The Pakistan - US Relationship

Former Pakistan Ambassador to the US,
Dr Maleeha lodhi examines the contiuning
evolution of a troubled love-hate relationship
and the efforts to bring it to even keel

Pakistan - US relations can be divided into three distinct phases: The Cold War period; the years of crisis in the relationship from 1990 to 1993; and the current phase of repairing, rebuilding and redefining relations in the post-Cold War era. To review the latter, it is necessary to place the current phase in its historical context.

The foreign policy of Pakistan, from the very inception of the country

over half a century ago, was driven by the quest for security. Pakistan's geographical location and historic legacy confronted the country with a grave threat to its security and territorial integrity. The Kashmir dispute, bequeathed by British colonial rule, and India's hegemonic ambitions placed us in a perpetual state of confrontation with New Delhi. To make matters worse, India's relations with the then Soviet Union, a power with expansionist designs in the region, compounded Pakistan's security dilemma. The partnership between Pakistan and the US can therefore be described as a strategic necessity during the Cold War.

Throughout the four decades of the Cold War, the two countries forged a partnership to contain Soviet expansionism, and for Pakistan by extension, Indian hegemonic impulses backed by Moscow. As a result, South Asia became deeply enmeshed in the structure of superpower rivalry, while Pakistan's membership of military pacts like SEATO and CENTO earned it the pejorative designation of the most allied ally' of the US.

This Cold War relationship was in many ways a subset of the two countries' other strategic concerns. Pakistan's being India, while for the Americans it was the containment of communism. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 however, brought a convergence of Pakistan and US interests and concerns.

The Soviet invasion placed Pakistan in a tenuous two-front situation: between the Kremlin's allies to its east and west. The close partnership forged between Pakistan and the U.S. helped the Afghans resist Soviet occupation of their country, eventually leading to the rollback of communism. It was no accident that in the very year that the Soviets were forced to retreat from Afghanistan, the Berlin war crumbled in Europe. The Afghan war, therefore, turned out to be a seminal event in the chain of events that led to the end of the Cold War.

But the end of the Cold War did not leave South Asia in a state of peace and stability. Indeed Pakistan was left on its own to clear the debris of the last of the Cold War conflicts, in the shape of over two million Afghan refugees, proliferation of sophisticated weapons and the profusion of narcotics which spread from the uncontrolled areas of Afghanistan to parts of Pakistan.

The end of the Cold War also persuaded the US to re-evaluate and downgrade its relationship with Pakistan on the ground that the new global environment did not warrant the old strategic partnership. An immediate and far reaching consequence was the emergence of differences between the two countries on the nuclear issue. In October 1990, economic and military sanctions were imposed on Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment, a country-specific law that singles out only one nation on the nuclear issue. One consequence of the Pressler sanctions was the US decision to withhold Pakistan military equipment contracted prior to 1990, worth about $1.2 billion, even though Pakistan had paid for this.

In Pakistan's perception it was no accident that the application of sanctions coincided with the end of the Cold War. The Pressler sanctions were applied when Pakistan's co-operation was no longer needed following the demise of the Soviet Union.

At any rate, this punitive action triggered the crisis phase in relations, thus also rendering more difficult the task of making a smooth transition to a post-Cold War relationship 1990-1993 became crisis-ridden years. Instead of the two countries directing their energy and focus to craft a new relationship geared to embracing the future, both became bogged down in fire-fighting one crisis after another in their ties - over the nuclear issue, terrorism and also narcotics. Relations sunk to an all-time low when Washington threatened in 1992/93 to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. Then in the summer of 1993 additional sanctions were imposed on Pakistan under the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) for allegedly receiving missile technology from China.

As a result, the bilateral interaction became virtually confined to crisis-management or damage-limitation efforts. The relationship seemed to be a state of free fall. The only silver lining in this downslide was Pakistan-US collaboration in international peace-keeping operations, notably in Somalia.

The irony about U.S. non-proliferation policy in South Asia was that

while the impetus for proliferation at every step came from India, it was Pakistan, and not India, that was subjected to penalties, embargoes and sanctions.

Perversely Pakistan became the victim of penalties for what India had

done in 1974 with its explosion of a nuclear device. US nonproliferation laws such as the 1976 Symington Amendment which was later modified by the 1977 Glenn Amendment, called for halting economic or military assistance to any country which delivered or acquired after 1976 nuclear enrichment materials or technology, unless it accepted fullscope safeguards. This meant that India which had already acquired a reprocessing capability was excluded from the ambit of American non-proliferation laws.

The Pressler Amendment enacted in 1985, specifically prohibited U.S. assistance or military sales to Pakistan unless annual Presidential certification was issued that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device. This certification was denied in October 1990, triggering wideranging sanctions against Pakistan.

In those crisis years, Pakistan maintained that despite differences over the nuclear issue, the two countries should act to limit further damage to their relations. Bilateral ties, Islamabad argued, ought not be viewed though the single and exclusive prism of nuclear proliferation and that a second track should be evolved to make progress in areas of convergence. Pakistan and the US shared a number of goals, at the regional and global levels, that made it essential not to allow relations becoming hostage to a single issue.

Pakistan also argued that the goal of nuclear nonproliferation could only be advanced in the region on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis and not by the imposition of penalties on one country, while overlooking the nuclear conduct of the country that started this race in the first place. Pakistan's security concerns vis-a-vis India, which had already demonstrated its nuclear weapons capability in 1974, and which enjoyed a conventional military force ratio of three to one, warranted the pursuit of a regional approach to nonproliferation. Pakistan could not, therefore, be expected to make unilateral concessions. While the US accepted this logic in principle, the continued application of Pressler sanctions was at variance with this declared policy.

