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Re-Evaluating the US- Pakistan Relationship

By Rishab Chatty, CTG Alumni,

Research Assistant for the Political Violence Lab

Though it’s been nearly 200 days since President Biden’s inauguration, he has yet to call Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, an indication that U.S.-Pakistan relations are souring. In fact, in a recent interview with PBS Newshour, PM Khan expressed his reluctance to continue supporting the United States with its counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, exclaiming “there’s nothing more we can do.” As the United States faces a new challenge in maintaining counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan due to its military withdrawal, it may be time to reconsider our allyship with Pakistan.

The United States’ close relationship with Pakistan is mainly a result of coordinated efforts in the War on Terrorism. Key among these efforts was Pakistan’s 2004 military campaign against insurgents in South Waziristan and the 2014 National Action Plan, which solidified Pakistan’s anti-terrorism initiatives. In addition, Pakistan is a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $5 billion in civilian assistance and $1 billion in humanitarian aid since 2009.

This continued economic and military relationship is quite controversial in light of intelligence that establishes Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism itself. A 2001 Human Rights Watch report found that Pakistan offered direct military and economic support to the Taliban before 9/11. More recently, Afghanistan’s first Vice President and a key figure in Pakistan’s presence in the country, Amrullah Saleh, tweeted that Pakistan’s air force was providing the Taliban with air support, an allegation expectedly denied by PM Khan. However, it is well known that Pakistan’s intelligence unit, the ISI, has trained and aided both the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Furthermore, a 2019 State Department report found evidence that Pakistan allowed terrorist organizations including Jaish-e--Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to operate within its borders, and plenty of evidence suggests that Pakistan sheltered Osama Bin Laden and other members of Al-Qaeda after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

Keeping this unacceptable behavior in mind, it makes little sense to continue providing Pakistan with the support we have. Instead, we should focus on forming stronger partnerships with countries such as India, which would make a great ally as a result of shared interests against China. The United States’ relationship with India has proven fruitful for both countries, but our commitment to Pakistan has long impeded our ability to fully take advantage of what a U.S.- India partnership could provide both countries. As our counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan are complicated, we must consider what our best interests truly comprise.


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