ISSN 2330-717X

Pakistan Fractured And Failing: US Policy Options – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

Pakistan presents the picture of a fractured nation and a failing state in mid-2011. Pakistan has presented this picture in the past many times over but was pulled from the brink by the United States by a providential coincidence of Pakistan Army reinventing its strategic utility to serve United States strategic interests and the United States readily exploiting the mercenary instincts of the rentier Pakistan Army.

The strategic utility of the Pakistan Army to serve United States strategic interests in the region has frayed particularly since 2007 and the United States going by the record of Pakistan Army’s duplicitous performance has belatedly realized that its policy formulations on Pakistan Army were grievously misplaced.

For far too long the United States policy establishment had labored under the misimpression that the key to handling and managing Pakistan to serve United States interests was the Pakistan Army and its Generals. This took place despite all the damning evidence to the contrary.

Whether the United States in mid-2011 cares to admit or not the ground realities in Pakistan suggest that the United States has been using the wrong key to manage Pakistan through the Pakistan Army. The Pakistan Army today has fully emerged in the open as not the solution to bring stability in Pakistan but it is the predominant part of the problem.

If Pakistan today is a fractured nation and a failing state then the full onus for Pakistan’s national failures rests squarely on the shoulders of the Pakistan Army. This is a hard reality that the United States policy establishment must realize and factor-in in their examination of options.

This Paper intends to examine the policy options open to the United States to manage Pakistan in the light of its impending disintegration:

  • United States-Pakistan Army Contemporary Relationship: The Widening Trust Deficit & its Implications
  • Pakistan’s Internal Political Dynamics: The Changed National Mood Against Pakistan Army
  • United States Fateful Policy Choices on Pakistan: Status Quo or New Beginnings

United States-Pakistan Army Contemporary Relationship: The Widening Trust Deficit & its Implications

The United States for over half a century never evolved or focused on any substantive political relationship in comprehensive terms with Pakistan as a nation-state. The United States policy approaches towards the Pakistani nation –state stood rested and based overwhelmingly on a strategic and military considerations -based United States-Pakistan Army relationship.

In 2011 the picture and state of United States-Pakistan Army relationship is dismal. Gone is the fizz which characterized this much vaunted strategic partnership and even the superficially contrived colorations given by the United States so far to this relationship stands today replaced by a yawning trust deficit between the United States and the Pakistan Army.

Media reports and analyses in the United States and within Pakistan abound testifying to this trend. It began more noticeably in 2007 and the tipping point was reached when the United States targeted liquidation of Osama bin Laden took place in the Pakistan Army major garrison city of Abbottabad in early May 2011.


In the wake of the Abbottabad operation by the United States Special Forces in which fingers stood pointed to Pakistan Army & ISI complicity in hiding Osama within a Pakistan Army major garrison cantonment for five years and Pakistan Army feigning no knowledge, trust deficit between the two strategic partners have gone into a tailspin.

More noticeably, the following need to be highlighted:

  • United States continues with its drone strikes despite Pakistan Army Chief’s declaration that the United States ceases to do so
  • United States has refused to vacate Shamsi Air Base from where US drone strikes are mounted
  • Pakistan Army border posts are being attacked from the Afghan side of the border, now for a change
  • United States has sidelined Pakistan Army from its direct talks with the Afghan Taliban
  • United States has withheld Coalition Support Funds to the Pakistan Army
  • Intensified US media criticism of Pakistan Army/ISI involvement with Al Qaeda and other Islamic militant organizations targeting USA

For the first time calls are being made by US dignitaries/officials demanding greater accountability by the Pakistan Army.

The major implications of the growing trust deficit in United States-Pakistan Army relationship can be visualized as under:

  • Current indicators do not provide any optimism of United States attempting to retrieve the strategic partnership
  • Pakistan Army would increasingly play the China Card to offset strong US pressures for accountability and restricting inflow of US military and financial aid
  • Pakistan Army attempts to play the Iran Card against the United States
  • Pakistan Army returns to a greater proxy use of Al Qaeda and Taliban surrogates that it has nurtured against the United States and the West
  • Pakistan Army without a US leash may be tempted to resort to military adventurism against India to divert greater domestic loss of Army’s image

Pakistan’s Internal Political Dynamics: The Changed National Mood Against the Pakistan Army

Pakistan’s internal political dynamics in terms of the prevailing national mood has to be viewed at two levels, namely in relation to the United States and secondly the image of the Pakistan Army as it figures in the national mood in light of the developments of 2011.

