United States-Pakistan-India Strategic Trinity: A Delusionary Formulation – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

United States-Pakistan-India as a strategic trinity in South Asia is a utopian dream whose time has yet not come much that the United States would hope for that such a trinity should emerge to serve United States strategic interests primarily as a grouping for the containment of China.

The connotation of a strategic trinity is that the United States, Pakistan and India would be able to attain a fair measure of political and strategic congruence in their strategic perceptions and as a follow-up would be able to put into place political and strategic policy formulations that reflect a combined strategic coherence of all these three nations.

The United States for the last few decades has been striving hard and overtime to first transform as a first step, the adversarial and confrontationist stances of Pakistan under Pakistan Army tight control to some sort of a more normalized and peaceful bilateral relationship with India. This to be followed up by transforming and welding of both India and Pakistan into a strategic trinity with the United States.


Despite United States consistent efforts through direct diplomacy, Track II diplomacy and at times not so subtle direct coercion of India and Pakistan, the United States is being made to falter on the first step itself by Pakistan’s incurable and visceral hatred of India.

Also worth recording initially itself is the incontrovertible fact that in all these decades of cajoling India and Pakistan towards a normal and peaceful relationship, the United States has been more hard on India and tolerant of Pakistan’s strategic delinquencies, even those which directly impacted and hurt United States own national security interests and including direct attacks on United States Forces in Afghanistan through Pakistan Army controlled proxy terrorist organizations.

The United States in the process of pursuing the unattainable grand objective of normalizing relations between Pakistan and India has strategically lost heavily in that it stood estranged from India for decades and now even with the US-India Strategic Partnership under way the United States has not attained full strategic trust of India at large.

The history of Asia would have been different and to the advantage of the United States had it not stood fixated with its narcissistic obsession with Pakistan. In this process, the United States has now lost Pakistan irretrievably and it will take decades to move the US-India Strategic Partnership to a substantial and meaningful strategic partnership.

India too, in the last seven years while placating the United States strategic sensitivities and priorities fixated on Pakistan Army, has lost heavily in the strategic sense. India has now spawned a new breed of policy makers and strategic analysts who advocated vociferously that India should stoop down to engage Pakistan Army Generals in a dialogue on peace with Pakistan. There are others who advocate that India should make an exit from Afghanistan development projects in return for assurances by the Pakistan Army that terrorism against India would cease. Surely this is echoing others formulations.

India has also strategically lost heavily in that it stood distracted and was cajoled into soft-pedalling its war preparedness against the Pakistan and China military threats, singly and jointly. The United States seems to have induced a false complacency in the Indian policy establishment that American strategic leverages against Pakistan and China would become operative should their military threats turn into aggressive misadventures and therefore India as a confidence-building measure should refrain from initiating an arms race in South Asia. The ground reality is just the opposite.

The United States at this juncture would be well advised to dispense with its utopian formulations on Pakistan’s potential for peaceful formulations. India too at this juncture would be better advised to dispense with its fixations that the United States would be able to exercise leverages to restrain Pakistan and prod Pakistan towards peace with India.

To substantiate that the formulation of a United States-Pakistan-India Trinity is a delusionary and is an impractical proposition, this paper proceeds to examine the inter-se relationships between the three nations and highlight the inherent contradictions that plague their relationships.

Pakistan-United States Relations : Six Decades of Transactional Engagement, Strategic Expediencies, Trust Deficit & With Irretrievable Rupture a Possibility

Pakistan-United States Relations are best summed up by the heading above. It has been an unnatural strategic relationship which the United States nurtured on grounds of strategic expediency and let it sprout as an Islamic Jihadi monster now showing its fangs to its main patron and benefactor-that is the United States.

Strategic reality check of the Pakistan-United States relationship throws up the following main deductions (1) Pakistan has strategically jettisoned its strategic relationship with the United States in 2011 and, whatever shreds were remnant (2) Pakistan Army today is in strategic defiance of the United States emboldened to do so with China now militarily in a position to challenge the United States and China embedded in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Pakistan-China communication and logistics links upgraded to enable Chinese build up in Pakistan to pre-empt any US military intervention (3) Perception weighing heavily in Pakistani policy establishment that the United States needs Pakistan to facilitate a safe US exit from Afghanistan and that the United States can be twisted around.

In all the years past, the United States in every decade stood blackmailed by the Pakistan Army and yield to its strategic sensitivities both in relation to India and also lately on Afghanistan. The United States all along in a manner unbecoming of a Superpower buckled before this failed state and rogue nuclear and terrorist state.

In terms of future perspectives it seems that the United States would never ever pull itself out from the strategic rut of its trust-deficit ridden engagement with Pakistan. The latest example being US Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Pakistan last month where the stern warnings to Islamabad preceding the visit to Pakistan stood unabashedly replaced by soft cooing during the visit and placatory statements by the US Secretary of State in the Congressional hearings thereafter.

Confounding United States well wishers and heavily weighing in their readings of US policy formulations is as to what strategic compulsions compel the United States to cohabit with a Pakistan unabashedly in strategic concubinage of China.

