Pakistan-US Ties: A Turbulent Timeline (1947 - Now)

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif’s attempt to woo US lawmakers seems to have been successful as Washington agrees to quietly resume the transfer of $1.6 billion in aid for Islamabad. The two countries are allies in the war on terror - officially at least – but the lack of trust between them has plagued ties and laid the foundation for an uneasy alliance at best.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif’s attempt to woo US lawmakers seems to have been successful as Washington agrees to quietly resume the transfer of $1.6 billion in aid for Islamabad.  The two countries are allies in the war on terror - officially at least – but the lack of trust between them has plagued ties and laid the foundation for an uneasy alliance at best.

Pakistan wants the US to stop drone attacks on its soil, while Washington has often criticized Islamabad for not doing enough to dismantle militant groups and even accused its intelligence agencies of harboring terrorists. Whether the latest round of talks will steady relations remains to be seen, but for now, let’s take a look at the history of Pak-US ties.  


-          Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister visits the US in 1950 - three years after the formation of his country - and meets American President Harry S Truman. It was said at the time that Truman asked Khan to allow an American base in Pakistan to keep an eye on activity in the Soviet Union. The request was denied.

-          The following years see key Pakistani officials, including military dictator Ayub Khan, visit the US to ask for financial aid.

-          Pakistan signs the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the US in 1954, which allows Pakistani soldiers to receive training in the US, while the latter establishes a Military Assistance Advisory Group in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.

-          Pakistan also joins the East Asia Treaty Organization and Central Treaty Organization. Between 1953 and 1961, Islamabad is at the receiving end of $2 billion in US aid, a quarter of which is for military use.

-          In 1956, Pakistani Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suharwardy grants President Dwight Eisenhower’s request to lease Peshawar Air Station in Northern Pakistan to keep watch over the Soviet Union’s ballistics missile program.


-          In 1960, President Ayub Khan allows the US to fly spy missions out of Pakistan, but things take a turn for the worse when a U-2 spy plane, flown out of Peshawar for reconnaissance, is shot down in Soviet airspace, putting a strain on Pak-USSR ties. Pakistan claims it was deceived by the US over the use of that base.

-          US President John F Kennedy extends economic and military aid to India in 1962 in light of the Indo-China war, prompting Ayub Khan’s to express his annoyance over not being consulted beforehand as the American president had promised.

-          The 1965 war between India and Pakistan drives the US to suspend military assistance to both sides.


-          Behind the scenes efforts from Pakistan in 1970 open the doors for communication between China and the US. They result in US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visiting Beijing followed by the first US presidential trip to China in 1972.

-          1972 also sees the outbreak of civil war between East and West Pakistan, which ultimately leads to the third Indo-Pak war. Washington again halts military aid and this creates the widespread belief in Pakistan that the US is an unreliable ally. It wasn’t until 1975 that the US resumed military aid.

-          India’s 1974 underground nuclear test drives Pakistan to pursue nuclear weapons, an action that strains US-Pak ties at various intervals over the coming decades.

-          In 1979, President Jimmy Carter’s administration cuts of military aid to Pakistan due to the construction of a secret plant for uranium enrichment.

-          In the same year, a mob of Pakistani students burn down the US embassy in Islamabad amid rumors that American forces have attacked Mecca, the holy city of Islam, Pakistan’s dominant religion. The violence results in the deaths of two US marines and the same number of Pakistanis.

-          At the end of 1979, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan and the US recognizes that Pakistan can play a pivotal role in obstructing the Russian march for further expansion in the region.


-          A five-year, $3.2 billion, economic and military and economic aid package is chalked out between Islamabad and Washington. Pakistan now becomes the main route for arms and supplies to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the might of the Soviet Union.

-          In 1985, the Pressler amendment is added to the Foreign Assistance Act and it requires the US president to certify to Congress that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear device, a condition necessary for Islamabad to continue receiving aid. With the Russians withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1988, the American administration takes a closer look at Pakistan’s nuclear activity.


-          Under the Pressler amendment, President George HW Bush, in 1990, suspends aid to Pakistan, cutting of all military and the majority of economic funds. His government also refuses to deliver over 70 F-16 fighter jets that were ordered the year before.

-          Pakistan follows India’s 1998 nuclear test by conducting one of its own. The US imposes sanctions and restricts the sale of military equipment and financial aid to Islamabad.

-          In 1999, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif holds a meeting with US President Bill Clinton and agrees to withdraw troops from the Kargil area of Indian-occupied Kashmir following a bloody conflict. Later that year, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf ousts Sharif’s government in a bloodless coup and Clinton hopes that democracy will be restored as soon as possible.  


-          General Musharraf’s military regime decides to support the US-led war on terror immediately after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. The military dictator abandons all support for the Taliban and US aid to Pakistan multiplies.

-          The founder of Pakistan's nuclear program, A.Q. Khan, admits to supplying nuclear-weapons technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya in 2004. Washington demands his arrest, but the Pakistani government confines him to house arrest instead as Khan is a national hero.

-          US air strike in June 2008 kills 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers along with eight Taliban. The deaths prompt a furious reaction from Islamabad, who said the incident rocked the foundations of mutual trust and cooperation.

-          In 2009, the newly-elected U.S. President Barack Obama names Richard Holbrooke as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He later unveils a new strategy to "disrupt, defeat and dismantle" al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan. U.S. approves the famous Kerry-Lugar Bill to provide $7.5 billion in US aid for Pakistan over the five years.

-          Notorious Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is captured in a joint US-Pak operation at the start of 2010. The operation is called a huge success and the US praises Pakistan’s efforts in the arrest.

-          Pakistani Taliban claims responsibility for a failed car bombing at Times Square in New York on May 1, 2010. The American government responds by warning of ‘dire consequences’ if a successful attack on U.S. soil is traced back to Pakistan. Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad is arrested in the case.



-          US increases drone attacks on Pakistani soil in 2010. Islamabad alleges that the attacks are killing more civilians and the sentiments of citizens are turning against the war on terror.

-          CIA agent Raymond Davis kills two civilians in Pakistan’s city of Lahore in 2011. He later claims the men came to rob him. Davis is arrested, but released after being acquitted of murder charges by a local court and sent back to the US. Washington insists throughout the trial that Davis is entitled to diplomatic immunity.   

-          In May 2011, Al-Qaeda Chief and US public enemy number one Osama Bin Laden is killed in an American operation in Abbotabad. Ties between Washington and Islamabad go from bad to worse. Pakistani officials are dismayed over being kept in the dark about the operation, while the US questions how the world’s most notorious terrorist was hiding a stone’s throw away from a military area.

-          Around 24 Pakistani soldiers are killed in a NATO strike at the Salala Checkpoint in the Mohmand tribal area of Pakistan In November, 2011, further straining the already fragile US-Pak relations. Islamabad bans the NATO supply route from its sea ports to Afghanistan and tells US to abandon Salala airbase, which is used to launch offensives into Afghanistan.

-          On May 18, 2012, the US House of Representatives, debating the National Defence Authorization Act, voted 412-1 in favour of an amendment that could block up to $650 million in payments to Pakistan unless Islamabad allows the resumption of NATO supplies. Pakistani President Asif Zardari attends a NATO summit in Washington on May 19, 2012, but the meeting ends without a conclusive outcome. The standoff ends on July 3 of that year and the supply route is reopened in exchange for $1.1 billion to be paid by the US to Pakistan as the cost for the war on terror.

-          Washington agrees to resume $1.6 billion in financial aid for Islamabad in 2013 after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit. 

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Reuters

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