What would happen if Pakistan and US divorce?

By Michael Kugelman

Raymond Davis jailed in Lahore. Osama bin Laden discovered in the Pakistani Army’s front yard. US forces expelledStrategic dialogue suspended. $800 million dollars in US military assistance withheld. And now a Washington-based Kashmir activist arrested for being an ISI operative.

Though US-Pakistan ties remain intact, hostility and mistrust are rapidly gnawing away at them. The troubled partnership hangs by thin threads, and one devastating blow could sever it completely. Most Pakistani and American officials cannot bear the thought of a shattered relationship. The fact is that neither nation’s interests would suffer if ties were severed; in fact, they may well be better served.

The paramount expectation of both governments is that the relationship helps attain their objectives in Afghanistan. For Washington, this entails using Pakistani roads to transport Nato supplies. However, if ties were ruptured, Washington would simply turn to Central Asian routes. Bilateral tensions have periodically prompted Islamabad to shut down Pakistani routes and vehicles are repeatedly attacked. Last weekend alone, one fuel tanker was bombedand another fired upon near Peshawar.

Washington also clings to the hope of a Pakistani Army assault on North Waziristan-based militants, who target US forces in Afghanistan. So long as the US-Pakistan relationship remains in effect, this represents an unlikely prospect, albeit one that cannot be ruled out. A collapse in ties would eliminate the possibility altogether — and this would be a good thing for both countries, given the unrest such an assault would unleash. A North Waziristan invasion would unite militant groups against Islamabad, intensifying violence that has already claimed 35,000 Pakistani lives. Additionally, an offensive would trigger a fresh exodus of militants into other tribal areas and across the Durand Line, where they would target international forces in Afghanistan, or add to the growing number of cross-border attacks.

Islamabad, meanwhile, expects the relationship to accord it a prime role in Afghan reconciliation. Yet there is little indication this will happen, given its disagreements with Washington over the role of the Haqqani network in future negotiations. Furthermore, America’s appetite for talks with the Taliban has dissipated after the group’srecent assassination campaign.

Another abiding wish of both capitals is to stabilise Pakistan — hence the infusions of aid into the country. Unfortunately, the current US economic assistance programme is limited and ineffective. If a rupture in ties ended such largesse, Islamabad would find replacement donors among the Chinese, Saudis, Britain’s Department for International Development, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank. Beijing, meanwhile, would fill the vacuum left by military aid cuts.

In short, Pakistan would be able to weather a US aid cut-off. Washington could use these monies to help staunch its spiralling debt and fund counterterrorism efforts in Yemen, which, according to the new US defence secretary, now poses more of a threat than Pakistan.

Given its radioactive reputation in Pakistan, Washington’s stabilisation-through-engagement efforts are bound to fail. The longer US-Pakistan ties persevere, the more anti-Americanism rises and militancy is fuelled. To be sure, America’s relations with Pakistan do not drive ethnic strife in Karachi or insurgency in Balochistan — yet they do stoke anti-state violence in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and southern Punjab. They also deepen fears that Washington seeks to seize Pakistan’s nuclear assets — a perception that reinforces widespread hostility towards America and strengthens militant narratives.

Cutting government links would cool such sentiments, and deprive extremists of a chief rallying cry. In this calmer environment, Pakistan and the US could take stock of what went wrong and recognise that neither side enjoys the leverage it believes it wields over the other. Perhaps a cooling-off period, with time, could even lead to renewed ties — albeit ties infused with more realistic expectations of what the bilateral relationship can deliver.

(The writer is the programme associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC).

NOTE:This article is a cross post from Express Tribune published 22nd July 2011 under a different title.


