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Pakistan-US Strategic Denouement: India’s Policy Options – Analysis


By Dr. Subhash Kapila

India’s foreign policy options on Pakistan and the fundamental flaws in the premises of India’s foreign policy imposed at the highest levels of foreign policy formulation and decision-making were once again on full display during the Foreign Ministers Meeting in the last week of July 2011 in New Delhi.

In the bleak political landscape that dominates Pakistan-India Peace Dialogues for the last six decades, Indian media and its strategic community went overboard in terming the July Meeting as a new spring in Pakistan-India relations and some described it as a new beginning. It was neither, as the current Foreign Ministers Meeting in New Delhi was nothing more than a repeat of past performances. Nothing substantial was achieved with the focus more on the attractive personality of the first woman Foreign Minister of Pakistan and her sartorial preferences. This was to be expected in the absence of any substantial headway being ever made in such Peace Dialogues in the last two decades.

Pakistan and India ‘manufacture’ these spasmodic Peace Dialogues to continue in the good books of the United States for their own respective reasons. The United States too has had a vested interest in these manufactured dialogues as long as it served US national security interests vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Hopefully with Pakistan now virtually in jettisoning its strategic partnership with the United States, new dynamics could overtake the fundamental premises of India-Pakistan Peace Dialogues. Notwithstanding that India needs to dispense with its present unrealistic policy premises that impel it to seek Peace Dialogues with Pakistan.

In January 2011 in my Paper entitled “ Pakistan’s Abysmal Decline: India’s Policy Options (SAAG Paper No. 4286 dated 20 January 2011, ) I had outlined four policy options for India and recommended the last policy option, Option IV as “Disengagement: Ignore Pakistan, Maintaining Only Minimal Diplomatic Relations” as the most preferred option contextually.

India’s foreign policy towards Pakistan since 2004 stands characterized by two striking features. The first one was that India’s foreign policy on Pakistan stood outsourced to the United States where India’s national security interests stood subordinated to United States predilections to pander to the strategic sensitivities of the Pakistan Army on Kashmir and India’s legitimate strategic interests in Afghanistan.

The second characteristic of India’s foreign policy on Pakistan was heavily dominated by the Indian Prime Minister’s personal obsession with the policy preference of peace at any cost with Pakistan, irrespective of its negative impact on India’s national security interests and Indian security. In pursuance of this objective he seems to have been supported by India’s National Security Adviser right from Havana, to Sharm al Shaikh and Thimpu.

Both of these luminaries stood severely disconnected from prevailing Indian public opinion as were the liberalist glitterati that adorns South Delhi drawing rooms and were active advocates of the establishment’s policy formulations on Pakistan.

However since January 2011 when my last Paper on India’s policy options on Pakistan was published and August 2011 the political and security environment in South Asia and more importantly within Pakistan itself has changed drastically.


Pakistan’s abysmal decline continues to be a constant but with the overall strategic and political environment in South Asia making a nose-dive with the strategic denouement in Pakistan-United States strategic partnership becoming frayed and untenable.

United States and Pakistan in mid-2011 can be said to be in a Cold War with each other with each passing day throwing new irritants. Despite the rhetoric, the harsh reality today is that the United States is in no position to retrieve Pakistan from its inevitable implosion.

Significantly, for the first time in the history of United States-Pakistan relations the Pakistan Army is in an openly adversarial mode and resentful of the United States and to this trend when it is added that the surrogates of the Pakistan Army are Jihadi terrorist groups, the end message is ominous for both the United States and India.

Since India’s foreign policy on Pakistan was strongly predicated on United States strategic interests in Pakistan and with the United States itself now engaged in a painful reappraisal of its policy formulations on Pakistan after the events of May 2011, it becomes imperative for India to recast its policy approaches on Pakistan.

India’s political leadership need no longer be weighed down by erstwhile United States policy perspectives on Pakistan but now recast its Pakistan formulations strictly based on India’s national security interests.

Once again one even at the cost of repetition from earlier Papers some critical and essential points need to be re-emphasized as India rightfully reappraises the premises of its own Pakistan policy formulations.

This Paper would like to examine the following aspects in this direction:

  • Peace with Pakistan Politically Desirable But Strategically Impossible
  • Pakistan’s Major Impediments on Peace with India: Pakistan Army-ISI-Jihadi Outfits
  • Indian For eign Policy Establishment Needs to Learn Lessons from United States Policy Experiences on Pakistan
  • Pakistan’s Changed Foreign Policy Preferences Following Pakistan-United States Strategic Denouement
  • India’s Foreign Policy on Pakistan: Imperatives for Revision of Perspectives and Course Corrections

Peace With Pakistan Politically Desirable But Strategically Impossible

Peace with Pakistan is an eminently desirable political objective and has been relentlessly pursued by India for years without any visible progress. The same cannot be said of Pakistan’s intentions and motives.

