The Road Not Taken: Pakistan’s Confused Relationship With The United States

Pakistan's relationship with the United States has been punctuated by perennial misunderstanding, with the outcome that Pakistan has neither fully benefited from American support, nor been able to fully distance itself from America's shadow.

The Road Not Taken: Pakistan’s Confused Relationship With The United States

When a long-term relationship ends, you sit in a room all by yourself and wonder – brooding over things, many things as they were. You blame yourself for all the possible mistakes you made, even take the blame for those things that were not of your making. Time passes by, you start going out again, seeing the sunlight. The memory of everything fades and recedes into oblivion, as if it was just a dream. Like it was never there. That’s how it ends. And there comes a time when you look back once again. But this time it is different – more objective. You go back to square one. Pick the tiny bits up you never paid attention to before. You see things more realistically, now.

The author of “The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies,” Dennis Kux, was a US diplomat. It was in the early 1990s that Ambassador Kux delivered a lecture at the USIS Lahore in the aftermath of the Cold War, about Pakistan’s changing role in the region’s politics. Ambassador Kux said to the audience that after the Afghan war was over, Pakistan was no more a frontline state, and therefore its role and importance are diminished in the New World Order that was being created at that time by the US. In other words, Pakistan wasn’t as important for the US as it was before. It was difficult to swallow for my young mind at that time, because I belonged to that generation of Pakistanis who grew up with the stories of how Pakistan, with its great ally America, would one day defeat India, the Soviet ally, and therefore avenge her misdoings in 1971. And now here was this American diplomat, who sounded so callous by saying that we – Pakistan – didn’t matter anymore. It took me, and probably others like me, years to swallow this idea, and reconcile with it.

Pakistan had disappointed the US, by ignoring some important part of history.

While narrating the history of Pakistan, starting from the advent of the Pakistan Movement in 1940, we tend to eschew one rather visible point: how neatly the Lahore Resolution of 1940 coincided with the start of the Second World War in 1939 that first sucked the British in, along with the entirety of the European continent, and then the Americans. When the War ended in 1945, it left the British Empire bankrupt – and therefore unable to continue the Raj in India. The Americans provided a bailout of $4.34 billion to Britain. The New York Times of December 28th, 2006, reports that “Britain will transfer £43 million to the US Treasury on Friday, the final payment on a debt used to finance the World War II defeat of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany… Since 1950, Britain has made payments on the debt, the final payment of which is worth $84 million, at the end of every year except six.”

Three years later, in 1948, President Truman signed the Economic Recovery Act to bail out Europe from the economic turmoil. This came to be known as the Marshall Plan, after the then US secretary of state, George Marshall.

The old world came to a total end with the Second World War. Former empires and philosophies died, along with millions of human lives. In this new world, the US faced a single threat - from Soviet Communism. Not many cared to think how Pakistan, created in 1947, between the end of the War and the signing of the Marshall Plan, and had literally nothing in its treasury to conduct its state affairs, became a formidable military force within a decade with the ability to challenge the Indian military’s might in 1965. The Americans had built Pakistan’s military machinery to serve their own objectives. Those in Pakistan who ignored this reality paid for it, and consequently made Pakistan suffer for their decisions – starting from 1947 all the way to 2022, when Imran Khan erroneously flung that cypher in public, blaming the Americans.

Good or bad, right or wrong, is not the question here. It is a simple question of knowing, admitting, and respecting a visible reality.

It should now be clear to us that the making of Pakistan, and that of its military, was not to threaten India, but rather to protect it from Soviet influence and invasion. Pay attention to this part of Allama Iqbal’s Allahabad Address of 1930 – that clichéd dream of his. Right after proposing a union of Muslim states and provinces in the North-West of India, Iqbal argues, in paragraph [3]c, of his lengthy presidential address, and I shall quote his words without paraphrasing: “Thus, possessing full opportunity of development within the body politic of India, the North-West Indian Muslims will prove the best defenders of India against a foreign invasion, be that invasion one of ideas or of bayonets. The Punjab, with 56 percent Muslim population, supplies 54 percent of the total combatant troops in the Indian Army, and if the 19,000 Gurkhas recruited from the independent State of Nepal are excluded, the Punjab contingent amounts to 62 percent of the whole Indian Army. This percentage does not take into account nearly 6,000 combatants supplied to the Indian Army by the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. From this you can easily calculate the possibilities of North-West Indian Muslims in regard to the defence of India against foreign aggression.”

So, that exactly was the idea of Pakistan given by Iqbal – a defender of India – which perhaps was thwarted by the unfortunate and probably envisaged bloodshed during the Partition and the subsequent events, including Kashmir.

That means, from the American point of view, Pakistan chose the wrong adversary. Since this became inevitable, the Americans did their best to prevent Pakistan from harming India too severely on many occasions, particularly during the wars between the two nations. Another mistake by Pakistan, from the American perspective, was the acquisition of its nuclear weapons, which the Pressler Amendment of 1985 had sought to prevent at the height of the Cold War, when Pakistan enjoyed the status of a frontline state against communism. The consequences, nevertheless, came later in 1994 when, under this law, the American President George H.W. Bush, declined to issue a certificate to Congress that Pakistan did not possess a peaceful nuclear program. Consequently, the F-16s that Pakistan had purchased and paid for were never delivered. The Americans felt betrayed again when, during the War on Terror in the post-9/11 era, they felt Pakistan played a double game. In other words, with its fluctuating and confused foreign policy, Pakistan enjoyed some rewards and suffered a number of penalties. It could neither fully benefit from American support, nor completely distance itself from their alliance.

When it comes to choosing, Pakistan inevitably ends up standing at a crossroads where it ponders which path to take, much like it did on the question of Ukraine more recently. I believe I now understand what Ambassador Kux meant to convey three decades ago.

So, let's sit down and contemplate. Let's go back to the beginning of how this relationship started, and how it got complicated. Let's gather the pieces together. And this time, not driven by emotion or anger, but more realistically.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken

The author holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow, UK. He hosts a political talk show on TV and appears as a political commentator in TV shows.