Pak-US Relations during the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) Tenure

Bilateral relations among states adhere to the rule of reciprocity. The principle of reciprocity is devoid of transgression, either overtly or covertly, into the matters of other nation-states. Even though all states are equal in the community of nations, different countries hold different types of power. Therefore, powerful countries should behave with caution. Pakistan and the United States (US) relations are in transition, and their future direction is uncertain. Indeed, one might say that both countries are trying to broaden the base of their relations after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the consequent changes in regional dynamics. The recent focus on bilateral engagement appears diplomatically amicable, but it can be inferred to be driven by a desire to prevent a complete breakdown in the face of the former Prime Minister’s cypher conspiracy narrative.

Under the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government, tension between the US and Pakistan reached a new high, given US President Trump’s decision to discontinue security aid to Pakistan in 2018. The 2019 Trump-Khan meeting improved the bilateral relations, with Pakistan helping facilitate US-Taliban discussions in Qatar that culminated in the 2020 Doha Agreement and subsequent US withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, the Biden administration’s icy treatment of Pakistan later deteriorated the already bad relations.

Besides, there is a widespread belief that the recent closeness between the two countries is motivated by the desire to wipe out the damage caused by the cypher story between the two countries.

At the 247th US National Day event in Islamabad, Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif said that the US and Pakistan are good friends and are strengthening their bilateral relations. US Ambassador to Pakistan, Donald Armin Blome, also appreciated the warmth of engagement with Pakistan and aimed to boost economic cooperation with Pakistan, recognising it as the largest export market.

Broad-based Pakistan-US engagement after Imran Khan

High-level official engagements from both sides were observed during Prime Minister Shahbaz’s government. US President Biden did not issue any substantial statements about Pakistan then. However, the recent different levels of engagement from the American side can be attributed to the fact that after the removal of Khan, Washington appeared more concerned with expanding the base of bilateral relations between the two countries.

At the beginning of 2023, distinguished military officials from both countries met in Washington. Similarly, Derek Chollet, the US State Department counsellor, visited Islamabad. Chollet was accompanied by Clinton White, the United States Agency for International Development counsellor, and Elizabeth Horst, Principal Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the State Department. The visit was intended to consolidate the bilateral partnership and reaffirm the two countries’ shared goals. In a meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, the US State Department counsellor discussed security cooperation and counterterrorism efforts. Chollet also met with Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to highlight the significance of the US-Pakistan partnership, focusing on boosting economic cooperation and supporting recovery efforts after the 2022 floods, which resulted in substantial losses. The US diplomatic mission later reiterated that the US government is committed to broadening its cooperation with Pakistan in trade, security, education, people-to-people interactions, climate, and clean energy. It highlighted that the goal is to foster a more stable, secure, and prosperous future for both countries. The two countries also expressed satisfaction over the second Pakistan-US Mid-Level Defence Dialogue.

In February 2023, the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council meeting in Washington, DC, also ended on a positive note of continuing efforts for further engagement. Both sides underlined their aim to boost market access and reduce barriers to more agricultural products. They emphasised the importance of sustained cooperation through institutionalised dialogues in trade and investment, energy, security, climate change, and health. The joint statement highlighted commitments to empower women and promote entrepreneurship. Ongoing intersessional work is anticipated in 2023, with the TIFA Council reconvening in Islamabad in 2024.

Later, in June 2023, Pakistan Ambassador to the US, Masood Khan, appreciated the Georgia-Sindh Sister-Province agreement that intends greater business connections, people-to-people and student exchanges, and strong cultural ties. The Ambassador stressed on establishing robust linkages between universities and the academic institutes.

Analysing the recent Pak-US engagement

Different analysts have assessed Pakistan-US relations in view of the recent steps taken to revive US-Pakistan ties and whether it can be said that bilateral relations between the US and Pakistan are currently in a restoration phase.

Adrian Calamel, a New York-based Middle East expert and a former professor of Global and Middle Eastern History at the State University of New York’s Finger Lakes Community College, does not believe a permanent rapprochement exists between the US and Pakistan. While speaking to the media, he iterated that it cannot be said that the bilateral ties are in a “restoration phase”. He said, “The US State Department and Secretary of State Antony Blinken believe almost every country, unless openly hostile, is a trusted ally, but the world does not work that way.”

Arif Rafiq, a New York-based, non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, opined that “the US-Pakistan relations are on the mend, but the future bilateral relationship will be limited in intensity and scope. It will fall short of a strategic partnership.” In his view, the US will keep financial assistance relatively modest in the future.

Besides, there is a widespread belief that the recent closeness between the two countries is motivated by the desire to wipe out the damage caused by the cypher story between the two countries.


During the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government under Shahbaz Sharif, the foreign policy, particularly towards the US, was merely reactive, void of long-term sustainability. PDM and the US tried well to shed off the tainted patch that appeared after Khan’s outstation. One can say with certainty that the relevance of the US in the politics of Pakistan cannot be denied or ignored. The international relations and domestic politics of states are so intertwined, multi-layered, dynamic, and complex that it is challenging to deny or confirm any conspiracy that surfaces. Still, on the other hand, time and subsequent events give them weight. It was revealed through the cypher episode that the US has sway over the internal politics of Pakistan. If the US loses its support among ordinary Pakistanis, it might cause irreparable damage to the US soft power in Pakistan. As referred to at the beginning, powerful countries have more responsibility, and the US must save its standing in the eyes of the people of Pakistan.

Dr. Tauseef Javed

Tauseef Javed works at the Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) as a Research Associate. He has completed his Ph.D. from Fujian Normal University in Fuzhou, China. His research focuses on US economic aid policy toward Pakistan, international relations, history, and area studies from an interdisciplinary perspective. He can be reached at

Leave a Comment


Welcome! Login in to your account

Remember me Lost your password?

Lost Password