Pakistan and the Cold War

Stephen P. Cohen
Stephen P. Cohen
Stephen P. Cohen Former Brookings Expert

December 10, 2009

This chapter is from the book Superpower Rivalry and Conflict: The Long Shadow of the Cold War on the 21st Century, edited by Chandra Chari, and is reprinted here with permission from Routledge.


Pakistan is undergoing a prolonged internal crisis, one that has been compounded by strained relations with its neighbours, and even with its allies. It is tempting to attribute its present difficulties to its involvement in the Cold War, and particularly to its relations with the United States.  This is most frequently done by Pakistani analysts, but scholars and practitioners from other countries often share this approach. However, absolute judgments about the connection between the Cold War and contemporary perplexities are often misguided. History is obviously one guide to the present, but it is more often a trap, as bits and pieces of the past are coupled in order to create a reality that never existed.

This chapter seeks to assess the causes and consequences of Pakistan’s engagement in the Cold War from several perspectives. What were the pushes and pulls that brought Pakistan to the point where its leaders liked to boast (especially to Americans) that it was the ‘most allied’ of American allies? What were the American and British motives in bringing Pakistan into their orbit? What were the political, economic, and ideological consequences of Pakistan’s participation in the Western alliance system, notably on the very identity of the Pakistani state? Finally, what are the lessons? Since Pakistan’s incentives for joining the alliance system were largely India-oriented, what has been the impact on India and the region?