The United States and Pakistan have been close geopolitical allies almost since the birth of Pakistan in 1948. They have needed each other in the past. They need each other today. But their priorities and policy objectives have moved further and further apart. They are both appalled by the idea that the close alliance may end. But it may.
The origin of the alliance was rather simple and straightforward. In the process of British withdrawal from India, two states came into existence, not one. Essentially, Pakistan broke away from India. Pakistan and India have been in steady conflict ever since. For each the greatest fear derives from the actions of the other. There have been three wars between the two – in 1947-48, in 1965, and in 1971. The first two were over Kashmir, the result of which was a de facto partition which neither side has ever accepted as legitimate. The third was over Bangladesh’s secession from Pakistan, in which India sided with Bangladesh.
One result of the continuing conflict was the refusal of both countries to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Accord, and the development by each of nuclear weapons. India started first, probably in 1967. Pakistan followed, probably in 1972. By 1998, both had completed the process and had a stockpile of weapons. Nuclear weapons may have had the same positive effect on the two countries that they had on the United States and the Soviet Union – an undeclared superprudence about military hostilities, for fear of the consequences.
India pursued from the outset a policy of non-alignment in the Cold War. The United States basically defined this policy as one tilting towards the Soviet Union. To limit the impact of this perceived tilt, the United States joined forces with Pakistan. While Pakistan hoped for U. S. support to recover the half of Kashmir it didn’t control, what the United States wanted from Pakistan was its support for U. S. geopolitical control of the Moslem world
to its west – Afghanistan, Iran, and the Arab world. The United States realized that the condition for this was internal stability in Pakistan. It therefore supported a succession of internally-repressive military regimes. It was not at all unhappy when the military deposed and then executed the one civilian leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who in the 1970s tried to pursue a nationalist foreign policy independent of U. S. control.
Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China were born in the same year. China too pursued a policy of close friendship with Pakistan. Its motives were not too different from that of the United States. China did not appreciate India’s links with the Soviet Union, especially since it regarded (and still regards) India as a political and economic rival in Asia, one with whom they too had a war or “border conflict” in 1962. Nor has China appreciated the continuing support the Indian government has given the Dalai Lama.
There were three things that began to upset the U. S.-Pakistan cozy arrangement in the last twenty years. The first was the collapse of the Soviet Union and therefore the end of the “cold war.” This was combined with the end of the Nehru program of internal state-sponsored development and its replacement by a neo-liberal program inspired by the Washington Consensus. Suddenly, relations between India and the United States warmed up considerably, to the chagrin of Pakistan, and indeed of China.
Secondly, the internal politics of neighboring Afghanistan changed as well.