The major reason besides others is that India’s and Pakistan’s narratives on peaceful relations between the two are opposing and contradictory. India’s pursuit of peace with Pakistan is a political objective based on the presumption that Pakistan is a “Normal State” and therefore peace with Pakistan is achievable with patient and sustained dialogue engagement.

Pakistan’s narrative for peace with India is primarily determined by strategic objectives right across the board ranging from Kashmir to Siachin. Every issue is weighed by Pakistan in terms of strategic losses and gains and its policy establishment’s compulsive obsession that Pakistan is a strategic co-equal of India.

While space exists in pursuance of political objectives for mutual concessions, no space is available for negotiating concessions when Pakistan’s objectives in Peace Dialogues with India are determined by strategic objectives.

The very contentious issues that Pakistan raises as disputes in Peace Dialogues are strategic for India too and no Indian Government can politically afford to compromise on them. On strategic issues Indian public opinion is very sensitive and no Indian Government can be in a state of “severe disconnect” from Indian public opinion.

More fundamentally, how can Peace Dialogues between Pakistan and India move successfully when the strategic aims of the Pakistan Army which controls Pakistan’s policy approaches towards India are militarily aimed at downsizing India by asymmetric warfare in Kashmir and Pakistan Army surrogates terrorists attacks enveloping Heartland India. If that was not enough Pakistan Army’s overdrive to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal to outstrip India are not indicators of a ‘Normal State” .

Pakistani Foreign Ministers when they come for Peace Dialogues with India do not come with mandates of the Pakistani President or their Prime Minister. They come with the heavy baggage of the dictates of a historically virulent Anti-Indian Pakistan Army. Peace with India nowhere figures in the strategic vision of the Pakistan Army.

Pakistan’s Major Impediments on Peace with India: Pakistan Army-ISI-Jihadi Outfits

Pakistan constantly propagates a myth which the Indian policy establishment gulps down without questioning and that is that Pakistan-India Peace Dialogues are disrupted by non-state actors indulging in terrorists attacks against India.

Further Pakistan and some Pakistan-apologists within India indulge in a constant refrain that the India-Pakistan Peace Process should not be interrupted by such attacks and made non-interruptible.

Pray may one ask as to whom within Pakistan, choreographs, finances, facilitates and provides logistics backing to such non-state actors in their terrorist attacks and bombings in India in a well calibrated campaign. The answer is obvious but yet overlooked by the Indian policy establishment by stopping short of naming the real culprits.

The culprits and major impediments which forestall any India-Pakistan Peace Process arise from the unholy trinity of the Pakistan Army-ISI-Jihadi Outfits set up by the Pakistan Army and patronized by them as an instrument of asymmetric warfare against India and also an instrument of state policy

Unless the people of Pakistan gather the will to smash this unholy trinity and shake off the stranglehold of the Pakistan Army over Pakistan’s foreign policy, peace between India and Pakistan is neither politically or strategically impossible.

Indian Foreign Policy Establishment Needs to Learn Lessons from United States Policy Experiences on Pakistan

United States policy experiences on Pakistan contextually available currently should aptly illuminate the minds and thinking of India’s political leaders and policy establishment.

Whether the United States admits or not but the fact is that the following lessons emerge from the United States policy experiences on Pakistan:

  • The Pakistan Army which solely determinates Pakistan’s foreign and strategic policies is not a reliable entity in terms of external pledges and commitments.
  • Pakistan Army Chiefs from General Zia to General Musharraf and now General Kayani reneged on strategic pledges made to the United States.
  • Pakistan Army’s military adventurism propensities ere not confined to India only. It extended to Afghanistan and against United States Forces in Afghanistan.

Since 2007 the United States has attempted to shore up the civilian government in Pakistan. President Zardari’s attempts to normalize relations with India with US blessings stand neutralized by the Pakistan Army.

Pakistan as a nation-state under the grip of the Pakistan Army is not a trustworthy political entity for substantive peace talks. The repetitive resumption of Peace Dialogues between Pakistan and India were so far choreographed by the Pakistan Army to create impact in Washington and not for any substantive gains on peace in South Asia.

With the United States now remaining a faint blip on Pakistan Army’s radar it is open to question whether the Pakistan Army would have now even the faintest of urges for peace with India.

