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USA, Pakistan – A quick stroll down memory lane

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August 3, 2019, (MLN): The recent attempt at reigniting Pakistan’s relationship with the United States of America (USA) has had its fair share of positive reception and the general public has taken the occasion in good spirits with a faint but definite rekindling in hopes to see better times ahead.

Pakistan’s affiliation with US has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride since inception. The two go back decades wherein both the countries have engaged over serous issues on many occasions.

While there have been times when relationship between the two were strained, the matter of fact remains that neither Pakistan, nor USA, could have or would have made it without the support of each other. If we had to describe the vibe between the two powerful countries in few words, we’d says it’s ‘complicated’.

Before digging into the details of the love-hate relationship between the two countries, it would be worthwhile to shed some light on how it all started.

Pakistan and United States enjoyed a cordial relationship comprising of military ties and advancements, especially during Zia-ul-Haq’s rule. It was around this time that US, along with Pakistan, propelled several operations to stop Soviet forces from further advancing into the region. Because of this, Pakistan was granted billions of dollars in the name of military and economic aid.

However, when Zia’s rule neared its end, the Congress approved the infamous Pressler amendment which debarred military and economic aid to Pakistan. Their association was strained further after US ambassador Nicholas Platt threatened Pakistan of including its name in state sponsors of terrorism list, lest it continued to support militants in India.

Soon thereafter, Benazir Bhutto visited United States and asked President Bill Clinton to lift the restrictions on Pakistan and launch a joint operation to eradicate militancy from the region. As a result of this proposal, Brown amendment was passed which uplifted their alliance again.

In 1998, when the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif conducted a nuclear test in Balochistan, it angered US to such an extent that it imposed sanctions under Glenn amendment on both India and Pakistan.

The Glenn amendment holds great significance in the history of Pakistan, as it prevented any sort of aid, including economic development assistance, credits and credit guarantees by the US government, US bank loans to the governments of India and Pakistan, loans from international financial institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank.

A renowned American political scientist and professor of security studies, Stephen P. Cohen in one of his articles titled “America and Pakistan: Is the worst case avoidable?” had this to say: “The attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centre in 2001 transformed the US-Pakistan relationship. The country whose leader presidential candidate W. Bush could not name the year before immediately became a vital strategic partner of United States with the decision to remove Al Qaeda and its Taliban sponsors in Afghanistan.”

Ever since the War on Terror started back in 2001, Pakistan received an approximate amount of $20 billion from the United States.The US had also allegedly pardoned $1 billion in Pakistani debt in turn for Pakistan joining the USA’s side in countering terrorism in Afghanistan.

However, their association went through another rough patch in around 2008, after the United States openly started displaying distrust at Pakistan, for the latter’s failure in not fulfilling what was expected from it.

Soon after, the Kerry-Lugar Bill was passed in 2009, which necessitated compliance with certain conditions by Pakistan if any amount non-military aid was to be given it.

After some time, Pakistan saw itself at the receiving end of wide criticism at the hands of US, as the latter accused Pakistan of ‘harboring members of the Afghan Taliban’.

But this time, even Pakistan did not hold back when it came to criticizing USA’s strategies on War on Terror, which the former deemed had resulted in thousands of casualties and deaths of innocent civilians. It all came to a point where Pakistan started doubting USA’s intentions, and slammed the country for doing little to ensure security in Afghanistan. 

The adversity between the two countries reached at its peak when Osama Bin Laden was found and killed in Abbotabad. According to the former US President Barrack Obama, Pakistan’s military was not apprised of the details regarding the low-profile operation, the claims which were later refuted by the ISI.  Salt was added to the injury after US withheld $800 million of aid to Pakistan subsequent to Bin Laden’s raid.

As mentioned before, USA has displayed its wariness and discontentment at Pakistan on several occasions. However, it was only recently when the Premiers of both the countries, President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan engaged in an ugly twitter spat, wherein they not only indulged in mudslinging, but also blamed each other for the state of relationship between the two countries.

Nonetheless, the relationship took a U-turn this year, after Donald Trump invited PM Imran Khan to visit United States to discuss a wide range of issues, including counter-terrorism, defense, energy, and trade, with the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership between the two countries.This was also the first summit-level engagement between Pakistan and the United States since both leaders assumed their offices.

Even during his meeting with the US congressman in Washington, PM Imran stated that Pakistan had always close ties with the United States and expressed the hope to get back to the relationship, which was based on truth and trust as well as mutual respect.

The graph above sheds some insight on the trajectory that the trade with USA has followed over the years. If we were to analyze the trend of exports and imports with USA in the last three years, we’d see that exports to USA have remained more or less the same, whereas imports have increased quite drastically. Interestingly, exports to USA were at its peak in FY11, which is around the same time when Osama Bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan and the relationship between the two countries had started to deteriorate. On the contrary, imports from USA were reported to be highest in FY17 after the tensions between the two countries had eased so some extent. 

If we go by the stats released by Central Bank, US remained the top export destination of Pakistani products in FY19, followed by China and United Kingdom, as the total exports to USA stood at $4 billion against the exports of $3.8 billion in FY18.  This shows that the US is willing to enhance bilateral ties with Pakistan. With the US imposing tariffs on China and India, Pakistan could benefit greatly if it worked with and resolved its differences with US.

However, there is a big question mark on whether this meeting will help in repairing the cold war which has persisted between two countries for a very long time. It is clear that USA will not provide financial support to Pakistan as of now, as there are various other issues that take precedence in their bilateral dialogue, including Afghanistan and counter-terrorism. But there still remains a high chance for stronger trade and economic cooperation between the two nations.

Regardless of the route their rapport takes in coming years, the matter of fact is that United States still, and will continue to engage in extensive economic, social, and scientific assistance as well as vital military relations with Pakistan, whereas Pakistan shall continue to inhabit a strategic position in the United States' interests in Central and South Asia.

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Posted on: 2019-08-03T11:05:00+05:00