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A History of Diplomatic Relations between Pakistan and the United States

Updated on April 13, 2019
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During the initial years of Pakistan, the country had the options of building allegiance with the Soviet Union or the United States; however, Pakistan opted for the latter. Pakistan-United States relations refers to the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States. After two months and six days of Pakistan's independence, the United States established relations with Pakistan on 20 October 1947. These two states recognized one another as sovereign states and agreed to pursue diplomatic relations but it can be extrapolated that the relations have been based strictly on military and economic support. The nature of Pakistan-US relations is not easy to analyze as it has passed through a various number of different stages. In earlier, Pakistan consistently found themselves on the United States side during the Cold War.

The US has a multi-faceted relationship with Pakistan in areas ranging from counter-terrorism to energy to trade and investment. Pakistani forces have made significant sacrifices in recent years to reclaim parts of the country previously held by militant groups. In line with the South Asia strategy announced by the President in August 2017, the United States continues to encourage Pakistan to take decisive action to prevent all militant and terrorist groups from using its territory. Pending this action, the United States suspended security assistance to Pakistan in January 2018. The United States has generally been one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Pakistan and is its largest export market. Trade relations between the United States and Pakistan continue to grow and the U.S. government supports this relationship by funding reverse trade delegations, business conferences, technical assistance, and business outreach.

Early Stages

In mid-August 1947, the British ended their century-long colonization of the Indian subcontinent. This gave way to the formation of India and Pakistan. India was the stronger of the two aforementioned countries, so their chances of survival were much better than Pakistan. India needed little to no support from global superpowers. India had a fairly strong military, infrastructure, and industries. They inherited all the elements of an essential state from the British Rule. On the other hand, Pakistan did not inherit any of these perks. As compared to other countries of the region, the military of Pakistan was outnumbered and outgunned. Same was the case with industry and infrastructure. So, it can be argued that Pakistan was an inherently weak state. On top of that, the aggressive actions of India did not help Pakistan’s cause. The partition between India and Pakistan was a very violent one. Therefore, a fairly strong anti-Pakistan sentiment was broadcasted by India. All of this seems ominous. A full-scale armed conflict broke out between India and Pakistan in 1948. Thankfully, the international community has had its fair share of armed conflicts in recent years. Therefore, the battle between the two newborn countries was stopped by the intervention of the international community. But this conflict triggered a very strong survival mechanism among the Pakistani population. A widespread fear found its way right into the very existence of the Pakistani communities. In fact, a psychologist will classify it as a combination of fear and inherent insecurity. This fear was that survival of Pakistan is at stake. An aggressor will roam into the boundaries of our country, and our homeland will be colonized once again. One can argue that this fear is based on the troubled past of people residing in this part of the world. After all, subcontinent has had its fair share of invasions. Be it the Aryans, the Mauryans or the Afghan monarchs. The people of the subcontinent are no stranger to foreign invasions.

So, the foreign policy of Pakistan was based on this inherent fear that the very survival of the country is at stake. As a result of this sturdy fear, in Pakistan, foreign policy decisions are never based on rational thinking or national interest considerations. Instead, these key decisions are made in a rather emotional manner. These decisions are driven by a rather emotional state, which in turn is driven by a self-perceived existential threat to our society. Same was the case with the initial foreign policy of Pakistan. The newfound country was inherently fragile, so, in order to survive, it had to side with the global superpower. The United States and the Soviet Union were two unchallenged global superpowers at that time. Actually, these two countries were much more than superpowers. These two countries represented two very different ways of lives. They embodied two different world orders which were in stark contrast with each other. So, it was fairly obvious that Pakistan could not have played nice with both of these countries. At that point in time, it was widely believed in the strategic think tanks as well as the general people around the globe that there will be a long cold war between the US and the Soviet Union but at the end, capitalism will prevail in form of success of United States. There was a strong belief within Pakistani school of thoughts that in order to survive; Pakistan must team up with one of the world leaders. Because of the aforementioned factors, Pakistan never had an opportunity to stay neutral. So, the government of Pakistan made a very smart looking choice by choosing capitalism over communism.

Pakistan served as a geostrategic position for United States military bases during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Pakistan joined CENTO and SEATO, the anti-Russian military alliances formed by the US. America found Pakistan an important ally because of her geographical location that further helped the superpower to increase its sphere of influence in Asia. This relation was further strengthened after Pakistan signed SEATO and CENTO. Furthermore, the US had no issue in getting permission from Pakistan to use her military bases for spying purposes, such as the U-2 incident. SEATO and CENTO were designed to lure a group of countries towards capitalism. This allowed the west to project their way of life. In return, the US offered Pakistan military assistance in case of a Soviet Invasion. However, this relationship dynamic gave way to a lot of complications on both sides.

