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America in Pakistan:
A brief historical sketch of U.S.-Pakistan relations

By Zakia Isad

The history of Pakistan-U.S. relations has been thorny and a love-hate one. Primarily, their relationship is based on the security issues. During the Cold War era the United States’ concern about Soviet expansion in South Asia and Pakistan’s perceived security threat against India brought both countries together to develop a strategic policy for mutual defense. The U.S. realized that the collaboration with Pakistan is a must to succeed in controlling the Soviet domination in that region. Keeping their needs in mind, The United States and Pakistan tied the knot and by 1961, 14years old Pakistan, became one of America’s most important security partners of the time. President Eisenhower called Pakistan, “America’s most important ally in Asia.”

In the mid 1970s, tension heightened between the U.S. and Pakistan when Pakistan sought to build its nuclear facility in response to India’s 1974 underground nuclear test. Former President Jimmy Carter suspended U.S. aid to Pakistan in 1979. However, this suspension did not last very long. Soviet attack on Afghanistan made Pakistan even more important and America again viewed this country as a frontline ally to block Soviet expansion. President Ronald Reagan re-established ties with Pakistan, making Pakistan a key transit partner for arms supplies to Afghanistan. Pakistan also became a home for thousands of refugees who fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan during Afghanistan-Soviet War. Needless to say, most of them never returned to their homeland.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s nuclear activities again came under strict U.S. scrutiny. In 1990, Bush, Sr., again suspended aid to Pakistan; the country they considered the most important ally in Asia.

The U.S. disengagement with Pakistan created serious reliability questions in the minds of Pakistanis. Musharraf, the then President of Pakistan stated at one occasion that Pakistan joined the U.S. to “wage a Jihad” against the Soviets and when the victory was achieved, the United States abandoned both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This situation certainly created more bitterness and mistrust in the hearts and minds of Pakistani people and they seriously started to question the intentions of the United states.

Asif Zardari, the succeeding President of Pakistan after Musharraf has used the same kind of narrative and said in 2009, “Frankly speaking the abandonment of Pakistan and Afghanistan after the defeat of the Soviets set the stage for the era of terrorism that we are enduring.”

U.S. relations with Pakistan became alive one more time by the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in September 2001. America recognized the need of a renewed relationship with Pakistan as it desperately needed a strategic partner in that region and Pakistan was the only country it could rely on. Negotiations between both countries started again. In 2004, Bush Jr. designated Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally. He traveled to Pakistan to resume the strategic dialog and to develop bi-lateral economic ties with Pakistan---one more time.

The United States has special interest in Pakistan. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is simply too important to ignore for the United States to protect its national security and its interest in Southwest Asia. According to Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Pakistan, “No government on earth has received more high-level attention than Pakistan.”

 Drone attacks in Pakistan since 2004 are called a part of “war on terror” to defeat Taliban and Al Qaida who are thought to have found a safe haven in Pakistan in the tribal areas of Northwest Pakistan. President Obama has broadened these attacks recently without realizing the repercussions of these attacks. Pakistan has repeatedly protested these attacks as an infringement of its sovereignty. Civilian deaths are accelerating and public outrage is increasing over the drone attacks. Pakistan has become a victim of terrorism for past 9 years and has lost over 35 billion dollars in fight against militancy.

War on terror is a failed strategy and for very obvious reasons, it appears to be counterproductive. As a matter of fact it is increasing the likelihood of more attacks against the U.S. and its allies. Former Reagan’s NSA director, William Odom made this astute observation that can serve as a roadmap to peace.

 “As many critics have pointed out, terrorism is not the enemy. It is a tactic. Because U.S. itself has a long record of supporting terrorists and using terrorist tactics, the slogans of today’s war on terror simply make the United States look hypocritical to the rest of the world. A prudent American president would end the present policy of ‘sustained hysteria’ over potential terrorist attacks, treat terrorism as a serious but not a strategic problem, encourage Americans to regain their confidence and refuse to let Al Qaida keep us in a state of fright.”

A war on terror is an open-ended goal and it is producing a state of endless conflicts. PEW report has said, “War on terror was not really a sincere effort to reduce international terrorism. True purpose of war on terror according to skeptics, is American control of the Middle East oil and its domination of the world.” Recently, the UN senior official for extra judicial executions Philip Alston said, “The United States should explain the legal rationale for the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in Northwest Pakistan which

he has characterized as a ‘vaguely defined license to kill’ that has created a major accountability vacuum.”  Alston also urged the Obama administration to disclose the number of civilians killed in the drone strikes.

Peter Bergen, a national security analyst also said that the drone program in Pakistan has reportedly killed more than 1,000 people since 2004, many of whom were civilians. Riffat Hussain, a professor of defense and security studies expert in Islamabad said that the NATO airstrikes in Pakistan would make the mission even harder. He defines U.S.- Pakistan relations one step positive three steps negative.

Drone attack is a political tactic not a strategy and this tactic is a temporary fix. Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani has also said, “only 10% success can be achieved through military operations while 90% is possible only through economic developments.” Anti- Americanism has become an issue of a growing concern in Washington and Islamabad. How far can Pakistan be pushed? People are looking for an answer while drone attacks remain controversial tactics to many observers and experts.

Zakia Isad is professor at the Department of Political Science, Chabot College, Hayward CA