Pakistan Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

According to abbreviationfinder, Pakistan is a nation in Southern Asia. Its capital city is Islamabad. Pakistan’s foreign policy has always been characterized by the conflict with India which mainly revolved around Kashmir. Due to the perceived threat from India, huge economic investments have been made in the military, whose leadership is in practice considered to govern large parts of foreign policy. The United States regards Pakistan as an important party – but also a weak link – in the fight against Islamist resistance groups in Afghanistan. Pakistan has a close relationship with China, which provides support in the form of loans and weapons.

pakistan military spending and defense budget

The Kashmir mountain range was split at the British India division in 1947 into a Pakistani and an Indian part. The border demarcation has never been accepted by the two countries and on three occasions – 1947, 1965 and 1971 – the conflict over Kashmir has led to war (for more on the background see the conflict on Kashmir).

  • Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Pakistan for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.

Pakistan grants moral support to Kashmiri separatist groups but denies giving any military and financial support. In 2002, Pakistan banned the two most extreme separatist movements since the country was pressured to intervene against terrorists.

The Pakistan-India conflict is one of the most dangerous in the world because of the risk of nuclear war. Neither Pakistan nor India has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Both hold large armed forces along the standstill line and shooting across the border often occurs.

Fear of nuclear war

While India has assured that the country will never be the first to resort to nuclear weapons, Pakistan has not issued a similar guarantee. Therefore, there is a high risk that an Indian attack with conventional weapons would be countered by Pakistani nuclear weapons. Both countries have robots that are capable of carrying nuclear weapons and can reach most places in the neighboring country.

In the summer of 1999, a fourth major war broke out after several thousands of Kashmiri separatists and Pakistani semi-military police entered India at a sensitive border section. During the 2000s and 2010s, periods of escalating violence at the border were replaced by peace talks and confidence-building measures, which increased contacts across the border in trade, tourism, culture, sports and communications. However, no significant progress in the Kashmir issue has been made.

An attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 triggered an acute crisis, as did Islamic terrorist attacks in Bombay (Mumbai) in November 2008 and a suicide bombing in February 2019 by banned Jaish-e-Mohammad against Indian soldiers in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist government of 2014 has made some attempts at the rapprochement, but it basically feels deep distrust of Pakistan. And in Pakistan, leading military leaders do not want to give up support to armed extremists fighting Indian interests.

In August 2019, the situation in Kashmir was sharply sharpened when India withdrew the constitutional article guaranteeing the state of Jammu and Kashmir autonomy (see India, current policy). Pakistan called the decision “illegitimate” and turned to the UN Security Council for support.

Complicated relationship with the United States

India’s approach to the Soviet Union in the early 1950s pushed Pakistan into the arms of the US and the Western powers. Relations with the United States, however, have often been conflicting. There are strong anti-American sentiments among large sections of the population and the United States has often criticized Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons and human rights violations. During the 2010s, the United States also criticized what Washington believes is too powerless action against Islamist terrorist groups in the area.

Through the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan became a leading state in the United States’ fight against communism and the country received extensive military and financial support. Much of the Western support for the Afghan resistance movements was channeled through the Pakistani military.

Following the fall of communism in Afghanistan in 1992, US interest in Pakistan declined, but through its close contacts with the Afghan Taliban regime, the country again became at the center of US foreign policy. Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Pakistan became one of the US key allies in the “war on terrorism”. Between 2002 and 2010, Pakistan received $ 2 billion annually in US aid. Three quarters of it went to the military.

Under President Barack Obama, US contacts were more cautious than those of predecessor George W Bush. The Obama administration showed greater understanding of the dual command that characterizes Pakistani politics, where the government can say one thing and the military – especially the ISI intelligence service – do something completely different.

However, the US drone attacks on Pakistani territory provoked anger at both the government and the residents. The US military raid in 2011 that killed terrorist leader Usama bin Ladin led to a bottom-up relationship, as neither the Pakistani government nor the military had been informed in advance. This showed the United States’ lack of confidence in their allies and, conversely, led to increased suspicion of the United States in Pakistan.