Military Collaboration

The military collaboration between Pakistan and the United States can be traced back to two unique endeavors. Following section of the report contains details of these events:

During the SEATO and CENTO treaties, the United States had pledged to provide unconditional military support to Pakistan in case of a Soviet invasion. During the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, Pakistan expected military support from the United States. Pakistanis were under the impression that the United States had pledged to provide military support to Pakistan in case of any armed conflict. So, there was a widespread belief within Pakistan that Americans had failed to come through their assurances in the 1971 war. Pakistan sustained massive losses in 1971 war. There was strong sentiment within the Pakistani government as well as the military establishment, that the US could have stopped India from intervening into Pakistan’s civil war. Consequently, there was a very strong anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. The public sentiment was resonant in the policies of the upcoming governments of Pakistan. As a result, the US-Pakistan relationship took a severe hit. Things remained stagnant for about a decade.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan changed everything. By that point in time, relations of the US with Iran had been deteriorated seriously. So, the US and west knew it all too well that the assistance of Pakistan is critical to halting the aggressive expansionism policy of Kremlin. When Russians marched into Afghanistan, it was a big deal for the US; because USSR was threatening the American way of life. By that point in time, it was becoming increasingly obvious to West that Kremlin is striving hard to push communism beyond its borders. Had Russian managed to stronghold Afghanistan, the next target of the expansionist USSR regime would definitely have been Pakistan. Invasion of southeastern countries by communist regimes was a very terrifying prospect for the US. Meanwhile, USSR was basically an existential threat to Pakistan. Soviet presence in Afghanistan would have been a highly undesirable outcome for the US as well as Pakistan

The old saying, “Enemy of my enemy is my friend”, came to living when US and Pakistan teamed up to beat a common foe. So, intelligence agencies of the US and Pakistan basically teamed up together. An unprecedented amount of intelligence sharing was carried out between the US and Pakistan. All of a sudden, Pakistan became a front line state in the global fight against communism. The cold war wasn’t so ‘cold’ anymore. And it was being fought right next door to Pakistan. That was the moment in history when Pakistan played its cards right. Pakistan agreed to play ball with the West. But the military establishment of Pakistan made it absolutely clear to the west that Pakistan will make the rules and west will have to follow them.

It did so by strong-arming US intelligence agencies and convincing to funnel all money through Pakistan. So, the US supplied money to Pakistan, and then Pakistan trained the Afghan combatants. In this way, the Pakistani military was in control of the supply lines. It is widely believed that armed forces of Pakistan reaped massive financial and technological advancements during this period. The alliance of the US and Pakistan eventually prevailed. Actually, Russians have beaten all ends up in Pakistan. Afghan Taliban fought on the frontlines and they managed to give one hell of a fight. But Pakistan was the real kingmaker in this scenario. Pakistan trained Taliban fighters; it provided the Taliban with much needed tactical and technological support. Culturally, Pakistanis were close to the Taliban, so, Pakistanis managed to train the Taliban fighters in a much more efficient manner. Although US and Pakistan worked closely with each other to make sure that Afghans have everything in their inventory. Still, the support of Pakistan was of critical importance in the combat operations. The Soviet Union accepted their defeat and retreated. The problems between the US and Pakistan started after that. The US did not help Pakistan to carry out the nation-building process in Afghanistan. As the Soviets retreated, the Americans just packed their bags and left. Now, Pakistan had this tremendous mess along with their western border. Pakistanis were extremely unpleasant with the US attitude in this regard. The US offered no assistance in the nation-building progress in Afghanistan. The infrastructure and economy of Afghanistan collapsed during the armed conflict with Russians. As the situation continued to deteriorate, a humanitarian crisis unfolded in Afghanistan, and Pakistan had to accommodate hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees. This gave way to a host of problems in Pakistan. The economic growth of Pakistan took a severe hit as a result of that. Moreover, the country also experienced waves of insurgency that found its way through the western border. So, this turned out to be, ‘out of the frying pan, into the oven’, the situation for Pakistan.

After the September 11 attacks, the United States decided to hunt down Osama Bin Laden. In order to so, the US had to carry out military operations in landlocked Afghanistan. Therefore, in order for the US to have any sort of success in Afghanistan, they needed considerable logistical support from Pakistan. After the New York terror attacks, the whole planet gathered behind the US as it launched itself into another armed conflict in Afghanistan. Considering the prevailing global sentiment against terrorism, Pakistan did not have much of a choice when the US asked Pakistan to provide logistical support during combat operations in Afghanistan.

