The Johns Hopkins University Press

The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000


Disenchanted Allies

A Special Essay by Dennis Kux

Johns Hopkins University Press joins the nation in reflecting on the events of September 11th, 2001. The following is a special essay by Dennis Kux, author of The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000, Disenchanted Allies.

President Pervez Musharraf's decision that Pakistan would support the U.S. war against terrorism was not an easy choice. In recent years, there has been little love lost between Washington and Islamabad which itself has had intimate ties with the Taliban. In addition to their dislike for U.S. policy in the Middle East, Pakistanis were almost uniformly angry with their own treatment by Washington. They felt that the Americans had abandoned and discarded them like a "used Kleenex" after Pakistan was no longer needed against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The rapid improvement in U.S.-India relations since 1999 also greatly vexed Islamabad.

Indeed, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, which is traced in The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000, Disenchanted Allies,, has been extraordinarily volatile, almost like a ride on the roller coaster. In the 1950s, the two countries became alliance partners against the communists. In the 1960s, the relationship fell apart after the United States helped India, Pakistan's arch enemy, and Pakistan moved toward China, then a bitter foe of the United States. Washington reversed field in the 1970s when Richard Nixon used Pakistan as the channel of communications for his opening to China. During the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war that resulted in the independence of Bangladesh, Nixon "tilted" against India in favor of Pakistan.

After 1977, the roller coaster again plunged downward with Jimmy Carter in the White House, but soared skyward in the 1980s. The struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan provided the glue for a new, friendly, and close U.S.-Pakistan partnership. Still, differences over Pakistan's effort to match India's nuclear capability remained a problem that the Reagan administration preferred to sweep under the rug. After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the fact that Pakistan had by then developed a nuclear weapon forced a reluctant Bush administration to cut off aid in October 1990 because of Congressionally mandated sanctions. From then until the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relations were strained.

During a five hour visit to Islamabad on March 25, 2000, President Bill Clinton expressed concern about Pakistan's close ties with the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan within the broader framework of voicing American anxiety whether Pakistan, as then national security adviser Sandy Berger put it, would remain "preoccupied with a nuclear weapons program and conflict [with India] over Kashmir" or whether it would address "the really serious problems with economy and governance of Pakistan." Although not a failed state, Pakistan had glaring flaws–a sagging economy, chronic political instability, a rising threat of fundamentalism and growing physical insecurity with the country awash with weapons left over from the Afghan war.

Against this background, Musharraf's decision to support the United States was vehemently opposed by the vocal religious parties and accepted but not welcomed with joy by the Pakistan's mainstream political parties. To-date, Musharraf has weathered the storm of protests by Islamic radicals. This has been largely confined to the areas peopled by Pushtuns, the tribal brothers of the largest Afghan ethnic group. The disturbances have not as yet spread to the Punjab, Pakistan's heartland, and the seat of political power. Should they do so, the mainly Punjabi army would be under pressure to replace Musharraf with someone with better Islamic credentials. Were the fundamentalists to gain control of the streets of Lahore, the capital of the Punjab, the current pro-U.S. policy would be in trouble. Although the large inflow of desperately needed financial assistance in response to Pakistan's decision will substantially boost the economy, the longer the war drags on in Afghanistan, the greater the danger for the stability of the present Musharraf government.

Dennis Kux is a retired State Department South Asia specialist who dealt with India and Pakistan for more than two decades, serving in Pakistan from 1957 to 1959 and 1969 to 1971. He was the U.S. ambassador to the Ivory Coast from 1986 to 1989. The New York Times called his earlier book, India and the United States: Estranged Democracies, 1941-1991, "the definitive history of Indo-American relations." Kux was a Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars from 1996 to 1997, where he is currently a Senior Scholar.


Dennis Kux
Woodrow Wilson Center Press

$30.00 paperback
978-0-8018-6572-5 (16 ctn qty)
2001 496 pp.