Since 2001, US-Pakistan relations have been like a roller coaster. They cooperated on the several issues and enjoyed good partnership. However, at the same time, they differed on some important matters based on their national interest and turned hostile against each other.
In order to understand, in a broader way, the changing trends in the US-Pakistan relations since 2001, their relations must be divided into the following categories year wise:
After the 9/11 incidents, Pakistan decided to support US led “War on Terror” and became its important ally. As a result, Islamabad provided its bases to the US for launching an attack on the Afghan’s soil and accepted all its conditions. To appreciate Pakistan’s cooperation, The US, in 2001, introduced a bill to lift all the sanctions, previously imposed on it and, in 2003, forgave $1 billion worth of loan it had granted to Islamabad.
Besides, Musharraf, in his speech of 12th January 2002, banned militant organisations including Lasker-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JEM). It created confidence in American administration that Pakistan has started to taken some serious measures against the other militant groups as well.
Moreover, Pakistan’s establishment, in collaboration with CIA started to hunt Al-Qaeda militants that had penetrated inside Pakistan. CIA provided intelligence, while Pakistan army sent forces to capture them. For instances, On 28th March 2002, Abu Zubaida was arrested from the house of LeT member. Abu Zubaida was from Palestine and appointed chief of operation by Bin Ladin. Ramzi bin al Shibi was arrested from under construction building of Karachi. He was the head of military wing of al-Qaeda. Besides, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was arrested from the house of women wing of Jamaat-e-Islmai (JI) in 2003. Thus, this cooperation improved US-Pak relations.
However, Pakistan’s support to the West against Afghan Taliban remained limited because of both strategic calculation and mass sentiments as described by Anatol Lieven in his book “Pakistan: A hard country.” In term of strategic calculation, Pakistan’s establishment feared that Afghanistan under non-Pashtun government would become an Indian client state, leading to India’s strategic encirclement of Pakistan from both the borders during crisis. It is true that Pakistan cannot afford to fight on two borders at the same time.
“In terms of mass sentiments, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis__ including the communities from which most Pakistani soldiers are drawn__ see the Afghan Taliban as engaged in the legitimate war of resistance against the foreign occupation.” Even the young soldiers did not consider them as the enemies of state and thus, there were risk of disintegration within Pakistan’s army. Hence, Pakistan’s policy of extending support to Afghan Taliban badly affected US-Pakistan relations.
From 2004 to 2007:
In 2004, Pakistan launched a military operation in FATA to capture the militants of Al-Qaeda who were given shelter by the local people. The action of Islamabad was in line with the interest of the US. However, the operation could not succeed, as the local people resisted the military and protected their so-called guests. It ended up in signing a truce with the local citizens.
In the same year, President George Bush officially declared Pakistan as a non-NATO ally granting it the authority to purchase strategic and advanced military equipments.
However, in 2006, Pakistan was caught red handed in trying to supply the full component of nuclear bomb making plant to Libya. It brought the US in direct clash with Pakistan. Musharraf made Dr. Abdul Qadir khan as a scapegoat by blaming that he alone was involved. Afterward, Dr. Qadir was put in well-guarded house arrest so that the truth could not emerge.
In 2007, a report was issued in which Pakistan was accused of using aid money provided by US to Pakistan for its cooperation on war on terror, for strengthening its defence against India. Ahmed Rashid writes in his book “Pakistan on the Brink” that from 2001 to 2008, Pakistan received $ 11.8 billion US aid and 80 per cent was spent on the military. Hence, the event of Libya and US aid jolted US-Pak relations.
From 2008 to 2010:
In 2008, the civilian government under Pakistan people’s party (PPP) came into power in Pakistan and it was eager to make good relations with the US to get economic assistant. In 2009, Obama also became the president of the US and realized the importance of Pakistan to win the war against terrorism. Obama created a term AfPak and appointed Richard Holbrooke as the special representative of the US for Afghanistan and Pakistan to solve Afghan crisis through negotiation. By this time, US relations with Pakistan’s military was not good and it decided to win the cooperation of the civilian government.
Obama administration passed Kerry Lugar bill in October 2009 to offer Pakistan’s civilian sector $7.5 billion for 5 years at $1.5 billion per year. It was rejected by the military and further deteriorated civil military relations.
From 2011 to 2013:
In 2011, series of incidents took place that deteriorated US-Pak relations. In January 2011, Raymond Davis, a CIA agent, killed two men in Lahore. As a result, he was arrested and only released when blood money was paid to the victims’ families. Besides, In May 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed from inside Pakistan by a secret American operation, violating sovereignty of Pakistan. Two helicopters entered into Pakistan’s territory from Afghanistan without informing its government. It created frustration in Pakistan’s establishment against the US. Moreover, in November 2011, the NATO forces attacked Pakistan’s military Check Post in Salala, killing around 24 Pakistani soldiers. It was claimed to be an accident, but it further worsened US-Pak relations.
As a result, Pakistan got Salala air base evacuated from the US forces. Pakistan also blocked the NATO supplies temporary to display its utmost rage towards Washington.
In 2013, Pakistan improved its relations with China and initiated China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Hence, Pakistan shifted its loyalty towards China from the US. Thus, Pakistan relations with the US remained abysmal during these years.
From 2014 to 2015:
In 2014, Ashraf Ghani won the elections and became the new president of Afghanistan. He was keen to solve the Afghan’s issue through dialogues. In Pakistan, civil military relations improved owing to coming of new civilian government in power under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan’s new Chief of Staff, general Raheel sharif, who was appointed in late 2013, was also interested in arranging talks between the US and Afghan Taliban. The deal was simple, Pakistan would bring Afghan Taliban on the negotiation table and Afghanistan would go hard against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) leaders who were hiding inside Afghanistan and wreaking havoc in Pakistan from there. The talks were arranged in 2015. Hence, the convergence of interests of the US and Pakistan, once again, brought them closer to each other. However, the dialogues could not succeed, as Afghan Taliban carried out series of attacks in Kabul on 7th August 2015 causing approximately 50 deaths and several hundred injuries.
From 2016 to date:
In 2016, Trump became the new president of the US. He promised, during his elections campaigns, to pull the US out from international conflicts. However, his Afghan’s policy remained totally opposite. He not only gave approval to increase American soldiers, but also put pressure on Pakistan to do more. To make things worse, he increased the involvement of India in Afghanistan. His policy was described as “Stay and Fight.” The new Afghan’s policy of the US clashed with the interests of Pakistan.
However, Trump also realized the complexity of the issue and agreed to hold talks with Afghan Taliban to end the conflict and pull American out of the conundrum. Talks took place, but failed owing to arrogant rhetoric of Afghan Taliban. They asked for the complete withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and refused to talk with the existing Afghan’s government for power sharing by calling it as American puppet.
Very recently, Afghan Taliban have concluded Doha peace agreement with the US to solve the Afghan’s crisis. This time, they have not only agreed to accept the withdrawal of the US in installment, but also decided to negotiate with the existing Afghan’s government and other ethnic groups for power sharing. It is evident that, the US and Pakistan both want peace in Afghanistan and their convergence of interest in Kabul have improved their present relations.
Thus, although Pakistan became the most important ally of the US after 9/11 and backed its campaign against “War on Terror”, yet their relations were not smooth and went through bumpy patches owing to their conflict of interests on different issues.