The defeat in the Indo-Pakistani armed conflict in 1972 and the loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) contributed to a serious cooling of allied relations with Washington; the White House did not consider it necessary to provide direct military assistance to Pakistan for fear of being drawn into another regional conflict (there was Indochina war at that time) and with the threat of Soviet involvement in the conflict on the side of India. Everything changed after the April 1978 revolution in Kabul and the Soviet troops’ entry into Afghanistan in December 1979. Islamabad again began to play a key role in the U.S. plans to establish training and supply bases on Pakistani territory for the Afghan mujahedeen, who fought against the Kabul regime and the Soviet military contingent.
This resistance was financed mainly by a special program organized by the CIA and the Pentagon (Operation Cyclone). The regime of General Ziaul Haq could now count on significant military and economic aid. Thus, by the mid-eighties Pakistan received a total of $3.2 billion, and later one billion dollars annually. F-16 fighter jets and warships were delivered to Pakistan. Pakistan’s nuclear program disappeared from the bilateral agenda and was not raised by the Americans until the mid-1990s.
Another decline in bilateral relations occurred in 1988, when President Ziaul Haq, U.S. Ambassador Arnold Rafel and Brigadier General Herbert Wassom, head of the U.S. military mission in Pakistan, died in a plane crash. The Bush administration considerably cut the economic and military aid, holding the Pakistani military responsible for the tragedy. Washington once again demanded that Islamabad stop developing nuclear weapons, and U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Platt threatened to add Pakistan to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, this time for supporting anti-Indian groups on its territory. Pakistan responded with two nuclear weapons tests in 1998, demonstrating to the U.S. ally its recalcitrant nature.
Washington’s relations with Pakistan improved sharply only after the events of September 11, 2001, when the government of General Musharraf agreed to participate actively in the U.S. war on terrorism. U.S. military and economic aid resumed, totaling more than $21 billion through 2010. Moreover, in 2003, the Americans wrote off part of Pakistan’s foreign debt (one billion dollars) and began to pay for the operations of Pakistani special services against al-Qaeda. After the operation to eliminate the terrorist number one Osama Bin Laden, the U.S. in gratitude sold Pakistan the latest weapons – 18 upgraded F-16 C|D Fighting Falcon fighters, air-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles. For the 2016-2017 fiscal years, military aid to Islamabad totaled $800 million.
However, after the shameful and hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2021, criticism of the alliance with Washington intensified in Pakistani society. The statements of Pakistani politicians resented U.S. policy in the region, which did not take into account Islamabad’s national interests, and the amount of financial and economic aid did not cover Pakistan’s economic costs and hindered the country’s development. During two decades of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s irretrievable losses, according to Khan, amounted to more than seventy thousand of its citizens and tens of billions of dollars. President Biden’s recent statement that allied Pakistan was the most dangerous state in the world (a nuclear weapon state) has caused particular resentment in Islamabad. The post-Afghan syndrome created by the war has contributed to a sharp polarization, a rift in the social structure of the country and an increase in anti-American sentiment in society.
Even Washington’s protégé, the new Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, has been forced to declare the need to reset relations with the United States, which should take Pakistan’s interests into account to a greater extent. The published National Security Strategy 2022-2026 notes that Pakistan does not subscribe to the compound policy, that is, it cannot act as an additional force in any of Washington’s projects. Cooperation on counterterrorism will remain a priority, although Islamabad will try to diversify ties with the United States.
As the fifth largest country in the world, with enormous energy potential and as a nuclear power, Pakistan planned to significantly increase the pace of its development. For example, in 2014 the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform of Pakistan prepared a strategy “Pakistan Vision 2025”, according to which by 2025 the country should become one of the new “Asian Tigers”, that is, one of 25 economically developed states with an above-average per capita income. In particular, the strategy called for increasing exports to $150 billion a year and reducing inflation
What results has Pakistan achieved after eight years of close alliance with Washington? And how realistic were these plans? Pakistan’s foreign debt amounted to $126.9 billion, and it will, according to Prime Minister Sharif’s projections, be repaid by other generations of Pakistanis. Meanwhile, in 2020 exports were $22.3 billion and imports were $45.7 billion. But already in 2021, imports increased by 59 percent to $49.3 billion and the inflation rate exceeded 23.8 percent.
Thus, instead of the planned prosperity of the country, the new cabinet is forced to seek new loans in order to avoid defaulting on foreign debt obligations. To this end, at the request of the IMF, Islamabad began to implement unpopular measures in the economy. State subsidies for fuel were completely abolished, and the regulation of electricity prices was given to market mechanisms. But all these are short-term solutions that only slow the country’s slide toward default amid the growing global energy and food crisis. In this regard, the key role in the rescue of the Pakistani economy will be played not by the United States, but rather by China, which owns almost $30 billion of Pakistan’s debt, including loans from its state banks, as well as Saudi Arabia’s $15 billion in Pakistani debt. Washington has promised only to get Islamabad a temporary repayment deferral of IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank loans.