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  • Anonymous  On July 22, 2011 at 3:58 am

    I think Pakistan would come out happier and healthier..provided it does not get into another relationship on the rebound..:-)

  • Najma  On July 22, 2011 at 5:03 am

    A divorce, long overdue — of a forced marriage that should have never happened in the first place — would have consequences both good and bad. The bad side — an egocentric, offended US vindictively continuing to needle Pakistan by other means including getting other western powers to act more difficult. Maybe more false flag skirmishes. On the good side, Pakistan learning to stand on its own feet which its rotten leadership seldom allowed it to do, sans unwarranted and corrupting unrepayable loans, and other self-serving deals which have only provided muscle to bought head honchos to suppress and oppress the people.
    Pakistan is not a poor country in terms of resources and opportunities. But people have been denied their share of them and to realize their own potential. – Najma Sadeue

  • Kausar Bajwa  On July 22, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Pakistan lost 35 thousand beautiful young men who had the courage to go eye ball to eye ball with the enemy. American soldiers fight through the air banking on their technology. Having used Pakistani men as Karaa’ey k tatoo the US remains un-thankful. The bait US uses to misuse us is not enough when weighed against the nature of the assignment and the international notoriety that comes with it. As such we must tell them in the same tone as Hillary Clinton uses, to keep the dying filthy dollars and stay away from our interests. If N. Korea, Iran & Turkey can dictate terms why can’t Pakistan? We must learn to value our true worth. They need us more than we need them. There certainly will be no love lost. In fact we would learn to walk without US crutches . (Our leaders will have to stop behaving like a spoiled son of filthy rich dad)


  • Azzam Abdo  On July 22, 2011 at 10:57 am

    This would be the best thing that could happen to Pakistan if the divorce is final.

    For once, we need to be on our own; thinking for ourselves and for the best interest of our people. NO USA, NO CHINA, NO Russia – JUST US

    Best Regards;

    ‘Allah would never bring disgrace upon you for you maintain ties of kinship, bear people’s burdens, help the destitute, give hospitality to your guests, and help those who have been afflicted by calamities.’ KhadijaRAA


  • Shaheen  On July 22, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Agreed Najma, it is time…but we should/must gherao the looter leaders to bring back thier wealth…and invest in Pakistan !

  • Faisal Imam  On July 22, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Poor are not those who have no money;poor are those who do not have friends.Isolationism was tried in the sixties and we went into the NAM.we also tried it by leaving the Commonwealth at one stage,we had to go back.our people living in the U.K. were the main sufferers.commerce suffered.Relations are multi-dimensional between States.These novice ideas are of little interest.For instance,if ur spare parts of aircraft are stopped;ur Air Force will be pretty much grounded.u will have trouble in Commerce and if ur LCs are not accepted in Int’l quarters,u barter?
    The Americans thinking about not having relations are equally knive;paper-pushers all of them;there are isolationists in the U.S. as well.How long a route through Central Asia?Global interaction has helped humanity and sanity has brought us on a greater understanding level.Let us gain from each other instead of behaving like two disgruntled mates.
    The anger being exhibited by the Americans is very real;for a decade we denied the existence of Ben Laden;M went to the extent of saying he was dead.he was found in the Army’s nursery.what do u say to that?we have not even tried to give an answer to the rest of the world on this subject.it is not U.S. alone which is fighting this war.it is dozens of countries who are physically involved and have got their soldiers killed because of Ben Laden.

    • Najma  On July 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      Pakistan was never too poor; it was impoverished by interests both inside and outside the country. With “friends” like America, who needs enemies? The elaborate drama of Osama bin Laden being killed in Abbottabad is just one of USA’s endless and elaborate military theatrics, believed by few, if any Pakistanis, whether they can say that openly, officially.
      – Najma Sadeque

      • Faisal Imam  On July 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm

        what about the rest of the countries fighting in Afghanistan?

        if it was threatics;prove it by investigating it and exposing the set up in which case we again will be involved.

  • khan saheb  On July 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    This is a brilliant article coming from a young man with limited experience. He has covered a lot of ground in a short piece and has wired many recent events in a thought-provoking manner. Some parts are actually daring. However, Mr Abdo should note the writer’s parting words…..

    ‘Perhaps a cooling-off period, with time, could even lead to renewed ties — albeit ties infused with more realistic expectations of what the bilateral relationship can deliver’.

    So its not a divorce that Kugelman is recommending, but a temporary separation, for which the title of the article should have been
    Would absence make the heart grow fonder?

    PS. I have a more fundamental question for our forum. Were US and Pakistan really married, to have a divorce?

  • MAB  On July 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    They were never married. Only lately US supported democratic forces in Pakistan.

    Pakistani rulers have always been averse to marriage with US or China because of their retrogressive views,
    which are shared by the middle class.They just want to be independent. How long !


