Pakistan Army – US Strategic Relationship Meltdown Was Inevitable – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

Pakistan Army-United States strategic relationship meltdown had an inevitability attendant all along given the transactional nature of the relationship and that the stimulant for its uneasy and irritants-strewn course over a couple of decades were the spasmodic bursts of tactical expediencies which brought Pakistan and the United States into short-lived strategic embraces.

The only surprise has been that the Pakistan Army-United States strategic relationship meltdown took so long in coming when all the indicators of this inevitability were hovering from the middle of the last decade.

In a supreme act of strategic irony it was Afghanistan in the 1980s which brought Pakistan and United States strategically together in a transactional relationship and now in the closing stages of 2011 it is once again Afghanistan which now tears Pakistan and the United States asunder and ending in a meltdown of the strategic relationship.

Many would argue that once again Pakistan and the United States would bounce back to business as usual after recriminations die down and realities dawn. However the past spats between the two countries did not unfold in any Pakistan Army Chief issuing implicit warnings to United States of nuclear retaliation. Nor did Pakistan Army Chiefs issue command orders in the past to the Pakistan Army to open retaliatory fire on US Forces on the Afghan border without awaiting orders from the command chain.

Going by the extreme positions and hostile accusations being hysterically mouthed by the Pakistan Army Chief the impression that is being created is that Pakistan as an estranged Major Non-NATO Ally is today in a state of virtual war with the United States.

Obviously Pakistan-United States strategic relationship is in a state of meltdown and meltdowns are irreversible.

Pakistan - United States Relations
Pakistan - United States Relations

The emphasis in the heading of this Paper is deliberate in terms of the strategic relationship as existing only between the Pakistan Army and the United States. The people of Pakistan were neither incorporated/integrated in this strategic relationship either by the Pakistan Army or the United States.

The Pakistan Army has always maintained that it was the manifest destiny of the Pakistan Army to be the arbiter of Pakistan’s strategic, military and political fortunes and therefore was disdainful of any participation by the Pakistani people or their political support for ties with the United States.

The United States as a policy precept based its strategic relationship with the Pakistan Army on a single point agenda. This was that the Pakistan Army could be rented by the United States, and especially its apex military hierarchy to serve United States strategic ends in South Asia and contiguous regions.

The Pakistan-United States strategic relationship started taking a turn with General Kayani emerging as Pakistan Army Chief despite his reputation of being a ‘poster boy’ of the Americans. Doubletiming the United Sates on Afghanistan was prevalent in General Musharraf’s tenure also but in General Kayani’s tenure there was a visible turn towards Pakistan Army being dismissive on United States strategic demands on Afghanistan.

The year 2011 seems to have unfolded as a defining moment in the Pakistan Army-United States strategic relationship. The Pakistan Army smarting under the United States onslaughts of the Kerry-Lugar Legislation earlier and the events of 2011 in the form of the Raymond Davis incident and the American Special Forces liquidation of Osama bin Laden deep within Pakistan territory in a premier Pakistan Army garrison town completely shattered the domestic image of the Pakistan Army and its Generals.

All of the above events taken together had resulted in a political and professional diminution of Pakistan Army’s image domestically. Externally, the US-India Strategic Partnership unfolding along with the Indo-US Nuclear Deal resulted in the strategic diminution of the Pakistan Army. The Pakistan Army Generals were chafing at these turn of events forced upon them by the United States on both counts.

The event of November 26, 2011 in which United States and ISAF troops were alleged to have attacked two temporary Pakistan Army posts on the Pak-Afghan border killing 24 Pakistan Army soldiers seemed to have come as a heaven sent opportunity for Pakistan Army Chief and his Generals to retrieve Pakistan Army’s failing domestic image by whipping up strident Pakistani national hysteria on an incident whose true facts have yet to emerge. The refusal of the Pakistan Army Chief of the US offer for a joint investigation of this border incident is a pointer to the fact that Pakistan Army’s accounts of the incident are not all that honest.

What has followed in the wake of the November26, 2011 incident stands well covered in the media. However what stands out in the TV visuals of the hysterical Pakistani protest demonstrations from the composition of the crowds was that all of them seemed to be the types that are normally seen in demonstrations of Pakistani Jihadi outfits of the Lashker-e Toiba types. That should not be a surprise as they are surrogates of the Pakistan Army and its notorious ISI.

Be as it may, the crucial aspects demanding analysis are as follows: (1) Pakistan Army’s Strategic Disillusionment with the United States on Afghanistan and India (2) United States Possible Military Intervention Against Pakistan; Can China and Russia Prevent It (3) Talibanized Pakistan: Myth of being a Potent Threat.

These issues are briefly analyzed below.

Pakistan Army’s Strategic Disillusionment with the United States on Afghanistan and India

At the heart of Pakistan Army’s strategic disillusionment with the United States and the ongoing meltdown in this relationship are two obsessive strategic fixations of the Pakistan Army and its threat perceptions, namely Afghanistan and India. Pakistan Army’s transactional strategic engagements with the United States were solely determined by Pakistan Army’s perceived quid-pro-quos that rightly should accrue to Pakistan Army in return for its collusive relationship with the United States.

Afghanistan has overtaken India in terms of an immediate and over-riding strategic fixation of the Pakistan Army. Afghanistan ironically was an issue that brought Pakistan Army and the United States strategically together in the 1980s and it is Afghanistan now in 2011 that is melting down the Pakistan Army-United States strategic relationship.