Against this troubled backdrop, efforts to normalise ties got underway

in the Fall of 1993. The efforts to repair ties were the cumulative result of a variety of factors which included a new appreciation in Washington on the part of both the US Executive and Legislature of the security concerns that drove Pakistan's nuclear programme, as well as recognition of the counterproductive outcome of the sanctions approach.

A significant factor that contributed to the efforts to re-engage, was Pakistan's economic liberalisation programme. The moves towards a

market-based economy provided the impetus to efforts to chart new areas of collaboration in promoting trade and investment. Economic liberalisation became the vehicle for significant re-engagement and helped to extricate the relationship from the undimensional nonproliferation groove it had long been stuck in.

Defence Secretary William Perry's visit to Pakistan in January 1995 was another step forward in the process to mend ties in the defence and security sphere. During this visit, the Pakistan-US Defence Consultative

Group on security issues, which had not met since 1990, was revived.

Secretary Perry returned to America to also publicly declare that Pressler had become a blunt instrument, that had not achieved the policy goals of its supporters. He also concluded that Pressler was hindering rather than helping to avert a nuclear race in the subcontinent.

This appreciation, in the context of the Clinton Administration's promise of evenhandedness towards South Asia, set the stage for the progress achieved in the highest level exchange between the two countries since the end of the Cold War: the meeting in April 1995, between former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Bill Clinton.

Referring to the unfairness of the Pressler approach, and specifically to the embargoed military equipment, President Clinton indicated his desire to take corrective action to put relations back on a normal course. In acknowledging that a broad subcontinental and regional approach was required to pursue US nonproliferation objectives in South Asia, the American President signalled a shift away from the punitive approach that had been pursued thus far by the Washington. In the joint statement issued at the conclusion of this visit, President Clinton declared his intention to work with Congress to revise the Pressler Amendment.

A critical dimension of the efforts to restore normalcy in relations was the lead role played by the US Congress. Indeed it can even be said that what encouraged President Clinton to take the public stance that he did, and his Administration to undertake subsequent steps, was the growing recognition on Capital Hill that the Pressler issue needed to be re-visited, so that a fraying relationship could be restored and revitalised.

In May 1995, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted by a near unanimous, bipartisan vote, an amendment moved by Republican Senator, Hank Brown to ease Pressler sanctions. This sought to remove from the purview of Pressler all non-military assistance. In the House of Representatives, a similar effort was spearheaded by the newly elected Republican Chairman of the House International Relations Sub-Committee on South Asia, Doug Bereuter, who proposed an amendment to remove Pressler restrictions on all forms of non-military assistance.

These actions proved to be vital building blocks in the laborious process of American law making leading to the adoption, later in the year, of the Brown Amendment. The amendment, sponsored by a Republican Senator and promoted by a Democratic Administration, reflected a bipartisan consensus in Washington to repair the bilateral relationship by taking the first significant step towards ending the inequitious treatment meted out to Pakistan under the discriminatory Pressler Amendment.

This modification of the Pressler law removed from its ambit all non-military assistance, as well as provision of IMET (International Military Education Training), while providing, in a one-time waiver of the Pressler Amendment, the release of embargoed military equipment worth about $368 million. Not released under this law were the 28 F-16s for which President Clinton made a good-faith pledge to reimburse Pakistan the money it had paid for the fighter aircraft.

From Pakistan's point of view, more important than the material benefits of the Brown Amendment was its symbolic significance and political message. It marked the first concrete step taken by the United States in five years to remove a major obstacle in the conduct of Pak-US relations. The amendment did not condition improvement of relations with Pakistan on any nuclear quid pro quo. And it indicated a desire on the part of both Congress and the Administration to normalise ties with a country deemed to be strategically important.

The potential for this relationship to evolve is considerable. But it is apparent that there are significant divergences between Pakistan and the US on a range of issues, especially nuclear and missile proliferation in the region and Washington's India and Kashmir policies.

An impression gaining ground in Pakistan in recent years is of the US tilting its position on Kashmir towards India by tacitly endorsing the status quo. However, if Washington advises Pakistan to accept the unjust status quo, this would be short-sighted policy. The Kashmiri people will continue to resist Indian occupation at varying levels of intensity. Kashmir will remain an open wound in relations between India and Pakistan unless a serious and concerted effort is made to resolve this problem.

Pakistan has suggested a genuine dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue.

In this dialogue the APHC (All Parties Hurriyat Conference) should be associated. Simultaneously there should be a de-escalation in Indian repression and the gradual withdrawal of Indian troops. But genuine negotiations rather than just the facade of bilateral talks need to be pursued on Kashmir. To be durable, a settlement will have to be based on the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

On nonproliferation, the need is for the US to adopt an evenhanded approach, in words and in deeds. The lack of evenhandedness has encouraged Indian nuclear escalation. Unless an evenhanded approach is adopted, India will continue its nuclear escalation and Pakistan will be obliged to respond.

How Kashmir, India's nuclear ambitions and security issues are addressed and the positions that the US takes on these will not determine the future course and substance of Pakistan-US relations. For the moment, the bilateral relationship having moved out of the crisis mode, remains in search of substance.