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Pakistani Partnerships with the United States: An Assessment

Daniel Markey


The identity and interests of Pakistan’s leaders are of profound importance to U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the neighboring regions. The cultivation of effective relationships in Pakistan requires understanding the nuances of Pakistan’s leadership. While anti-American sentiment is widespread in Pakistani society, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are also opposed to terrorism and Islamist extremism. Many Pakistanis and their leaders are open to the prospect of partnerships with the United States as long as they perceive concrete opportunities for economic, political, or social advancement. This essay examines the identity, interests, and popular standing of Pakistan’s major leaders, particularly with respect to their willingness to cooperate or engage in partnerships with the United States. The first section provides an overview of Pakistani public attitudes toward cooperation with the United States. The subsequent three sections then assess Pakistan’s major political party leaders, top military officers, and influential individuals from outside the realm of formal party politics, respectively. For each set of leaders, the essay identifies bases of popular and institutional support as well as the extent of these leaders’ willingness to support U.S. efforts in the region. The essay concludes with some options for how the United States might cultivate more effective relationships in Pakistan.

Pakistani Public Attitudes

Pakistan’s history has been punctuated by an on-again, off-again partnership with the United States. Over the past 60 years, most Pakistanis have—rightly or wrongly—come to view U.S. influence as a primary determinant of their nation’s fate and a heavy hand behind the actions of their leaders. Partnership with Washington has always had critics in Pakistan. Pakistanis to the left of center have long criticized U.S. "imperialism," while Islamists, particularly after the Iranian Revolution, pursued their own anti-Western agendas. Since the early 1990s, when the Cold War’s end and Islamabad’s determined pursuit of a nuclear capability inclined Washington to distance itself from Pakistan, mistrust of the United States became more firmly engrained in the public mind, and even Pakistan’s right-of-center nationalists no longer saw the United States as a reliable ally. U.S. intervention in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, and the subsequent uptick in violence throughout the region have convinced many ordinary Pakistanis that the United States is to blame for Pakistan’s heightened insecurity. [1]

President Musharraf ’s initial decision to lend support to the Bush administration’s war on terrorism must be viewed within this context of widespread...

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[1] Dennis Kux, The United States and Pakistan, 1947–2000 (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2001).