Why The U.S. & Pakistan Have Such A Fragile Alliance


On Monday, President Donald Trump gave a speech on U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan, in which he appeared to blame Pakistan for contributing to the spread of global terrorism and noted that the U.S. plans to expand its strategic partnerships with Pakistan's historic rival, India. In light of Trump's speech, many are likely wondering: Are the U.S. and Pakistan allies?

In short, the answer is that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is complicated. While one could write an entire thesis and beyond on the matter the two countries' relationship can be summarized as a complicated alliance where the nations sometimes work together to defeat a shared enemy (such as terrorism and Al Qaeda) but also often have different agendas and goals.

Since 9/11, the U.S. and Pakistan have worked together to combat terrorism, particularly that of Al Qaeda militants. However, this relationship has been at times fraught with controversy, particularly following the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Some journalists and analysts accused Pakistani intelligence services of either having known bin Laden's location for years without telling the U.S., or not realizing his location soon enough.

More recently under the Obama administration, relations improved as the two countries cooperated to counter mutual enemies. The U.S. using its drone program to kill some of Pakistan's most wanted militants in 2014 and Pakistan killing Al Qaeda leaders that whose death or capture were sought by the United States.


The U.S. provides Pakistan with extensive military supplies as well as a significant amount of foreign aid. The Trump administration has indicated that it plans to continue this funding, recognizing the country's strategic importance to the U.S. Indeed, in the State Department's recently-proposed budget, the report noted that "Pakistan plays a key role in U.S. counter-terrorism strategy, the peace process in Afghanistan, nuclear non-proliferation efforts, and stability and economic integration in South and Central Asia. It is also a large and growing economy offering profitability for US businesses."

However, the Trump administration's proposed $344 million in financial assistance, while certainly significant, does mark a $190 million cut when compared to the 2016 fiscal year.

One wonders if this proposed cut assistance to Pakistan reflects the Trump administration's apparent shifting stance toward the country, which it has accused of "harboring terrorists." Earlier this year, Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a joint statement directly calling out Pakistan to ensure that it is not providing a safe haven for terrorists.

Thus the question of whether or not the U.S. and Pakistan are allies is complicated. The countries are intertwined economically and militarily, and united in their common effort to fight terrorism. Moreover, the U.S. continues to provide significant financial assistance to Pakistan, which is obviously indicative of a type of strategic alliance.

However, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is nonetheless seemingly regularly fraught with tension and lacking in consistency. It will likely continue to evolve in response to Trump's hardline rhetoric about terrorism, which could potentially dampen relations between the countries.