PAKISTAN-US relations are a tale of abruptly changed American policies, lack of mutual trust, blame-game of lesser cooperation, incentives and punishment in form of sanctions. Although based in large part on economic and strategic interests, the US-Pakistan relationship has rarely been smooth. Initially, both countries had dreams while developing their bilateral relationship. Since its inception, Pakistan has leaned towards the US.
It had a dream of acquiring advance technological defence equipment for self-defence against Indian aggression under the American security clout. The dream come half-true, as the country has acquired defence and technological assistance, which helped Pakistan to improve its defence capability but it had also been ditched by the US several times during the need of the hour. On the other hand, Americans had a dream of preventing South Asian region from communism. Hence, they had chosen Pakistan to make their dream come true. Unlike Pakistan’s dream, American dream came true in letter and spirit due to Pakistan’s active role in Afghan Jihad.
Throughout their bilateral relationship, Pakistan has been America’s ally in SEATO, CENTO, Afghan Jihad and War on Terror. It has never joined anti-US alliance during or after Cold War. Yet, it has been the victim of American abruptly changed policies in the region. Though on the one hand, Pakistan is often known as America’s Non-NATO ally, yet on the other hand, it is ‘Most Sanctioned Ally’ of the US in last three decades. There is a long list of sanctions by the US on its ally. Perhaps the first significant and damaging Amendment to punish Pakistan was passed in 1977. Since 1977, under the Symington Amendment, Pakistan has been banned to acquire or develop uranium enrichment technology. Though, the Glenn Amendment in 1994-95 lifted Symington Amendment for some time, the country is still under limitations of these sanctions imposed by Symington Amendment.
Pressler Amendment, which proved most detrimental to Pakistan’s defence was passed in 1985. According to Pressler Amendment, America had put ban on military assistance to Pakistan. These limitations were activated in 1990. American foreign policy abruptly changed after the withdrawal of Red Army from Afghanistan, and America began to force Pakistan to abandon its nuclear program and to sign NPT unilaterally. After the debacle of Soviet Union and end of Cold War, the US was no longer interested in the friendship of Pakistan.
Therefore, it decided to implement the already passed Pressler Amendment (1985), which disqualified Pakistan from receiving any American military assistance. America banned the delivery of military equipment worth US$ 368 million and 28 F-16 air-crafts for which Pakistan had already paid. In 1998, Pakistan further came under the US sanctions popularly known as Non-Statutory Sanctions due to nuclear tests carried out by Pakistan. Later, Musharraf’s coup further added the list of sanctions to Pakistan. During these sanctions, military to military and high level exchanges remain restricted between the two countries.
The US didn’t stop its imposition of sanctions on Pakistan in recent years despite the fact that Pakistan has played an active role in countering extremism and terrorism at Pak-Afghan border region. It had announced sanctions against seven Pakistani entities allegedly associated with the country’s missile programme in 2016. Moreover, Pakistan is under many sanctions imposed by the US in defence, economic and social spheres. The most recent speech of Donald Trump on American South Asian policy and his threat of stopping Pakistan’s military assistance is another negative addition to the history of strategic bilateral relationship.
To conclude, in Pak-US relations, the US role has always been dominating and it will remain so in the foreseeable future. It is the most complex relationship, which has not only often confused students of international politics but also the policy-makers and intelligentsia of two nations. For America, Pakistan’s fair approach of dealing terrorism in the region and softer foreign policy towards India might be the turning point of cordial bilateral relationship, while for Pakistan, the end of abruptly changed American policies in the region with equal treatment of two South Asian nuclear powers might melt the ice between two complex allies.
— The writer works for Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.