Virtually coincident with President Obama’s ascent in Washington and General Kayani in Rawalpindi was the arresting of the drift in US policies on Afghanistan. Clearly enunciated was the fact that the United States had no intentions of a Saigon-like exit from Kabul, that the United States would maintain a military presence in Afghanistan till 2014 and even beyond, and the signing of a Mutual Security Treaty.

Implicit in all of the above was that the United States had no intention to support Pakistan Army’s aspirations for a Pakistan Army-friendly Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Worsening the situation for Pakistan Army was the signing of the security cooperation treaty between Afghanistan and India which would not have been possible without United States blessings.

United States opening of direct lines of communication to the Taliban additionally indicated to the Pakistan Army and the ISI that the United States was intent on sidelining Pakistan from the future processes of Afghanistan.

On Pakistan Army’s quid pro quos expected from the United States in relation to India, were Kashmir, Siachin and other contentious disputes of Pakistan Army with India. The strengthening of the US-India Strategic Partnership by India and American recognition of India’s growing clout in global affairs is galling for the Pakistan Army.

In all of the above developments the implicit message for Pakistan Army was that in view of contextual global and South Asian developments. India counted more in US strategic calculations. In Pakistan Army perceptions US policy formulations unfolding were drastically altering the South Asia balance of power in favor of India.

A change in Pakistan Army attitudes and strategic calculations pertaining to United States was therefore inevitable.

United States Possible Military Intervention Against Pakistan: Can China and Russia Prevent It?

Strategic meltdown in Pakistan-United States relationship inevitably raises the chances of a possible United States military intervention against Pakistan arising from eventualities of Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal or assets falling into Taliban hands or Pakistan Army passing on nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia or Iran.

The moot question that arises is that with the Pakistan Army on its own unable to withstand United States military intervention can it really count realistically on China and Russia to preempt or prevent it?

The answer in my opinion is that for a host of geopolitical and geostrategic reasons, both China and Russia would be unable to do so as United States can generate a number of pressure points against them.

If that be so then what is it that emboldens the Pakistan Army to indulge in strategic-defiance postures against the United States? It appears to be a case of unsustainable brinkmanship by the Pakistan Army.

Talibanized Pakistan: Myth of being a Potent Threat

The striking feature of Pakistan-United States strategic relationship in the past decade has been that both nations have been perpetuating a myth that a Talibanized Pakistan if it emerges would have horrendous and holocaust consequences for Pakistan, the United States and the region.

The myth of a Talibanized Pakistan was given disproportionate contours chiefly in relation to the eventuality of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal coming under the control of the Taliban.

The Pakistan Army perpetuated this myth to propagate its indispensability as the only force standing between a stable Pakistan and a Taliban takeover with grave strategic and political consequences.

The United States perpetuated this myth to justify its pumping in billions of dollars in Pakistan Army’s coffers as unjustified payments for a rental Pakistan Army and bribing it to stay the course in its collusive strategies with the United States.

It is forgotten by Pakistan observers that the Taliban is a creation of the Pakistan Army and continues to be relevant to Pakistan Army strategies as a strategic asset to be used against Afghanistan and India and now even against the United States.

It is also forgotten that for the Pakistan Army, its nuclear weapons arsenal is its currency of power both domestically and externally too and more so even as a weapon of last resort. The Pakistan Army will never permit to allow the Taliban to get control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal unless it occurs as an insider job.

The above is therefore an eventuality that neither the Pakistan Army nor the United States can prevent. It is for this reason that the United States has contingency plans to take control of Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal by force too if so warranted.

Should a Talibanized Pakistan become a reality then too going by the historical record of radical regimes elsewhere, a Taliban regime in Pakistan would hardly have the strategic guts to indulge in nuclear weapons adventurism or take a plea that some non-state actors have done so. In both cases the consequences for both Pakistan and a Taliban regime in control of Pakistan would be self- destructive.

It is time that this myth is quietly buried and not allowed to distort United States policies and formulations on Pakistan that plagued America so far and now has resulted in the meltdown.

Concluding Observations

The Pakistan-United States strategic relationship is already in a meltdown process. As is the case with all meltdown processes such a process is irreversible. The resultant outcome of a meltdown process for Pakistan and the United States is that both will be left holding with the slug of imperatives to change their respective strategic evaluations of each others strategic indispensability.

Pakistan Army can be expected to ferociously oppose with all the instruments at its disposal all and any United States strategies which lead to the strategic diminution of Pakistan Army in the United States revised calculus on Afghanistan and India.

In all of this end game in Pakistan Army-United States strategic relationship the Pakistan Army seems to have overplayed its hand and the potency of its nuclear weapons arsenal as a military deterrent against any United States strategies that may follow.


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.

2 thoughts on “Pakistan Army – US Strategic Relationship Meltdown Was Inevitable – Analysis

  • December 7, 2011 at 6:37 am

    By reading the article it seemed some indian must be writing it. When I checked the name, it confirmed. Such biased one sided view, which only explains one view and tries its level best to show the military on the Pakistan side as very weak with only few organizations behind it and not the nation, is only an indian dream. The truth is, when Nato is out of Afghanistan, that is the last day for india to be indulgent in the affairs of the country, and for that they will do their utmost best to see the Nato soldiers dieing but staying in the country. Their dreams seems to end soon!

  • December 14, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Pauli, this is the problem with Pakistan. They always choose to go wrong path by wrong means. Be realistic, accept facts and join main stream of 21st century.


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