Pakistan’s Dependence and US Patronage: The Politics of ‘Limited Influence’

AuthorAhmed Waqas Waheed
Published date01 April 2017
Date01 April 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Pakistan’s Dependence
and US Patronage:
The Politics of ‘Limited
Ahmed Waqas Waheed1
Despite having poured billions of dollars of aid into Pakistan’s economy and its
military over the years, there is a general acceptability among scholars and policy-
makers that the United States exercises limited leverage in Pakistan. Although
India remains the centrepiece in US–Pakistan policy divergences, US frustra-
tions often stem from the ineffectiveness of its aid-for-leverage policy, especially
given Pakistan’s dependence on US military assistance. The limited US influence
in Pakistan can best be understood within the framework of patron–client relation-
ship and arms dependence. If the theory suggests anything, it is that various factors
including US and Pakistan’s behaviour contribute in channelling the relationship
towards its apparent demise. Most important within these is China’s central role
in helping Pakistan indigenize its military production and diversify its arms supply.
In that sense, then, China has colluded with Pakistan in indirectly limiting US influ-
ence in Pakistan and the trend suggests that this collaboration will further reduce
US leverage over Pakistan.
Pakistan–US relations, Pakistan–China relations, political dependence, limited
influence, foreign assistance, US leverage
Pakistan has received approximately US $70 billion in US foreign aid since its
inception in 1947. This places it among the top recipients of US foreign aid around
the globe. However, this exorbitant flow of US dollars to Pakistan has largely
1 Centre of International Peace and Stability, National University of Sciences and Technology,
Islamabad, Pakistan.
Corresponding author:
Ahmed Waqas Waheed, National University of Science and Technology, Centre of International
Peace and Stability, NIPCONS, H-12, Islamabad, Pakistan.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
4(1) 69–94
2017 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797016689220
70 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 4(1)
been a consequence of increased US strategic and geopolitical interests in
the region and ‘the levels year to year have waxed and waned for decades as US
geopolitical interests in the region have shifted’ (Center for Global Development,
2014). For instance, ‘in 1953 the United States offered economic and military
assistance in return for Pakistan’s agreement to join an alliance designed to check
the spread of communism’ (Wynbrandt, 2009, p. 176). In 1981, US efforts to
check Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan witnessed another round of increased
inflow of US foreign assistance to Pakistan and, most recently, the US
War on Terror saw Pakistan benefitting considerably from US foreign assistance
programmes again. Many argue that Pakistan continues to remain heavily dependent
on US foreign aid (Abbas, 2014; The New York Times, 2015; Wright, 2011;
Zaidi, 2011), leading policymakers, politicians and development professionals in
the West to ‘believe that the economic survival of Pakistan rests on handouts
from the United States’ (Haider, 2012). However, Pakistan’s dependence on the
United States has largely been on US military assistance than economic.
This is clearly evident in the patterns of US assistance to Pakistan and the level
of significance both states accord to economic assistance. Barring the General Ayub
era, US foreign assistance to Pakistan witnessed a huge military aid component:
‘Since 1982, the United States has provided $17 billion in military assistance com-
pared to $13.5 billion in economic assistance … [and] since 2002 the US military
assistance to Pakistan at $13billion dollars is two-times the economic assistance it
provided to Pakistan’ (ibid.). Considering the dominant role that the Pakistan Army
has played in Pakistani politics, whether it be directly through military coups or
behind the scenes Fair, 2009b; Hussain, 2010; Shah, 2011; Siddiqa, 2007), it can be
safely assumed that the Pakistani state, which has been historically obsessed with
its territorial defence and sovereignty against India, has primarily been interested
only in military assistance rather than the economic one.
This assertion is validated by the fact that US military support to the Pakistani
military has helped the Pakistan Army become a premium fighting force
(Cohen, 2004). At the same time, an almost equal amount of US economic assis-
tance over more than six decades has not alleviated Pakistan’s economic and
developmental ailments; rather, ‘Pakistan has been a graveyard of development
projects … due to lack of physical infrastructure, financial resources, human capital,
technological growth, political commitment, macro-economic stability in the
country’ (Anwar & Aman, 2010, p. 2). This situation has continued to remain constant
despite US economic assistances and focus on Pakistan’s developmental issues.
Thus, it can be postulated that if the Pakistani military had viewed Pakistan’s
economic and developmental problems through the same lens that it uses to view
Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty, the situation might have been quite different.
Given Pakistan’s dependence on US military assistance, it is quite understand-
able then why some (Beckley, 2012; Miller, 2012; Paul, 1992) would argue that the
United States possesses considerable leverage to influence Pakistan. Yet, that is not
the case (Ibrahim, 2009). US policymakers have often expressed their frustrations
at their inability to hold some clout over Pakistani decision-making processes
despite using aid as leverage. Writing in 1987, Thomas P. Thornton (1987, p. 23),
who was a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Carter

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