Pakistan’s national mood in relation to the United Sates continues to be anti-United States as it has been ever sine 1979. The Pakistan Army can be said to be partly responsible for perpetuation of this sentiment especially the Islamic fundamentalist senior officers, both serving and retired.

However in the last two months after the Abbottabad and Mehran attacks one by the United States and the other by Pakistan Taliban with inside support from Islamists within the Pakistan Navy, the image of the Pakistan Army in public perceptions has nose-dived.

Unprecedently, the Pakistani public and the media are publicly castigating the Pakistan Army for failing to protect the sovereignty of Pakistan and associated intelligence failures.

All of a sudden in 2011 the Pakistan national mood is one of pronounced insecurity and vulnerability and the questioning whether the Pakistan Army can safeguard Pakistan against both internal and external threats.

Pakistan’s national mood indicates that this time around it may not be so simple for the Pakistan Army to bulldoze its way into Pakistan’s governance by a military coup. Since 2007 the street power of the Pakistani public has twice prevailed over the might of the Pakistan Army.

This is an ominous development in terms of Pakistan’s internal political dynamics and something which the United States needs to factor-in as it crafts its policy responses to wards a fractured Pakistan on the verge of state-failure.

United States Fateful Choices on Pakistan: Status Quo or New Beginnings

The United States in 2011 in relation to its policy choices on Pakistan stands at strategic crossroads in terms of the fateful choices it now has to make forced by massive changes in the contextual background which has overtaken this strategic partnership.

The United States can no longer brush under the carpet the yawning trust deficit that now divides it from the Pakistan Army. The United States can no longer also be oblivious to the reality that has emerged in 2011 that the Pakistan Army is no longer the glue that holds Pakistan together. Further can the United States convince its lawmakers that Pakistan Army has been a trusted ally of the United States and substantially delivered on all its strategic pledges to the United States made in return for US massive doses of military and financial largesse?

In such a contextual setting the United States has a fateful choice to make whether it should continue to perpetuate the status quo in its policies of Pakistan Army-centricism or has the moment finally arrived conclusively to steer its policy options towards newer beginnings in Pakistan.

Perpetuating the status quo in its approaches to Pakistan entails the United States continuing to be led by its nose by the Pakistan Army. With the Pakistan Army being in a state of serious disconnect with Pakistan’s national mood and in which it may as a cornered Army strike back and generate a civil war in Pakistan, it may be a horrendous choice for the United States to make.

Further such a policy choice if adopted by the United States would not be conducive or contributing to the United States attempting a long term partnership with Pakistan. Pakistan’s national mood for undiluted democracy devoid of any constitutional role for the Pakistan Army is an idea whose time has finally approved.

Fatefully therefore it become incumbent on the United States policy establishment and the US President to opt for newer beginnings in relation to its policy options. The Pakistan Army-centric policy approaches of the United States stand failed totally and any persistence in this direction would amount to “reinforcing failure”.

United States newer beginnings in its policy approaches towards Pakistan should incorporate the following key components (1) Restoration of undiluted democracy as a strategic imperative for the United States (2) United States providing unambiguous support and weightage for a civilian government in Pakistan (3) Pakistan Army be made to submit to civilian government and return to barracks. Failing which United States should cease all military and financial aid to Pakistan Army (4) Pakistan Army’s notorious intelligence agency ISI and terrorist surrogates of Pakistan Army be neutralized both by direct and indirect actions (5) Pakistan Army’s propensities for military adventurism against its neighbors be strongly dealt by the United States.

Needless to state that the United States possesses strong leverages to tame the Pakistan Army even in the event of Pakistan Army adopting adversarial postures against the United States following changes in US policies as recommended.

Concluding Observations

The United States under President Obama needs to craft newer beginnings in its policy approaches towards Pakistan. The Pakistan Army is no longer relevant and capable of serving United States strategic interests in the region. The Pakistan Army has proved itself otherwise.

The United States needs to learn the relevant lessons from the recent upheavals in the Arab World where changing political dynamics have rendered irrelevant the authoritarian and military or military-dominant regimes. People’s power swept away such regimes backed by the United States.

Coming to Pakistan, the eventuality of Pakistan peoples street power prevailing over the Pakistan Army in the near future cannot be ruled out and especially in light of the events of May 2011.

In terms of crafting policy options to deal with a fractured and failing Pakistan, the United States would be well advised to politically and economically invest in the people of Pakistan and their civilian democratic governments rather than a politically meddlesome Pakistan Army unworthy of US strategic trust.

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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.

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