The US is reducing military support

When Nawaz Sharif became new Prime Minister, he visited the United States in October 2013. The two countries agreed to continue the joint fight against terrorism, but the United States made no promises that the drone attacks on Pakistan would be stopped or reduced in number, as Sharif had demanded. When Pakistan launched a military offensive against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militant Islamist networks in the clan areas on the Afghan border in June 2014, it was supported by US drones.

When the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed by an American drone in Baluchistan in May 2016, the Pakistani reaction became strong. The military leadership accused the United States of violating the country’s sovereignty. The US, for its part, withdrew military assistance on the grounds that Pakistan’s efforts against militant networks such as Haqqani were ineffective.

In August 2017, US President Donald Trump declared that US policy towards Pakistan (and Afghanistan) would change. The rhetoric against Pakistan was fierce and Trump demanded increased efforts from Islamabad to fight the militant Islamists. In January 2018, Trump accused Pakistan of providing a haven for militant elements that US troops are fighting in Afghanistan, and the United States frozen parts of military support for Pakistan during the year.

Afghan mistrust

Relations with Afghanistan have been almost as important as relations with India. Since the colonial era, Pakistani Pashtuns have demanded their own state called Pashtunistan. The demand has been fueled by the Afghan governments. The fear that the communist Afghan regime would claim the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) was one of the reasons for the Pakistani support for the Afghan resistance movements. Another was Afghanistan’s good contacts with India and Pakistan’s concern about being surrounded by Indian interests.

The Pakistani military security service ISI, in collaboration with conservative religious groups and parts of the business community, played a major part in the creation of the Afghan Taliban movement. The reason was that the chaos in Afghanistan following the fall of the Communist regime in 1992 disturbed Pakistan’s contacts with the new Central Asian states.

Following the fall of the Taliban regime in the fall of 2001, Pakistan said it wanted a good relationship with the US-backed Afghan government. But the Afghans’ mistrust has persisted, since all three militant organizations that pose the greatest threat to the Afghan government are allowed to have their headquarters and military bases in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban, the so-called Haqqani network and Hezb-i-Islami, all have direct or indirect support from ISI.

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, on his take-up in 2014, advocated a fresh start for relations with Pakistan. However, it was uncertain whether the civilian Pakistani leaders would be able to take the initiative of the generals. In May 2015, signs of thunderstorms emerged in the relations when the two countries agreed to share intelligence information with each other as well as coordinate intelligence operations in order to combat terrorism. The agreement was concluded after Prime Minister Sharif, with army and intelligence chiefs, visited colleagues in Kabul.

However, in connection with military offensives within the Pakistani clan areas along the border, the level of violence increased and border crossings have been closed several times in recent years.

Relations with the Afghan government deteriorated further in 2018 when Pakistan contributed to the Taliban movement in peace talks with the United States, without the Afghan government’s participation. The peace talks stranded in the fall of 2019, which was a setback for Pakistan, hoping for US support both financially and in the escalated conflict with India over Kashmir.

Support from China

During the Cold War, when India was close to the Soviet Union, Pakistan made contacts with China. Good relations have continued even in modern times, despite China’s economic proximity to India, and they have been confirmed when Chinese leaders visited Pakistan.

In the face of widespread hostility to the United States, China is the majority of Pakistanis as the country’s only reliable friend. Enthusiasm is only partially dampened by reports of Chinese discrimination against Muslims in the Xinjiang region. Even during periods when the United States and Pakistan have worked closely together, Beijing has continued to provide Pakistan with both weapons and assistance, including several nuclear power plants being built with Chinese support. In 2016, China took over the US position as Pakistan’s largest arms supplier.

