Friday May 24, 2024

What suits Pakistan? - Part II

By Dr Murad Ali
October 24, 2020

Unlike President Carter, Republican President Reagan (1982-1989) believed that communism was a genuine threat. Reagan also blamed his predecessor’s policy of detente that according to him, went in favor of the USSR.

Reversing the US policy of détente in relation to the Soviets, he developed the ‘Reagan Doctrine’: an outlook in which he visibly supported the anti-communist movements in Afghanistan as well as in various other countries including Angola, Cambodia and Nicaragua. Under this doctrine, the Republican administration provided ample economic and military assistance as well as arms to support anti-Soviet and anti-communist factions. Thus, for the Republican Reagan, Pakistan was pivotal for achieving anti-communist agenda.

The Reagan administration started substantial economic as well as military aid to Pakistan. According to USAID data, during his two tenures, Pakistan received a total of $4,585 million in economic and $3,460 million in military aid. During his presidency, the US provided US$ 573 million economic and US$ 432 million military aid annually. While military aid to Pakistan was almost negligible in the entire 1970s, it remained nearly $500 million a year throughout the 1980s.

Although the US was providing considerable aid, both economic and military; it was also not oblivious of Pakistan’s not-so-clandestine nuclear desires. Hence, in 1985 the Pressler Amendment was added to Section 620E of the Foreign Assistance Act dealing with the provision of US economic and military aid to Pakistan. The amendment stated that “no military assistance shall be furnished to Pakistan and no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred to Pakistan” unless the US president certifies in writing each financial year that Pakistan has not developed a nuclear explosive device. After the amendment, from 1985 to 1989, the Republican president certified every year.

However, after 1989 the US president did not endorse as a result of which US economic and military assistance to Pakistan was abruptly suspended. Although it was still the tenure of Republican Party in the form of President Bush (1990-1993), his stance was totally different than his predecessor. So the policy of Reagan and Bush was different because after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989, the US no longer needed Pakistan, its closest cold-war ally.

There is a close semblance between the two tenures of Democrat President Clinton (1994-2001) and his Republican predecessor President Bush. The declining trends in both US economic and military aid that had started in the Bush era continued in the reigns of President Clinton. The 1998 nuclear tests and the 1999 military coup by General Musharraf further deteriorated bilateral ties and consequently US aid flows reduced to the lowest level ever as Pakistan was under various layers of US sanctions.

In the post-9/11 period, US foreign aid policy towards Pakistan witnessed dramatic transformations. The Republican administration of Bush channeled a total of $4,141 million economic and $2,091 million military assistance. Compared with the policies of his father Bush Sr in the early 1990s, the foreign aid policy of Bush Jr (2002-2008) stands in stark contrast to that of his father. Once again this reinforces the key argument that irrespective of the fact whether Democrats are in power or Republicans; their foreign policies have been motivated by US foreign policy pursuits.

As has happened earlier in the case of various presidents, foreign policy of Democrat Obama (2009-2017) mostly followed the same trends that were visible during the rule of Republican administrations. Although the US-Pakistan aid relations as well as overall bilateral ties between the two countries underwent several upheavals during these years; US economic and military aid largely remained consistent.

During Obama’s reign, Pakistan received $724 million in economic and $620 million in security related assistance annually. Thus, there was a continuity and little difference between the policy of Republicans and Democrats vis-a-vis Pakistan as the latter played the role of a frontline ally in the US-led ‘war on terror’.

However, bilateral ties experienced further ups and downs during the tenure of Republican Trump. The first National Security Strategy released by the Trump administration plainly stated that the US “continues to face threats from transnational terrorists and militants operating from within Pakistan … we will insist that Pakistan take decisive action against militant and terrorist groups operating from its soil”.

Even before the launch of the new National Security Strategy, President Trump had warned Pakistan to change its behaviour or face action, including cutting off security and economic aid. For example, in his first formal address to the nation as Commander-in-Chief at Fort Myer on August 22, 2017, President Trump alleged that Pakistan has provided safe havens to “agents of chaos, violence and terror” and the US would no longer be silent. His somewhat hostile attitude towards the country reached a zenith in a scathing New Year tweet and subsequent suspension of military aid to Pakistan.

While the overall relations remained off and on, the US has mostly remained vocally critical on CPEC where the administration considers Chinese investments as ‘predatory lending to Pakistan’. The principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, has vociferously spoken about the negative impact of CPEC on Pakistan. The Trump administration has repeatedly stated that the BRI lacks transparent financing practices and that failure to repay can lead to unsustainable debt burdens, which can result in surrendering of assets and diminishing sovereignty for countries participating in the venture.

In view of this, the question is whether there will be a continuation of the same policy in case Biden wins the poll or a departure from Trump’s approach to CPEC and BRI. Similarly, will the Biden administration take a different stance on India’s rising Hindutva and anti-Muslim policies? What will be the standpoint of the new administration on pressing global issues such as climate change, human rights and the increasing erosion of international norms and values in diplomacy?

For Pakistan, the overall analysis of US aid illustrates that the country received $587 million economic and $152 million military aid annually during the tenures of Democrats. Similarly, during Republican administrations, Pakistan was allocated $638 million per year in economic and $256 million annually in military aid. It is evident that both Democrats and Republicans have neither remained entirely pro-Pakistan nor anti-Pakistan as there are several fluctuations and ups downs during the administrations of both parties. Whether Trump or Biden, the new administration will tend to formulate policies keeping in view their own economic, political, security and geo-strategic compulsions.


The writer holds a PhD from Massey University, New Zealand. He teaches at the University of Malakand.