U.S. - Pakistan Relations: Charlie Brown, Lucy and the Football

05/18/2011 10:14 am ET | Updated Jul 18, 2011

One of the most familiar story lines in the beloved comic strip "Peanuts" involved malicious prankster Lucy holding a football and encouraging poor Charlie Brown to kick it. At the last moment, Lucy would pull the football away. Year after year after year, Lucy played Charlie Brown for a sucker. The football remained unkicked.

So why did Charlie Brown keep trying? To quote Samuel Johnson, Charlie Brown's determination was an example of the triumph of hope over experience.

Like the relationship between the United States and Pakistan for the last 60 years.

Following 1947"s bloody partition from India, Pakistan followed a more pro-Western policy whereas the Indian government defined its foreign policy as more leftist. Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Pakistan were established shortly after Pakistan's independence. In May of 1950, Prime Minister Liquiat Ali Khan made the first state visit to the United States, stopping in New York, Washington, Houston and Kansas City. The prime minister was seeking financial and military assistance. The U.S. did not see the usefulness of a strong relationship with Pakistan and her interests in Pakistan were limited.

1954 marked a turning point in the history of relations between the two countries, as the U.S. began providing Pakistan with military aid, which would increase over the years. It was in the same decade that Pakistan experienced its first military coup, when its Army Chief Ayub Khan took power in 1958.

It was at that point that the football, in the form of aid, support of civilian government and cooperation in the war on terror entered the picture. Over the years, the U.S. and Pakistan's relationship would improve and worsen in increasingly dramatic cycles.

The U.S. refused to provide military assistance to Pakistan during the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War. In April of 1979 the United States suspended all economic assistance to Pakistan (with the exception of food assistance) over concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program.

The tide shifted in 1981, when Pakistan and the United States agreed on a $3.2 billion military and economic assistance program aimed at helping Pakistan deal with the heightened threat to security in the region and its economic development needs. With U.S. assistance -- in the largest covert operation in history -- Pakistan armed and supplied anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan. Weapons flowed through Pakistan to arm the mujaheddin through General Zia Ul-Haq, another military dictator who rose to power through a coup.

But the relationship's cracks were becoming more obvious. As Lawrence Wright wrote in his New Yorker piece "U.S. Support for Pakistan: A Long Messy History;"

At the same time, Zia began giving support to an Islamist organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, the forerunner of many more radical groups to come. In November, a mob of Jamaat followers, inflamed by a rumor that the U.S. and Israel were behind an attack on the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, burned the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to the ground, killing two Americans and two Pakistani employees. The American romance with Pakistan was over, but the marriage was just about to begin.

After 9/11, Pakistan, led by General Pervez Musharraf, reversed course under pressure from the United States and joined the "War on Terror" as a U.S. ally. This alliance began rather dramatically. According to Musharraf's biography, In the Line of Fire, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage threatened to "bomb Pakistan into the stone age" if the country didn't get with the program. It was an "offer" that Pakistan was in no position to refuse. General Musharraf was strongly supported by the Bush administration.

In return for their support, Pakistan has received about $10 billion in U.S. aid since 2001, primarily military.

Where did the money go? According to Military Inc., by Ayesha Siddiqa, Pakistan's army, which has never won a war, found creative ways to take advantage of Western largesse, investing in hotels, real estate, and shopping malls. According to a 2008 GAO report, more than a third of U.S. funds provided Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were subject to accounting problems, including duplication and possible fraud.

And then there's the thorny topic of A.Q. Khan, the father of the "Islamic Bomb." While Khan was operating a nuclear bazaar, the government of Pakistan argued that if there had been wrongdoing, it had occurred without the military's knowledge or approval. Critics noted that virtually all of Khan's overseas travels, to Iran, Libya, North Korea, Niger, Mali, and the Middle East, were on Pakistan government aircraft.

Then comes Osama saga.

For decades, the United States has made the mistake of equating "Pakistan" with its army and supporting military governments. The U.S., in the role of Lucy, has turned aid into a football. Unlike Charlie Brown, the Pakistani people, who do not benefit from this aid, have stopped trusting Lucy.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has also played the role of Lucy, offering assistance in the war on terror. While Pakistan has been helpful and the country's people have suffered immeasurably as a result of brutal and ongoing terrorist attacks, the army and the ISI, like Lucy, have at times been too clever by half. Despite outward signs that aid will continue to flow to Pakistan's military, there are growing signs that the U.S. is tired of playing the Charlie Brown role.

Charlie Brown never stopped trying to kick the football. Hope triumphed over experience. Can the same be said for the future of U.S. - Pak relations?