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Dysfunctional and Disappointing: US-Pakistan Alliance

Since its inception in 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has had a dysfunctional and disappointing relationship with the United States of America. The highs have never been able to justify the lows. Though Washington and Islamabad have had diplomatic relations throughout Pakistan’s 73-year existence, it took the United States two months to formally recognize Pakistan as an independent state. Portraying itself as one of the most progressive Muslim countries with a strong centralized government and army It didn’t take long for the Pakistani establishment to grow disenchanted with Washington’s commitment. Many elites felt that the U.S. betrayed them by not coming to their assistance in the first Kashmir War in 1965 and Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, which were both lost to The Republic of India. Pakistan believed that it had to take steps from the loss of their last war to counter the perceived threat of India. Their answer; armed groups and militia movements would be used as proxies to gain influence in the region and protect national interests, which has made it impossible for the two countries goals, priorities, and strategies to align.

During the Cold War, Pakistan allied with the United States acting as a conduit for the arms and capital that were used to support the Mujahideen, who were waging a jihad against the brutal Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Pakistani Army and their intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had other plans. As the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan came to an end and the country was embroiled in a devastating civil war and violence in Kashmir spiked from 1989–1991. ISI had been exploiting the arms and capital given to them by the U.S. to support militant groups to further their own national interests in the region. By 1992, the evidence that the Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency were supporting these anti-Indian militants’ groups was damning. Diplomatic relations began to strain. Nevertheless, when President George H.W. Bush took office in January 1989 he made improving relations with Pakistan a priority for United States.

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President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush greet Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardiri (far-right), at the White House on June 6, 1989

President George H.W. Bush’s first state dinner was held for Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto. The dinner was aimed to encourage democracy within Pakistan and boost trade between the two nations. It was an inspiring signal of hope for a country on the verge of discovering its identity. However, Pakistan’s intelligence agency and their army had navigated the country on a path they were unable to divert from. A mutualistic relationship had been established with networks of militants. Pakistan had decided to support this group, which were later named the Taliban. The two have had very strong connection from the very beginning. This support extended to but was not limited to “arms, ammunition, equipment, fuel, and other supplies, but also military advisers, trainers and experts” to the former Taliban regime, which Pakistan installed in power viewing the as a reliable-anti-India element in Afghanistan. At the end of his term, President George H.W Bush attempted to do something no President of the United States has done before. Label Pakistan as Terrorist Designated and State Sponsor of Terrorism, a designation applied by the United States Department of State to countries that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” leading to strict unilateral sanctions that would’ve crippled the economy of the country and inevitability broken the unstable alliance between Pakistan and the United States. However, President George H.W. Bush was unable to secure the election in November 1992 and the legislation never passed.

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US President Bill Clinton (R) greets Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) at Blair House in Washington, D.C. on 4 July 1999. AFP

President Bill Clinton inherited the burden shortly after taking office and struggled to rebuild effective communications channels with a volatile government that had endured two successful military coups and numerous unsuccessful attempts since its independence. President Clinton engaged with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on deescalating violence in Kashmir, and to his credit made mild effort. He persuaded Sharif to back down in Kashmir in 1999. A year Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen. Perez Musharraf organized a bloodless military coup seizing control of the civilian government of the publicity elected Sharif. Musharraf was unable, or unwilling, to make any sort of tangible progress towards three major requests made by the Clinton Administration: to restore democracy, reduce nonproliferation, and stop groups accused of presenting a threat to the United States national security. The inability to deliver on these requests thrust Washington closer to India at a time where relations between the two nations were almost non-existent after decades of troubled ties. This caused a rift within the Clinton administration, with two distinct camps formed around the handling of Washington’s relationship to Islamabad. One side wanted to cut ties with the country outright. The other believed rebuffing Pakistan would lead them to be lost to extremism forever spiraling them into political and economic failure. The latter of the two strategies won out.

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President George W. Bush (R) with President Pervez Musharraf (L) of Pakistan in Washington, D.C. on September 27, 2006

The alliance between the two countries took new forms following the 9/11 attacks. President Gen. Perez Musharraf offered his support for the war on terror and allied with the United States against al-Qaeda and their hosts the Taliban government in Afghanistan. The Musharraf regime scrambled quickly forsaking the Taliban, who had relied on Pakistan as a support structure. In 2003 Musharraf was giving speeches and lectures stating that the country was at a crossroads “We have to save Pakistan” against extremism. The U.S. began to lavish praise on Pakistan for its co-operation in America’s so-called ‘War on Terror.’ The Musharraf regime even went as far to allow U.S. forces to use its air bases and station troops for operations on their own soil. It wasn’t until reports from several sources, including Musharraf himself, were made public in September 2006 that things took another turn. Those reports claimed the only reason Pakistan agreed to comply was because they felt they had no other choice. President Bush had given Pakistan an ultimatum “you are either with us or against us” terminate the support, funding, and sanctuary for the terror groups within the region and join the U.S. on its war on terror or the war on terror will start with you. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, had even gone as far to send a message to Pakistan’s Director-General of ISI directly from Bush to ensure nothing was lost in translation. Armitage made it clear, the U.S. had finally had enough with Pakistan’s state sponsorship of terrorism and they would bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” if they did not unequivocally comply. The promised based on good-faith and cooperation were short-lived. Although the Pakistani Government had scrabbled to keep relationship with the U.S. and disavowed the Taliban, their army did not.

