US-Pakistan Denouement: Strategic Implications For India


By Dr Subhash Kapila

United States –Pakistan denouement in their so-called strategic partnership currently underway was inevitable as this relationship was never founded on the basis of sound long-lasting strategic convergences or shared values. Both the United States and Pakistan over the last five decades enjoyed only spasmodic proximity and that too when tactical expediencies on both sides prompted such a proximity.

Afghanistan in two different decades brought about two intense proximities in United States-Pakistan military relationship. The First United States-Pakistan involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s emerged with the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in1979. The United States and Pakistan had a strategic convergence in working together to see the exit of the Soviets from Afghanistan, and they succeeded.

The Second United States-Pakistan Involvement in Afghanistan arose from United States ultimatums and coercion applied to Pakistan to combine in US Global War on Terror against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, both entities having been given facilities and infrastructure in Pakistan-Occupied Afghanistan till 2001. Tactical expediency dictated Pakistan succumbing to American dictates, but not without Pakistan Army double-timing the United States all along since 2002.

This time around, there was no strategic convergences between the United States and the Pakistan Army. The United States and Pakistan had not only different strategic agenda but one could say opposing agenda. The Pakistan Army’s end-game in Afghanistan this time was to bide time, induce combat fatigue in United States war effort and thereby prompt a military exit of the United Sates from Afghanistan. Thereafter the Pakistan Army could once again reclaim Afghanistan as its strategic depth against India, once again through the Taliban nurtured in Pakistani safe-havens.

The past decade of the 2000s post-2001 in terms of United States-Pakistan relationship ostensibly termed as a strategic partnership witnessed a marked “trust-deficit” between the United States and its Major Non-NATO Ally. Till 2007 or so this trust-deficit was kept in muted contours by both sides. Post-2007 and especially after General Kayani took over as Pakistan Army Chief, the muted contours of the trust-deficit between the United States and Pakistan started seeping into public domain.

This decade of the 2000s also witnessed the tangential impact on India of the United States-Pakistan Army troubled relationship. The United States in a vain bid to keep the Pakistan Army on its right side so that it does not impede the US war effort in Afghanistan and also to keep US logistics routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan open, indulged in unabashed policies of pressurizing the Indian policy establishment to what can be termed as appeasement policies towards Pakistan Army’s strategic sensitivities.

The Indian policy establishment throughout this decade of 2000s kept succumbing to United States pressures to keep resuming the India-Pakistan Peace Dialogues which India kept calling off after every major terrorist strikes from Pakistan against India, the last notable one being the nationally traumatic 26/11 commando-trained attack on Mumbai.

Pointedly asserted in my Papers on this issue repeatedly in the last few years was the fact that the Indian Prime Minister in pursuance of his pro-American policies was succumbing to American pressures on policies designed to appease Pakistan Army’s strategic sensitivities. This approach was in a state of severe disconnect with Indian public opinion which wanted no truck with Pakistan until it resiled from terrorism.

Currently when the United States itself perceives that United States-Pakistan relations may have headed towards an irretrievable damage, it becomes pertinent to point out to the Indian policy establishment that its Pakistan policy postulations would need serious revision. After all the architecture of India’s policy formulations on Pakistan in the past decade were crafted from Washington’s perspectives than India’s national security interests.

United States-Pakistan denouement in their relationship was in the offing since 2007 but was kept in muted contours by both nations and more so by the United States. However in the opening months of 2011 this denouement has spilled out in the public domain over the well publicized case of US diplomat Raymond Davis presently in custody of Pakistan in Lahore.

Strategic implications arise for India in whatever outcome and course of action emerges from the ongoing spat between the United States and Pakistan which with each passing day is acquiring highly emotive and political overtones, rather than being confined to an issue to be settled through quiet diplomacy.

This Paper intends to focus broadly on the issue of overall United States-Pakistan denouement and its strategic implications for India with a discussion under the following heads:

  • United States-Pakistan Denouement: The Major Issues of Friction
  • Breakdown in Relations Between United States and Pakistan Intelligence Agencies
  • US Secretary of State Recent Observations on Pakistan Analyzed
  • United States Follow-up Pakistan Policy Options: Perspectives
  • Strategic Implications for India Arising From United States Follow-up Pakistan Policy Options.

United States-Pakistan Denouement: The Major Issues of Friction

Strong ‘trust-deficit’ has always hovered singularly over United States-Pakistan relationship ever since the early 1950s when both nations embarked on an opportunistic relationship. Long term strategic convergences between United States and Pakistan which could have cemented their military relationship and led to a substantive strategic partnership have failed to emerge.

