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Foreign Relations- Pakistan & U.S.A.

Cooperation between the US and Pakistan has frequently been hampered by suspicion in Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment about US intentions and objectives. Among other things, the Pakistanis believe that the US has favored India over Pakistan -- most notably, by approving civil-nuclear cooperation with India -- and that the US aims to dismantle Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, which, in light of their conventional military disadvantage vis-a-vis India, they consider critical to their national security. The military and intelligence establishment is also concerned that the US is working with Pakistan's civilian leadership to limit the military's prerogative in determining Pakistan's national security policies.

The United States and Pakistan established diplomatic relations in 1947. The U.S. agreement to provide economic and military assistance to Pakistan and the latter's partnership in the Baghdad Pact/CENTO and SEATO strengthened relations between the nations. However, the U.S. suspension of military assistance during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war generated a widespread feeling in Pakistan that the United States was not a reliable ally. Even though the United States suspended military assistance to both countries involved in the conflict, the suspension of aid affected Pakistan much more severely. Gradually, relations improved, and arms sales were renewed in 1975. Then, in April 1979, the United States cut off economic assistance to Pakistan, except food assistance, as required under the Symington Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, due to concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 highlighted the common interest of Pakistan and the United States in peace and stability in South Asia. In 1981, the United States and Pakistan agreed on a $3.2 billion military and economic assistance program aimed at helping Pakistan deal with the heightened threat to security in the region and its economic development needs.

Recognizing national security concerns and accepting Pakistan's assurances that it did not intend to construct a nuclear weapon, Congress waived restrictions (Symington Amendment) on military assistance to Pakistan. In March 1986, the two countries agreed on a second multi-year (FY 1988-93) $4 billion economic development and security assistance program. On October 1, 1990, however, the United States suspended all military assistance and new economic aid to Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment, which required that the President certify annually that Pakistan "does not possess a nuclear explosive device."

Several incidents of violence against American officials and U.S. mission employees in Pakistan have marred the relationship. In November 1979, false rumors that the United States had participated in the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca provoked a mob attack on the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in which the chancery was set on fire resulting in the loss of life of American and Pakistani staff. In 1989, an attack on the American Center in Islamabad resulted in six Pakistanis being killed in crossfire with the police. In March 1995, two American employees of the consulate in Karachi were killed and one wounded in an attack on the home-to-office shuttle. In November 1997, four U.S. businessmen were brutally murdered while being driven to work in Karachi.


Pakistan’s relations with the US steadily deteriorated since President Donald Trump announced a new South Asia strategy that blamed Islamabad for covertly supporting terrorist groups and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani officials rejected the charges and maintain that their country is being scapegoated for Washington’s security failures in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution 30 August 2017 strongly denouncing President Donald Trump’s new policy on Afghanistan and calling his and General John Nicholson’s statements on Pakistan “hostile and threatening.” President Trump had some of the harshest words for Pakistan when he announced his new policy on Afghanistan and South Asia on 21 August 2017. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting,” he said in a speech.

The National Assembly also objected to “attempts by the Trump administration to provide more space to India in Afghanistan,” a move Pakistan considers highly provocative. Pakistani officials say India, a hostile neighbor to the east, wants to encircle their country by setting up a second front on the west in Afghanistan from where it could support terrorist activities or support separatist insurgencies inside Pakistan. Officials in the U.S. say Pakistan’s fears regarding India in Afghanistan are overblown.

In his first Twitter message of 2018, Trump wrote, "The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!" Washington has long accused Islamabad, particularly its security institutions, of turning a blind eye or covertly helping the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network to stage cross-border attacks against Afghan and US-led forces.

Pakistan’s top leadership reacted angrily on 02 January 2018 to Donald Trump’s threat to cut off aid over the country’s counter-terrorism efforts, saying the US accusations had damaged trust between the two countries. Following the meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) chaired by Abbasi, an official statement said recent statements by the US leadership were “completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between (the) two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices” by Pakistan. The leaders contended Pakistan had fought the war against terrorism with its own resources and at great cost to its economy. Pakistan’s sacrifices “could not be trivialised so heartlessly by pushing all of it behind a monetary value – and that too an imagined one”, the statement said.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert announced 04 January 2018 it would freeze nearly all security aid to Pakistan until “the Pakistani government takes decisive action” against terrorist groups. Although Nauert did not specify an amount, the freeze can be estimated in hundreds of millions given that a day prior U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the Washington would withhold US$255 million in assistance to Pakistan.

Pakistan announced unspecified travel restrictions on American diplomats 11 May 2018 and withdrew concessions it had granted to U.S. missions as part of the "war on terror," dealing a major blow to what one ex-Pakistani diplomat described as "strayed" bilateral relations. The decision comes after Washington said Pakistani diplomats would be required to seek permission five days in advance before traveling more than 40 kilometers from their posts in the United States.

The military is very keen on salvaging the US-Pakistan relationship. In June 2018, when Washington felt the need to solicit Pakistan's support for a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not call the Pakistani prime minister, foreign minister or even the president; instead, he telephoned the country's army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. And the general not only did what Washington wanted, he also flew over to Kabul to discuss the possibilities of a durable peace with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The U.S. military said 01 September 2018 it had decided to cancel $300 million in aid to Pakistan that had been suspended due to Islamabad’s perceived lack of action against militants, raising tensions ahead of a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top U.S. general. Donald Trump suspended the so-called Coalition Support Funds, along with other aid to Pakistan, at the start of 2018. The Trump administration accused Islamabad of harboring insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denied.

"Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed," Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said on September 1. Faulkner said the Pentagon aimed to spend the $300 million on "other urgent priorities" if approved by Congress. He said another $500 million in CSF was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total withheld to $800 million.

In an interview 06 December 2018 with the Washington Post, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan slammed the previous Pakistani administration's decision to join the American war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, saying it has cost the country "human lives, devastation of tribal areas, and dignity". He added that he would like to have proper relations with the US, but stressed that he will not allow Pakistan to be a "hired gun [which is] given money to fight someone else's war". He brought up Pakistan's relations with China as a positive example as opposed to "one-dimensional" relationship with Washington. "It's a trade relationship between two countries. We want a similar relationship with the US", he said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan returned from a three-day visit to the United States to the Pakistani capital on 25 July 2019, greeted by scores of jubilant political supporters following what his government is touting as a successful "reset" of the two countries' often-troubled relationship. Khan met US President Donald Trump, with both sides reaffirming their commitment to the Afghan peace process.

Trump offered his services to mediate in the Kashmir dispute. Trump alluded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi "asking" for him to mediate. The government of India simply denied that any such conversation occurred between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi. It does indicate that the free run India has had from the US on the Kashmir issue is now at an end.

Washington's aim was to pull out all the stops and showcase its appreciation to Pakistan for the help that Islamabad has provided in Afghanistan over the last year. For Pakistan, the hope was to get the recognition that it feels it often doesn't get for the assistance it has rendered to the US. The challenges to the Pakistan-US relationship such as Afghanistan, terrorism, India and China have significant input from US administration. Those channels remain the same and talking points are unlikely to change significantly.

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Page last modified: 25-07-2019 17:42:07 ZULU