Pakistani Army Chief Faces Uphill Battle in Effort to Reset Relations with Washington

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 22 Issue: 1

Pakistan Army Chief General Munir in Washington. (Source: The Print [India])

Executive Summary

  • Pakistan’s army chief visited the United States in December to “reset” strained relations and potentially secure American aid in the hopes of ameliorating Pakistan’s ongoing economic crisis and rising militant threat.
  • Since the 2021 Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, there has been a 65 percent surge in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, resulting in over 2,500 deaths. Islamabad blames this on the Afghan Taliban’s support of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
  • Pakistan is increasingly retaliating by means of economic sanctions and the forced return of more than a million Afghan refugees. This policy could destabilize the region and force the United States to refocus its attention back to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistani army chief General Asim Munir embarked on a highly anticipated week-long trip to the United States on December 10. Munir’s inaugural visit held special importance for Pakistan, given the influential role of its military establishment in shaping the country’s affairs. On the agenda were issues ranging from trade to security, with a primary focus on resetting relations between the two countries, which have been strained since the American exit from Afghanistan in August 2021 and the Taliban’s subsequent takeover of Kabul (Dawn, April 2, 2022).

Security-Driven Relations

The primary objective of Munir was to garner American attention. This is felt in Islamabad to have been lacking in recent years, with the United States perceived to have “distanced” itself from Pakistan following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan (Dawn, April 2, 2022). Islamabad fears that being sidelined by the United States could hamper its prospects of stabilizing or otherwise ameliorating the country’s current economic crisis. Pakistan suffers from a poor balance of payments, a high debt-to-GDP ratio (78 percent; World Economics, 2023), high inflation (Trading Economics, accessed January 8), and continued budget deficits (ParadigmShift, August 3, 2023; Trading Economics, accessed January 8).

As a global financial hub and a significant player in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United States has the potential to aid Pakistan in receiving an economic bailout. While Pakistan imports far more from China than anyone else (China accounts for around 28.32 percent of Pakistan’s imports, valued at $20.6 billion; World Integrated Trade Solution, 2021), the United States is Pakistan’s largest export partner (America accounts for 21.10 percent of Pakistan’s imports, valued at $6 billion, three quarters of which are textiles; World Integrated Trade Solution, 2021; OEC, 2021). Despite the fact that China (including Hong Kong) has been Pakistan’s greatest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) over the last decade by far, the United States was and continues to be one of the top three investors in the Pakistani economy (US Office of the Trade Representative, 2022; Invest Pakistan, November 2023; State Bank of Pakistan, November 2023). These elements underscore the importance that Pakistan places on the United States economically.

Historical engagement between Pakistan and the United States has consistently been influenced by security considerations. US policymakers wanted Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban for two decades, but that hope never materialized (US Institute of Peace, November 16, 2023). General Munir’s efforts are constrained in no small part because US policymakers believe that Pakistan supported the Haqqani Network, among others, helping lead to the Taliban’s 2021 takeover of Afghanistan and giving rise to several of the problems Pakistan now faces (Quincy Institute, August 31, 2023; US Institute of Peace, November 16, 2023). The situation has now changed, with the Afghan Taliban supporting the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in its efforts instigate unrest and instability within Pakistan. This has led to a 65 percent surge in terrorist attacks in the country and the deaths of nearly 2,500 people since 2021 (Voice of America, December 14, 2023).

Pakistan is conspicuously calling out the Taliban as an “enabler” of terror (Dawn, November 9, 2023). The country is taking measures aimed at throttling the Afghan Taliban and forcing Kabul to end its assistance to the TTP, including economic restrictions and the deportation of potentially over a million Afghan refugees from Pakistan (Tolo News, November 11, 2023; UNHCR, November 17, 2023). Munir’s visit to the United States works toward this same goal, seeking further assistance to pressure the Taliban.

Problems Remain

Despite the appearance of engagement with Washington, a substantial breakthrough between the two countries appears unlikely. There is a view among many that the United States does not view Pakistan as a significant partner, but rather as an “ally on paper” (X/baqirsajjad, December 13, 2023). For example, there is no mention of Pakistan in the Biden administration’s 2022 National Security Strategy (NSS), in contrast to the Obama administration’s 2010 NSS, which referenced Pakistan 12 times (Quincy Institute, August 31, 2023).

While a slight thaw in relations is possible, the timing of these efforts is not ideal for the Pakistani side. With the United States out of Afghanistan, the two sides lost what had been their main point of engagement for two decades. As a result, American strategic dependence on Pakistan has diminished. Additionally, the United States is currently managing conflicts elsewhere, splitting its attention between Ukraine, China, and other conflicts in the Middle East. This has attenuated the immediate significance of the Pak-Afghan crisis.

Further, Washington appears to have chosen New Delhi as its main partner in South Asia and is seeking India’s cooperation in its strategic competition with China. From this perspective, the United States might view Pakistan as a potential obstacle to such an endeavor, given the latter’s historically troubled relationship with India and current close ties with China (Dawn, December 17). While Munir has made assurances that Pakistan has not aligned with any bloc, Washington may have a different opinion on the matter (Arab News, December 20).


It is unknown at this point what impact General Munir’s visit might have. Any success in increasing American support will depend on how US policymakers view the changing Pakistan–Afghan Taliban relationship. It is not known how effective Pakistan’s unfavorable policies toward Afghanistan will be, nor whether the potential damage they might inflict would secure concessions. Pakistan appears to be aiming to reignite conflict within Afghanistan. If said effort succeeds, it would almost certainly spur regional instability, threatening American regional interests. In such a way, Pakistan could possibly prompt the United States to reassess its current lack of strategic interest in the “Af-Pak” area.