Pakistan’s tainted reputation as an opportunistic and readily available as a ‘rentier state’ and a ‘regional spoiler state’ affected its image as a dependable state and a durable ally of the United States when the Pakistan-China strategic nexus is considered. As reiterated in many of my Papers, if when the chips are down and Pakistan is forced into making a strategic choice between China and the United States, Pakistan would align with China.

In the onset of 2011, the major issues of friction between the United States and Pakistan can be said to be existing on three major issues. These are as follows (1) Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy postures and approaches to United States stabilization of Afghanistan (2) United States’ fears about Pakistan’s growing nuclear weapons arsenal and the security and safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (3) Pakistan Army’s continued patronage of Islamic Jihadi outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and others.

United States stabilization of Afghanistan and its continued embedment there is a United States strategic imperative of the United States. This is diametrically opposite to Pakistan Army’s fixative obsession to reclaim Afghanistan for its strategic depth strategy. Hence Pakistan Army’s continued hosting of the Afghan Taliban Shura, keeping the Pakistan-Afghanistan border porous for Taliban operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan Army Chief’s continued refusal to launch military operations in North Waziristan.

The United States has had serious concerns on Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal safety, its record of WMD proliferation to Iran and North Korea and refusal to give access to Dr A Q Khan for questioning in relation to Pakistan’s WMD proliferation. Topping all these concerns is the undeniable reality of rogue elements of Pakistan Army passing on nuclear materials for use by Islamic Jihadis as a ‘dirty nuclear device’ against Homeland USA.

On control of terrorism and restraining Pakistan Army’s continued patronage to Islamic Jihadi outfits like the Laskar-e-Toiba, the Pakistan Army establishment is in total defiance of the United States.

On all of the above contentious issues of concern to the United States, it is the Pakistan Army and its ISI which is the central actor and controlling authority. Why is then the United States tolerating Pakistan Army’s shenanigans? Why is it that the United States instead of ‘disciplining’ the Pakistan Army continues to pressurize India to yield to Pakistan Army’s dictates to the United States that India should yield on Kashmir, India should demilitarize Kashmir by withdrawing troops, and that the United States should not allow India to effect a presence in Afghanistan?

Obviously, the United States has allowed itself to be blackmailed by the Pakistan Army establishment which not forgetting continues to exist on heavy doses of United Sates military aid and largesse.

The situation in February 2011 has reached a tipping point where as the Washington Post put it that the US policy establishment has finally begun facing the harsh reality that “Pakistan and the United States have entirely different narratives about their bilateral relationship” and that “United States politicians are questioning the continued strategic utility of United States-Pakistan relationship”.

Break down in Relations between United States and Pakistan Intelligence Agencies

The bedrock of the United States-Pakistan relationship, irrespective of the varying intensities had been the close links and close cooperation between the CIA and the ISI, the respective intelligence agencies of the United States and Pakistan. At the beginning of 2011 it is increasingly being said in media reports that there has been a virtual breakdown in the CIA-ISI relationship to the extent that they are not communicating with each other.

In fact the recent highest military level meetings between the US Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen and Pakistan Army Chief of Staff, General Kayani, at Oman on February 24, the CIA and the ISI representation were conspicuous by their absence. In fact this meeting though reported as reviewing Afghanistan operations was held basically to arrest the downslide in relations between the intelligence agencies of United States and Pakistan.

Revealing in this connection are the reported remarks of former Pakistan Army Chief General Karamat who was also a former Pakistan Ambassador to USA, carried in the media. He is reported to have said:

  • “The United States said that once beyond the tipping point, the situation would be taken over by political forces that cannot be controlled”, referring to the reported split between the CIA and the ISI.
  • “The United States did not want the United States-Pakistan relationship to go into a free-fall under media and domestic pressures. This consideration drove it (USA) to ask Pak Generals to step in and do what the Governments were failing to do…”
  • “The militaries will now brief their civilian masters and hopefully bring a change in US-Pak relations by arresting the downhill slide”

Obviously, the breakdown in relations between the American and Pakistani intelligence agencies has reached serious proportions. The Pakistani intelligence agencies are accusing United States CIA of flooding Pakistan with agents under diplomatic cover who are more intent on acquiring intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal and penetrating Islamic Jihadi terrorism affiliates of the Pakistan Army.

