Why Pakistan and America Can’t Stand Each Other—But Can’t Step Away

Mohammed Ayoob

Security, Asia

One Trump tweet won’t undo a decades-long twisted alliance.

Why Pakistan and America Can’t Stand Each Other—But Can’t Step Away

There was a time in the 1960s when Pakistan was referred to as America’s “most allied ally” because of its membership in several multilateral defense organizations, such as SEATO and CENTO, led by the United States. Washington still technically considers it a “major non-NATO ally.” This was an honor conferred in 2004, largely in response to President Pervez Musharraf’s support for the American invasion of Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of 2001. But one would not guess that fact from hearing or reading President Trump’s recent diatribes against Pakistan.

In his first tweet on New Year’s Day, Trump singled out Pakistan for harsh criticism. He declared, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Trump’s warning came soon after his administration leaked the news that it was planning to withhold $255 million in U.S. aid to Islamabad. The tweet was followed in a few days’ time by the announcement that Washington was freezing nearly all security aid, amounting to $1.3 billion annually, to Pakistan. The United States has made such threats periodically, especially in July 2011, two months after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, without succeeding in changing Pakistan’s policy toward Afghanistan and its support for groups that the United States calls terrorists. Small course corrections apart, Islamabad has gone about business as usual, and eventually Washington has been forced to come to terms with the new constants in Pakistan’s foreign and security policies.

The main reason why successive American administrations have been unable to force Pakistan to alter the direction of its foreign policy, despite billions of dollars in aid, is that the principal objectives of the two countries’ foreign policies are vastly different from each other, and often run counter to one another. Until the end of…

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