Brief history of Pak-US ties | By Akbar Jan Marwat


Brief history of Pak-US ties

CONTRARY to common thinking, Pakistan certainly has an independent Foreign Policy. Pakistan has never been a colony or a protectorate.

As a sovereign country, it has been generally free from foreign interference in executing and conducting its foreign policy.

Almost since our independence, we have made a free and conscious choice to align ourselves with the West in general and the US camp in particular.

Aligning ourselves squarely with the US camp may not have been a wise decision. But then conjuring up a false narrative regarding regime change against the US by Imran Khan was even more unwise.

Treating a superpower in such a cavalier manner, for petty gains in domestic politics, could indeed be very detrimental to our national interests.

For the last few years, the US war in Afghanistan had not been going on well, for which it blamed Pakistan.

The start of CPEC with China, and America’s increasingly improved relations with India to contain China, were some of the important factors which considerably strained Pak-US relations.

Some time ago in the backdrop of strained Pak-US relationship, President Biden questioned the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

These remarks by the American President, declared at a fund-raiser, as expectedly annoyed Pakistan’s leadership.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif rejected these uncalled for remarks calling them “factually incorrect and misleading”.

The American Ambassador to Pakistan was summoned to the Foreign Office for an explanation.

Pakistani Army leadership also declared, “Pakistan is a responsible nuclear state which has taken all necessary measures to strengthen its nuclear security regime”.

Although the State Department tried to downplay Biden’s statement, the verbal sparring between the two countries, again focused attention on the future of Pak-US relations.

As mentioned earlier, the longest American war in Afghanistan proved to be a source of extreme mistrust between Pakistan and America, although this war had provided an opportunity to the US and Pakistan for very close cooperation and engagement.

Geo-political concerns that shaped American regional alignments mainly defined relations with Pakistan.

First in the cold war, America’s main aim was to contain the growth of communism and Pakistan thus became the most allied ally.

Then came the pressing need of rolling back the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Then followed the past 9/11 phase that resulted in defeating Al-Qaeda in the war on terror.

The phase ended with the US exit from Afghanistan, in a manner which was less than satisfactory for the superpower.

All these phases, in Pak-US relations, elucidated the inescapable fact that positive transformations in ties were always driven by events extraneous to bilateral relationships.

Even before the US pullout from Afghanistan, geopolitical realities of the area were shifting in a major way.

China stepped up its diplomatic role in the region. It launched its major diplomatic and economic engagement in the area launching its famous “Belt & Road initiative”.

This was the time when regional states including Pakistan felt a diminishing of American role and influence in the region.

Former President Trumps ‘America First’ foreign policy signaled disengagement from the region.

This coincided with a significant intensification of Pakistan’s longstanding ties with China. These relations were symbolized by China’s pivotal role in BRI and the accompanying substantial Chinese investment in Pakistan’s infrastructure, energy and development projects.

Now the important question for Pakistan is that: in spite of its strategic priority for China; Islamabad still wants an improved and stable relationship with America.

The US remains Pakistan’s largest export destination and a major source of FDI. America is also a superpower with significant leverage over international financial institutions, whose help a debt ridden country like ours always needs.

Pakistan should try to keep out of the Chinese American tiff, but it is easier said than done. Pakistan-US relations are at a tipping point.

Any significant reset of relations would be dependent on a number of factors, the most important of which is America’s policy of containing China and the devising of a strategy to mobilize countries to join it to counterbalance Beijing’s growing global power.

The revival of QUAD and AUKAS are all part of the strategy to cement the anti-China alliance.

The confrontation between China and the US limits Pakistan’s role in resetting ties with the US.

Another tedious factor is Washington’s growing strategic and economic relations with India, its strategic partner in the region and its main counterweight to China.

US’s strengthening of Indian military and strategic capabilities is only magnifying Pakistan’s security challenges.

Another factor bothering Pakistan is America’s turning a blind eye to India’s illegal annexation of occupied Jammu and Kashmir and its continued silence on India’s violation of human rights there.

The main challenge then for the two countries, to reset their ties is to find: space between the Pakistan-China strategic relationship and the US-India partnership, to rebuild ties on a mutually beneficial basis.

Space is certainly available to rebuild ties on this basis. The recent decision by the US to go ahead with the sale of spares for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet, despite reservations by India, illustrates that this space to recast Pak-US ties in mutually beneficial areas is certainly available.

This move by the US was also an indication that it wanted relations with Pakistan based on its intrinsic values and strengths, rather than because of ties with third countries.

A vision of broad-based relations that move beyond the traditional focus on security to economic, trade and investment is required.

Another important space for reset of ties could be cooperation in education, science and technology.

Pakistani leadership has to show imagination and ingenuity to find more areas of convergence with the USA to build sustainable ties. It is after all wise to be on the right side of a superpower.

—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.