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US President Barack Obama (R) and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shake hands during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, on October 23, 2013.

President Barak Obama made many bids like previous U.S. Presidents before him to mend relations with Pakistan to form a deeper strategic partnership. Obama authorized $7.5 billion aid package titled Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 for the purposes of civilian assistance to Pakistan over the course of five years. The relationship continued to grow via these efforts. Then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made remarks of the improving relationship between the two countries in an 2010 strategic dialogue “a new phase in our partnership, with a new focus and a renewed commitment to work together to achieve the goals we share.” accompanied by a number of officials from the United States Government. Sadly these efforts were doomed to fail from the beginning because of the realities of the two nations: their security interests were never aligned. On May 2, 2011 codename Operation Neptune Spearwas ordered by President Obama and United States Navy SEALS raided a wealthy northeastern suburb compound and killed Osama Bin Laden, the founder of the militant organization al-Qaeda and the world’s most wanted terrorist in Abbottabad, Pakistan (120 kilometers north of Islamabad, the capital city). Bin Laden is believed to have ordered the September 11 attacks. The US did not share any information or intelligence of the raid with the government of Pakistan fearing that collaborating, involving, or informing Pakistan would jeopardize the mission. This was evident after Pakistan’s army chief’s reaction strongly suggesting the United States would face military response if such an operation was carried out without the approval of the state. After the raid, the US relationship with Pakistan with aid-consistently decreasing and became clear that national security interests would be overlapping.

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The visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (L) to meet Donald Trump (R), the US President, was seen as an opportunity for the two countries to reset their acrimonious relationship © AP

In an unprecedented move, when President Donald Trump took office he lead a strong approach against Pakistan slamming the country for state-sponsored terrorism in the region and beyond declaring “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens to terrorist organizations”. In January 5, 2019 the Trump administration suspended about $2 billion in security aid to Pakistan and accused their ally of “nothing but lies and deceit”, playing the double game, and the refusing to crackdown on terrorism. Zalmay Khalilzad, the former United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations called for the Trump admiration to take effective countermeasures against Pakistan in an The New York Times Op-ed contribution titled: Why Trump Is Right to Get Tough With PakistanAmbassador Khalilzad suggested that the United States impose strict sanctions on senior officials in the Pakistani military and intelligence service believed to support terror networks that kills Americans. Imran Khan, the former Pakistani cricketer became Prime Minister albeit accusations the powerful army had predetermined the election results to control the Pakistan through a shadow military dictatorship. On July 21, 2019 Trump and Khan agreed to reset and mend relations. After the initial meeting at the White House relations between the two did improved as well as the resumption of military aid to Pakistan.

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Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (R) greeting the Taliban co-founder and political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (L) during their meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 3, 2019. EPA

This opportunity was perceived by Trump and allies as means to fulfill his campaign promise to end “Endless Wars” and convinced Khan’s government to bring the Taliban, who Pakistani army generals have referred to as “our brothers” to negotiate directly with the United State government on a withdrawal agreement of American troops in Afghanistan. A report by the Institute for Economics and Peace found the Taliban to be the world’s deadliest terrorist organization, overtaking the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Khalilzad was chosen as chief negotiator as U.S. Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, a newly created envoy position. In a remarkable turn of events where Islamabad had been accused for years of sheltering terror groups in Pakistan, were now being praised as reformers to bring these militants to the same table with diplomats and receiving calls from world leaders.

The United States must reform its contradictory policies with Pakistan. This alliance was built to combat terrorism except even in the best of times, there’s been a lack of trust on both sides. Pakistan has kept its domestic affairs cloaked away from the eyes of the international community and diplomacy has failed the U.S. to convince Pakistan to abandon support for militant groups. The bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States is long and complicated for the most part because Pakistan is not a country with an army, it is in all forms of reality, an army that has taken the country and government hostage. The Pakistan’s civilian leadership has never been effectively engaged and bilateral relations between the two have experienced nothing than more great dissatisfaction from the various heads of states of the two countries for decades. If the irrevocable cycle continues between the two nations, they’ll forever be destined to experience tortured ties and disappointment.

By Sultan Ghani

Twitter: @sultanghani_

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