ISSN 2330-717X

Pakistan-India-US Dysfunctional Triangle: The Kayani Factor


By Dr Subhash Kapila

In politico-strategic context the analysis of triangular configurations of nations normally connote a strategic convergence between the three nations and a unity of purpose to jointly achieve political and strategic ends. Strategic triangular configurations by their very existence also denote in terms of international relations that such a grouping needs to be factored in the strategic calculus of major nations.

The Pakistan-India-United States triangle is a dysfunctional triangular configuration with no strategic convergence existing between the three nations and no vision of a united purpose to jointly achieve political and strategic ends.

Ordinarily, Pakistan, India and the United States cannot be said to exist in a strategic triangular relationship. Perforce they still have to be treated as a triangular configuration for analytical purposes because the United States as the global superpower in its political and strategic calculus has taken upon itself to place itself at the apex of South Asian strategic dynamics and treat Pakistan and India as the base of its envisioned strategic triangle. Further it has taken upon itself to preach peace in South Asia not for any strategic benefit for India but as an instrument to keep the Pakistan Army on the American side.

Curiously, the United States in its East Asian strategic calculus ever since 1945 has not forged a strategic triangle with Japan and South Korea both committed military allies of the United States.

Conceding charitably that the United States may have a futuristic vision of a viable and functional Pakistan-India-United States strategic configuration, but analytically such a vision is a self-defeating proposition due to fundamental contradictions that dominate United States-Pakistan relations, United States-India relations and Pakistan-India relations.

However, the persistence with which the United States endows peace between India and Pakistan with hallowed aura prompts this author to project that no amount of United States visionary impulses or intense tactical pressures on Pakistan and India can bring about a strategic convergence between the three nations or peace in South Asia.

Pakistan has always been the regional spoiler in the pursuance of such a strategic vision of the United States even though throughout the Cold War the United States stood strategically tilted in favor of Pakistan. Even in 2000s with a so-called US-India Strategic Partnership in place, the United States continues to remain tilted towards Pakistan.

In 2011, with General Kayani in de-facto political control of Pakistan and adopting both anti-US and strong anti-Indian stances, it is high time for the United States to dispel its South Asian peace crusade.

The Kayani Factor is only highlighted because he is symptomatic of and exemplifies the overall attitudinal impulses and reflexes of the Pakistan military hierarchy all along of a trust-deficit with the United States and confrontational postures towards India. In 2011, General Kayani has carried this trust-deficit with United States and hostility to India to unprecedented levels.

This Paper is also intended to reach out to India’s political establishment where in the past decade at India’s apex level, rosy optimism is entertained that with the United States having de-hyphenated its Pakistan and India relationships, scope exists for the United States to pressurize Pakistan into achieving peace with India. This blinkered vision fostered in India’s policy establishment by Washington must be dispensed with as in 2011 India’s security environment is becoming more threatened. Washington cannot emerge as the sole guarantor of peace in South Asia.

This Paper is also intended to rebut the policy analysts in India who advocate that India should be entering into direct dialogues with the Pakistan Army Chief to bring about peace between India and Pakistan.

This Paper intends to dwell on the examination of the Kayani Factor under the following heads as to how false it is for both the United States and India to bet on the Pakistan Army Chief that he would effectively contribute to a peace process between India and Pakistan and how truly he would deliver on United States strategic interests in Afghanistan and overall in South Asia:

  • United States Poster Boy in Pakistan: The American Image Buildup of General Kayani
  • General Kayani Brings Down United States-Pakistan Relations to a Tipping-Point
  • General Kayani’s Pronounced Hostile Postures Towards India
  • General Kayani Blackmails United States on Pakistan’s Politico-Military Issues with India
  • Pakistan-India –United States: Can it Ever become a Functional Strategic Triangle

United States Poster Boy in Pakistan: The American Image Buildup of General Kayani

General Kayani was really built up as Pakistan’s ‘Poster Boy’ in Pakistan at the time of his elevation as Pak Army Chief in 2007. Much was made of him by United States highlighting that he had graduated from the US Army Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. He was projected as far as his image was concerned as being just the opposite of General Musharraf who by 2007 the United States was getting tired of.