It seems doubtful that the traditional close relationship between the United States and Pakistani intelligence agencies that existed in earlier years could be substantially retrieved and healed.

US Secretary of State’s Recent Observations on Pakistan Analyzed

Reinforcing the emerging trend of US-Pak relations skating on thin ice are the recent public remarks of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s on Pakistan. She is reported to have observed that Pakistan faces major instabilities at home and that Pakistan should stop fomenting anti-American sentiments and that shocking and unjustified anti-Americanism will not resolve Pakistan’s problems.

More pointedly, Secretary of State Clinton stated that US relations with Pakistan have plummeted to their lowest point in recent years.

Obviously, these remarks of the US Secretary of State were not careless remarks but made with full deliberation and for effect. Such remarks emanating from the highest level of United States foreign policy establishment indicates that something has seriously gone amiss in United States-Pakistan relations.

That this criticality in United States-Pakistan relationship has emerged at a coincident moment when United States Forces in Southern Afghanistan are making headway against Taliban strongholds is ominous. The Davis case seems to be only a pretext for the Pakistan military establishment to a tipping point where the United States yields further to Pakistan Army blackmails or failing which the United States is forced to a military exit from Afghanistan. This is not conspiracy theorizing.

It needs to be reiterated that Pakistan’s foreign policy on United States, Afghanistan and India is under direct control of the Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani. Therefore, deductively it can be stated that the downslide in United States-Pakistan relations currently underway and the lowest point that has been reached as observed by Secretary Clinton, has taken place with the full knowledge of the Pakistan Army Chief.

It is not without purpose that in Pakistan media reports, General Kayani is being attributed as having observed that Pakistan is the most bullied ally of the United States and that ‘the real aim of United States strategy is to de-nuclearize Pakistan’. Such assertions by General Kayani can whip up nationalistic fervor and also position General Kayani in Pakistan’s political space.

Such observations at the highest levels of the Pakistan military establishment raise serious policy and strategic dilemmas for the United States in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan. And its strategic implications for India cannot be far behind especially when India’s Pakistan policy is so much enmeshed in serving Washington’s strategic interests in Pakistan.

United States Follow-up Pakistan Policy Options: Perspectives

United States follow-up Pakistan policy options in the wake of the Davis episode would necessarily be based on the consideration of anti-American stances of the Pakistan Army establishment since 2007, the anti-American hysteria whipped up by Pakistan’s right wing groups affiliated to the Pakistan Army and what the Pakistani establishment proposes to do to resolve the Davis issue.

Additionally, the political heat presently in evidence at the top political levels and the CIA-ISI rupture would also be strong determinants. The United States would also have to take into account the impact of strained US-Pak relations on its operations in Afghanistan. In any case Pakistan has been allowing the disruption of US logistics effort through Pakistan quite frequently.

The United States would have lately gone through scenario-building exercises and war-gaming of contingencies likely to emerge from the strained relations with Pakistan. It is not possible to discuss all these in this Paper. Suffice it to say, that the United States follow-up options essentially boil down to the “Hard Option” and the “Soft Option’.

The Hard Option of the United States could initially involve strong use of political, economic and diplomatic coercion, including cut- off of military and financial aid, to make the Pakistani establishment yield on all American demands extending from the Davis episode to launching of Pak Army offensives in North Waziristan and secure logistics to Afghanistan. It is premature to visualize military intervention against Pakistan at this stage. It would be an extreme last resort arising more from another 9/11 against the United States.

The Soft Option would be to maintain the status-quo of the frayed US-Pak relationship and perpetuate the myth of a strategic partnership. Pakistan would be cajoled to release Davis from captivity and his exit from Pakistan. United States would continue business as usual with the Pakistan Army, at least till 2014.

The contextual regional security and political environment would suggest that the United States is more likely to adopt the Soft Option. However, the Soft Option adoption by the United States may not reduce the friction with Pakistan. The Pakistan Army establishment is likely to read it as American capitulation and persist in its blackmailing tactics.

As US Forces make headway in stabilization of Afghanistan, the more are the chances of Pakistan Army indulging in retrograde disruptive activities in Afghanistan not only through the Taliban but also through its affiliates like the Lashkar-e-Toiba This could strain US-Pak relations further.

Analytically, an inescapable strategic imperative for the United States would be for a radical transformation of its relationship with the Pakistani military establishment and the recasting of priorities in South Asia.

