Pakistan, the “Land of the Pure”, was carved out of British colonial India and became an independent state on 14 August 1947. The United States established diplomatic relations with Pakistan soon after. It also established a broad, multi-faceted partnership with Pakistan in areas including education, energy, trade and investment. The Cold War saw Pakistan firmly ensconced in the US camp. Indeed, so close was the relationship that, in May 1960, CIA pilot Gary Powers took off in a U2 spy aircraft from a base in Pakistan bound for another in Norway, with his now-famous flight taking him over some 2,900 miles of Soviet airspace. The US and Pakistan, it would appear, also shared a close security relationship almost from the time the latter came into existence.

The two countries maintained their strong security partnership throughout the 1970s. In 1972, for instance, Henry Kissinger, while on a visit to Pakistan, feigned illness to “disappear” for a few days, during which time he visited Mao Zedong in Beijing, a visit that had been pre-arranged for him by President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan. It was not surprising, therefore, that when India defeated Pakistan in their war of 1971, thus creating independent Bangladesh from what had been East Pakistan, and threatened to prosecute that war in West Pakistan, the US positioned the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz, in the Bay of Bengal to warn India off any such action.

In more recent times, however, the Pakistan-US relationship has deteriorated dramatically. So dramatic has that deterioration been, in fact, that it would appear that nothing short of a radical shift could revive it. Pakistan today is as closely allied with China, the acknowledged longer-term strategic competitor of the US, as it once was with Washington.

This paper will trace the course of the change in the Pakistan-US relationship to assess the outlook for a relationship that remains critical to US efforts in Afghanistan and beyond.

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