The United States went at great length to project the image of General Kayani as being an apolitical General and a thorough professional committed to keep himself and the Pak Army out of politics.

He was painted as an avid golfer, avid reader, prone to listen more than to speak and a chain smoker, as if all such qualities qualified him to be a Westernized Pakistani General and not prone to the Islamist tendencies that dominated the rest of the Pakistani Army Generals around him. Still waters run deep and in case of General Kayani the waters run deeper, keeping his entire army career in mind where he was found to be in privileged appointments which placed him in close proximity to the seat of Pakistan’s political power.

Regrettably such was the American overdrive on building up General Kayani’s image that the then Indian National Security Adviser went on record to state and certify that General Kayani was a thorough professional and that he would not indulge in military adventurism against India.

Such was the powerful feed to the Indian policy establishment from Washington that the Indian policy establishment went around giving certificates of good intentions to a Pakistani Army Chief. Deductively, it can be asserted that such assessments misled India into repeated resumption of Peace Dialogues with Pakistan at the cost of Indian national security.

The United States at that moment of time may have had its tactical reasons for such an image make-over of General Kayani but did India have to second it? Did the Indian policy establishment forget that General Kayani had been Director General of the ISI from 2004-2007 in the time that ISI sponsored terrorist attacks against India were at a peak? Subsequently, Mumbai26/11 attacks could not have been without the knowledge of General Kayani as the ISI is directly accountable to the Pak Army Chief. Also the DG ISI Lt General Shuja Pasha was Kayani’s hand-picked protégé.

Subsequent developments have not borne out the carefully cultivated image that the United States projected of General Kayani at that time.

In this lessons emerge for both the United States and India. The United States has repeatedly gone wrong in its assessments of Pakistan Army Chiefs credentials. The Indian policy establishment must learn henceforth not to accept United States assessments on Pakistan and Pakistani personalities at face value.

Last year again when his normal tenure as Army Chief was coming to an end, the United States had not learnt the requisite lessons and again went into an overdrive to contrive and force the Pakistani civilian government into giving General Kayani another extended tenure of Army Chief for another three years.

General Kayani Brings Down United States-Pakistan Relations to a Tipping Point

The United States had actively rooted for appointment of General Kayani as Pakistan Army Chief in 2007 and again in 2010 prevailed over the Pakistan Government to give the General a three year extension on completion of his tenure. The United States presumably on both occasions was prompted by high expectations of General Kayani to deliver on United States strategic requirements namely on assisting US military operations in Afghanistan, safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal and cessation of Pakistan Army’s patronage and military assistance to the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda affiliates like the Haqqanis and ISI directed Jihadi outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toyeba.

The picture obtaining in 2011 after a thorough review of General Kayani’s tenure as Pakistan Army Chief is disappointing and possibly frustrating to the United States in terms of his delivering on United States expectations reposed in him.

General Kayani’s record in broad details has been as under:

  • United States Forces in Afghanistan continue to suffer from disruptive attacks from Taliban and Haqqani supported groups based in Pakistani border regions. Pakistan Army has made no efforts to contain or liquidate these
  • Pakistan Army has not secured US logistics for Afghanistan transiting Pakistani territory. In fact the Pakistan Army can be said to be complicit in disruption of US logistics and on occasions closed transit points at Khyber Pass to blackmail USA
  • General Kayani has constantly refused US pleas to conduct military operations in North Waziristan on one pretext or the other to ensure safe sanctuaries for Al Qaeda and Taliban groups operating in Afghanistan
  • General Kayani objected strongly against the provisions of the US Kerry-Lugar Bill which sought to impose accountability on Pakistan Army on US aid and assistance to Pakistan Army
  • General Kayani unwillingly launched military operations in Swat and adjacent regions and that too under duress of US threats of military intervention to stem Taliban advances to Pakistani nuclear weapons bases

This long litany of Pakistan Army’s perfidy against the United States strategic interests under General Kayani has reached a tipping point in 2011 where one witnesses the sordid spectacle of a rupture between the intelligence agencies of United States and Pakistan. The CIA of the United States and the ISI of Pakistan Army had a much vaunted privileged relationship from the 1980s and that today stands ruptured as we all know.

