Historically, Pakistan-US relations– which are as old as Pakistan itself– have never been consistent. There exist various episodes of convergence and divergence with regard to the national interest of the two countries. From being the ‘most allied ally’ of the USA in the 1950s, 1980s and in the wake of the September 11 tragedy in 2001, Pakistan have at times moved to also being a country against which considerable US pressure has been exerted in the form of sanctions, threats, blame-game or the need to “do more,” so it can be said that the relations of the two countries are not all-weather. Even though national interest remains a defining feature of Pak-US ties, one factor that has always been underscored in the US foreign policy and which no country can deny, is the geostrategic position of Pakistan.
By the late 1970s, Pak-US relations had deteriorated to a considerable extent, reaching the bottom ebb, because the USA opposed Pakistan’s nuclear quest strenuously and was also suspected of being concerned in the attack on the Holy Kaaba in Makkah. It was only when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, that there was a notable modification in the US policy towards Asian counties. The foreign invasion had taken place in Pakistan’s immediate neighbourhood within the northwest, and with that Asian country it shares a 2430 km-long border, referred to as the Durand Line. Because of its geopolitical position, in such a tense regional atmosphere, Pakistan was the Asian country whose support as a frontline state was required for the USA.
There is that the indisputable fact that because of the Afghan issue, Pakistan has assumed a vital role for the US government and has become a vital player within the international arena
Thus Pakistan fought a US-aided war by acting as a middleman in providing weapons, training and funds to the Mujahideen, who fought against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Following the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan, its ultimate disintegration, and the end of the Cold War between the two superpowers, the USA emerged as a sole superpower in the new international system. It no longer required Pakistan’s support.
But in the wake of the September 11, 2001 destruction of the Trade Center twin towers, that a new chapter was initiated in Pak-US relations. Pakistan became a key US ally in the War on Terror. In return for its assistance, there was restoration of military and economic aid for Pakistan and sanctions that had been imposed against Pakistan’s possession of nuclear explosive devices were lifted.
From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and now Donald Trump, the Afghan War has been a protracted journey for each Asian nation and also the USA. Participation in the extended Afghan war has grave short and long term repercussions for Pakistan. Varied issues in this regard, still beset its political, strategic, social and economic landscapes. Additionally, Pak-US relations became a lot of complicated than ever. The USA has always suspected Pakistan of providing safe havens to the militants targeting American soldiers in Afghanistan. To boot, it maintained pressure on Pakistan to “do more” and has suspended security help to Pakistan.
The other facet of the coin is that Pakistan has been systematically registering its security concerns to the USA over the presence of anti-Pakistan militants on Afghan soil and has expressed its annoyance with the USA even though it has taken very little notice of its legitimate security issues. During this context, the trust deficit has remained the underlying facet of Pak-US ties. Still, peace in Afghanistan remains the common goal for both Pakistan and the USA.
So far, one fact that has been established is that without Pakistan, the USA cannot resolve the Afghan problem. Pakistan was urgently required once the USA decided to seek a military answer to the Afghan problem and Pakistan additionally has a crucial role to play within the Afghan social process, both because it is home to so many Afghan refugees, and because of its large Pashtun population.
Whether Afghanistan could be a source of convergence or some extent of divergence in Pak-US relations is a subject which will be debated upon and weighed. However, what remains noteworthy is that the indisputable fact that because of the Afghan issue, Pakistan has been ready to assume a vital role for the US government and has become a vital player within the international arena.