Pakistan is an old partner of the United States, however, the partnership has evolved over decades and demands and expectations of both sides from each other have been changing despite their certain relatively stable interests. Presently, US-Pakistan relations have entered a phase where both countries have 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 decades of 1950, it fundamentally wanted Karachi to serve as an important link in containing the former Soviet Union by encircling it and preventing the 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 had an opposite view that the Americans did not care for Pakistan stability even during the Cold War. But one does not agree with the 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 Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty. Unfortunately, Pakistan could not keep its territorial integrity intact as East Pakistan had to become 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 had 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 organizations, specifically Muslim armed militias, wanted Pakistan to serve as an ally against the militant organizations. However, due to ideological or religious reasons as well acute security compulsions, Pakistan could not support Washington in a way as has been expected by the latter. This is despite of 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 organizations. 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 at the hands of non-state global, regional and local Muslim militant organizations, like Al Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
There has always been an important question raised by observers and policy circles in Pakistan and elsewhere that whether the US has had a deliberate policy to put Pakistan’s stability and integrity at risk for its core national interests. Washington, as it always claimed, wants to see a stable and prosperous Pakistan, but under compulsion of its interests could only see its interests served whether it results in instability and chaos for Pakistan. While any realist state would have adopted the policy but it could lead to mistrust between allies and partners and the same has happened to the US-Pakistan relations.
The US is, indubitably, the most powerful country in the world and it is Pakistan’s fortune that the former has important interests in Pakistan due to which it has had kept extensive relations with the country 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 analyzing the Pakistan-US relations within the context of the Afghan conflict which although is very important, yet do not extensively explain the bilateral relations and causes of their deterioration and potential for improvement. Moreover, as Pakistan is currently engaged with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to contract a huge bailout package to address its colossal macroeconomic woes, our policymakers must understand that most international economic decisions are determined by international political factors. Against this backdrop also, understanding the key interests of Washington in Pakistan becomes important for our policymakers as the US has a dominant voting share in all International financial institutions, particularly the IMF. So, if Pakistan would have to contract economic packages from the IMF, it would have to show flexibility on political questions with the US; any opposition to it notwithstanding.
Since the turn of the century, the US has the some key objectives in Pakistan. These are: 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, stabilization of the country; courting Pakistan to support the US anti-Iran stance; pressuring Pakistan to give the Gwadar Port control to US companies instead of China; to reduce Pakistan-India tensions but not by playing role in resolving the key issue of Kashmir. Here, it is important to note that the US policy objectives in Pakistan have been in conflict with that of 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 own interests for the sake of its policy objectives. This is typical of any patron-client relationship which the US has had with Pakistan. However, times have changed and, therefore, the nature of the relations must also transform. It must be realized by both Pakistan and the US.
It must be acknowledged that Pakistan also received handsome financial and military assistance from Washington. The irony is that without regard for Pakistan’s sovereignty and interest, the US still wants Islamabad to serve its interests and does not care at all that doing so fly in the face of US oft-repeated claims of doing its utmost to stabilize Pakistan.
In recent years, Pakistan made two critically strategic decisions: to sign the multi-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement and handing over the control of its key seaport Gwadar to China. The US has not been ostensibly against the CPEC, but quite annoyed over giving the Gwadar seaport under the operational control of China as Washington considers Beijing as a strategic competitor in the region. Insofar as the CPEC is concerned, the US thinks that it would strengthen the regional as well as global power position of China which would be at the altar of Washington’s interests in the region. Here, it is important to note that the CPEC is just one part of China’s grand BRI, which aims at integrating the Eurasian landmass on the pattern of the ancient Silk Route with China reaping huge benefits of the economic integration. With its strategic and economic rivalry with Beijing apart, Washington must understand that the CPEC could be a key stabilizing factor for Pakistan and this, in a way, serves the avowed interest of the US.
Now the US has to demonstrate to what an extent it is committed to Pakistan’s stability, otherwise the mutual mistrust would exacerbate.