Pakistan agreed to provide all types of logistical support to the US troops. The military co-operation between the two countries reached to such a point that once again, Pakistan allowed the US to have a military basis within Pakistan. However, the intelligence sharing between these two countries was not as strong this time around as it was during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While battling the Russians back in the ’80s, US and Pakistan had a lot more motivation to work together. Russians posed an existential threat to Americans as well as Pakistanis. So, at that point in time, the alliance between Pakistan and the US was very natural.

The current relationship between Pakistan and the United States can be characterized by inherent mistrust between the two countries. Thing went south between US and Pakistan when the United States military carried out a military operation within Pakistan. US troops claimed that they captured Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. After that, both countries were considerably upset at each other. The US claimed that Pakistan was providing a safe house to their ‘enemy number one’. And Pakistan argued that they did not have any idea that Osama was right next door all that time. Pakistanis projected that the US should have provided information to Pakistan regarding the whereabouts of Osama and afterward the US should have trusted Pakistan to eliminate the target. The lack of trust between the two countries can be materialized by the fact that US troops did not even inform the Pakistani military before carrying out this operation.

For about last decade and a half, the relations between the US and Pakistan have been mainly focused on the co-operation and the logistical support that Pakistan was providing to the US at its western borders. Back in 2008, the US decided to pull out troops from Afghanistan. Although the US maintains a presence in Afghanistan, the number of troops stationed there has been considerably reduced over the period of the last few years. Recently, the relations between Pakistan and the United States have hit the rock bottom. The United States no longer needs the same level of logistical support in Afghanistan as they previously did. Moreover, there is a prevailing sentiment in Washington that Pakistan double-crossed the US during the war against terrorism. Many US senators have echoed these concerns. The lack of trust stems from the speculation that Pakistani intelligence agencies provided support to the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Islamabad denies all such claims; In fact, many Pakistanis find such claims very disrespecting and inconsiderate. Pakistanis believe that when the US instructs Pakistan to ‘do more’ in Afghanistan, it undermines the tremendous cost that Pakistanis have paid during the last decade or so. The argument of Pakistan is backed up by concrete facts. Pakistan has acted as front line state in the war against terrorism. And while doing so, Pakistan has taken the major brunt of the impact of the devastation imparted by this war. According to estimates of international observers, over 70,000 Pakistanis lost their lives in terrorist incidents which directly transpired as a result of the participation of Pakistan in the conflict in Afghanistan. And the financial losses encountered during the ongoing war against terrorism amass up to trillions of dollars. Pakistan also addresses the concern that the US did not follow through the mutually agreed plans in Afghanistan. Pakistanis believe that the US just packed up its bags and just left when it was done with Afghanistan. The US did not play its role in the nation-building process in Afghanistan, so, they left a tremendous mess in Afghanistan. Now, Pakistan has to handle all the militant groups along its porous western border, and this is adversely affecting the security conditions within Pakistan. Both sides have very strong and vocal opinions about each other’s role in the war against terrorism, consequently, the relations between the US and Pakistan have hit the absolute rock bottom.

CPEC is a game changer for Pakistan for so many reasons. It allows Pakistan to explore new venues in foreign policy. Now, Pakistan can reshape its relation to the US. Pakistan must use its diplomatic channels to establish new dynamics with the US. These dynamics must be shaped in such a manner that the relation between Pakistan and the US must be based on mutual respect. Both these countries should pursue efforts to work together for common goals. They must work together in areas in which the interests of both of these countries align.

Recently, the Afghan Taliban have shown willingness to come up to the negotiating table. Therefore, now, there is a realistic chance that peace can be achieved in Afghanistan. However, it has become fairly obvious in the last few decades that no lasting understanding can be reached until all the stakeholders sit down on the negotiating table. The United States and Pakistan must pursue diplomatic efforts to resolve their differences. By doing so, they will enable themselves to work hard to achieve peace in South Asia. This will also enable them to empower each other and develop a dynamic which is beneficial to both of these countries.

© 2019 Fawad ul Hassan


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    • Fawadaslam95 profile imageAUTHOR

      Fawad ul Hassan 

      14 months ago from Islamabad,Pakistan

      You are welcome, mam. I wrote this for a semester project. It just had to be detailed :)

    • Bushra Iqbal profile image

      Anya Ali 

      14 months ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

      Thank you! A well-written, detailed and informative article.


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