Volume 6, No. 2, February 2024
Editor: Rashed Rahman
US policy towards Pakistan has oscillated between suspicion and sanctions at one end, and showering money and generous praise at the other, a pendulum characteristic of a client state. The relationship took shape soon after Partition and Independence in 1947. Pakistan inherited a handful of industrial units, disorganised peasant-tilled agriculture, and dismal infrastructure. The prospect of feeding a population of 75 million in 1947-1948 seemed daunting. At that juncture the US was in need of a Cold War ally while Pakistan was looking for economic sustenance, and so ensued a relationship based on quid pro quo, which continues to define it to this day.
As the Cold War surged ahead, two security agreements, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) were signed in 1954, which prompted the US to provide $ 2.5 billion in economic and $ 700 million in military aid to Pakistan. Following Indo-Pak hostilities, US military aid was slashed to $ 26 million between 1965 and 1971, which was later brought down further to $ 2.9 million. However, given Pakistan’s geostrategic relevance in the region, economic aid remained intact at $ 2.5 billion during 1960-1975. After the discovery of a uranium-enrichment facility in Pakistan in 1979, a period of tense bilateral relations culminated in the Carter administration cutting off all military aid to Pakistan while keeping economic assistance in place.
With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the US looked at Pakistan with renewed interest. A joint task force of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and the Pentagon produced a foreign policy document that concluded the Mujahideen and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate had the best mix of capabilities for prosecuting covert operations to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
President Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, speaking to a group of Afghan Mujahideen in Islamabad, praised their bravery, stating: “God is on your side.” He called upon them to remain steadfast in their resolve to carry out the ‘jihad’. As a reward for Pakistan’s support to the Mujahideen during 1980-1990, the US gave $ 5.0 billion to Pakistan in economic and military assistance.
After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, US assistance once again shrank over the next 10 years to $ 429 million in economic and $ 5.2 million in military aid. The economy as a result squirmed and the army scrambled for alternative sources of military hardware, leaning increasingly on China and to a lesser degree on post-Soviet Russia. Although Pakistan served US interests as a frontline state with loyalty, serious cleavages began to appear in the relationship with respect to Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, which led President George H W Bush to withdraw funding during the 1990s. In response to the 1998 nuclear tests, the US Congress passed a country-specific Pressler Amendment, which led to economic sanctions against Pakistan.
However, in keeping with the oscillating relational tendencies of the past, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, President Musharraf readily complied with all the US demands when President George W Bush posed the question: “Are you with us or with the terrorists?” Under the new terms of engagement, Pakistan provided logistical assistance to the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan in exchange for hard cash from the accounts of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF).
Under the CSF, Pakistan provided safe passage to the NATO alliance for shipment of a range of equipment and supplies to Afghanistan and access to nine Pakistani airbases to facilitate the CIA-operated drone programme. For this facilitation and ancillary defence support, Pakistan received $ 9.0 billion in military assistance and $ 3.0 billion for economic development initiatives.
Red flags were, however, raised by the US and western media sources that these funds were not being used as intended, citing evidence that money meant to fight the Taliban was being used to fund them. US officials accused Pakistan of having strong operational links with the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, which allegedly had ties with al Qaeda.
In the absence of a viable option, President Barack Obama continued to rely on Pakistan in the war against terror and signed a fresh five-year $ 7.5 billion assistance package, with the caveat that Pakistan will not use these funds for nuclear proliferation or supporting terror networks or beefing up its own defences against India. The record is at best murky whether President Musharraf stood by the promises he made to the US or for that matter to his own people. For instance, he had identified madrassa reform as being central to foiling jihadi recruitment. Far from reforming the madrassas, religious seminaries continued to flourish during his regime.
In the post-Musharraf period, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was ineffective in impelling diplomatic initiatives in Washington, which gave further impetus to the US mantra of “Do more”, a witless justification for downplaying Pakistan’s contribution in the war against terror. Despite the fact that Pakistan paid a huge price in fighting a foreign war, the US remained tight lipped about the services that Pakistan provided it, having lost more than 70,000 civilian and military lives and billions of dollars in economic costs.
Beginning in 2013, when the need for a vigorous diplomatic drive to project Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives in South Asia could not have been greater, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government was unable to project Pakistan’s achievements as it required emphasising that peace with its neighbours was imperative and that this objective complemented US aspirations in the region rather than being at variance with them. But in the absence of a full-time foreign minister for five years, a clear policy was not visible, which widened the trust deficit between the two sides.
Although the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government seemed to seek a more balanced approach in redefining Pak-US engagement, the amplification of Pakistan’s policy should have been occasioned with solid evidence of the significant achievements that were made at great human and economic cost in the anti-terror Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasad military operations. This ought to have been the overarching pitch in Washington and other western capitals but was not done, or at least certainly not forcefully enough.
All said and done, it is of the utmost importance to remember that foreign aid has only amounted to 1-1½ percent of Pakistan’s total GDP over 72 years. The historical record shows that foreign aid does not serve as a pivot for achieving economic growth. It is Pakistan’s improved educational system, population control, entrepreneurial genius in industry, and innovation in agriculture and agribusiness that will bring about sustainable economic growth of six percent and better. It has been said many times but is worth saying again and again that Pakistan must increasingly begin to rely on trade, not aid.
The writer is an international economic development consultant, a Member of the Ontario College of Teachers, and a visiting Assistant Professor of Economics in the School of Management at Forman Christian College University, Lahore