  • S. Cadri  On July 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    In international relations there are no marriages and no divorces. All good and bad times have to be managed as best as they could be. For a bit of fun and sarcasm the simile is fine but not seriously.

    • MAB  On July 23, 2011 at 1:55 am

      That is correct conceptually.

      what I was hinting at was that, if as press leakages claim, Afghanistan is to be divided into a northern part dominated by Northern Alliance,
      a central part dominated by US , and a southern part dominated by Taliban then what are we getting from this alliance with US…Taliban.
      Let us take it along with the lands Pashtoons occupy.That is what we have been looking for all these years.


  • Najma  On July 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Not all NATO countries are keen any more. Some did not give fighting men, but support services. When the Americans eventually go, they have no reason to stay. They are more inclined to ‘let live’ and recognise priorities better. — NS

  • Rafiq Mian  On July 22, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    My time will be better served, if I do not read the article. Pakistan of today and Pakistan of tomorrow – unless there is a revolution; game change, pots’ change – tomorrow will too be – PPP, N, MQM, et al.

    Divorcing parties are two. I can see change in leadership there. Here – no. The next PPP by landslide – they have the machinery.

    Ours, the ones I named, would ….. !!!!! They did it, did you not just see? Against each other ! Against America, my dear YAA, you know better !!!!!

    So, hep us God !!!!!

  • Minhaj  On July 23, 2011 at 2:00 am

    Rulers of the world which is not USA have been doing Zina Bil Jabr with Pakistan since its creation so there is no marriage to be divorced
    It is our leadership which has allowed this to happen and still going on
    Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

  • Na. Z.  On July 23, 2011 at 2:01 am

    absolutely nothing will happen if we can get used to spreading ourselves within the sheets we have, the best thing that may occur is all those US loyalist who are so used to their dog-food they may all just go away for good to live with their masters.

    A Zub

  • Sohaib  On July 23, 2011 at 2:03 am

    They’ll kiss and make up. Having said that they’re not married but actually in a promiscuous affair that neither knows where its going.

  • Rumana  On July 23, 2011 at 2:05 am

    If they divorce U.S. might still pay alimony and child support for the fear that the other men (China, all weathered friend and Iran) might move in to fill it’s shoes and complete the void in her life! LOL!

  • Sohaib  On July 23, 2011 at 2:06 am

    Its always the neighbor isn’t it?

  • Rumana  On July 23, 2011 at 2:06 am

    this is so funny but true, LOL I think the author wasn’t thinking when he came up with the title!

  • Munir  On July 23, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Najma Sahiba,

    Until about late 1960s, the English speaking class did have a clipped accent when trying to speak Queen’s English. But then in early 1970s the British withdrew to their British Ilse leaving this region at the mercy of the Americans.Before 1970, there were “convents” (missionary schools), where children were taught about “civic sense” as a subject, their nails were inspected by the nuns every morning and other such traditional values were imparted in a loving environment. And as those children grew up they had a mannerism which can be said was graceful, and which did not invite so much hate from the common Pakistani.

    The scenario changed when Americans came into this region. The cultured mannerism of the British was replaced by the casual mannerism of the rich yankee. Where as the British were thrifty the Yankee was out to throw dollars at the drop of a hat. There was nothing un-natural about the Yankee behaviour, and neither was it an act.

    However, on the receiving end, the English speaking class of Pakistanis, found it odd to be in the company of this nouve rich super power, lacking the mannerism of the earlier super power.

    As for the ruling elite of Pakistan, both civilians and military, had no experience to deal with the Americans. With Russians it was a straight forward attitude. They don’t believe in God, thus no relationship, as simple as that.

    And the American mind had the same problem. They were familiar with Europeans, Mexicans, African Americans, but when it came to India and Pakistan, they found them to be a strange “creation”. To make them say a straight sentance was in itself a test of patience for the fast lane American mind.

    40 years of this hot and cold US-Pakistan relationship, mind sets have not changed much. And ofcourse there are other factors which have added to this complicated bilateral interstate relationship.

    And now Americans are hated in Pakistan. Why this hatred? Is it because our Indus Mind has become complexed over the last 60 years? For to “hate” a people is not the Indus style. That is not our history. And if this change has come then it needs to be studied how and why.

