Is the Pak-US marriage of convenience heading towards a bitter divorce?

Published: December 11, 2017

US delegation led US Defence Secretary James Mattis calls on PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi among other high-level officials in Islamabad on Monday. PHOTO: PID

Pentagon’s spokesperson recently acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices stating that the country has lost most number of troops in the global war on terror. However, this acknowledgement contradicted the official position that the White House has maintained over the past few years, asking Islamabad to ‘do more’, whenever Pakistan came under any security policy discussion in Washington and elsewhere.

Pakistan, during US Secretary Defence James Mattis’s recent visit, has already made clear that Islamabad will no longer accept Washington’s redundant ‘do more’ mantra without evidence, and that proof of presence of terrorists in FATA should be shared before any finger pointing.

This change of attitude in Islamabad towards Washington was also evident when Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshall Sohail Aman recently threatened to shoot down drones that violated the country’s sovereignty. Previous ultimatums on drones by Pakistan, since 2004’s first strike, have meant little; however, with Pak-US ties on the verge of hitting rock bottom, it won’t come as a surprise if Pakistan finally shoots down a drone in the near future.

Pakistan believes that the US – with glaring failures in Afghanistan – has found in Islamabad a convenient scapegoat; whenever anything happens in Afghanistan, Pakistan is the only country blamed by both Washington and Kabul.

In response to these accusations, in November this year, DG ISPR, in a series of tweets, argued that Pakistan, even after doing its bit in the war on terror, was still a victim of security vacuum in neighbouring Afghanistan after two of its soldiers were killed in a cross border attack.

However, things are not as rosy as Pakistan might claim them to be in terms of its domestic security situation. Even with claims of eradication of terror camps and bases from FATA, the country has faced periodic terror attacks.

The recent attacks on the Agricultural Training Institute in Peshawar and IED attacks in North and South Waziristan suggest that a lot still needs to be done. Pakistan maintains that most of these attacks are planned in Afghanistan – orchestrated by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakisan (TTP) and its head Maulvi Fazlullah. Pakistan also believes that the US and Afghan forces are doing little to hunt and eliminate Fazlullah and his aides.

From what it seems, the Pak-US marriage of convenience is heading towards a bitter divorce, especially with new partners, China and Russia, in town. Even though China solidified its interest in Pakistan with its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), under its flagship One Belt, One Road initiative (OBOR), Russian interests are more strategic in nature.

Moscow fears that a growing threat of the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan might end up spilling over to Central Asia, and ultimately present a challenge in its own backyard. Therefore, Russia sees the Taliban as means to counter the IS in Afghanistan.

Russia has also made recent efforts in this regard, especially by organising the Moscow summit in April this year, attended by senior diplomats from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and ex-Soviet Central Asian. The aim of this summit was to support the Afghan government in finding a long-term peaceful settlement of the Afghan war.

Pakistan’s regional policy syncs, in some way, to that of Russia, such that both want inclusion of the Afghan Taliban in the long-term reconciliation process. However, both the US and India are opposed to this idea, leading to a low-key participation from both these countries in Russia and China-led Afghan peace initiatives.

With new regional players and geo-strategic dynamics, Pakistan, for once, can afford to go on an equal footing with the US and confidently respond to allegations that carry little weight or substance. Additionally, with the lure of Coalition Support Fund (CSF) already thrown out of the window, Islamabad’s financial reliance on Washington is declining, hence making it easier to fend off unrealistic demands from the White House.

Furthermore, Pakistan is now in a situation – with peace more or less achieved in FATA – to act as a self-respecting nation and not only refuse financial support offered by the US (which results in demands of ‘do more’), but also address regional and global security concerns. Only after doing so, would Pakistan ensure its territorial sovereignty, and in response, convey to Washington that it’s superfluous narrative of ‘do more’ has lost its utility.

Finally, Pakistan also needs to learn from its past mistakes committed during its alliance with the US. Islamabad needs to address Russo-Chinese security concerns vis-à-vis Islamabad’s past support of ‘some’ banned groups, or else, the country might end up facing similar demands from its new allies.

Farooq Yousaf

Farooq Yousaf

The author is a PhD (Politics) Candidate currently pursuing his studies in Australia. He has previously completed his Masters in Public Policy and Conflict Studies from Germany. He also consults Islamabad-based Security think tank, Centre for Research and Security Studies, and occasionally writes for various news and media sources. He is specialising in Indigenous conflict resolution and counter insurgency. He tweets at @faruqyusaf (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Afshan Wajahat

    Amazing and informative article about Pak-US relation..


