The United States-Pakistan Relationship

M. Osman Siddique (Ambassador to Fiji, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu, 1999-2001)


The relationship between the United States and Pakistan is going from bad to worse. To say that there exists a ‘trust deficit’ between the two countries is simply an understatement, especially since Pakistan is the only Islamic country which has its own nuclear armaments.


Recent statements by the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCOS), Admiral Mike Mullen, have been blunt and are extremely disconcerting. Admiral Mullen had a total of 27 visits to Pakistan during his term as the CJCOS. In his last testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22, he was unequivocal in linking the notorious Haqqani Network as a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI)—thereby implicating the ISI in the September 13 bombing of the US Embassy in Kabul, the June 28 attack on the InterContinental Hotel in Kabul and the September 10 truck bomb attack that killed five Afghans and injured 77 American soldiers.


Pakistan’s government and especially its military were openly embarrassed when the United States decided to unilaterally undertake a secret mission to eliminate Osama bin Laden. In addition, US-operated drone strikes, which are becoming more frequent and causing far greater collateral damages, are infuriating the Pakistanis. Polls after polls reflect Pakistanis’ visceral hatred of American policies and American policymakers. Americans are also becoming increasingly leery of the situation. Congress is taking a firmer stand on authorizing more military and economic assistance toPakistan. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has launched a media blitz criticizing the United States for its insensitivity regarding the sacrifices Pakistan has made for the war on terror and he has expressed reservations at this public US posturing. Ties have become extremely tenuous with the potential to deteriorate even further.


Can we disengage withPakistan? The answer is a categorical no if we are to see a stable Afghanistan and the further degradation of the Al-Qaeda threat. The answer lies in ‘reframing’ this relationship as Admiral Mullen put it. This reframing can only happen with a changed leadership in Pakistan and one that the United States can also trust.


Thirty years ago, when Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviets, the United States called on a Pakistani military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, to support the Mujahedeen’s ‘jihad’ against the Soviet occupiers. Despite, ideological and policy differences, a working relationship was established and the Soviets were evicted. Similarly, we need to re-evaluate current and potential leadership inPakistan. In the aftermath of 9/11, when George W. Bush needed a partner in Pakistan to forge a united fight against Al-Qaeda, he found an effective and willing partner in the then President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistanis remember with nostalgia the almost decade of stability and economic progress inPakistanduring his term. Today, former President Musharraf has launched a new political party and has vowed to recapture the political base in Pakistan. America should look to this type of tested and true leaders if it wants to jumpstart its partnership with Pakistan.