President Kennedy sought to build ties with India and offered military aid and assistance to India during the 1962 Sino-Indian war. General Muhammad Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military ruler and army chief (1958-1969) requested in response that the U.S. use economic assistance as leverage to solve the Kashmir dispute. President Kennedy refused stating that the U.S. did not give aid in the expectation of getting “Nehru’s support on the items that were vital to the U.S.” but because it was in “everyone’s” interest that India not collapse.
The American decision to freeze aid to both India and Pakistan in 1965 did not resonate well in Pakistan either. Pakistan and the U.S. also disagreed on how each saw the 1965 war and the cutting off of American aid. President Ayub Khan’s aide-memoire to the United States reminded the Americans of what Pakistan believed to be their obligation under the 1959 U.S.-Pakistan bilateral agreement and asked for U.S. assistance as “Pakistan has become a victim of naked aggression by armed attack on the part of India.”
For American policy makers, Pakistan was expecting them to do things they had never promised. In 1951, while attending a Town Hall meeting with Liaquat Ali Khan, George Kennan, well-known American diplomat, historian and political scientist, had stated: “our friends must not expect us to do things which we cannot do. It is no less important that they should not expect us to be things which we cannot be.”
From the viewpoint of Pakistan, especially its military-intelligence establishment, the 1980s are the ideal on which U.S.-Pakistan ties should be set. During the 1980s anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, Pakistan’s ties with the Islamist groups helped achieve American goals in Afghanistan. Also, the Americans were willing to contract the war out to Pakistan, the view being: ‘Let local boys fight local wars.’ Further, the U.S. did not have any stake in the stability or future of Afghanistan nor deep ties with India.
What Pakistan’s strategists and elite ignore is that today things are different. Ties between India and the U.S. have deepened in the last two decades. Deep economic and strategic ties have grown between the two countries which have been built on their shared ideals of democracy, secularism and pluralism. Succeeding American administrations have emphasized the strategic nature of the relationship with India. Hence, the U.S. has a stake in the stability and future of India. Similarly, with American troops present in Afghanistan and an American stake in Afghanistan’s future, the U.S. is not willing to ‘go back to the 1980s’ either.
Any attempt by the U.S. to dissuade Pakistan from seeing India as a threat has historically been countered by Pakistani arguments that the U.S. is not able to see through Indian perfidy and that it is located too far off to come to Pakistan’s aid if something does happen. The U.S. must, therefore, build Pakistan’s military capacity in order for Pakistan to stand up to Indian aggression. In 1959 General Ayub argued that Pakistan shared a very long border with India both in its Eastern and Western wings, and “how could we guarantee that whilst we are engaged elsewhere, India with three times our military strength would not march into our country?” Decades later in 2008, when the U.S. requested that Pakistan move more of its troops from its eastern to its western borders, the Pakistani response was the same.
Just as if the core of an identity or nationalism is more negative than positive it results in an identity which is confused. Similarly if the core of a relationship is more anti a third party than pro the two existing parties, it will prevent that relationship from growing roots. Pakistan’s relationship with India is built on geography and shared history and culture and the two countries will benefit from building it further. Similarly Pakistan’s ties with the U.S. need to move beyond being seen simply through the strategic prism of India (and Afghanistan) and only then can the relationship achieve its true potential.