Further, if the Pakistan Army could not prove itself as a loyal and trustworthy entity for the United States on whose munificence the Pakistan Army depended for its lifelines, how can the Pakistan Army be expected to remove the trust-deficit in Pakistan-India relations?

Pakistan’s Changed Policy Preferences Following United States-Pakistan Strategic Denouement

Pakistan since 2007 and with General Kayani firing strategic broadsides against both the United States and India put both nations on notice that both relationships were henceforth going to be churned up by the Pakistan Army.

The United States was blinded in not taking due notice due to its dependency of logistics compulsions of its Afghanistan operations on Pakistan. India with no such compulsions reflexively continued to outsource its Pakistan policy to Washington and the Indian Prime Minister’s personal obsession with peace at any cost with Pakistan.

Both India and the United States stood checkmated by Pakistan from2007 to 2011. It is now only that the United States has woken up to the emerging realities while the Indian policy establishment is still in the erstwhile stupor induced by the United States in terms of India’s Pakistan policy formulations.

Pakistan policy establishment from 2007 has cashed on its strategic nexus with China both as a pressure point against the United States by playing the China Card and requesting China to put military pressures on India so that its military diversion of troops from Pakistan’s Eastern borders to Afghan border does not militarily imbalance Pakistan.

When the dots are joined, this policy from 2007 onwards become apparent with China ratcheting up pressures on Arunachal Pradesh as Southern Tibet, increased incursions in the Ladakh Sector, and move of Chinese Troops into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir under the guise of construction teams.

Pakistan had made its strategic preferences clear that when cornered strategically it would opt for China even against the United States. This was being forewarned in my Papers of the period.

Post-Abbottabad military operations by the United States, Pakistan was clear that it now stood fully cornered by the United States, and it therefore went into an overdrive with its leaders and military hierarchy making a beeline for Beijing, Kabul, Teheran, Ankara and Riyadh.

Pakistan in pursuance of its changed policy preferences is now in the process of crafting an Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan Strategic Triangle and a China-Iran Pakistan Strategic Triangle.

Both these changed policy preferences of Pakistan’s foreign policy have in attendance significant strategic implications for India and need to be seriously evaluated by India’s policy establishment.

India’s policy prism on Pakistan can no longer be confined to a bilateral context. India’s Pakistan Policy and the premises prompting Peace Dialogues with Pakistan have now acquired wider context and with the exception of China, it seems that Pakistan is now adding a Pan-Islamic context to its policy stances against India and the United States.

India’s Foreign Policy on Pakistan: Imperatives for Revision of Perspectives and Course Corrections

India’s foreign policy on Pakistan must revise its perspectives on Pakistan as per the emerging strategic realities in August 2011 and these are:

  • United States capabilities to influence Pakistan’s foreign policy through its leverages over the Pakistan Army stand severely curtailed after May 2011 and future perspectives do not suggest that the situation can be retrieved by the United States in its favor.
  • The spin-off from the above is that India can no longer expect the United States to exercise restraining influences on the Pakistan Army to curb its proxy war and terrorism against India which was one policy expectation that the present Government banked heavily upon.
  • Pakistan’s revised foreign policy preferences indicate a staking out of new strategic turf which by its nature is more adversarial to the United States.
  • Pakistan’s new strategic turf in foreign policy preference offers no space for its new strategic partners to exercise strategic restraint against India which was erstwhile being exercised by the United States’

All of the above factors negate the long-held premises of India’s foreign policy formulations on Pakistan.

Referring back to the Options I to Options IV of my Paper referred above, Option I of ‘Persisting in Continuation of United States Template” currently gets ruled out conclusively. Option II of “Adopt the Intellectuals Advisory of Pakistan Appeasement at Any Cost” which was a corollary of the above fostered by the United States within India also currently becomes irrelevant when the United States itself is absorbed in redefining US relationship with Pakistan necessitated by the widening ‘trust-deficit’ with Pakistan and Pakistan’s new foreign policy preferences to offset its strategic cornering by the United States.

However the situation is not all that gloomy for the Indian policy establishment in terms of future options and course-corrections provided it reads the tea leaves correctly in terms of emerging perspectives on Pakistan and as a prelude dispensing with its existing mindsets on peace with Pakistan at any cost.

Pakistan cornered strategically by the United States and forging new strategic partnerships as an alternative would be plagued by strategic uncertainties till such time its new relationships concretize. Rightfully, Pakistan at the same time should be revaluating the contentious strategic content of its policy formulations on India bereft of the United States prop and US pressures on India.

