Drone Strikes In Pakistan: U.S. & Pakistan Relations

The Unites States and Pakistan have not been the best of allies since 911. Most of the conflict has occurred because of cross boarder skirmishes and trust issues. The United States would like to continue a strategic partnership with Pakistan, but the U.S. will not bend on certain requirements. This has led the Pakistan-U.S. relationships to deteriorate to a very low level. Pakistan does not believe it can trust the United States to keep its word, and the United States does not think Pakistan is committed to weeding out all forms of terrorism and extremism. In short, these two countries are at a stand still in trying to negotiate a new bilateral agreement moving forward.


The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been mainly based on military and economic need. The United States was Pakistan’s first ally after the establishment of the country through the Indian Partition by Great Britain on October 24, 1947. Through the years, their relationship has had several up’s and down’s. In the 1940’s the two aligned while India started to align with the Soviet Union. The 1950’s strengthen the relationship with Pakistan allowing a secret U.S. base in their country. The relationship started to go down hill during the 70’s when the United States did not impose sanctions against India when it started nuclear testing. During the latter part of the 70’s through the 80’s, the U.S. Pakistan relationship continued to strengthen by helping the Pakistan military train the Mujahedeen during the Soviet-Afghanistan War. At the end of the war, President Bush suspended all economic and military aid to Pakistan until they can verify Pakistan does not possess a nuclear device.

The 1990’s brought tension as Pakistan joins the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia when they decided to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s formal government. The relationship further eroded when the United States asked for assistance in getting Osama Bin Laden after the bombings of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Nairobi, and Kenya. When asked, Pakistan turned their head and never replied to the United States. In 1999 the United States imposes full economic sanction after Pakistan tested 5 nuclear devices. When 9/11 occurred the countries became strong allies in the fight against terrorism, and Pakistan played a valuable role in crippling the Taliban.

In 2003 Daniel Pearle is captured and killed in Pakistan, later Pakistan decided to assist in the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a senior al-Qaeda figure. In 2004, Pakistan Scientist went rogue, providing weapons to Iran, Libya, and N. Korea. Iran released him in 2009, and the United States still feels he is a threat. A CIA contractor was held captive until his release after blood money given to the families of the fallen. The biggest event to lead to the down fall of their relations occurred when Osama Bin Laden was killed by CIA Special Operations and Navy SEAL’s on May 2nd, 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan. This was seen as an embarrassment by Pakistan because they were never informed he was living there, and they were not included in a raid which took place a few hundred yards from a military complex. Pakistan was not informed because of the sensitive nature of the operation, and the United Stated felt as though they could not be trusted. In addition Pakistan has refused to give all its effort to get rid of extremism, and the United States halted $800 billon in aid to them because of their inaction.

The final two events which have added insult and harm to a wound that has not healed yet from the Osama Bin Laden death were the Pakistan government turning over the helicopter left over to the Chinese to examine their stealth technology. Finally, there was an incident at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where 24 Pakistan Military personnel were killed by NATO fighter planes. In retaliation, Pakistan has blocked the passageway for military supplies to come into their country causing a huge stall in getting supplies to needed personnel.



            The current problems deal with the use of CIA drone strikes and the death of the Pakistan military personnel. Pakistan wants several things: an apology for the death of their personnel, an end to drone strikes, end to covert and overt operations, respect for Pakistan sovereignty and independence, end to boots on the ground in Pakistan or pursuit in their country, a revision of the 1000 mile supply line where a levy will be placed on all American military supplies, and NATO to use their old railway system instead of roadways.

The CIA drone strikes have been very beneficial to killing top Al-Qaeda leaders and Taliban leaders, and the drones have proved useful in disrupting the overall effectiveness of both groups. The Pakistan civilian population is not coping with the strikes too well, as they claim there has been several civilian deaths related to the strikes. While there are always casualties of war, these claims have not deterred the use of drone strikes. Last year there were approximately 58 compared to 100-200 strikes the year before. The Bureau, a journalism website dedicated to keeping statistical data on the use of drones and other governmental information claims from 2004-2015 there have been 421 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing between 2476-3989, and of those killed, 423-965 were civilians.