Strategic Implications Arising for India from United States Follow-up Pakistan Policy Options

Strategic implications for India in terms of Pakistan Army confrontationist stances have been a recurrent reality independent of the state of health of US-Pak relations for over the last half a century. This constancy of strategic implications arise from the hostile and confrontational Pakistan Army attitudinal approaches towards India manifested as follows (1) Proxy war in Kashmir (2) Widened and enlarged terrorist attacks all over India (3) Unprovoked border incidents and clashes along the LOC (4) Pak-China strategic nexus as an anti-Indian strategy (5) Hostile propaganda internationally against India over Kashmir and alleging India’s aggressive instincts.

With the US military intervention in Afghanistan vitally dependant on logistics lines through Pakistan, the Pakistan Army was provided a new weapon for use against India. The United States was now susceptible to Pakistan Army blackmail for use of US pressures on India to be accommodative to Pakistan Army stances on the Kashmir issue, demilitarization of Kashmir and prevent India’s political and economic involvement in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Army strategy of blackmailing USA to pressurize India has been successful with the present Government in New Delhi repeatedly succumbing to resume dialogues with Pakistan after every major terrorist attack against India, unmindful of India’s national security interests.

Pakistan’s five manifestations of its hostile stances against India spelt out above did not cease despite Indian Government’s succumbing to US dictates favoring Pakistan. In fact Pakistan Army since 2007 has stood further emboldened under General Kayani to be more hostile to India secure in the belief of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence and United States keeping India pressurized against any retaliation against Pakistan.

In terms of United States follow-up Pakistan policy options, whether the Hard Option or the Soft Option, the crucial deduction that emerges is that in either case Pakistan stands threatened by the prospects of internal strife, Talibanization of Pakistan and possibly civil war and fragmentation.. In such an ensuing scenario where both anti-US and anti-India war hysteria is likely to be whipped up to frenzied levels, the strategic implications for India suggest heightened security vigilance, enhancing India’s war preparedness, and increasing and qualitatively improving India’s strategic weapons inventory.

If United States adopts the Soft Option as a follow-up strategy then India can expect even much more United States pressures on India to yield on the Kashmir issue, demilitarization of Kashmir and end to Indian involvement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, as per Pakistan Army demands. The United Sates in the follow-up phase would be doubly prompted to increase pressures on India to re- rehabilitate itself with the Pakistani military establishment.

The Indian policy establishment needs to ask itself the serious question that irrespective of the health of United States-Pakistan relations, in the event of an India-Pakistan military showdown for whatever provocation would the United States standby with India against a Talibanized Pakistan? Also another critical question as to whether the increased Indian military equipment purchases from the United States would become subject to US sanctions in the event of an India-Pak conflict in the future?

Lastly, is it a strategically sound option for the Indian Prime Minister to keep acceding to repeated resumption of Peace Dialogues with Pakistan, when the very existence of Pakistan is in question? Peace Dialogues with Pakistan under US pressures can neither ensure peace for India nor swing the United States strategically in favor of India.

It is strange that leading policy advisers of US President Obama should be writing best seller books entitled “United States Deadly Embrace of Pakistan” and the US Administration in a doublespeak pressurizing India to go in for a “Deadly Embrace with the Pakistan Army”.

Concluding Observations

The United States-Pakistan so called strategic partnership has all along been a myth. It has now entered a severe denouement phase where damage control may be able to temporarily retrieve a semblance of normalcy but it will be a relationship that will continue to skate perilously on thin ice.

In the 1950s and 1960s when India was strategically infirm, India followed an independent policy on Pakistan. Today when India is strategically powerful and strong, the Indian Prime Minister of seven years standing has remained silent on the crucial issue as to what strategic advantages accrue to India by repeated resumption of Peace Dialogues with Pakistan under United States pressures.

India cannot mortgage its national security to the pro-US political inclinations of policy establishment or to US persuasive assessments fed to the Indian Prime Minister that Pakistan Army would be more forthcoming for peace with India if concessions were made on Kashmir.

The major strategic implications that arise for India from the falling-out of the United States and Pakistan, and irrespective whether the United States adopts the Hard Approach or the Soft Approach, India would have to enhance its security vigilance, achieve high levels of war -preparedness and be politically ready for strong deterrent actions to counter any Pakistan Army adventurism. This is all the more necessary especially when the Pakistan Army is headed by a Pakistan Army Chief who openly flaunts that he is “India-Centric” and stands rated by US intelligence establishment as the most anti-Indian Pak Army Chief ever in Pakistan’s history.

(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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