Rhetoric from Washington on Pakistan Army’s valued contributions to its military operations in Afghanistan is sheer hogwash as it flies against the realities outlined above. Rhetoric flowing from Islamabad is equally untruthful that Pakistan Army had suffered thousands of casualties supporting the United States. The reality is that Pakistan Army suffered casualties in its operations against the Pakistan Taliban who have declared the Pakistan Army as their enemy.

General Kayani’s Pronounced Hostile Postures towards India

This aspect stands repeatedly discussed in my earlier Papers on Pakistan. However some salient points need to be emphasized once again to sustain the discussion. General Kayani’s unremitting hostility towards India needs to be stressed to highlight to the Indian policy establishment that India’s peace overtures to Pakistan are not well received by General Kayani despite the contrived propaganda in India currently that the Pakistan Army Generals are genuine in seeking a resumption of the India-Pakistan Peace Dialogue.

General Kayani’s pronounced hostile attitudes against India can be gauged from the following factors:

  • General Kayani soon on taking over as Pak Army Chief unilaterally abrogated in 2007 the four year old ceasefire that prevailed on the LOC in Kashmir which was arrived at by General Musharraf. Under General Kayani’s command border clashes, artillery duels and firing incidents once again were resumed from the Pakistani side.
  • General Kayani resurrected the Kashmir issue in conflictual overtones publicly to project that he was not in consonance with Musharraf’s parleys with India on Kashmir
  • Mumbai 26/11 commando trained attacks orchestrated by the ISI occurred within a year or so of General Kayani taking over as Chief.
  • Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal seems to have expanded during General Kayani’s watch. The ostensible target is India despite the fact that India has adopted a No First Use principle in its Nuclear Strategy.

General Kayani has been unapologetic in declaring that he is “India-Centric” in his professional approaches and has consistently refused US entreaties to shift forces from the borders against India to the Pak-Afghan border. General Kayani stands rated by US agencies as the most anti-Indian Pakistan Army Chief in Pakistan’s history.

Peace with India is not on General Kayani’s agenda neither now and nor for the next three years. If General Kaayani can adopt adversarial stances against the United States as currently demonstrated what sureties the Indian policy establishment has in believing that peace dialogues with Pakistan can provide optimistic outcomes with General Kayani as the presiding deity of Pakistan’s India policy?

General Kayani Blackmails United States on Pakistan’s Politico-Military Issues with India

General Kayani needs to be credited for having successfully exploited the United States predicaments in Afghanistan and the Pakistan Army Chief’s perceived indispensability therein, to effectively blackmail the United States to pressurize India on yielding on issues of politico-military concern to Pakistan. The three main issues which General Kayani has blackmailed the United States are on Kashmir issue, India’s presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan Army’s balance of power with India.

United States pressures on Kashmir though not overtly applied are yet visibly demonstrated by the Indian Government’s sole focus on Kashmir, at the expense of other burning political issues, and its elusive settlement on Pakistan Army’s terms. The United States too has merrily gone along in this game whereby its noted policy analysts in their books, publications and essays on Pakistan’s impending implosion arrive at circumvented prognostications that Pakistan’s fragmentation can be avoided only and if only the United States prevails on India to give away Kashmir to Pakistan. And if not the whole of Kashmir, at least the Kashmir Valley should be gifted away by India, which is the bottom line for the Pakistan Army.

General Kayani is a crafty and smooth operator who is working on three factors which he considers favorable to Pakistan Army, namely, (1) Both India and Pakistan have politically weak chief executives prone to US pressures (2) United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation in a smooth military exit from Afghanistan (3) General Kayani as Pakistan Army Chief can deliver on the last named factor with its strong leverages on the Taliban and the Haqqanis.

