Pakistan also argued that nuclear nonproliferation could only be advanced in the region on an equitable and nondiscriminatory basis and not by the imposition of penalties on one country while overlooking the nuclear conduct of the country that started the race in the first place—a smug reference to India, which had demonstrated its nuclear weapons capability in 1974. Pakistan’s “India card” played well in Washington, where India’s nuclear weaponisation had been fiercely opposed. The argument served to pry open the sanctions imposed on Islamabad and divert the issue of Pakistan’s bomb.
According to former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi, another factor boosting the efforts to reengage during the 1990s was Pakistan’s economic liberalisation program. The country’s moves toward a market-based economy provided the impetus for charting 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 unidimensional nonproliferation groove in which it had been stuck, Dr. Lodhi said (The Pakistan–U.S. Relationship. Pakistan Defence Journal, April 1998).
The Seeds of Distrust
During the 1990s, Washington also noticed from a distance Pakistani intelligence’s and military’s role in assembling an anti-West group in Afghanistan, the Taliban, steeped in orthodoxy, and then helping them militarily to seize power in Kabul in 1996. Soon after, Washington noted that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden moved into Afghanistan after carrying out a series of terrorist attacks against the United States. By March 2000, when U.S. president Bill Clinton made a 14-hour stopover in Pakistan that was not identified as an official visit, relations between the two countries were greatly strained.
These reports make it evident that the trust level between the United States and Pakistan was then at an all-time low.
President Clinton’s agenda in his discussions with President Pervez Musharraf on that occasion was to urge his host to develop a timetable and a road map for returning to national-level civilian rule. President Musharraf summarily rejected the advice. Moreover, the visiting American president’s observation that the 1998 testing of explosive devices had not made Pakistan safer and his request for early signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty were heard, but elicited no response, reports indicate.
President Clinton also encouraged General Musharraf to use his influence with the Taliban government to bring Osama bin Laden to justice as soon as possible. He also raised human rights issues in Afghanistan and expressed his concern over the treatment of women and minorities. He pressed the general to do what he could, using his influence with the Afghan government to bring these violations to an end.
Pakistans cooperation continued to be identified at the policymaking level in the United States as the key in Washingtons efforts to eliminate the Taliban militia in Afghanistan and maintain an extremely shaky Hamid Karzai regime there.
These reports make it evident that the trust level between the United States and Pakistan was then at an all-time low. Unfortunately, the United States seems not to have had a clue as to how to improve that situation—even though it was clear that for Washington, the presence of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the testing of nuclear devices by Islamabad made Pakistan a country to worry about.
The next point of inflexion in the relationship occurred on 11 September 2001, the day terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and, almost simultaneously, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The events of 9/11 were a watershed in U.S.–Pakistan relations, beginning a new contradictory process of simultaneous distrust of, and dependence on, Islamabad in Washington.
Since 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, Washington’s policy toward Pakistan as its ally in America’s “war on terror” became so erratic that it appeared at times to verge on confusion. To many observers, the Bush administration improvised its Pakistan policy script as conditions in Pakistan progressed or regressed. In this latest phase, the wobbly bilateral relationship has involved the following features: