Pak- US Diplomatic Relations


United States of America remains one of the first countries to have established diplomatic ties with Pakistan. Although the relationship dates back to October 20, 1947, it can be extrapolated that the relations have been based strictly on military and economic support. During the initial years of Pakistan, the country had the options of building allegiance with Soviet Union or United States, however, Pakistan opted for the latter. Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan visited United States to meet president Harry S Truman. Throughout the course of these years many officials from Pakistan such as commander-in-chief Ayub Khan, foreign minister Zafrullah Khan, foreign secretary Ikramullah, finance minister Ghulam Muhammad, defence secretary Sikander Mirza and special envoy Mir Laiq Ali visited US, aiming to receive financial aids from the country. Pakistan signed Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States in May 1954. Being an important ally for US during the cold war, United States supported Pakistan, despite the arms embargo. Pakistan also assisted president Richard Nixon in making his first visit to Peoples’ Republic of China. During 1971’s war, US is speculated to have provided Pakistan with arms and military aid, in order to discourage India from penetrating further into the cities of Pakistan because losing Pakistan meant losing an important ally in the soviet war. Although the USA provided a huge amount, about $78.3 billion between 1948 and 2016 in the form of military aid, it never assumed Islamabad as its equal partner like others, and as a result, they both failed to establish their strategic and economic relations so far. It was a failure of Pakistan’s diplomacy with the USA, which focused on the security threat perception more than anything else, leaving their relations based on weak foundations even after seven decades of friendship and mutual understanding on a number of regional and global issues. Initially, for many years, the West part of Pakistan remained dominant in politics as well as the administration, and ultimately the decision went in favour of the USA. In all the ways the USA liked Pakistan, supported the country in regional and global affairs and it became member of several alliances led by the USA, including SEATO and CENTO. It all made Pakistan a reliable and trusted friend of the USA, always ready to serve US strategic interests.

With the start of the 21st century, it was again Afghanistan that tangled both estranged allies into a counter terrorism alliance, which was finally shelved under Donald Trump. Despite the troubled events and times, though, Pakistan once occupied an important place in American geopolitical strategy and has been a major non-NATO ally since 2002. After Pakistan’s participation in the Afghan peace process and Taliban retakeover Afghanistan in 2021, a sizeable number of US policy makers are revisiting the United States relations with Pakistan. Pakistan’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari met U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York. During the meeting, both leaders reaffirmed the need to strengthen broad-based and comprehensive ties.

After the meeting, Bhutto Zardari took to Twitter to announce that he had a “very productive” meeting with Blinken on “issues impacting regional peace and security including Afghanistan.”

“We discussed expanding cooperation in trade and investment, energy and climate change, health and education, IT and tech and agriculture. The importance of trade over aid. We will continue cooperation in defence and CT sectors,” Bhutto Zardari wrote. Similarly, in his brief comments to the media, Blinken said that the meeting with Bhutto Zardari represented an important opportunity to talk about many issues of mutual interest. “We want to focus on the work we’re doing to strengthen economic and commercial ties between the United States and Pakistan, of course, focused on regional security,” he remarked. Last month, Pakistan’s army chief tried to amend this misstep under Khan’s government by saying that “the good army we have today is largely built and trained by U.S. The best equipment we have is American equipment. We still have deep cooperation with U.S. and our Western friends.” He also slammed Russia’s military attack on Ukraine, saying that “despite legitimate security concerns of Russia, its aggression against a smaller country cannot be condoned. Pakistan has consistently called for an immediate cease-fire and cessation of hostilities.”

United States work closely with Pakistan on a wide array of issues ranging from Afghanistan stabilization efforts to counterterrorism to energy to trade and investment. In terms of counterterrorism and internal security, Pakistan has taken some action against externally-focused militant groups and UN-designated terrorist organizations operating from its territory in accordance with its National Action Plan against terrorism and Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s public commitments. The United States has been one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Pakistan and remains Pakistan’s largest export market. Trade relations between the United States and Pakistan continue to grow, and the U.S. government supports this relationship by funding reverse trade delegations, business conferences, technical assistance, and business outreach.

The United States is Pakistan’s largest export destination country, while China is Pakistan’s largest source of imports. The United States has been one of the top investors in Pakistan over the last two decades, with major U.S. investments concentrated in consumer goods, chemicals, energy, agriculture, business process out-sourcing, transportation, and communications. The United States has sought to deepen commercial ties with Pakistan, with senior officials from the U.S. Commerce Department and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) engaging with Pakistani leaders.

The new government in Pakistan is being seen by the country’s leaders, particularly the military, as an opportunity to reverse the broken relationship with the U.S. and its allies. Under the new government, Pakistan has already adopted a new position on the issue of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, something that Washington has asked for months. Moreover, there appears to be a realization in Islamabad that the country cannot hope to build an economic and diplomatic relationship with Russia at the cost of its already established ties with the United States. For instance, the majority of Pakistan’s exports and revenue come from Western capitals or countries that are allied with Washington. Pakistan cannot afford to undermine all this by pushing a foreign policy direction that has no economic or diplomatic standing at the moment.

However, it is too early to say if this new engagement will change anything fundamental between the two countries. It is unlikely that a change in government in Pakistan will alter the United States’ security-focused and transactional view of the relationship with Islamabad. We may still see Washington burdening Pakistan with its expectations related to counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and the US can cooperate in the fields of education, climate threat mitigation, food security, power sector development, and Information Technology. An East West Economic Corridor (EWEC) linking India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian states to complement CPEC could give enough leverage to the US to maintain its presence in the region to achieve its strategic interests. This corridor could be financed by public-private partnerships enhancing US investment manifold and creating permanent stakes in the regional economy. America-Pakistan Educational Corridor (APEC) is another idea that has been mooted in the past by the name of US-Pakistan Knowledge Corridor. This would give the US a strategic clout disproportionate to its investment. Since the US is the biggest destination for Pakistani exports, bilateral trade is another area where Pakistan could be bound in a strategic embrace through sheer force of economics. The above win-win formula however needs Wilsonian idealism wedded into Cohen’s agile statecraft to succeed. Any takers in the US?

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