General Kayani has already succeeded on Afghanistan by limiting India’s involvement and presence. General Kayani prevailed on the United States and Britain to exclude India from the London Conference and the Istanbul parleys on Afghanistan. The United States has not conceded a major role to India in the training of the Afghan National Army despite India’s willingness to do so.

The United States due to its Afghanistan compulsions has caved in to General Kayani’s demands to ensure conventional near-parity with India. The United States has supplied F-16 advanced fighter jets, maritime patrol aircraft and attack helicopters besides other advanced military hardware totally unrelated to Pakistan’s war on terror.

Pakistan-India-United States; Can it ever become a Functional Strategic Triangle?

The only context in which a functional strategic triangle of Pakistan-India and the United States can be put in place is to suit United States strategic requirement of a South Asia-based containment strategy of China. But the moot question is whether the United States has the political sagacity and strategic tenacity to bring about this strategic configuration?

This can only be brought about by the United States by a judicious mix and management of the following factors (1) United States is able to draw away Pakistan from its strategic embrace of China (2) United States is permissive in letting South Asia’s natural balance of power prevail (3) United States uses its significant leverages over the Pakistan Army to restrain it from boxing much above its true weight (4) United States prevails over Pakistan to put contentious issues of the 1947 Two Nation Theory on the backburner and move forward to economic integration in South Asia. (5) United States desists from playing balance-of-power politics between India and Pakistan.

Would the United States opt for the above strategies? Would Pakistan acquiesce in accepting a South Asian role commensurate with its true potential? Would Pakistan stop clinging to the Two Nation Theory?

The answers to all of the above are all negative as there continues to exist a pronounced trust-deficit between all the three nations involved in the Pakistan-India –United States Triangle. There are competing strategic interests and conflicting agendas

The horizon for the next three years promises to remain clouded because of the Kayani Factor which complicates Pakistan-United States relations and Pakistan-India relations.

India has no option in the prevailing circumstances but to maintain heightened security vigilance, enhance its war-preparedness and hone up its intelligence apparatus with a priority in penetration of fundamentalist Pakistani outfits. India’s policy establishment should not allow history to be repeated wherein Pakistan has resorted to military adventurism against India to divert domestic attention from Pakistan’s’ worsening political situation.

Concluding Observations

The Pakistan-India-United States have been thrown together in the cauldron of South Asia. All three nations have no strategic convergences or unity of purpose to confront strategic challenges. Therefore Pakistan-India-United States as a triangular configuration is not a classic triangular strategic combination which can be counted in global strategic calculus.

This configuration becomes a strategic triangular configuration only in the sense that in 2011 the strategic interests of the United States intersect with those of India and Pakistan in diverse ways forcing both India and Pakistan to factor-in the United States in their respective strategic calculus and also in India-Pakistan bilateral approaches. On present indicators there is nothing more that can suggest anything substantial.

In this triangular context the United States has to recognize the strategic reality that India cannot be treated in its strategic calculus as a strategic co-equal of Pakistan in its strategic formulations. Thereafter everything will fall into place and possibilities would emerge for sustainable peace in South Asia.

(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.

2 thoughts on “Pakistan-India-US Dysfunctional Triangle: The Kayani Factor

  • March 9, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Excellent analysis but just like all the valuable insights some of the analysts like you provide, this article will be forgotten/never read by the political community. Its sad to realize that the politicians couldn’t care less about the facts and only care about their own selfish agenda.

    Only politicians get to pick the evidence and formulate their own version of the “truth”.

  • March 13, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    All above are personal views far beyond the true judgment. Gen Kiani if at all operating in said manner is what he is doing his job in the right manner. Two nation and India centric is the compulsion of Pakistan. All the political and military ledars of Pkaitsn must understand it. Pakistan lost with Kashmeer, three rivers, 1/3 of land (bangladesh) just due to reasons that pakistani some time setaside India centric and two nation theory.
    Gen Kiani Zinda Bad


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