United States’ Priorities in Pak-US Relations

Once we have a look of the past we get to know that United States was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with Pakistan. Though the association between both countries dates back to October 20, 1947 but the 9/11 episode made Pakistan an imperative stakeholder in regional security set up for United States. No doubt, one cannot overlook the Defence and Economic ties between both countries.  During the early years soon after the advent of Pakistan being a sovereign state, Pakistan was surely having the choices of building adherence with Soviet Union or United States; however, Pakistan selected for the latter. It is also relevant to mention that with the passage of time Pakistan has understood the significance of harmonizing relations between both Russia and US. Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister visited United States to meet President Harry S. Truman. During the visit, which was the first visit of Pakistan Premier, President Truman requested for construction of a base in Pakistan, in order to keep an eye on the actions of Soviet Union but that authorization was never approved.

During these early 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 paid a visit to United States for augmenting relations between both nations. In 1954, both countries have signed the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement (MDAA). This agreement allowed many Pakistani soldiers to visit United States for training whereas US also established a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Pakistan. Relations between both Nations further heightened in 1960’s. United States also supported Pakistan, despite the arms embargo. Therefore, Pakistan also cemented ways for President Richard Nixon of America to make his visit to Peoples’ Republic of China. In fact, Pakistan had bridged the gap between both countries.  When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was nominated as the President of Pakistan and later when he became Prime Minister in 1974, the relationship between Pakistan and United states were welcoming enough.

Although Bhutto was a socialist but he was a close and valued friend of President Nixon, which went in Pakistan’s favour. Relations between both countries remained warm even during Zia ul Haq’s government that were indeed first and foremost relations based on military ties and advancements. However, by the end of General Zia’s administration, US Congress permitted Pressler amendment. This amendment barred key military and monetary assistance to Pakistan. In 1995, PM Benazir Bhutto visited United States and met President Bill Clinton. She necessitated lifting the embargoes on Pakistan and commencing a mutual operation to eradicate militancy from the region. As a result, to BB’s suggestion, Brown amendment was conceded; however, the sanctions on arms were not lifted. In 1998, when Pakistan conducted its nuclear test, in reprisal to parallel tests conducted by India, invited the rage of the Clinton administration on both the countries.

Consequently, US imposed sanctions under Glenn Amendment on both India and Pakistan. Glenn amendment comprised of suspension of aid as well as financial expansion support, credits and credit assurances by the US government, loans given by US banks to India and Pakistan, loans from international financial institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank, and exports of dual-use nuclear or missile items. However, in 1998, US lifted the sanctions on India and Pakistan for procurement of agricultural products from US farmers. In the similar year President Clinton exercised his waiver on lifting restrictions on the activities of US banks in Pakistan.

The 9/11 attacks in US altered the worldwide political picture and United States started its quest for allies  worldwide and more utterly in South Asia,  Southeast  Asia, Central  Asia as well as in the Arab world.  Subsequently US promised financial support to the countries in these regions. After 9/11 when Pakistan decided to contribute in Global War on Terror, the associations between US and Pakistan continued to be friendly with some difficulties. In the Trump era, again the relations between both countries have seen their ups and downs.

The Trump administration has booked a dissimilar tack to influence Pakistan. Rather than using direct assistance as an instrument to drive Pakistan’s actions, which would have a restricted consequence given Pakistan’s financial connection with China, the Trump administration has trusted on other tackles to affect Pakistan’s actions. Most remarkably, in February 2018, the administration stimulated to change Pakistan’s status with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog that screens terrorist financing. In June 2018, Pakistan was positioned on the FATF increased monitoring “grey list”. The label hinders financial investment into the country that causes a financial harm.

There seemed a hope to reset bilateral relationship between both countries officially in July 2019, during Imran Khan’s visit to Washington. It was the first meeting between both. They have subsequently established a personal connection, meeting again on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in the fall of 2019 and at the World Economic Forum in early 2020. During their first meeting at White House, Trump offered to arbitrate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir dispute, which was quite alarming for New Delhi. India practically instantly replied that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Trump further showed consent to consolidate trade ties between Pakistan and the United States.

The US is Pakistan’s highest export destination, but these trade advances have yet to be comprehended. Watching beyond individual relationships, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Smith has previously mentioned to the necessity for affable relations with Pakistan and its strategic position within South Asia, particularly in the background of Afghanistan. Smith also quantified that Pakistan has acted against terror groups. In the US system of policymaking, the change arises when power shifts from one presidency to another. This is the situation in precise if there is also a transformation in the political party that rules from the White House. The same happened on January 20, when Trump vacated the White House and Biden entered it. Trump was tough unwilling to leave; he was persistent to claim the election was stolen from him as he was the clear winner but the conspiracies of the Democratic Party did it all. Again, under Biden’s administration, the crucial factors in the US-Pakistan relationship will be Afghanistan, action against terror groups and the relationship between Pakistan and China. While personal relationship between Imran Khan and Trump was pleasant, US assistance under the latter’s administration reduced noticeably.

Islamabad is optimistic that Biden and those US officials acquainted with Pakistan will recuperate financial assistance, since Biden was one of the main planners of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. While Biden and his team may attempt to reinforce ties with the Pakistani Government without losing prospect of their wider strategic goals. Many observers have prediction what they think will be US President Joe Biden’s expected South Asia policy. Given the multifaceted and ever shifting geopolitical architecture in South Asia, particularly the Afghanistan peace agreement and the fluctuating geo-economics as a result of China’s growing economic influence there, Biden’s methodology has produced much concentration. A significant regional challenge in South Asia is Pakistan, given its location.

Biden being an experienced foreign policy architect through Kerry-Lugar Bill soughed to upsurge civilian support to Pakistan to reinforce governance and capacity building to US$7.5 billion ($9.6 billion) over a five-year period, between 2009 and 2014. In October 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Bill into law as the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act. It is notable to mention that one of the explanations for the further worsening of ties between Pakistan and the US in recent years was the postponement of US military support to Pakistan, worth around US$2 billion ($2.6 billion). Relations are expected to remain fundamentally transactional with some convergence of interest between the two in the Afghan peace progression. Pakistan’s support will be crucial for America’s departure from Afghanistan in order to end the two-decade-long war in the region.

With the advent of rapidly changing regional geopolitics including Pakistan’s mounting strategic connection with China may also influence Biden administration’s policy towards Islamabad. Pakistan is still very important for the US not only for a smooth departure from Afghanistan but also for its post-withdrawal security strategies in the region.  Seemingly, the US also wants a presence in the region as part of its determinations to counter the global terrorist groups making Afghanistan the centre of their activities after the removal of foreign forces. It is very evident that the US wants to ‘stay in the game’ in Afghanistan and comprehends a role for Pakistan in this context. In short, the US-Pakistan bilateral relationship will move along by a multitude of influences. Certainly, Pakistan has its own priorities and needs to have a broad-based association with the US while considering all interests of its own. Though doing this will not be an easy task for Pakistan.


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