The Future of U.S.-Pakistan Ties

By Aparna Pande

“And would some Power the small gift give us

To see ourselves as others see us!

It would from many a blunder free us,

And foolish notion”

- Robert Burns

If only leaders of countries and their elite looked at their mirror once in a while to see how the world is looking at them, things would be different. Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan have always had a see-saw like quality but in the last year the friction has increased and led to brinkmanship.

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The question asked often in Washington is what does Pakistan want and the answer is not the simple one of stopping drone strikes or allowing more sharing of intelligence. Instead it is the same thing that Pakistan’s leaders have sought since the 1950s: Pakistan would like the U.S. to look at South Asia through the Pakistani prism, “recognize” the need for a “balance” of power in the region with India, “realize” how important Afghanistan is to Pakistan’s security interests and therefore understand “why” Pakistan needs to use asymmetrical means to secure its interests.

Following from this is the Pakistani hope and desire that the U.S. would use its influence with India to ensure a resolution of not only Kashmir but all other India-Pakistan disputes.

From the 1950s through the 1980s, the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan were by and large friction free. American strategists saw Pakistan’s army, its manpower and its geo-strategic location as important for building the northern tier of containment vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Pakistani policy makers always made it seem as though Pakistan was crucial to U.S. policies in the Middle East and over the years the Americans came to believe that to be the case.

The fact that Pakistan is part of CENTCOM (Central Command), with other countries of the Middle East, and not PACOM (Pacific Command), where India and the rest of South Asia is located ensured that for American strategists, Pakistan was part of the Greater Middle East and not part of South Asia. This helped Pakistan’s leaders too, as their foreign policy has been built on the desire to escape an Indian (and South Asian) identity and seek a Muslim Middle Eastern identity. (A full treatment of this is in my book Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India.)

What is also interesting to note is that the areas of conflict arose every time the U.S. tried to ensure that its ties with India did not suffer from any closer ties with Pakistan. President Eisenhower tried to balance the relationship with both countries and even offered India military aid and in a letter to Premier Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister (1947-64), stated that the military aid to Pakistan would not be used against India.

Similarly, the U.S. insisted that the wording of the SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organization) treaty include a reservation that American obligation would only extend to cases of Communist aggression. Pakistan’s leaders saw this as an attempt to exclude India and hence as an example of America not being a faithful friend.

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Aparna Pande is Research Fellow and Director of Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia. Her book, ‘Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India’ was published by Routledge in April 2011.


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