The Relationship Between The U.S. & Pakistan Is Unbelievably Complex


In a major reversal of a longstanding policy position, President Trump announced Monday that he will continue U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, a war he's long opposed. In the same speech, he outlined a broader strategy for dealing with South Asia, including what appears to be a more adversarial stance toward Pakistan. That's not entirely surprising, because although the United States and Pakistan aren't enemies, it wouldn't quite be accurate to call them friends, either.

On Monday, during his address, Trump explained his reasoning:

We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the same terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country's harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.

Although Trump made it very clear that he's unhappy with how the Pakistani government has approached terrorism, he didn't actually announce any policy changes between the United States and Pakistan.

According to the U.S. State Department, America has "a broad multi-faceted partnership with Pakistan in areas ranging from education to energy to trade and investment," as well as a "strong security partnership that is working to dismantle terrorist networks." The United States gives Pakistan hundreds of millions of dollars every year in military aid; in fact, according to Reuters, America hasn't appropriated less than $1 billion in aid to Pakistan in any year since 2007.

However, that aid has fallen precipitously over the past six years or so, and there are good reasons for that. The primary source of contention is Pakistan's support for the Taliban and other violent extremist groups. American officials have long accused Pakistan of giving lip service to the war on terror — and accepting generous amounts of U.S. aid — while secretly harboring and abetting terrorist groups within its borders.

A good example of this awkward dynamic was the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011. When American forces located the terrorist leader, they found him in a compound less than a mile away from one of Pakistan's premier military academies, leading U.S. officials to suspect that he was staying there with the government's blessing. This was never definitively proven, but nevertheless, the United States opted to take out bin Laden without notifying the Pakistani government first, which reportedly outraged Pakistani officials.

Pakistan's relationship to the United States is an extremely tense and complex one, and it's difficult to categorize it on the traditional ally-enemy spectrum. The Atlantic has called Pakistan "the ally from hell," while Politico has referred to it as "America's worst ally." Perhaps it's most accurate to call it a frenemy, and leave it at that.