Realigning Pak-US Bilateral Ties By Syed Mushahid Hussain

Realigning Pak-US Bilateral Ties By Syed Mushahid Hussain

The United States and Pakistan have maintained a relationship defined by mutual interests, shared challenges and diplomatic complexities for 75 years. However, recent years, especially following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, have witnessed notable tension and unease. Factors such as the lack of high-level engagement from the Biden administration, Pakistan’s turbulent domestic politics and the strategic interests of regional powers like China and India have exacerbated this volatility. President Biden’s conspicuous disengagement, coupled with the strategic shift in US policy following the Afghan withdrawal, have led to a significant departure from previous years. The absence of a direct engagement with former Prime Minister Imran Khan during his tenure marks a distinct break from his predecessors’ more inclusive diplomatic approach. Moreover, Pakistan’s internal politics have added another layer of complexity. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s allegations of US interference in his removal from power, though the latter refuted, fuelled distrust and soured bilateral ties.

Adding to the intensity, the overarching US relationship with India also significantly influence its approach towards Pakistan. The Biden administration’s competitive stance with China, Pakistan’s ally and its growing partnership with India, Pakistan’s historic adversary, are undoubtedly reshaping the US policy considerations vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Nevertheless, Biden Administration’s dealings with Pakistan have been decidedly compartmentalized: The White House has exhibited limited engagement, while the State Department has maintained active and robust contact. Simultaneously, long-standing military and defence ties have continued with a significant foreign military sale worth $450 million proposed in 2021 to maintain Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

Pakistan, recognizing the impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan, attempted to transition the focus of the bilateral relationship from security to a more comprehensive approach based on “geo-economics” — emphasizing trade, investment and connectivity. However, these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. In fact, the US trade deficit with Pakistan reached approximately $3.8 billion in 2022, indicating that trade ties between the countries are yet to be significantly strengthened.

Despite these setbacks, there have been some areas of constructive engagement. Notably, the two nations launched a year-long campaign in 2022 marking 75 years of bilateral relations. Furthermore, Pakistan has been the largest recipient of US-donated COVID-19 vaccines since 2021, receiving over 50 million doses, highlighting the health cooperation between the two nations. In addition, the US also pledgedan additional $100 million to continue supporting Pakistan’s recovery efforts from the devastating 2022 floods.

The relationship between the US and Pakistan is undeniably complex. But, shying away from complexity is not the answer. A revamped US policy, fostering a more robust and constructive bilateral relationship necessitates a comprehensive reevaluation and a multi-pronged approach. Let’s not squander this opportunity; it’s time to give diplomacy a shot.

Overcoming Historical Baggage: The legacy of the US-Pakistan-Afghanistan triangle, laden with distrust and broken promises, needs to be addressed. The US must reassure Pakistan of its commitment to the stability of the region and its respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Beyond Security-First Approach: A broader focus beyond security issues is vital. Initiatives that encourage trade, investment and people-to-people exchanges should be prioritized to build a more resilient relationship. The US should view Pakistan as a potential market and a strategic partner, not just a security asset.

Greater High-Level Engagement: President Biden’s lack of direct engagement is not conducive to a healthy bilateral relationship. Increased high-level dialogues and exchanges can foster trust, build rapport and help address strategic concerns.

Consideration of Regional Dynamics: Navigating the influence of China and India on the US-Pakistan relationship requires delicate diplomacy. Pakistan’s ties with these countries should not limit US-Pakistan engagement; instead, it should drive nuanced diplomacy which respects each country’s unique geopolitical interests.

Supporting Democratic Institutions and Development: US support for Pakistan should extend to strengthening its democratic institutions, boosting socio-economic development and promoting human rights. This approach can contribute to the stability of the country and foster goodwill among the Pakistani populace.

Encouraging Educational and Cultural Exchanges: More than security and economic engagement, soft power plays a pivotal role in nurturing bilateral relationships. Encouraging educational and cultural exchanges will foster mutual understanding, dispel stereotypes and develop a relationship built on shared values.

Climate Change Cooperation: Pakistan is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. The US, being a global leader in technology and innovation, can partner with Pakistan in combating climate change, leading to a more sustainable future.

Strengthening Regulatory Framework: A pivotal step forward for Pakistan could involve seeking assistance from the US to fortify its regulatory regime. This is particularly crucial for attracting direct investment in the tech sector. Just as the Pakistan Single Window initiative has aimed to simplify trade processes, a similar approach could be implemented to streamline regulations and make the IT and entrepreneurship landscape more investor-friendly. Given the US’s status as a global leader in technology, forming partnership in areas such as information technology, artificial intelligence and green technology can provide a significant boost to Pakistan’s burgeoning tech industry and foster stronger economic ties.

Nurturing People-to-People Ties: Regular interactions between citizens, academics and civil society organizations of both countries can build bridges of understanding. This could be facilitated through scholarships, exchange programs, joint research projects and tourism promotion.

Joint Counterterrorism Efforts: Despite the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the threat of terrorism in the region persists. Strengthening joint counterterrorism efforts and intelligence-sharing mechanisms while respecting each other’s sovereignty is crucial to regional stability.

Advocacy for Peace in Afghanistan: Given Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban, the US could leverage Pakistan’s role to advocate for peace, stability and human rights in Afghanistan, aligning this with Pakistan’s interests to prevent a refugee crisis or the spillover of conflict.

To conclude, a significant paradigm shift is essential, one that focuses on sustainable economic ties, cultural understanding and collaborative efforts for regional stability. This shift can redefine the existing ties between the two countries, making the relationship not just more balanced but also adaptable to geopolitical shifts. To navigate the currents of uncertainty and to unlock the untapped potential of the US-Pakistan ties, the transformation of the existing framework, is a step in the right direction.


—The writer is a distinguished independent researcher and seasoned journalist, focusing on international relations and global politics.

Realigning Pak-US Bilateral Ties By Syed Mushahid Hussain


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