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Time for the US to overhaul its policies on Pakistan

By Mehroz Siraj - posted Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Since its last federal election in 2018, Pakistan has been engulfed in a myriad of socio-economic challenges and debates. These, it's widely believed, will play a key role in determining the country's trajectory through the 21st century. Of acute importance here is the debate about re-aligning the country's foreign policy: to be reflective of the changing world order, while simultaneously serving the needs of the Pakistani people.

During the Cold War years, Pakistan was a member of all major western military pacts covering the Asian region. While being a signatory to those treaties helped Pakistan both economically and militarily during most of the latter part of the twentieth century, as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed the US left Pakistan out, considering it to be a pariah state. After the Soviet pull-out, Pakistan was left to deal with the crisis in Afghanistan by itself and its economy was also saddled with the burden of providing succour to an estimated three million Afghan refugees.

In the early 1990s, the US slapped hefty military and economic sanctions on Pakistan to slow down the nuclear programme being aggressively pursued by the military establishment based in Rawalpindi. The sanctions were put in place under the US Congress's Pressler Amendment, whichrequired the US president to certify that countries like Pakistan were not developing nuclear weapons before any American aid and investment could be doled out to them.

Even post-9/11, successive American administrations made it clear to their Pakistani counterparts that the US views its relationship with Pakistan mainly as a logistics and security-based relationship. The Bush and Obama administrations made it amply clear they did not have any appetite for wider economic relations.

Pakistan's demands to have more US market access to its world class IT and textile products, and to have better access to high end American technologies have been given the cold shoulder by the Americans. Hence, the country has had to look to other traditional allies in the Middle East, Australia and China, all of whom have responded positively. Pakistan's textile exports to the European Union have remained remarkably healthy, while European companies such as Telenor have invested heavily in Pakistan's telecom and financial technology sectors.

China's help in rejuvenating the country's aging power generation and distribution networks as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has alleviated power outages across most of the country. Pakistan only warmed up to Chinese rapprochement once the Pakistani establishment made it clear that the country's foreign and economic policies had to be diversified. This sentiment was echoed by army chief, General Bajwa, at a recent security summit in Islamabad. While responding to the questions of an American reporter, General Bajwa remarked that despite Pakistan enjoying good strategic relations with the US, the latter would always block military procurements involving US technology in order to appease Pakistan's traditional rival, India.

General Bajwa voiced the views of the Pakistani people when he used his public platform to invite major American corporations to invest in Pakistan. The United States' reluctance to broker negotiations between Pakistan and India over Kashmir has made Pakistan drift closer towards allies such as Turkey and China.

This hard-headedness has also drawn Pakistan closer to Russia. Russian assistance with infrastructure would help Pakistan to address energy shortages that could have a crippling impact on the country's economy. For instance, as an opportunity for development, Pakistan's warm-water Gawadar sea port has always appealed to Russian governments and businesses.

America's general reluctance to treat Pakistan and India on the same scale has not gone down well with many Pakistanis. Whilst Pakistan sacrificed more than 80,000 lives of its own citizens and soldiers during the War on Terror, India received a free pass from Washington despite growing anti-Muslim sentiments. The US has applied strong pressure on Pakistan regarding its policy on Afghanistan, among many other things. However, Washington has steadfastly refused to utter any criticism of India under the hard-line Hindu leadership of Prime Minister Modi.

America's silence – on the atrocities committed by the Indian armed forces in Occupied Jammu And Kashmir, and on the growing number of anti-Muslim mob lynchings and hate speech in India – has not gone unnoticed in Pakistan. America's general drift towards making India its number one Asian ally vis-a-vis China is a policy bound to fail, and this is well-understood amongst Pakistani policy makers.


It needs to be remembered that without adequate Pakistani support, the United States would not have been able to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s. After all, it was the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies that worked with the CIA and the Reagan administration to train Afghan mujahideen. Similarly, it should not be forgotten that the Trump administration, in effect, wanted to engage the Pakistani government and military in order to carve out an exit strategy for US and NATO forces from Afghanistan.

As the post-pandemic new world order takes shape, alienating Pakistan could prove to be detrimental to US interests in Asia and beyond. Time and again, Pakistan has done more than its fair share to keep the bilateral relationship going. The ball is now firmly in the American side of the court and it is about time the Biden administration, with the help of Congress and the corporate sector, radically overhauls US policy.

A new Pakistan policy should surely emphasise trade, economics, and access to high quality education and scientific knowledge. The absence of these key elements will only make Pakistan drift closer to Russia and China, something that would not be in America's best interests – but can be avoided.

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Article edited by Margaret-Ann Williams.
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About the Author

Mehroz Siraj is a journalist with more than five years of writing and reporting experience having worked with newspapers in Pakistan, and on many websites around the world. Mehroz is a Pakistani international student at RMIT University.

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