They first had to overcame a miserable start, stumbling to 14-3 after choosing to bat – and then following a stand of 133 between Eoin Morgan (76) and James Taylor (60) contrived to lose another four wickets for just 14 runs.
England’s resulting 216 all out was highly vulnerable, and so it proved as Pakistan sauntered past it with more than six overs to spare – thanks to another century from Mohammad Hafeez (102no), alongside a career-best 62 not out from rising star Babar Azam, and despite Reece Topley’s fine efforts with the new ball under lights.
There were echoes of England’s difficulties in the Test series, not just at the hands of Hafeez as he reprised last week’s second-innings 151 in Sharjah, but as wickets again fell in heaps for the tourists.
Their top order failed to deal with the moving ball, Jason Roy and then Joe Root both going for ducks.
Roy was beaten for pace, and swing, bowled by giant left-armer Mohammad Irfan (3-35) – and then Root missed one that nipped in off the pitch from Anwar Ali, and the lbw decision on the back foot stayed with on-field umpire Johan Cloete after DRS.
Alex Hales fell to more seam movement from Anwar, away this time, and edged to a juggling Younus Khan at slip.
Morgan and Taylor responded impressively to build a most promising platform, from unlikely beginnings, reaching 145-3 at the start of what would however be a hapless 31st over for England.
Morgan aimed to drive Shoaib Malik and edged behind, then Jos Buttler – so badly in need of runs and a little luck perhaps – had just one of the former and none of the latter when he was called through for an unwise single to midwicket by Taylor and caught short of his ground as Azhar’s throw came in.
It was untypical of Taylor when he then failed to make the most of his moment of fortune – he would have been lbw to Shoaib had the hosts used DRS – adding only two more runs before poking a low catch to midwicket off the all-rounder.
England had bungled their opportunity – all the more so when Moeen Ali fell to a brilliant one-handed catch at mid-wicket by Babar, from a vicious pull at Yasir Shah.
Morgan’s 50 had come at a run-a-ball, extending a sequence of nine half-centuries in his last 12 international innings.
It was additionally admirable on his comeback after having to retire hurt with concussion when he was hit on the helmet by Australia’s Mitchell Starc two months ago.
Taylor’s impressive contribution had included two resounding straight sixes off Bilal Asif and Shoaib.
But with both Morgan and he gone, the prospect of a commanding total was a mere mirage in the desert and it was as much as England could do to scramble past 200, thanks to No 8 Chris Woakes adding a much-needed 33.
There was new-ball swing as Pakistan replied, and Topley (3-26) made the most of it in just his second ODI to give England fleeting hope.
After a nervy start, including three wides in his first over, the left-armer harnessed the movement to pin Azhar lbw on the crease and then hit a second opener in front too as Bilal departed on a DRS overturn.
Younus’s final ODI innings, having announced his retirement before the match, was an anti-climax when he mishit a pull to a tumbling Adil Rashid at mid-on to give Topley his third wicket.
But No 3 Hafeez took over – especially against England’s spinners Rashid and Moeen – as he reprised his outstanding Test match form.
Shoaib punted a catch to midwicket off Moeen to end a partnership of 70.
But Hafeez made it back-to-back hundreds across the formats, with 10 fours and a six from 127 balls, joined in an unbroken century partnership by Babar - who completed his 50 by hitting Woakes straight into the pavilion stand.