    Matured minds and matured nations have the ability to remain cool and when faced with a “childish mind” it handles the child accordingly. It does not get carried away and gets dictated by the child.

    Americans are like spoilt children. Matured civilizations such as Indus must handle this child in a matured manner, without losing our control and guide the child where we want him to go.

    The question is are we matured enough to undertake this duty, or are we waiting someone else to do our job for us – The Chinese or the Saudis or the Indians o the Russians.

    Lets not hate the Americans, for, in the life time of Pakistan as a nation, we will be facing this “moment” of making a choice again and again sometimes it will be Arabs at other times Iranians and very soon will come the moment of the Chinese.


  • Najma  On July 23, 2011 at 7:01 am

    When one talks about Americans, it is in terms of the decision-making leadership or cabal and the culture of contempt handed down to their militaries and civilians carrying out orders, not the general public who have been sufficiently brainwashed about their self-image for uite a few decades. Ever read the early book “The ugly American”, for example ? Like many others, I’ve had Americans as good friends most of my life, but they’re all gone and retired; it’s a very different breed today.
    It’s during the last decade or two when their hegemonic culture began to displayed increasingly brazenly, and more people (including their own) began to learn about American shenanigans around the world, corrupting governments, installing dictators, forcing open economies through World Bank/IMF and WTO for their own profits and control, waging false flag wars, infiltrating and interfering in countries politically, etc. – Nothing to do with the cultural background you correctly refer to, but limited to a small middle and upper class that our masses know nothing of. What our own leadership’s faults are, which does not wish to change the status quo, we are aware of,
    – Najma Sadeque

  • Nawaz Ansari  On July 23, 2011 at 10:54 am

    The fact of the matter is that people such as American politicians represent recurring events throughout American history; radicals in America have recklessly preoccupied themselves with depressing morbid.

    The morbid is usually a result of demagogy or a strategy for gaining political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions and systematized delusions of the public usually through ardent rhetoric and propaganda, often using nationalism, populism or religion, the typical traits of the American government and the media.

  • Nawaz Ansari  On July 23, 2011 at 11:08 am

    @ Najma

    Sure as shooting, most Americans are provisioned to mold their behavior or thought as a result of having been subjected to certain splendors and provisos to vision their present form of government as a representative democracy.

    They are almost rendered inapt of understanding, that they live in a plutocracy; they’re led to believe in the sacredness of the constitution yet the Constitution of the United States was deliberately devised so that the nation is ruled by the wealthy in disguise of egalitarianism and belief in the equality of all people, especially in political, economic and social realms, which in fact conditioned commons to be adherent of plutocratic principles.

    People will never achieve real equality in American society yet it is absolutely people’s own prerogative to choose true freedom or simply sacrifice prosperity for their illusions of American Democracy.

    In Corporate America, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting much poorer there is no middle class left the crooks are in power, commoners are forced to revolve in a circle everyday of their lives, and thus the revolt against wealthy American merchants and financiers by the common people of America is forth coming.

  • Brig Larif  On July 23, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    I agree with the writer. Trying to prolong this ‘friendship’ any further is going to be counter productive for both the countries. They now need to live without each other at least for a while and carry out a fresh appraisal and examine other possibilities of safeguarding their respective national interests. Only aspect to be taken due care would be to know that they have never been and they are not the enemies of each other. Only they could not become mutually trust-able friends because of the circumstances beyond their control. So they should ‘agree to disagree’ and part like once good partners and try not to meddle in each other’s affairs with the hope that a cooling off period will bring positive results in the future.

  • Shaheen  On July 24, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Fasial…how many times is the US of A going to ‘kill’ ol’ OBL…. he was once dead in 2005, Ms Albright stated…then again & ahain. A man with kidney failure, in the 90’s must have been super -man to survive this long. Your bias aginst ( like Nawaz S) of my Father’s folks , often fogs yr very fine brain power ! OK they are awful…but waht answers today! What is yr Party doing ? Are u guiding them? Do they listen ? Why not collect yr team of like minded & form a ‘thinking groups’ who looks ahead…….not stuck in the past with few bogeis…you are the future….seek & share alternatives ! We will listen !

