To sustain and strengthen Pakistan-U.S. relations, the two countries will have to find more ways of reducing differences and expanding areas of mutual cooperation.
Pakistan’s relations with the United States have gone through several phases during the last seventy-six years of its formation. In the early years, it enjoyed a close relationship with the U.S. that was primarily defence and security related in which Pakistan opted to be a close ally of the U.S. in the U.S.-Soviet ideological confrontation. For Pakistan the support of the U.S. was critical as it became a major recipient of the U.S. military aid that gave it the confidence to stand up to Indian aggression. Although, the weapons and equipment were to be used strictly for defence against any Soviet aggression.
However, after the 1965-war with India, the U.S. suspended its military aid and imposed strict sanctions. Thus, Pakistan turned to China for military equipment and hardware for assistance. In 1962, China and India had engaged in a major conflict that centered primarily on the disputed Aksai Chin region along those countries’ borders. China was being subjected to isolation by the U.S. and found in Pakistan a valuable ally. These events brought about fundamental changes in Pakistan’s relations with the U.S.
For China, Pakistan became a pivotal ally while India and the U.S. finding China as a major adversary, and both being democratic states found common ground for a strong strategic and economic relationship. These major shifts in regional and global alignment did require certain adjustments and changes in orientation, nonetheless both Pakistan and the U.S. still found areas of mutual interest. While Pakistan considers China a pivotal ally it also needs to have a strong functional relationship with the U.S. and sees no conflict of interest. Interestingly, as the world has changed so have the dynamics of relations between the countries.
The classic example of this is so apparent in how the U.S. and China relate to each other. Pakistan has, thus, rightly opted for developing good relations with the U.S. at a tactical or functional level while continuing its strategic partnership and close cooperation with China.
There are several areas that are specific and unique that Pakistan would like to benefit from the U.S. Pakistani students vie for admission in American universities due to their high standards and global recognition. A postgraduate degree in engineering, medicine or science, especially from one of the reputed universities of the U.S., would greatly facilitate them in getting a decent job.
However, Pakistani students have not been able to avail these opportunities compared to Indian and Chinese students, partly due to financial constraints and low-academic standards. Cooperation in defence is another area of major interest between Pakistan and the United States. Despite Pakistan’s heavy reliance of all the three services on China for import of major weapon systems, defence technology and industrialization, there are several areas and equipment that Pakistan would be interested in developing or procuring from the U.S. Pakistan is a regular participant in the U.S.-led multi-national military exercises and counterterrorism operations.
The Pakistani diaspora in the U.S. is another strong linkage between the two countries. For Pakistan the remittances sent by them are a valuable source of foreign exchange. The United States is Pakistan’s largest export destination. It exported goods worth $5billion in 2021. The United States has also been a leading investor in Pakistan for nearly twenty years. Major U.S. investments are in consumer goods, chemicals, energy, agriculture, transportation and communications.
After years of an underlying steady state in Pakistan-U.S. relations with apparent ups and downs on the surface, they are, for the first time, faced with a paradigm shift. How will this work out? As an ally against the Soviet Union in the Cold War, a trusted peacemaker for the UN missions across the globe and the most “allied of allies” in the two Afghan wars (1979 and 2001), all of a sudden Pakistan-U.S. relations are adrift, looking for a new role - a new reality.
Ideally, in the changed geopolitical environment, Pakistan should be neutral in the Cold War between the U.S. and China. While China will have no problem with this, the U.S. appears to be pressurizing Pakistan with “either you are with us or against us.” Then, how exactly would Pakistan respond? Will it be forced to abandon neutrality and align itself solely with the Chinese? This is the Hobson’s choice Pakistan is facing.
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board.
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