In terms of future perspectives again, it seems that the United States would be unable to retrieve Pakistan to its strategic advantage when nearly 70% of the Pakistan Army military hierarchy is reported to lean heavily towards Taliban both for religious and political compulsions.

Added to this is the widely recognized dismal prognosis that Pakistan under Pakistan Army tight grip is headed towards state-failure and fragmentation.

Wit this sort of dismal perspectives how can the United States ever hope that Pakistan can be co-opted into some sort of a strategic trinity in South Asia to further US strategic ends in the region.

United States-India Relationship: Estranged Democracies, Strategic Engagement, United States Reversing Gears Post 9/11 and American Continued Appeasement of Pakistan

The above is a summation of the entire course of the United States-India relationship in the decades past. In 2011, despite a decade of what is termed as the US-India Strategic Partnership, the reality is that the world’s most powerful democracy and the largest democracy still stand divided by “The Pakistan Factor” in US policy formulations and the United States “China Hedging Strategy”.

Pakistan and China figure heavily in India’s military threat perceptions and both have indulged in unprovoked aggressions against India in addition to destabilizing India’s internal security through arms aid to outfits waging war against the Indian State.

In India where public opinion cannot be discounted or ignored by the policy establishment like in Pakistan and China, except for a handful of Pakistan apologists and a handful of China apologists, Indian public opinion is vehemently against any Indian Government appeasement of Pakistan and China and especially under external pressure.

The United States if it had unreservedly moved forward to consolidate and add substance to the US-India Strategic Partnership would have put in place a strategic game-changer in place in Asian security to American advantage and consequently scrubbed away India’s strategic reservations on United States demonstrated performance in South Asia of pronounced strategic tilts towards Pakistan and China.

India-Pakistan peace is therefore strategically impossible till such time the United States transforms the very strategic premises of its South Asian policy formulations and permits the natural balance of power to prevail in South Asia.

Till that occurs, the effort of the United States to nudge India towards a normalized relation with Pakistan is unrealistic. Further as a follow-up of the above, a United States-Pakistan-India Strategic Trinity would remain as a delusionary formulation.

Pakistan-India Relations: Pakistan Army’s Visceral Hatred of India, Pakistan Army’s Imperial Pretensions of being a Strategic Co-Equal of India and Destabilizing India as Strategic Proxy of China.

Pakistan-India relations do not have any independent dynamics of their own. Pakistan-India relations have been held a captive hostage to United States policy formulations of tactical expediencies and China’s grand strategy of containment of India through proxy use of Pakistan as a regional spoiler state.

Unfortunately, the Indian policy establishment has consistently failed in trading India’s power potential attributes with the United States and China to recast their Pakistan policies formulations in a manner that can restrain the Pakistan Army’s strategic delinquencies.

Pakistan Army’s military mindsets towards India would need to be drastically recast if the United States can ever expect that normalized relations between India and Pakistan is an attainable US end-objective.

In 2011 it seems analytically that the United States has lost all its political and strategic leverages over Pakistan, and China can no longer be enlisted by the United States to discipline Pakistan.

If that be so, and which is increasingly taking shape as a reality, then the next question that needs to be answered by the United States is whether the United States has any options up its sleeve to configure a political and security environment in South Asia where it can still prevail over a Pakistan Army’s increasingly intransigent postures towards United States and India.

Politically and strategically the odds are stacked heavily against any Pakistan –India normalization of relations for the simple reason that no Indian governing political dispensation can politically afford to barter away Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek etc and all the other demands dear to the Pakistan Army heart.

The characteristics of Pakistan-India relations outlined above completely rule out any movement towards sustainable peace and normalization between these two adversarial nations. Also stands conclusively ruled out is the flawed United States obsession that there can be brought about a United States-Pakistan-India Strategic Trinity formulation.

Concluding Observations

United States policy formulations in South Asia over the last six decades have in 2011 thrown up a painful strategic end-result where the United States not only has lost Pakistan but also created a Pakistan which feels emboldened to flaunt its open defiance against the United States and the Pakistan Army Chief making statements implicit in which was the threat of nuclear retaliation against the United States.

As a consequence of this, the United States has also lost heavily on India as the “The Pakistan Factor” and “China Hedging Strategy” which predominate US policy formulations in South Asia were sore strategic thumbs for the Indian policy establishment and the Indian public opinion about the genuineness of United States intentions to forge a strong, vibrant and substantial US-India Strategic Partnership and thereby moving beyond rhetoric to demonstrated strategic initiatives.

The common US refrain that India itself is hesitant to enter into a substantial strategic relationship is incorrect as it are the US strategic ambiguities which prompt India to be hesitant.

The United States has to make a stark strategic choice at this juncture. It has to jettison its long held belief that it can facilitate Pakistan-India normalization of relations and move towards some semblance of United States-Pakistan-India Strategic Trinity in South Asia whose end aim seems to be containment of China. This is a delusion that needs to be dispensed with by the United States forthwith.

The United States can strategically afford to lose Pakistan but the United States can ill-afford to lose India as a strategic partner for the future.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: [email protected])


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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