Shaheen III and Pakistan’s Calculated Signalling to Biden Team | Security Risks Asia Humane ClubMade with Humane Club

Shaheen III and Pakistan’s Calculated Signalling to Biden Team

Published Jan 21, 2021
Updated Jan 21, 2021

Pakistan’s relations with the United States are possibly the third most important for Islamabad [after India and China] a sort of a comedown from the 1960’s due to the expanding profile of Islamabad’s engagement with China – the all weather friend – higher than the mountains and deeper than the Oceans.

These relations have as is well known undergone many twists and turns which is not unusual given multiple convergences and divergences that occur in interstate interaction. The US Pakistan relations has core dimensions which include Afghanistan, China, India and the military and nuclear programme.

Trend 1 Trade and Economy

As the Biden administration took office on January 20, Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated the US President Joe Biden. “Look forward to working with @POTUS in building a stronger Pak-US partnership through trade and economic engagement, countering climate change, improving public health, combating corruption & promoting peace in region and beyond,” the premier tweeted. Economy remains a major concern for Pakistan as the country has a heavy debt burden. U.S. influence in global lenders as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be of significance to Pakistan.

Trend 2 Afghanistan

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi speaking on ‘Reset of US-Pakistan Relations’ organised by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations (KCFR) on January 20 said, “Our shared interests, common aspirations for economic development and enhanced connectivity in the region, and the rare moment of hope for peace in Afghanistan, provide a strong foundation for both sides to take the bilateral relationship forward.”

After the speech, the foreign minister in response to a question said: “Our focus has shifted towards geo-economics and that demands peace in the region. That is why we have a new approach to Afghanistan, facilitating peace over there. We want a healthy relationship with India as well, but unfortunately the present regime [in India] has by their actions vitiated that.”

Trend 3 – Terrorism

President Biden’s nominated defence chief Gen Lloyd J. Austin committed to sustaining relationship with Pakistan and outlined the significance as well as the challenges that are faced with Islamabad. “If confirmed, I will encourage a regional approach that garners support from neighbours like Pakistan, while also deterring regional actors, from serving as spoilers to the Afghanistan peace process.” Gen Austin said: “I understand Pakistan has taken constructive steps to meet US requests in support of the Afghanistan peace process. Pakistan has also taken steps against anti-Indian groups, such as Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad, although this progress is incomplete.”

General Austin as the Central Command Chief is well attuned to engagement with Pakistan and thus understands the dynamics of relationship Islamabad.

 “Pakistan is an essential partner in any peace process in Afghanistan,” Austin, a former head of the US Central Command, told the committee. The general, however, acknowledged that “many factors in addition to the security assistance suspension may impact Pakistan’s cooperation, including Afghanistan negotiations and the dangerous escalation following the Pulwama terrorist attack”.

“Pakistan is a sovereign country,” he said when asked what tools and options the US had to influence Pakistan. “I will press Pakistan to prevent its territory from being used as a sanctuary for militants and violent extremist organisations. Continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues.”

The United States counter terror strategy in which Pakistan will have be a major factor and the military and nuclear ties make Islamabad an important actor in the overall dynamics of the US and Pakistan relations.

Trend 4– India

US expansion of relations with India in the interim period reduces the significance of Pakistan in the overall interests paradigm of Washington.  

At the same time the Biden administration will be more engaged in the case of an India Pakistan standoff as it happened during the Balakote air strikes in 2019 than the indulgence of the Trump era.

Pakistan on the other hand would try to leverage the Kashmir factor by attempting to hype the ongoings in the Indian Union Territory marking up human rights and freedom of speech and political activity constraints, however to be taken seriously the narrative will have to be more realistic.

Trend 4 – China

Where Pakistan will continue to be important is in relation to the U.S. China competition nee conflict.

While the USA may attempt to wean it away from the Chinese orbit but breaching the strong China Pakistan friendship is unlikely to be make much impact in the short term.

Trend 5 – Nuclear and Missiles

Sensing that the Biden administration may review the significance of the country pulling it a notch down, the Pakistan Establishment timed the test of Shaheen III the longest ballistic missile in the arsenal on January 20 the day of the inauguration.

The DG Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated that the missile is capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads to a range of 2,750 kms.

The statement added that the test flight was aimed at revalidating various design and technical parameters of the weapon system.

As per the Missile Threat web site of the CSIS, the “missile is reportedly capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional payloads to a range of 2,750 km, which would make it the longest range missile in Pakistan’s strategic arsenal. The Shaheen 3 is road-mobile and reportedly mounted on a Chinese transporter erector launcher”.

The Missile Threat of the CSIS also states that, “Pakistan is also working to equip the Shaheen-3 with multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRV) as a response to Indian attempts to develop a missile defense capability”.

The missile underwent at least two successful tests in 2015 in March and December, so this marks the third test for the missile which is planned to reach the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the area that was desired to be covered in the initial framework.

The substantial relations between Pakistan military and the Pentagon is a leverage that will have to be utilised vary effectively to restrain Pakistan proliferation.


These developments denote that the relations between the two countries are at a cusp of sorts given that there is past history of the United States having abandoned Islamabad once its utility to it had declined such as after the Soviet Union had left Afghanistan in 1989. The post Soviet approach by the US to Pakistan has been criticized by many including Prime Minister Imran Khan. At the same time trends above indicate there could be closer engagement between the two countries over a period.