american involvement pakistan

Written by Iqra Mumtaz 6:08 pm Articles, International Relations, Pakistan, Published Content

Pakistan and America – Relations Strained by US Involvement

Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, America has maintained a continuous presence in the state’s political affairs. Iqra Mumtaz notes that throughout the history of Pakistan-US relations, the US’s policies towards Pakistan have revolved around engagement, containment, and the “carrots or sticks” approach. Yet, the American support of subservient regimes in Pakistan has remained constant.
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About the Author(s)
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Ms Iqra Mumtaz is an undergraduate student of Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defence University, Pakistan. Her areas of expertise include hybrid and hyper war, gender and violence, spatial warfare, and US-China relations.


In present times, America and Pakistan are facing a diplomatic crisis. The recent strain was strengthened after Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, publically called out the American involvement in the politics of Pakistan that caused his ouster. Pakistan’s increasing tilt towards the eastern blocs – China and Russia – have already given birth to a thorny relationship.

Pakistan’s independent foreign policy under Imran Khan’s government had also been a problem for America. Though no major changes were made to the foreign policy, the former PM’s vocal stature had been another source of problems. His stance on Palestine, Kashmir, and Islamophobia on global platforms, his foreign policy towards China, Russia, and Afghanistan, and his reluctance of normalizing relations with Israel have stirred unease in some countries.

Also, Khan’s leadership in the Muslim world became more popular. The countries have not shared a smooth history since Pakistan’s birth. From partners to threats and friendly relations to the antagonistic equations, the Pakistan-US relations have seen their ups and downs. Christopher Jaffrelot terms the relationship as “clientelistic” based on its “give and take” thinking.

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Cold War Era

After the inception of Pakistan, the United States of America was one of the first states to establish diplomatic ties with the newly born state. For seven decades, the relationship has been of an economic and military nature. During the early years of Pakistan, with the Cold War occurring in the background, the country had to make a critical choice between the Soviet Union and the US for building allegiance. It chose America.

In the coming years, the US made requests for letting the CIA formulate bases in Pakistan. At first, it was rejected by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali but later on, the requests were accepted by Prime Minister Suhrawardy. He leased the Peshawar Air Station to the US so that it could keep an eye on the USSR.

Though this resulted in higher military and financial assistance for some time, after the India-Pakistan War of 1965, the US placed an economic embargo on Pakistan. Diplomatically, Pakistan also played an important role by giving an opening to China and soothing relations between China and the US. From the Bhutto-Nixon increased cooperation to President Carter’s strict anti-socialist policies. Some harmony followed under Zia’s regime but with the end of the Cold War, the country lost its strategic importance.

Post-9/11 Relations

Under Nawaz Sharif, heavy sanctions were imposed due to the conduction of nuclear tests in Baluchistan. Moeed Yousaf observes that since the Cold War, “Pakistan used the United States to bolster its economy and military capability against Soviet-leaning India. Pakistan’s India calculus has not moved since this time, but the United States’ strategy has flipped. And herein lies the problem.”

Pakistan’s strategic significance rose after the 9/11 attacks. The options presented by President Bush to Pakistan in the wake of the attacks also didn’t leave much space for choices and options. The Bush administration considered Pakistan as a “frontline” ally against the Global War on Terror. The American army used Pakistani military bases for launching attacks on Afghan territory. Concurrently, all the previously imposed sanctions were lifted. Pakistan also became a “non-NATO ally” which gave it the authority to buy advanced military equipment.

Even with these developments and the aid money, distrust between the states was rife. As the US accused Pakistan on multiple occasions of tipping the Taliban off on US operations. In addition, the killing of several Pakistani soldiers as a result of airstrikes at different times further stilted the relations. The American war has also displaced millions in Pakistan since 2001. This strain was furthered under Donald Trump.

However, things changed in 2019 which was marked by a far more positive cooperation. The change in stance was due to Pakistan playing a central role in the Afghan peace process, and in the evacuation process after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

American Involvement in Pakistan

History records that the soil of Pakistan has been used by America multiple times for furthering its own interests. From the Cold War to the Global War on Terror, we have always been ready to provide assistance to the US. The fact cannot be denied that America always, especially after its victory as a unilateral leader in the Cold War, has heavily influenced the politics of Pakistan. Many times, it has intervened directly and indirectly as well.

It is worth noting that Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had also claimed that an American conspiracy to remove him from power was being planned due to his refusal of giving up Pakistan’s nuclear program. He claimed that the US had “threatened” to make an example.  Afterward, in a mysterious plane crash, General Zia died for which the US was blamed by many Pakistanis. This was due to Zia becoming a liability for Washington in 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In the mid-2000s, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher repeatedly met Benazir Bhutto when she was focusing on returning to politics and was seeking reconciliation with General Musharraf. In 2008, Pervaiz Musharraf’s ouster was achieved by the Bush administration. The incident took place because of the US’ belief that the general could no longer mobilize public support for the American “War on Terror.” 

The history of Pak-US relations reveals that Pakistan remains the most “sanctioned” ally for various reasons. Also, American policies towards Pakistan have changed over time from involvement, containment, to the “carrots or sticks” approach. Moreover, America has always interfered and participated in other countries’ domestic affairs.

Such a history spans at least a century and since the end of the Second World War, it has extended to all regions of the world. It is characterized by subversion and the overthrow of foreign regimes. It has done such things numerous times. Regime change in Iraq, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya are prime examples of such operations. From Latin America to the Middle East, America’s history has been fraught with such strategic interventions.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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