The United States (US) and Pakistan enjoy diplomatic relations since the independence of Pakistan in 1947. In the course of 75 years, both countries have stood together against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, combat extremism, and stood for human rights protection.

The US’ agreement to provide economic and military assistance further strengthened the relationship between the two countries.

However, the suspension of American military assistance during the 1965 and 1971 wars against India and the sanctions imposed in the face of Nuclear weapon development generated a widespread perspective among Pakistani masses that it was not a reliable ally.

Initial phase of ties with US

After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the newly born state needed financial support for its infrastructure development and modernization of its armed forces.

The US was the only promising source of assistance. Emerging from the Second World War with its giant economy and democratic system, it attracted Pakistani leadership to approach for financial support.

Even though it was occupied in the reconstruction of Europe, which was destroyed during World War 2, however Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and Pakistan’s strategic location next to Communist China and the Middle East benefitted Pakistan to align with the US.

The Pakistani leadership left no opportunity to seize American help and continued to emphasize the commonality of values and interests. Pakistan provided a foothold for the US in the region against Soviet Union expansion in South Asia.

The Pakistani leadership assured the US that Pakistan is a close and strategic partner in the region and it began to recognize Pakistan’s geographic location.

Mutual Defense Assistance agreement

Pakistan and the United States signed the first defense agreement on 19 May 1954. The US undertook to provide defense equipment to Pakistan, to maintain its internal security and its legitimate self-defense.

On its part, Pakistan undertook cooperation with the US in measures to restrict trade with nations, which threatens world peace.


Pakistan signed the South East Asia treaty organization in 1954, however, Pakistan was disappointed with the small amount of assistance as the treaty only aimed at defense against communist aggressions & excluded involvement in Pakistan and India disputes.

Baghdad Pact

Initially, Pakistan was skeptical about signing the Baghdad pact also known as CENTO, as Pakistan received a small amount of assistance from the SEATO treaty and Pakistan was no longer keen to undertake such military commitments.

But Turkey and Iraq succeeded in convincing Ayub Khan of joining the pact, explaining that the it could be counted upon to support the regional members. Later Pakistan in September 1955 signed the pact of mutual cooperation.

Bilateral Defense Cooperation Agreement

After the agreement to establish a secret intelligence base at Badaber and allow the US to use Peshawar airbase for U-2 spy surveillance, in 1959 US made a concrete commitment to support Pakistan’s defense.

The US assured and regarded Pakistan’s national and territorial integrity as highly vital in its national interest. It further stated that in case of aggression, the US will take appropriate action including the use of armed forces.

However, the costs of alliances were higher than the benefits. The alliances with the US triggered the Soviet Union, and during the Indo-Pak disputes, Moscow threw its weight behind India.

Soviet delegations also visited Afghanistan and demonstrated their hostility toward Pakistan by announcing support for Pashtoonistan.

Besides this, during the 1971 war and downfall of Dhaka, the US upheld the principles of international law but it did not fulfill its alliance commitments to help and maintain Pakistan’s unity and territorial integrity. The events marked and shifted the masses’ perspective that the US was not a true ally.

Birth of the Nuclear idea

Initially, Pakistan was acquiring a Nuclear program for scientific knowledge and technology for peaceful uses in agriculture and health.

But after 1971 debacle, when India executed an underground nuclear test in 1974 Pakistan was forced to seek nuclear weapon programs to match India’s capabilities as well as to be capable of self-defense. The move became a major cause for concern for the US administration.

Bhutto Regime

After taking control of the government in 1972, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto launched efforts to pick up the pieces, bring the nation to grips with the new reality, rebuild morale, and confidence and re-orient failed policies at home and abroad.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s policies dragged Pakistan from Pro Western orbit towards the Soviet Union. In 1972 Pakistan withdrew from the SEATO treaty and remained a part of CENTO as the Bhutto administration did not want to completely cut off the relations with the US.

On the other hand, as Pakistan’s policies shifted from the western bloc to the eastern bloc and the development of Nuclear weapons began, the Jimmy Carter administration placed sanctions on Pakistan.

The relationship between US and Pakistan also slid when Bhutto tried to divert the attention from countrywide agitation following the rigged election in 1977 by projecting the US as his adversary.

He misinterpreted an intelligence intercept of remarks by an official of the US mission in Pakistan in April 1977, “My sources tell me the party’s over” to mean Bhutto could no longer continue in power.

Soviet intervention in Afghanistan

On December 29, 1979, Jimmy Carter approved a broader covert action program that instructed the CIA to provide military weapons and ammunition for the Afghan anti-communist fighters, who soon became widely known as Mujahideen.

During this time Pakistan was also given a $3.2 billion aid package for the next six years. In this period Pakistan was a reliable ally of the US and they help Pakistan for increasing their nuclear

End of Cold War and War on terrorism

As the cold war ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the nuclear issue began once again to dominate Pak-US relations.

The US once again prohibited Pakistan’s economic and military assistance under the Pressler amendment, as Pakistan continued to build up nuclear weapons.

The US completely cut off $700 million in assistance it was pledged to provide annually from 1988-94, US also declined to provide F-16 and other military equipment even though Pakistan paid billions of dollars for that.

Furthermore, as Pakistan recognized the Taliban regime in 1997 world, particularly US relations began to deteriorate with Pakistan as the Taliban record of governance was controversial.

Post 9/11 US-Pakistan ties

The 9/11 event changed the dwindling relationship with the US. The US once again took Pakistan on board as a major strategic and military ally against its War on Terror.

Despite having been a supporter of the Taliban pre-9/11, the Pakistani government took a renewed stance on the Taliban, now fighting against it.

Over the last 2 decades, there have been two pivotal points in Pak-US relations. The first was when the US military killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011.

Which was followed by a period of distrust and contempt not only at the governmental level but also at the national level. The public in both nations was running high and the mistrust of another deepened incredibly.

Also read: Pakistan, US stand together for regional stability & economic progress

After all, it seemed as if it would be impossible to reverse the situation but yet again, the second important event was the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, once again putting Pakistan close to the US.

Despite this, Pakistan remained the closest ally of the US in the region from the start of the Cold war to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, from the war on terror to the US forces withdrawal, both fought together against terrorism and stood for human rights.

*The writer is a Fellow at The Diplomatic Insight, published by the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies 

**The Diplomatic Insight does not take any position on issues and the views, opinions & findings represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Diplomatic Insight and its staff