  • Shaheen  On July 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Fasial…how many times is the US of A going to ‘kill’ ol’ OBL…. he was once dead in 2005, Ms Albright stated…then again & ahain. A man with kidney failure, in the 90’s must have been super -man to survive this long. Your bias aginst ( like Nawaz S) of my Father’s folks , often fogs yr very fine brain power ! OK they are awful…but waht answers today! What is yr Party doing ? Are u guiding them? Do they listen ? Why not collect yr team of like minded & form a ‘thinking groups’ who looks ahead…….not stuck in the past with few bogeis…you are the future….seek & share alternatives ! We will listen !

  • Faisal Imam  On July 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Shaheen,they r not awful.U know that i have great respect for some of the Generals of the present and the past.it is not the institutions;it is the roles they have taken on themselves which need to be put in the right direction.we r stuck in the quagmire of an unnecessary war;it has no happy ending.we r fanning a movement of surrogate warriors which is ruining our social fabric;our youth and distorting our value system.we need harmony,unity,inter-dependance.we need to be out of this hole.it is eating up the fabric of our people.
    Secondly,every institution should be allowed to function and grow freely;the domination of one in the role of others has caused immeasurable damage.if Generals alone could decide on the destiny of a nation,it would be a very poor nation.
    We are the laughing stock in the election process;35 million bogus votes out of 80 odd million votes;gerry-mandering and organised rigging on top of that.The judiciary;the executive and all the agencies actively involved in the distorting of the people’s will.
    The appointment at every level to be cleared by ‘agencies’.what is their expertise in doing that and what is the criteria for that?not accepting a view-point outside their box is suicide for a careerist.How does one put restrictions on the freedom of thinking outside the box?if one wants to explore frontiers and grow mentally;these people (who are not even qualified enough to comprehend) will feel threatened by it.How can a soldier comprehend a choice of a judge of the High Court;a CEO of a very specialised industry;a Vice- Chancellor of a University;?I have been to a number of Universities, have taught at University,been on the Syndicate a number of times ;seen mgmt of Institutions a number of times and yet do not see myself having the wherewithal to select a Vice Chancellor.I am impressed by those who have never been to University to decide the fate of such institutions and the Nation in retrospect.NadeemulHaq had a meeting with the VCs of public Universities and was appalled by what he saw.
    Pakistanis are facing the same fate in education.Education means designing the fate of the future.First of all,the decision-makers.Are they qualified enough to decide in selecting the right people for the critical jobs in education?what is the criteria for selection?What kind of teaching is required?Then directly interfering in the functioning;a whole org of ex Armymen has been setup to report on the teacher’s and school performance.What mgmt standards.
    Judiciary;is it performing as it should?R numbers going to compensate for competence and dedication?why do they need security clearance?i suppose a reporting system for them must also exist?
    That is another problem which has crept in;Numbers are a solution for non-performance.increase the burden of govt employees (and therefore taxes) and organisations to do duplicate each other’s work.how many orgs in Agriculture,anti-corruption,infrastructure building,security and info-gathering,.how many r involved in helping the country or its people’ welfare?we had six odd divisions in 1965,how many now?has work increased or decreased?is the work self-created?are people more respectful or co-operative with the force now?is there more harmony?
    i do not thinking i am qualified in selecting a General,why do they not think in reciprocity?if we had competent people in all institutions we could grow and support each other’s institutions instead of stifling and killing every institution.that is my grouse.

  • Shaheen  On July 25, 2011 at 3:27 am

    I know your grouse, but share how to over ride this ….alternatives……sugesstions. Just be hating , no problem is solved. What alternatives? Is not one: that our politicinans should be more ‘savy’ . more on thier toes, more pro-people/ EAD…one buing answer…..when our people are 70 % literate ( esp women) see tha differance !

    F Apa in Murree, whoppee.

  • beenish  On March 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    what i think is that everything has a positive aspect as well as negative aspect……… we cant take suggestions on the behalf of others n give suggestions when knowing that v, ovcoarse r lagging behind only due to two main reasons which r incompetent LEADRESHIP and ECONOMIC UNSTABILITY!!!!! first we have to correct our nation as a whole,,, only than we have right to say anything……….

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