Pakistan does acknowledge the United States interests in eliminating terrorism and combating extremism, the promotion of peace talks with the Taliban, and strengthening security. However, Pakistan continues to harbor terrorist, and they are unwilling to devote fully to getting rid of extremism. These are the reasons why the United States continues to operate without notifying Pakistan of covert operations. Could the United States risk having Osama Bin Laden get away by telling Pakistan about the operation? Simply, no they could not. Until Pakistan is held accountable for their inactions, they can never be fully trusted.

The United States is very concerned with Pakistan negotiating with Russia and China in regards to building a new pipeline from Iran. Especially with the current nuclear weapons crisis and sanction put in place against Iran. The United States sees it as Pakistan undermining the seriousness of Iran developing a nuclear weapon. Pakistan argues the Pakistan-Russian relationship is the cornerstone of foreign policy, and they feel like they are not doing anything wrong.

Pakistan is standing behind its word, and all negotiations are off until further notice. The United States is willing to offer some concessions. They are willing to consider tariffs, but the drone strikes are not debatable. Furthermore, it is very unlikely the United States or the military will offer any sort of apology for the Pakistan deaths. The United States stands firm behind the belief it must protect its troops, but Pakistan wants transparency.


            Due to the violent nature of terrorism and extremism, the United States will continue drone attacks. Pakistan does acknowledge the importance of the attacks, but they want to be read into the attacks before they occur. The same goes with boots on the ground and following terrorist into Pakistan. There are some cases where it is impossible to make all the notifications needed before pursuing someone into another country. The delay may hurt some feelings and cause political tension, but if the United States can kill or capture the enemy, then it is worth it.

The main issue for Pakistan appears to be respect and an apology for the killing of their service members. An apology would go a long way with starting the healing processes, but the United States is reluctant to make a move yet. In a section titled, Monochronic versus Polychronic Concepts of Time, Cohen quotes, “Time is crucial in diplomacy. Major tactical and strategic judgments hang on assumptions about the history, ripeness, timing, temp, and duration. Preparing for negotiation, one might ask such questions as these about the opponents: How heavy does historical grievance weigh on relationships? How important to them are short-range considerations versus long-range considerations? Indeed, to what extent do they plan for the future? How do they perceive the future-better than the past, the same as before, teleological, or cyclical?

The Pakistan-U.S. relationship is very important from a strategic standpoint for both countries. Neither side can continue to focus on past problems because they have a direct affect on current negotiations. The relationship is crucial short and long term for both countries, so they have to work their way through some of the difficult issues. The United States already gives hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan each year, and 98% of the aid going to operational related programs, but the U.S. is willing to consider additional tariff’s to move military equipment in and out of the country. This is a very big concession for the U.S. to make. In return they are hoping Pakistan will overlook some of the feet on the ground in their country near the border territories. These areas continue to harbor terrorist.           Because of the accidental killings, Pakistan had refused to continue any talks. The United States is open to negotiation, but they are not willing to completely give in. Instead of focusing on each other, they need to turn their attention to the important issues which will shape their long term relationship.



The Pakistan-U.S. relationship is difficult. They need one another strategically, but their needs are very different. The U.S. needs to work within Pakistan borders, but they want to do it on their terms. There is a belief that Pakistan can only be trusted to an extent. Pakistan refuses to fully commit to fighting terrorism. There are some who believe Pakistan is getting bullied from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, or they are simply sympathizers to the cause. Either way, Pakistan holds the blame for many of their short comings and complaints. Pakistan desperately needs U.S. military aid. The Obama administration withheld $800 million dollars until the border crossing and transportation issues were resolved. These countries have to work together and find concessions. Until some of the trust issues can be resolved, they may remain in a stalemate. In contrast, the United States cannot continue to do whatever they want to in or to other countries in the world without approval. It appears at times the U.S. throws it weight around without regard to others, but they justify it by saying it is in national security interest.

About PhDMedic

I have a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis & Resolution, with a concentration in International Peace and Conflict, and I am a National Registry Paramedic with 30 years in emergency services as a provider and educator. View all posts by PhDMedic

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