Rightfully, in view of contextual strategic circumstances the Indian policy establishment should expect and let it be known to Pakistan in subtle political signaling that it has to transform its approaches to India to one of greater amenability by shedding or softening the strategic content of its India policy objectives to one of political and economic content.

Till such time strategic realities dawn on the Pakistan policy establishment that peace in South Asia is not a one way street and that Pakistan Army has no alternative but to tango with India for peace in South Asia, Options III and IV stated in my Paper referred above remain as the only viable policy options for the Indian policy establishment.

Option III “Subsidize and Assist in Economic Development of Pakistan and Promotion of Democracy” a factor ignored by the Pakistan Army, remains relevant and irrefutable. This course correction is rightfully aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the Pakistani masses and especially the 30% young generation.

Option IV “Disengage and Ignore Pakistan, Maintaining Only Minimal Diplomatic Relations” is not aimed at the Pakistani public for whom all Indians wish well. This course correction is aimed at the Pakistan Army and its supporting establishment that peace with India is only possible when the Pakistan Army sheds its grip on Pakistan’s foreign policy and governance and thereby allowing Pakistan to emerge as a “Normal State”.

It needs to be emphasized that “Ignore Pakistan” does not imply ignoring the Pakistani peoples but ‘Ignore the Pakistan Army’ and hoping in the process that Pakistani peoples themselves realize that for Pakistan to emerge as a “Normal State” a mass movement would be required to force the Pakistan Army to revert to the barracks, submit to civilian political control and the evolving of democracy in its purest connotations in Pakistan.

The Indian Prime Minister was quoted as stating some time back that “If I can succeed in normalizing relations between India and Pakistan, as they should prevail between two normal states, I would consider my job well done”.

Well said Mr. Prime Minister but the biggest flaw in India’s policy making is that it assumes that Pakistan is a “Normal State”. Pakistan is not a “Normal State” and the Indian policy establishment has remained blind to this reality in the pursuit of outsourcing its Pakistan policy to Washington.

Hence the validity of Options III and IV stand and should be adopted as valid course corrections till such time the Pakistani peoples reclaim Pakistan and transform it into a “Normal State”.

Concluding Observations

“Peace with the Pakistani Peoples” is a noble political objective for India to pursue in terms of good neighborliness. However, the Indian policy establishment should not fudge this precept by resorting to its current fixations with “Peace With Pakistan”, implicit in which is indirectly pandering to Pakistan Army’s hold over Pakistan’s India policy.

India’s Prime Minister has on many occasions helplessly remarked on Pakistan that India cannot choose its geographical neighbors and that India has to deal with whomsoever is in power in Pakistan. This is a feeble response. India as the predominant Power in South Asia may not be able to choose its neighbors but as a powerful country it can chose when and with whom in Pakistan it needs to deal with in Pakistan’s prevailing power structure.

Many times in my past Papers I have stressed that “Pakistan’s Democracy is a Strategic Imperative for India” and this is irrefutable. India has the political and strategic endurance to await the return of purist democracy in Pakistan and then only engage Pakistan in Peace Dialogues.

“India is not a Strategic Co-Equal” of Pakistan and that is what India’s successive Prime Ministers and the Indian policy establishment never ever have emphasized to the Pakistani interlocutors whether in formal Peace Dialogues or the innumerable futile Multi-Track parleys pursued behind closed doors or openly in foreign capitals.

Indian policy reluctance on this account has prompted Pakistan to box much above its weight against India. Part of this Pakistani boxing much above its weight was due to United States propping the Pakistan Army.

With that ballast gone or going, it becomes incumbent on India’s political leaders and its policy establishment to moor its Pakistan policy to more realistic strategic parameters that are emerging.

The United States itself has now called upon India to play a larger powerful role in Asian stability and security which has drawn howls of protests from the Pakistani establishment. This United States political signaling in direct contradiction to the Pakistani establishment’s oversized strategic ambitions in South Asia should serve as a stimulant to India’s foreign policy establishment and decision-makers to carry out course corrections in India’s Pakistan policy.

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

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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.

One thought on “Pakistan-US Strategic Denouement: India’s Policy Options – Analysis

  • August 6, 2011 at 7:08 am

    I think most knowledgable people in geopolitics would agree with your observations, but unfortunately, we are stuck with politicians who wants to win Noble prize and those who want to get top rankings in corruption. India is doomed, even with its size. I am waiting for Bangladesh or even Bhutan to dictate to India like Pakistan is doing now in future! Our people are far too busy in looting the wealth of the country.


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