By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan

United States established its diplomatic relations with Pakistan in early in 1948, when Paul Alling, a career diplomat arrived in Karachi, then capital of Pakistan. Later on Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, visited U.S in May 1950. This visit marked the formal beginning of the Pak-US relationship. In the subsequent history, Pakistan’s relations with United States have “careened between intimate partnership and enormous friction-reflecting the ups and downs of global and regional geopolitics and disparate national interests.” While maintaining a balance relationship with India, US relations with Pakistan have been “intense and extraordinary volatile.”

It is viewed that Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan maintained good relations with Pakistan whereas, in the periods of; Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Bush senior, and Clinton, there remained chill in the bilateral relationship of both countries. The two tenures of President George W. Bush, from 2001 to early 2009, have mostly been a period of dubiousness, mainly owing to the so-called global war on terror. Because of Pakistan’s alliance with U.S and Western world throughout during the cold war, its relations with the former Soviet Union and other countries of Communist bloc remained at the lowest ebb. Sequel to Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, Pakistan provided all out assistance to U.S and West once they promoted global Jihad against the invasion of former USSR in Afghanistan. This assistance indeed, left deep rooted effects on the Pakistani society in the form of extremism, proliferation of weapons and drug culture and many other social ills, Pakistan is anguishing, following the incident of 9/11.

Henry Kissinger before departure for China

As rightly pointed out by Dr. Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, that; in the international politics, “there are neither permanent friends nor permanent foes of a state”. These are indeed, the convergences and divergences of national interests of states that make them friends or enemies to each other. National interests of states are not constant, but continue changing depending upon the emerging realities from time to time. National strategies are made on the principals of national interests’ not on emotions or on personnel liking or disliking of leadership or a particular factor.

In the history of Pak-US relationship, there have been more frequent convergences and divergences. The convergences have mostly been on the operational and tactical level, whereas, the divergences existed at the strategic level. “This strategic divergence made relations perpetually vulnerable to accusations and counter-accusations”. However, in the post 9/11 scenario, the Pak-US “bilateral engagement has changed the historical pattern of tactical convergence versus strategic divergence. In this tenure, owing to the commonality of fighting the global war on terror, there appear to be “shared threat perceptions and common national and global objectives that the two partners seek”.

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Pakistan was confronted with the threat to its security, integrity and existence emanated from the aggressive Indian designs right from its inception in 1947. Indian aggression on Kashmir, in October 1947, induced Pakistan to opt for a partnership with US and West. This angst of insecurity led her to become part of Western sponsored military alliances like SEATO and CENTO, thus making her the most allied ally of the US. In its subsequent history, this alignment became the strategic necessity for the entire period of the Cold War. Apart from having the security guarantees’ through these pacts, Pakistan perhaps thought that this Western alliance would help her in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. A number of Western backed resolutions, passed by United Nations Security Council (UNSC), all warranting Kashmiris their right of self determination provided enough logic that Pakistan should keep itself an ally of West and the U.S.

This Pakistani compulsion and its geo-political location was well exploited by US for its own strategic needs. U.S otherwise needed a partner in South Asia, which could act as a counter weight against the spread of Communism. Indian refusal to become US ally in 1949, left US with no option, but to make Pakistan as its partner and Pakistan needed it for its security assurances as well as its own fears against the Communism. The reality was more than this. Indeed, India has become a strategic partner of the Soviet Union through the conclusion of a number economic and defence agreements. However, apparently India upheld the status of neutrality from the forum of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Although diverging at the bilateral level, except containment of Communism, there became a convergence of strategic interests of Pakistan and US at the regional and global level to some extent.

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Unfortunately, this strategic convergence of interests mostly benefitted the United States. US got enough space for spying and limiting the activities of its ideological opponent, throughout during the period of cold war. Pakistan, however, was not supported by US at its trying moments like; 1965 and 1971 wars. As a result of 1971 war, Pakistan was even disintegrated, whereas US stopped its military assistance to Pakistan.  Thus, “this Cold War relationship was in many ways a subset of the two countries’ other strategic concerns. Pakistan’s being India, while for the Americans it was the containment of communism. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 however, brought a convergence of Pakistan and US interests and concerns”.

Because of its geographic contiguity with Afghanistan and Pakistan’s bold stance to defend its territory provided courage and opportunity  to take advantage of the situation. Pakistan was the only country in the region, that had the will and the determination to stand against USSR, that helped US and the West to operate against the former Soviet Union, the hour that they were longing for.  Since Pakistan too was threatened by the Communist regime, this convergence remained effective throughout the period of 1980s.

The Soviet disintegration brought the cold war to an end, thus positioning US at the status of sole super power. Pakistan was worst affected by the fallouts of this ideological confrontation of the two camps of the cold war. After attaining the desired results, U.S left the region in haste, leaving Pakistan alone to clear the debris of this polar conflict. As after effects, this convergence left for Pakistan; “over 3.5 million Afghan refugees, proliferation of sophisticated weapons and the profusion of narcotics which spread from the uncontrolled areas of Afghanistan to parts of Pakistan”. The ideologically motivated Mujhaideen had to be decompressed that no one cared for became a major problem for Pakistan.

This was not the end. The strategic convergence of 1980s turned into a chill and brought divergence in the Pak-US relationship once in October 1990, United States, clamped economic and military sanctions on Pakistan. Imposed through the infamous Pressler Amendment, these sanctions were discriminatory and only Pakistan oriented, aimed to limit its nuclear programme. So much so that the military hardware for which Pakistan had already paid $1.2 billion, prior to 1990, were also not provided to it. Divergences in the relations touched the lowest ebb in 1993, once US threatened to declare Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism and imposed additional sanctions on Pakistan through Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) for receiving the so-called missile technology from China. After the nuclear explosion of 1998, US imposed additional economic and military sanctions on Pakistan, which remained valid until 2002. It is worth mentioning that India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974 and no action was taken against it. Each time the, “impetus for proliferation at every step came from India, but it was Pakistan, and not India, that was subjected to penalties, embargoes and sanctions”.

In the current phase of Pak-US relationship which indeed started after the incident of 9/11, US needed Pakistan for active cooperation in its military operations against Taliban in Afghanistan. The militancy in FATA and other areas of Pakistan indeed is the fallout of this cooperation. Even during this phase there has been vicissitudes’ at the bilateral level and Pakistan was not fully trusted. Against the ground realities, it was equated with Afghanistan through the infamous Af-Pak policy. It is also true that Pak-US relationship is indeed a history of turbulent connections, and there is no harm in admitting that Islamabad’s ties with Washington were dictated by specific politico-military interests with no deep-rooted historical and ideological union. It was the national interest of US which dictated its relations with Pakistan.

During the entire duration of this partnership, the gains for Pakistan however, were less as compared to its sufferance. Now, once as a twist of history, there is a convergence of interests of both countries once again, let there be a realistic Pak-US partnership on the longer terms? This is only possible once both sides will respect each other’s interests on the basis of mutuality.  The major partner will have to play the major role, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured that, this time US would not abandon Pakistan.

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Dr Raja Muhammad Khan is a Phd in International Relations from Quaide Azam University Islamabad. Currently he is an Associate Professor at National Defence University Islamabad that has an International recoginition.

He is a regular writer on geo-politics and contributes his writings to