US-Pakistan relations take nosedive: A look back at the tempestuous ties between the two nations

Relations between the United States and Pakistan have been on a roller-coaster for nearly 60 years. But last week saw a new low for their ties, starting with Donald Trump's stormy New Year tweet and the subsequent suspension of US military aid to Islamabad.

Trump said that the United States had "foolishly" handed Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years while getting nothing in return, and pledged to put a stop to it.

Following this, a National Security Council official on Monday said the White House does not plan to send $255 million in aid to Pakistan "at this time" and said, "the administration continues to review Pakistan's level of cooperation."

In response, Pakistan's foreign minister Khawaja Asif said the United States was behaving towards Pakistan as "a friend who always betrays".

Pakistan US. Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Small groups of students chanting "Death to America" and "Death to Trump" burnt American flags and torched photos of Trump in capital Islamabad and the eastern city of Lahore. The organised protests ended swiftly but begged the question if the ties between the two nations had finally gone beyond repair.

Trust deficit

Ties between the two have been strained on numerous occasions, but the military and economic needs of the nations have kept them in a precarious state, as cautious allies.

The last six decades of US support, according to a report in The Hill, has neither helped cultivate an ally in Pakistan nor has it meaningfully changed Pakistan’s behaviour. "Although Pakistan has weathered previous US aid cuts, each past episode in the bilateral relationship has driven the partnership more toward an irreparable trust deficit," the report says.

As per the report, the first event that created a Pakistani distrust of the United States was in 1962 during the India-China border conflict. When the then Kennedy administration decided to provide India with military assistance, Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s president at the time, felt the US had stabbed Pakistan in the back.

According to a report in The Diplomat, over time, both the US and Pakistan governments accepted the losses grudgingly and gains ungratefully and still found each other relevant in times of need.

"But times have changed," the report adds, "Since the 11 September attacks, the relationship has gotten entangled with the ongoing war in Afghanistan. It is never easy to handle a war-related relationship, especially when that war has not been going well. This is even more so when there are multiple issues and stakeholders with competing interests and priorities. Also impacting the relationship is Washington’s growing ties with India, along with a whole set of new security issues which have agitated public concerns, fueled by a 24-hour news cycle and an activist think tank community."

Since then, the relationship has transformed to a one best described as "transactional."

History of US-Pakistan ties

Right from the time Pakistan was established after its independence, the United States has had a relationship with the nation. In fact, it was one of the first nations to establish relations with the new sovereign state.

During the initial years of Pakistan, the country had the options of building allegiance with the Soviet Union or the United States, however, Pakistan opted for the latter.

Since then, ties between the United States and Pakistan have veered between extremes over the past four decades. Here are some of the key moments in their turbulent relationship:

1965: The US suspends military assistance to both India and Pakistan during India-Pakistan war.

1970: Pakistan helps US open communications with China, leading to the first US presidential visit to China the following year.

1971: The US suspends military aid to Pakistan over the civil war between East and West Pakistan. The war results in the formation of Bangladesh.

1975: The US resumes military aid to Pakistan, despite tensions over Indian/Pakistani nuclear rivalry.

1979: Under US president Jimmy Carter, the US again cuts off Pakistan's military aid, this time over its nuclear weapons activity.

Late 1979-1980: Soviet Union invades neighbouring Afghanistan, leading to a US promise of $3.2 billion in US aid to Pakistan over five years. Pakistan becomes a route for arms and supplies sent by the US to the Afghan resistance.

1980s: United States pumps weapons, money and foreign fighters into Afghanistan, with the help of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, to support mujahideen fighters defeat Soviet Union troops in Afghanistan.

1990: The United States imposes sanctions on Pakistan over Islamabad's covert nuclear program. With the Soviet Union routed in Afghanistan and the Cold War ending, Pakistan had lost its importance as a regional ally.

1998: The United States imposes sanctions on Pakistan and India over their nuclear tests.

1999: Washington imposes more sanctions on Pakistan after army chief Pervez Musharraf topples a democratically elected government in a military coup.

2001: After the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, the United States asks Musharraf to help track down al Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power. Pakistan turns on its former Taliban allies and arrests Al-Qaeda leaders.

* Washington removes all sanctions against Pakistan in the wake of Pakistan’s support for its war against Al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups in Afghanistan.

2004: George W Bush's administration designates Pakistan a “major non-NATO ally”, boosting Islamabad’s diplomatic prestige and giving Pakistan greater access to US military technology.

2011: CIA contractor Raymond Davis kills two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore in January 2011. Davis was acquitted of murder and allowed to leave Pakistan after a $2.3 million payment was made to the men’s families.

* US troops kill Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil in May 2011. The raid, kept secret from Pakistani authorities, was a humiliation for Pakistan’s powerful military and again raised questions about whether it was harbouring militants.

* NATO helicopters and fighter jets attack Pakistani military outposts by accident, killing 24 soldiers. Pakistani retaliated by blocking a NATO supply route through its territory to Afghanistan for more than seven months.

2016: The US Congress blocks the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. Military aid to Pakistan reduced.

2017: US president Donald Trump outlines a new South Asia policy. Trump accuses Pakistan of harbouring “agents of chaos” and providing safe havens to militant groups waging an insurgency against the US-backed government in Kabul.

2018: The United States announces it will continue withholding $255 million in aid from Pakistan over what the Trump administration describes as a failure to sufficiently fight terrorism.

The worsening ties between the two nations may push Pakistan further into the arms of long-time ally China, which backed Islamabad after the fallout from Trump's tweet. Beijing's diplomatic and financial support has also strengthened Pakistan's hand, analysts say, as per a Reuters report.

Future of diplomatic ties

Pakistan is now likely to align itself more closely with China. For given the recent Trump storm and the cutting of military aid, Islamabad is bound to feel that its national interests are served better by Beijing than Washington.

The future of US-Pakistan ties, thus, boils down to an exercise of trust-building. The United States and Pakistan need to cultivate a strategic relationship, as their current transactional model is now on the verge of collapse.

"For Washington, it has to realise that strategic issues cannot be dealt with through a merely transactional relationship with Islamabad. Forging this is not easy; both countries need to contribute. Pakistan does have legitimate security concerns that need to be acknowledged. The United States also has to recognise that Pakistan does have a strategic importance as it affects American interests in India one hand and Afghanistan on the other," The Diplomat report says.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 11, 2018 14:10:23 IST

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