  • Rahul

    The US is the only country that gives you cash aid. The Chinese give you loans at high interest rates. China has ensnared a string of fragile states like Pakistan in its Debt trap politics. Saudis give you aid but they want you to fight their war against Iran for them. The US also controls multilateral institutions like the IMF and World Bank. Pakistan has been bailed out 15 times before, the next trip to IMF is due within a few months. Pakistan policies of supporting terror groups is untenable internationally and nobody believes its narrative so a rethink is required.Recommend

  • Sane sid

    It was always a marriage of convenience and the Pakistani elites and ruling class- Civil & Military, always knew that………. I hope sanity prevails in Pakistan going further while dealing with Iron Brother……Recommend

  • candy

    The issue boils down to something rather simple. Does Pakistan support the Afghan Taliban and has it provided sanctuaries to the Haqqani? The answer to both those questions is an obvious yes — all the ” USA Afghan failure” rhetoric is just blather to distract from Pakistan’s duplicitous policy.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Pakistan will only be a “self-respecting nation” when it ends using Pakistani based terrorist proxies to destabilize neighboring countries!
    Even “iron brother” China called out Pakistan for supporting terrorists!Recommend

  • sami shahid

    More problems would come in the future as rather then deporting Afghan refugees Pakistan just recently registered 4 lakh illegally staying Afghans. Wow… now US would send it’s drone to eliminate a few militants out of these Afghan refugees. Now if Pakistan wants to shelter Afghans then it must also shoot down the US drone or if it cant then it should deport all Afghans !Recommend

  • Anoop

    What most Pakistanis forget is that they need $ and lots and lot of it.

    WB said initially Pakistan needed a whopping $31 Billion in 2017-18 to stay afloat.

    Independent Economist say Pakistan needs $20 Billion.

    IMF agrees.

    How much does Pakistan have currently in its pocket currently? After scheduled debt payments: $4.5 Billion.

    Chinese don’t want to give aid as they get complete servitude without providing any aid. They even get lucrative contracts for Chinese companies and employment opportunities for its people in Pakistan! Chinese won’t want to change the equation. Self interests trumps all.

    Where will Pakistan get all this money? IMF. Who controls IMF? USA.

    When the writer claims Pakistan has lessened its reliance on US, its laughable. He has no idea how economics work. Pakistan needs $, which it got easily from CSF and IMF combo, both thanks to the US.

    I can’t wait for CPEC repayments to start. Pakistan will be economically subservient to the US and through US to India.

    Ache din are ahead.Recommend

  • Rohan

    It is aid grabbing exercise for PakistanRecommend

  • akman

    the equation is not that simple. every one is supporting its group. there are american taliban, iranian taliban indian taliban, russian taliba, chinese CARs. PK s taliban so on and so forth. so there is multidimensional game going on by the forces with deep pockets. unfortunately sufferer are the locals of the regionRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    Furthermore, Pakistan is now in a situation – with peace more or less
    achieved in FATA – to act as a self-respecting nation and not only
    refuse financial support offered by the US (which results in demands of
    ‘do more’), but also address regional and global security concerns. Only
    after doing so, would Pakistan ensure its territorial sovereignty, and
    in response, convey to Washington that it’s superfluous narrative of ‘do
    more’ has lost its utility.

  • Saladin1Chamchawala

    It has always been fee for service; never a marriage!
    Contraceptive were free but no maintenance for progeny was ever part of the deal.Recommend

  • Real Truth

    You are making it more complicated than it is. Taliban were and remain at Pakistani product.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The US also controls multilateral institutions like the IMF and World Bank.

    This is a strange news, America in control of the institutions which is unable to pay its own debts to foreign countries notably china and saudi arabia. Besides China is on th verge of housing these institutions within the China wall instead of leaving them in banrupt Trumpers America.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Drive

    I am a Pakistani and i fully agree that Pak has provided support to AFG Taliban and hence USA is right when accusing Pak of double playRecommend

  • rationalist

    Not true. With Pakistan’s external debt growing fast and touching $100B, Pakistan needs the support of Washington to get loans from IMF and other international institutions. China is not ever going to be a sugar daddy, ala uncle sam to dole out free dollarsRecommend

  • rationalist

    Please do some research before you post. Obviously, you are not well informed about US control of IMF and WB.Recommend