Pak-US ‘rollercoaster’ ties


Ali Imran Atta

The United States of America emerged as the first country to develop formal relations with Pakistan on August 15, 1947, one day after Pakistan gained independence through the partition of British India. These relations are a critical component of the US state’s overarching framework in Central and South Asia, as well as in Eastern Europe. However, the relationship between the two sovereign states has been termed a “roller coaster,” with highs marked by productive collaboration and depths marked by profound bilateral estrangement between 1948 and 2013.
This month, the United States has not attempted to conceal the fact that it is actively watching progress in Pakistan, both on the political and economic fronts, in recent weeks and months. Over the last four months, almost a dozen remarks have primarily or in passing mentioned Pakistan, and in every case, the timbre and intention reflect a level of apprehension rarely seen in the past. The most recent US State Department statement expressed hope for financial stability in the country, emphasizing that America was not only aware of Pakistan’s financial problems, but also supported efforts to revive the national economy. When asked if Washington shared the country’s concern that Islamabad is on the verge of economic crisis, a US State Department spokesperson said that the nation needed to collaborate with international financial institutions to enhance its economy.
“We incentivize Pakistan to keep on working with the World Monetary Fund (IMF) on implementing programs, particularly those that will improve Pakistan’s business environment,” the US official said. “Doing so will increase the competitiveness of Pakistani businesses and help Pakistan attract high-quality foreign investment.” When Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was asked a similar question, he replied, “As long as we remain willing to help ourselves,” others would continue to help Pakistan. “We must assist them by taking the necessary steps at home.” The young minister noted that the rest of the world had vowed to provide roughly half of the financing Pakistan needed for regeneration following the 2022 floods at the latest conference in Geneva.
“Now Pakistan must contribute the remaining 50%.” The foreign minister also emphasized the importance of reaching a “conclusion with the IMF” and following up on the offer to renegotiate our debt made by French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. To put things in context, a State Department official stated, “Pakistan’s economic stability is a subject of discussion between the Pakistani and US government agencies, including the United States State Department and our counterparts, the Department of Treasury, and the White House.” But why is Washington so concerned about Pakistan’s economic and political stability? According to conventional wisdom, the determinant is our nuclear program, and the world cannot perhaps afford to view a nation with a nuclear arsenal on the verge of annihilation. However, conventional wisdom only exposes the tip of the iceberg. Pakistan is the fifth largest country in the world, and the second largest Muslim country, with a large army and extensive nuclear infrastructure.
The economic collapse in Pakistan has the potential to be extremely damaging for everyone concerned with international stability and the preservation of the current international order. As a significant international power, the United States is worried. Secondly, the US does not want Pakistan’s economy to collapse while it is led by a democratic system that is working hard to stabilize relations with the US. The South Asian great power rivalry phenomenon is such that it would be in the US’s interest to articulate to Pakistan that it intends to remain involved and work cooperatively where applicable so that Pakistan does not lean too heavily in the direction of China. This viewpoint is shared by John Ciorciari, a professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He observes that while funders such as China and Saudi Arabia may well not include any explicit conditions in their aid, there are always implicit strings attached.
“China will look to Pakistan for favourable incentives, such as the power generation passageway moving from the Arabian Gulf to China’s western region and the strategically located port of Gwadar. China will indeed seek Pakistan’s assistance on geostrategic issues ranging from Taiwan to Afghanistan and Ukraine.” Michael Kugelman, director of the Woodrow Wilson Centre’s South Asia Institute, concurs. “The risk of such a struggling economy is a serious risk to [Pakistan’s] overall stability. As a result, it’s comprehensible that Washington would want Islamabad to pull away from the edge and get the economy growing. I’m not sure if the US is concerned about the Pakistani economy collapsing, but I believe it is eager to help avoid that outcome, which values compressive strength efforts to either get things moving again with the IMF, he says. Since the 1950s, the Pakistan-US relationship has been linked to various stages of US defense interests in the region in the 1950s and 1960s, it must have been strongly linked to Regional Politics; in the 1980s, the Iranian revolution and the Communist invasion of Afghanistan took the spotlight. After the events of September 11, 2001, this relationship was reawakened in the early 2000s. Throughout these phases, the US government was the closest to Pakistan’s defence department (and related civilian elite)… It also accepted and backed military governments in Pakistan, which received military and non-military assistance.
With the transformation in Afghanistan throughout 2021 and the switch within the US to a China containment policy, it has shifted its regional preference to India. People must recognize, for the sake of the country, that Pakistan has had severe problems with governance, social change, democratization, and development, for which we are primarily responsible. The United States did not create these conditions but rather took advantage of them. However, he contends that economic uncertainty may imply a less sustainable Pakistan government, which may have an impact on Washington’s often long-term companion in the nation, the military. One could argue that Pakistan’s economy would benefit from a consistent representative democracy with checks and balances.
As a result, an unstable political environment combined with an economic crisis could result in a chaotic situation in which Pakistan could once again become a breeding ground for extremism. The diplomatic process respectively Pakistan and the United States must become natural if it is to progress, and it should. Both parties benefit from a strong relationship. However, this normalcy cannot be achieved unless Pakistan becomes a normal country and Washington shifts its fixate of interest away from the political elite and toward the people.