Why the US Needs to Make Nice with Pakistan


Zafar Aziz Chaudhry

America has used Pakistan when it suited her agenda and then tossed it away when found inconvenient

Imran Khan’s PTI fought the recent by-election on an anti-American narrative that due to an international conspiracy, some members of PTI were bribed at the behest of the US to retract support from his party. This was said to ensure that Khan’s government could lose the majority in the parliament and thus lose the government. Thus, due to the retraction of a few members, the no-confidence motion was carried out amidst a parliamentary fiasco. Resultantly, Imran Khan was thrown out of the government. This gave rise to a bitter campaign by Imran Khan and his PTI against the US for hatching a conspiracy against his government and bringing his downfall. Thus, he fought the by-election on anti-American sentiments by inciting a hate campaign against the US and scored a massive victory in the by-elections. This so-called conspiracy was allegedly based on a document written by a US official, but Pakistan’s top security body rejected Imran Khan’s allegation. Since the anti-American allegation was levelled at the national level, it has become necessary that Pak-American ties of the past may be reviewed.
The history of the Pakistan-US relationship has been generally a matter of smooth sailing for only brief periods, and is, mostly a story of tragedy and tormented relationships. Right from Pakistan’s inception, their relations were good in that the US kept providing massive military aid to Pakistan (between 1948 and 2016, Pakistan received nearly US$78.3 billion annually in military aid from the US). In the mid-fifties, Pakistan became a member of the southeast treaty organization in 1954 and signed the Baghdad pact in 1955 (later CENTO). Pakistan formally left SEATO in 1973, because the organization had failed to provide its assistance in the ongoing conflict with India.
During the rule of Ayub Khan, Pakistan enjoyed a close relationship with the US, and Ayub Khan granted permission to the US to fly its first spy missions to the Soviet Union from the Peshawar Air Base. During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, America played a neutral role and brought a truce between Pakistan and India at Tashkent. However, the people of Pakistan became disillusioned with American support. America’s refusal to provide military support to Pakistan generated widespread anti-American sentiments in Pakistan that the US was no longer a reliable ally.
During President L B Johnson’s rule, both countries enjoyed cordial relations, but America maintained neutrality on border disputes between Pakistan and India, which pushed Pakistan closer to Communist China and India closer to the Soviet Union. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 disintegrated Pakistan by creating Bangladesh. America sent its Seventh Fleet into the Indian Ocean as a warning to India to resist escalating attacks against West Pakistan. However, the relations between the two countries remained normal.
Bhutto’s socialist ideas favoured the communist ideas but never actually allied with communism. Under Bhutto, Pakistan became a member of Non-Aligned Countries, building closer ties with the Soviet bloc. The socialist leanings of Bhutto’s government badly upset the US.
During those days, India had tested its nuclear device. Against all opposition to the Western block, Bhutto authorized the construction of Chagai weapon-testing laboratories. The atomic bomb project became fully mature in 1978, and the first cold test was conducted in 1983. But the domestic events took an ugly turn, and Bhutto was hanged in 1979 for the murder of a private individual.
During General Zia’s rule, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and established its puppet Rule there. This prompted the US to promote ties with Pakistan at their maximum and pumped billions of dollars of economic and military aid to Pakistan. This resulted in the defeat of The Soviet regime. With US assistance, in the largest covert operation in history, Pakistan armed and supplied anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan.
In April 1979, the US suspended most economic assistance to Pakistan over concerns about Pakistan’s atomic bomb project under the Foreign Assistance Act. This once again created an Anti-American feeling in the Pakistani public.
After the September 11 attacks in 2001 in the US, Pakistan became a key ally in the war on terror with the US.
After 9/11, Pakistan, when Pakistan failed to convince the Taliban to hand over members of Al Qaeda, The US directly invaded Afghanistan with Pakistan’s help and defeated the Taliban-Afghans. But ultimately Pakistan had to pay a very big cost in men and materials. The Taliban could not avenge their defeat from the US but found Pakistan their easy target to launch terrorist attacks. Due to the Afghan insurgency, Pakistan had to suffer rehabilitation of nearly 4 million Afghan emigrants on its soil providing them food and shelter. As per estimations of April 2021, more than 71,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians are estimated to have died as a direct result of the war. The rise of violent extremism in Pakistan due to instability in Afghanistan not only caused serious damage to Pakistan’s economy but has also been responsible for widespread human suffering due to indiscriminate terrorist attacks against our civilian population.
With Obama coming into office, the US tripled non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion per year over 10 years, tied military aid to progress in the fight against militants.
Pakistan remained a major non-NATO ally as part of the War on Terrorism and a leading recipient of U.S. aid. Between 2002 and 2013, Pakistan received $26 billion in economic and military aid and sales of military equipment. But both these countries experienced several military confrontations costing human lives on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border which embittered their relations.
After the US withdrew from Afghanistan, the US “distanced” itself from Pakistan. Imran Khan described this withdrawal as Afghans breaking “the shackles of slavery.” After the assumption of President Biden Pakistan declined an invitation to US Summit for Democracy.
This background of the history of Pak-American relations makes clear one paramount truth: that America has used Pakistan when it suited her agenda and then tossed it away when found inconvenient. Much of what has been written on this subject by Western critics, is biased or one-sided. The most balanced account appears in Daniel Markey’s book, “No Exit from Pakistan, America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad.” In this book, the author has taken due account of the tragic and tormented relationship between the US and Pakistan relationship, including Pakistan’s internal troubles and its rapidly growing population, nuclear arsenal and its relationship with China and India. He also pointed out where America erred in its relationship with Pakistan. In this context, he has recounted the instances when the US did not adequately rise to Pakistan’s defence in its wars with India in 1965 or 1971, or in 1990 when Washington placed sanctions on Pakistan for pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Despite these ups and downs, the ties of both countries cannot be broken without great peril to both. Pakistan, according to Daniel Markey, is not a state, which can be side-tracked by its closest ally i.e the US. Conversely, Pakistan for its economic development and security concerns direly needs the help of the US. Pakistan is a central Asian republic whose support is strategically very important for the US. Now that Pakistan is a nuclear state, America can neither afford to break ties with nuclear Pakistan nor allow it to grow so powerful that it proves a danger to the US and the entire region. Hence both countries will have to co-exist for their mutual benefit or at worse remain in an uneasy truce.