InternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 12

Pak-US relations under Biden

Joe Biden has taken over as the 46th President of the United States of America, raising expectations the world around of a dawn of a new era of American policies towards the globe and individual states. Pakistan, being an important ally or undeclared rival of Washington, would also receive a new treatment from it.

The return to power of Joe Bide now as the US President has increased anticipations across the world of some good treatment after the harshest four years of Donald Trump. Although since meeting Prime Minister Imran Khan when he visited Washington, former US President Trump scotched the otherwise incisive tirade against Pakistan, yet Pakistan during his four years could not get any significant economic and military aid from Washington despite being a frontline state in the US-led war on terror. On its part, Pakistan went an extra mile to bring the recalcitrant Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, first with Washington leading to the February 27, 2020 historic deal between the two sides and afterwards with the Afghan government. So, the assumption of the office by Biden is a great opportunity for Pakistan to restore its economic and military as well as diplomatic support from Washington. In order to secure the much-needed American aid and diplomatic support, Pakistani foreign policymakers must understand US core objectives from Pakistan.

Pakistan is an old partner of the United States, however, this partnership has been evolving over decades and the demands and expectations of both states from one another have been changing despite their certain relatively stable interest in each other. Since the dawn of the 21st century, US-Pakistan relations have entered a phase where both countries had serious doubts about each other’s intentions while they also cannot afford to sever ties.

Initially when the US established close ties with Pakistan in the 1950s, it fundamentally wanted Pakistan to serve as an important link in containing the former Soviet Union by encircling it and preventing communist ideology from spreading in South Asia. Therefore, the US during the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union wanted Pakistan to be its strong ally and for the purpose it contributed significantly to its stability. However, certain Pakistanis have an opposite view that Americans did not care for Pakistan’s stability even during the Cold War. But one does not agree to this line of argument.

On its part, Pakistan during the Cold War wanted Washington to be the source of its financial and military sustenance, so that its regional rivals India, the Soviet Union and its puppet Afghanistan may not harm its integrity and sovereignty. Unfortunately, Pakistan could not keep intact its territorial integrity as East Pakistan became Bangladesh in which both India and the Soviet Union played an instrumental role. Thus, in a way Pakistan lost its Eastern wing due to its alliance with Washington, which annoyed the Soviet Union.

In the post-Cold War US, with its near-dominance of the global scene with the main challenge coming from non-state militant and terrorist organisations, specifically from Muslim armed militias, it wanted Pakistan to serve as an ally against the militant organisations. However, due to ideological or religious reasons as well due to acute security compulsions Pakistan could not support Washington in a way as has been expected by the latter. This is despite the fact that Pakistan has been on the forefront to help the US trounce Al Qaeda, considered as the gravest threat to American security by its policymakers. Therefore, there has been ever-increasing demands from Pakistan “to do more” against militant and terrorist organisations. Like in the Cold War, when Pakistan put its territorial integrity on the precipice partly for Washington, in the post September 9. 2001 period and with the launch of the global war on terror by the US, Islamabad once against put its survival at risk this time at the hands of non-state global, regional and local Muslim militant organisations, like Al Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The US is indubitably the most powerful country in the world and it is Pakistan’s good fortune that the former has important interests in it due to which it has maintained extensive relations with Pakistan despite many ups and downs. It is also noteworthy that Washington has quite old relations with Pakistan; however, since the dawn of the 21st century the mutual relations have been dominated by the Afghanistan conflict. In recent years, many experts and commentators have been explaining and analysing Pakistan-US relations in the context of the Afghan conflict, which although very important yet do not extensively explain the bilateral relations and causes of their deterioration and potential for improvement.

Since the turn of the century, the US has the following key objectives in Pakistan: to get all-out Pakistan support in the global war on terror, including military, counterinsurgency operations in the Tribal Areas, logistical and intelligence support, primarily in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, like Iraq and Yemen; preventing Pakistan from (what Washington fears) proliferating nuclear material and technology, particularly to Iran; getting Pakistan support for reconstruction in Afghanistan, stabilisation of the country; courting Pakistan to support the US anti-Iran stance; pressuring Pakistan to give Gwadar Port control to US companies instead of China; to reduce Pakistan-India tensions but not by playing a role in resolving the key issue of Kashmir. It is important to note that US policy objectives in Pakistan have been in conflict with Pakistan’s interests, particularly regarding China and India. In case of China-Pakistan relations, they have largely been strategic and economic. So, like any other state, particularly a global power, the US wants Pakistan to compromise its interests for the sake of its policy objectives. This is typical of any patron-client relationship which the US had with Pakistan. However, times have changed and the nature of relations must also transform. It must be realised by both Pakistan and the US.

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