In the context of China’s huge infrastructure and development projects for large parts of Asia (the Belt and Road Initiative, the “New Silk Road”), Pakistan received extensive Chinese support during the 2010s, mainly in the form of cheap loans. Critics warn that Pakistan in this way has become too dependent on Beijing. In 2013, the two countries agreed to link the port of Gwadar in Pakistan with Kashgar in Xinjiang in western China through highways, railways and oil and gas pipelines, the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Islamabad in April 2015, the two countries signed 51 cooperation agreements under this infrastructure project. The CPEC should be ready by 2030 and is estimated to cost a total of $ 62 billion,

Frosty relations with Bangladesh

In 1971, East Pakistan’s (today Bangladesh) liberation from West Pakistan (now Pakistan) led to a year of civil war, which left bitter traces in relations. Only five years later, they were normalized when embassies were established and trade relations and communications resumed.

After a prolonged dispute with Bangladesh, Pakistan promised in 1991 that about a quarter of a million million-speaking Muslim bihars, who had openly supported West Pakistan in the war and who had lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh since the end of the war, could move to Pakistan. But the return of refugees was extremely slow, and in 2008 Bangladesh decided that around 150,000 Bihar refugees, who were minors in 1971 or subsequently born, would gain Bangladeshi citizenship.

In 2002, Pakistan’s then President Pervez Musharraf lamented the abuses committed by Pakistani soldiers during the war. In 2010, Bangladesh demanded a formal apology for this, something Pakistan rejected. Pakistan has strongly condemned a series of executions that Bangladeshi authorities from 2013 carried out by fellow runners to West Pakistan during the war. Several of them were senior leaders of an Islamist party. During the latter part of the 2010, relations remained frosty.

Other important relationships

Pakistan has had significant economic cooperation since the early 1990s with the five Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey. In December 2015, work began on building a natural gas pipeline (Tapi) from Turkmenistan to Punjab in India via Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Despite protests from the US, Pakistan and Iran agreed in March 2010 to build a gas pipeline from southern Iran to Multan in Pakistan, via Karachi. But while Iran had completed its part of the leadership in March 2016, due to economic and political problems, Pakistan has not yet begun its part of the construction. However, with Iran, Pakistan has long-term trade and economic cooperation agreements.

As the United States and India have grown closer, Russia and Pakistan have strengthened their military cooperation in recent years. In 2014, Moscow lifted its arms embargo on Pakistan and a year later an agreement was signed to sell Russian combat helicopters and combat aircraft engines to Pakistan. In September 2016, the two countries conducted joint military exercises for the first time, in Pakistan, then in Russia a year later. In February 2018, a new Russian-Pakistani Military Commission was set up to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to fight terrorism. The countries also signed an agreement that allows the Russian military to train Pakistani officers. With Russia, Pakistan has also entered into a series of agreements in the energy field.

Pakistan has good relations with Saudi Arabia and therefore ended up in a dilemma when the Saudis in spring 2015 asked Pakistan to contribute militarily to the Saudi-led coalition formed the same spring to fight the Iranian-backed huthi rebels in Yemen. Pakistan, which is also closely allied with Iran, chose not to participate in combat troops, but promised to assist if Saudi territory was threatened. In the fall of 2018, Saudi Arabia provided multi-billion dollar financial aid to Pakistan, which then ended up in a debt crisis (see Calendar).

Pakistan is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the South Asian Cooperation Organization Saarc, the Asian Development Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Central Asian Cooperation Organization SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and several other regional and international organizations.


Pakistan’s defense is the most modern and effective part of the state apparatus and often contributes to the UN peacekeeping forces. When the United States has periodically refused to sell weapons, China has primarily been a loyal supplier. France and Britain have also helped to equip the Pakistani armed forces. About one-third of the state budget goes to the defense at the expense of education, health care and other social areas.

The disproportionately large budget allocation of the Armed Forces is reflected in the army’s great influence in society. For nearly half of Pakistan’s time as an independent state, the country has been ruled by military junta, which, according to many analysts, has been a major cause of the political instability, lawlessness and corruption that characterize the country.

The Pakistani Armed Forces also have major interests in business through a number of companies that own real estate, dairies, banks, factories and more.


Army: 560 000 men (2017)

The air Force: 70,000 men (2017)

The fleet: 23 800 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 3.5 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 16.7 percent (2017)