Testing Times for U.S.-Pakistan Ties

A Low in Cycle of U.S.-Pakistan Ties
Low in Cycle of U.S.-Pakistan Ties

Interviewee: Hassan Abbas, Fellow, Asia Society; Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, May 23, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations

Osama bin Laden's death May 1 during a U.S. raid on his compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, not far from Pakistan's premier military academy, has pushed U.S.-Pakistan relations to a "new low," says Hassan Abbas, author of a new study, Pakistan: 2020. Abbas says this is typical of the recent rocky relationship the two countries, which need each other but also undercut each other at crucial times. Abbas says a key reason for Pakistan's continued support for Taliban elements is concern about India gaining power in Afghanistan, which Pakistan sees as part of its "backyard." Abbas says relations could improve if Pakistan, whose military has a "phobia" about India that is not shared by most Pakistanis, could work out with India a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, which troubled relations since the founding of both states.

In the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's death, how would you describe the overall relationship between the United States and Pakistan?

Relations are at a new low, but if you look at it in the overall context of the past U.S.-Pakistan relationship I don't see this episode as much different from what has happened earlier in the ties between the two countries. For instance, during the Afghan War, Pakistan and the United States had a close relationship in supporting the Afghan mujahadeen against the Soviets. But immediately after the Russians left, the United States had serious concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program. It came as a real shock to the United States that Osama bin Laden was found within a one-mile radius of Pakistan's premier military training academy, [though] the recent comments by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suggest that he does not believe necessarily (CBS) that the top brass in Pakistan knew, even if someone knew. Ups and downs have been a feature of the Pakistan-U.S. relationship. That relationship has been something between the most allied of allies and what some Pakistani military call "the most bullied of allies."

In the 1960s, Pakistan was one of the United States' top allies, though the relationship has deteriorated. Pakistanis fault the United States for dropping out of the region after the Soviet troops left Afghanistan. Is it in the interests of the Pakistan government and military to make the United States what amounts to "a hostile ally"?

That would be very detrimental to Pakistan. U.S. support to Pakistan is crucial in so many different ways: help with getting rid of the debt burden, supporting the Pakistani military, and now for the past two or three years the economic- and disaster-relief aid packages to Pakistan, which is the most significant help that Pakistan is receiving. If you look at the balance sheet of Pakistan's economy, the amount of investment by the U.S. and U.S. allies--whether it be direct aid to Pakistan, loans to Pakistan, or the IMF's support--the United States plays a major role.

The European Union also follows the United States' lead when it comes to aid or support for Pakistan, and Pakistan has been getting some support from Saudi Arabia as well. But my understanding is that even if you add the total amount of aid or support that Pakistan gets from Saudi Arabia, China, and some of the other Gulf states, U.S. support is much larger in magnitude. The Pakistani military loves China, but they love the U.S. military equipment more. Pakistan's army has some Japanese SUVs and once they bought some Ukrainian tanks, but otherwise the United States is the prime military supplier.

It would be really detrimental to Pakistan if this relationship becomes hostile. But there's another factor, which is how public opinion looks at the relationship--especially in the Arab and Islamic world, where everything is seen from the one lens of U.S. support for Israel. And after the Afghan War and the Iraq War, the U.S. image in the Muslim world has taken a hit. In addition, many people argue that we, the people in Pakistan, have not been the recipients of the U.S. aid. It is the Pakistani military and political elites who have benefited the most from this aid.

For complete interview, click here
Should U.S. Continue Aid to Pakistan? - Expert Roundup, CFR
The Devolution of Pakistan - By Ahmed Rashid, National Interest


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