required support by the US when needed most.

In the post-9/11 scenario, Washington decided to once again befriend Pakistan since it knew that without its active support, Afghanistan venture may prove very costly. Pakistan happily accepted the role of a front line state to fight global war on terror and to forsake Mullah Umar led regime in Kabul under the illusion that all its economic woes would be addressed. It agreed to assist the invading forces by way of providing air bases, logistic supply routes, airspace for air sorties, and intelligence cooperation. Instead of extracting matching returns, all these concessions were doled out to the needy USA very cheaply.

The US succeeded in duping Pakistan that it would not leave Pakistan in a lurch again. In reality, the US strategically aligned itself with India, Israel, Britain and Germany and Northern Alliance (NA). After capturing Afghanistan and installing a puppet regime led by Hamid Karzai, the six intelligence agencies of the strategic partners led by CIA embarked upon a massive covert war against Pakistan using Afghan soil to achieve its hidden objectives. Concurrently, the US gave a green signal to India to consolidate its position in Afghanistan. This was despite the fact that India doesn’t share border with Afghanistan, it is a Hindu country where Hindu extremism is constantly rising, and has played no role in war on terror. Yet, the US vowed to let India fill the vacuum once it departs and to make it a key player in Afghan affairs. Other than lucrative defence and economic agreements, the US granted India civilian nuclear deal and is now striving to make it a permanent member of UNSC and a bulwark against China.    Since the US had made Pakistan its ally under an agenda, bilateral relations saw a shifting policy pattern to dubiousness, and Pakistan remained target of accusations from all sides. There were frequent swings in US mood towards Pakistan. The US paid no heed to the security concerns of Pakistan but remained ever worried about India’s mostly fabricated concerns. Even now it is seeking critical favors for India at the cost of Pakistan’s national interests.

The US brokered Pak-Afghan-Transit-Trade-Agreement (PATTA) on July 19, 2010 allowing transportation of Afghan goods through Wagah to India and in return Pakistan getting permission to use Afghan territory for trade with Central Asian Republics (CARs). The US twisted Pakistan’s arm to make India part of PATTA so as to allow India to export goods to Afghanistan and beyond through Wagah border, grant MFN status to India and liberalize visa regime. Efforts are now in hand to pressure Pakistan to allow India to transport merchandise goods to and from Afghanistan without giving anything in return except for deceptive promises that trade with India will be of great benefit to Pakistan. A new opening is being given to India despite the fact that there is a serious trade imbalance in Indian favor. Unable to compete with India, it will adversely impact Pakistan’s manufacturing industries and will also negatively impact Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan and with CARs.

In order to keep Pakistan bridled, the US coined ‘do more mantra’, kept leveling unsubstantiated allegations, resorted to coercive diplomacy and subjected it to drone strikes. It made Pakistan a convenient scapegoat to hide its failures. Pak-US relations, which remained lukewarm because of bossy and mistrustful attitude of American officials and their outright leaning toward India and Afghanistan, nosedived after series of USA’s offensive acts in 2011. Counter measures taken by Pakistan were meant to impress upon the US to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and to treat Pakistan as an ally rather than a target. However, it led to further widening of trust gap and brought Pak-US relations to a near-breaking point.

Fighting the US dictated war on terror has had debilitating impact on Pakistan’s social, political and economic life. Strikes by CIA operated drones and US meddling in domestic affairs has resulted in gradual erosion of Pakistan’s sovereignty and honor. Despite suffering the most in terms of human casualties and economic losses, the US prefers India over Pakistan. While the US keeps prodding Pakistan to befriend India and not to treat it as arch enemy, it doesn’t press India to bring a change in its belligerent attitude and hegemonic policies and to lower its ever increasing defence budget each year. Rewards have been generously doled out in complete disregard of India’s ambitions and dangerous designs against Pakistan.

India has constructed 40 dams over Rivers Jhelum, Chenab and Indus to turn Pakistan’s fertile lands arid but no concern has been expressed by USA or any western country. The US is least interested in finding an amicable solution to the 65 year old Kashmir dispute since any facilitation in this direction will annoy India. The US fails to comprehend that when it lectures on Indo-Pak amity, unless right of self-determination is given to the Kashmiris and water aggression by India is reversed, meaningful goodwill cannot be promoted between the two antagonists.         The main purpose behind the Pak-US strategic dialogue which started in 2010 was to understand and address the interests and concerns of each other. The US interest was to find a way for a safe and honorable exit from Afghanistan with Pakistan’s assistance. Pakistan on the other hand was mainly interested in US assistance to improve its faltering economy, overcome its energy crisis and to address its military imbalances.

The US has been making tall promises but has failed to deliver. Pakistan has been vainly seeking a civil nuclear deal like the one US concluded with India and considers it imperative for restoring balance in the region and to overcome the energy crisis. It expects from the US to restrain rather than encourage Indian meddlesome role in Pakistan using Afghan soil. Pakistan didn’t receive from the US the support it expected over its national security concerns. Rather, it financially squeezed Pakistan. Pakistan was not given an improved US trade access for its textile exports, which is crucial for Pakistan’s economy to restore its declining industrial sector through trade access which is more effective than aid. Pakistan’s request for a free trade agreement has not been ceded to. The Reconstruction Opportunity Zones legislation that would give market access and trade concessions to Pakistan and Enterprise Fund Projects and construction of two hydro electric dams in FATA are still pending.

Indications are that the only reason that the US has so far not abandoned Pakistan is that it has lost the war in Afghanistan and its safe and honorable exit is to a large extent dependent upon Pakistan. Another reason is the breakdown in US-Taliban parleys which has placed the US in an awkward position. It has no roadmap for its safe exit and future stability of the region. It is pinning hopes on Pakistan to convince the Taliban to resume talks for a negotiated political settlement. However, despite knowing that Pakistan is the only country that can play a key role in solving Afghan tangle, the US wants to keep Pakistan out and India within its loop.

Pakistan has already ceded lot of ground without extracting anything in return. America’s efforts to give enhanced role to India in Afghanistan and to pressure Pakistan to grant land access to India via Wagah should be firmly resisted. Concessions should be reciprocal and not unilateral.

The writer is a retired Brig and a defence and security analyst. Email:

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