ISSN 2330-717X

Pakistan – US Relations In Frozen Turbulence – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

The frozen turbulence that has overtaken Pakistan-United States relations in the wake of the Raymond Davis incident stands best exemplified by the virtually aborted meeting in the United States between Pakistan Director General, ISI, Lt General Shuja Pasha and Director United States CIA, Leon Panetta. on April 12, 2011.

Lt General Shuja Pasha was scheduled for a three day meting from April 11 to April 13, 201with the head of the CIA in USA. But the Director General of Pakistan ISI A abruptly left on April 12 night after a two and a half hours meeting which extended over to lunch. However both sides denied that the Pakistani General had cut short his visit and that it was supposed to be only a one-day visit. Lt General Shuja as is customary did not meet any senior Pentagon officials or US military officials.

It is further curious as to what was the real aim of the present meeting when the Director CIA had recently visited Islamabad some time back.

Be as it may, but what is emanating from the Pakistani media reports and editorials, is that the Pakistan Army Chief, General Kayani had asked his ISI Chief to make strongly the following demands on the United States:

  • United States CIA stop its drone strikes which currently stand focused on North Waziristan
  • CIA should immediately discontinue its clandestine operations within Pakistan. US must withdraw all CIA agents whose missions do not stand approved by ISI.
  • United States to cut down its Special Forces Training Teams by 40% engaged in training of Pakistan’s Frontier Constabulary deployed on the Pakistan –Afghanistan border.

Pakistan Army Chief continues to maintain as per media reports that the United States end-game is to neutralize Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal. This is also being stressed by Pakistan Army Generals in off-the-record interactions with top US officials.

On the face of it General Kayani’s demands on the United States can be explained away as arising from sensitivity to upholding Pakistan’s sovereignty. That is easier said than done because General Kayani has never been so strident in demands on the United States since 2007 even though the Pak Army Chief kept firing strategic broadsides against the United States soon after taking over as Pak Army Chief. My Paper of that period with the broadsides title refers.

The answers to General Kayani’s stridency lie elsewhere. This stridency emanates from reactions of the Pakistan Army Chief to the US President’s Af-Pak policy enunciated in 2009 and the follow-up actions thereafter spelling US intentions to stay embedded in Afghanistan till 2014 or even beyond.

This Paper intends to examine the subject under the following heads:

  • Pakistan Army Chief’s Demands on United States CIA Analyzed
  • Pakistan President Goaded Into Strong Statements Against the United States
  • Pakistan Army’s Strategy on Afghanistan in Danger of Unraveling Due to Changed United States Policies
  • Pakistan –United States Military-to Military Relations Endangered
  • United States Future Policy Approaches on Pakistan: Perspectives

Pakistan Army Chief’s Demands on United States CIA Analyzed

Pakistan Army Chief’s demands projected stridently through his ISI Chief at meetings in USA this week essentially boil down to what can be called as an aggressive US policy on Afghanistan and Afghanistan-related activities. It also is related to Pakistan Army’s insecurities and fears about United States intentions pertaining to Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

To begin the analysis, one needs to examine why the hysterical Pakistan Army reactions to US drone strikes against targets in North Waziristan? This stands examined in my earlier Papers in fair detail. After all US drone attacks were all along taking place in the last few years from Pakistan Air Force bases and with full complicity of both General Musharraf and General Kayani. Why the outcry now?

The most obvious reason is that North Waziristan houses sanctuaries of Pakistan Army affiliates extending from the Haqqani brothers, LeT, Al Qaeda to other such groups nurtured as strategic assets by the Pakistan Army for dual use in Afghanistan and India in Kashmir.


In my Paper of 23 March it was indicated that the United States seems to have adopted a ‘Go-it-Alone’ policy in relation to North Waziristan. US drone strikes focused on this sacrosanct region of Pakistan Army, destroys Pakistan Army strategic assets and also makes the Pakistan Army and its Chief look diminutive in Pakistan public perceptions. It also limits Pakistan Army’s mischief potential in Southern Afghanistan where US Forces are making headway.

Pakistan Army Chief’s demands that CIA should discontinue all its clandestine operations within Pakistan is partly related to Afghanistan and more related to Pakistan Army’s insecurities pertaining to its nuclear arsenal. United States with reportedly more than 300 CIA operative, by now would have gathered sufficient intelligence on the activities of Pakistan Army Jihadi affiliates inside Afghanistan, on the Afghanistan border and Pakistan Army linkages with terror outfits like the LeT.

More ominously, CIA clandestine operations within Pakistan would have by now got a good fix on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons storage sites, deployment sites and related information. One would not be surprised that CIA would have penetrated the Pakistani nuclear establishment to acquire inside intelligence.

The third demand pertains to reduction of US Special Forces personnel deployed for training of the Frontier Constabulary. This paramilitary force of the Pakistan Army is deployed on the Pak-Afghan border manning border outposts and patrolling the frontier regions. It is predominantly drawn from the frontier tribes though officered by Pakistan Army officers mostly from Punjab.

Presence of US Special Forces personnel on border outposts and border regions though avowedly for training duties in counterinsurgency, by virtue of their being in-location in border regions would have served US purposes ranging from intelligence collection, surveillance of Pakistan Army’s clandestine operations in Afghanistan and possibly as ground controllers of drone strikes where possible.

The CIA gave out in Press statements that the discussions at the beginning of this week were cordial and positive and that both sides were determined to patch-up and sort out the CIA-ISI relationship floundering since January 2011. The ISI has remained mum. The reasons are obvious in that while the United States may assert that they value the relationship, but in actual fact it seems that the United States is unlikely to concede Pakistan Army Chief’s strong demands on the United States.

Pakistan President Goaded Into Strong Statements Against United States

Uncharacteristically, President Zardari recently seems to have been goaded into making strong denunciations of the United States in Western media interviews. While President Zardari seems to have steered clear of articulating or echoing General Kayani’s demands, President Zardari nonetheless asserted that United States policies on Afghanistan were impacting on the stability of Pakistan

Diplomatic observers have noticed that President Zardari’s strong denunciation of US policies on Afghanistan were unprecedented and indicated that Pakistan –US relations seemed destined for a long haul of trust-deficit. Obviously President Zardari seems to have been goaded into adopting this posture by the Pakistan Army Chief.

President Zardari could not be expected to issue statements on CIA clandestine operations as in the past he had to intervene to get Pakistan issue visas held-up for CIA operatives.

Pakistan Army’s Strategy on Afghanistan in Danger of Unraveling Due to Changed United States Policies

Pakistan Army’s long-held strategy of acquiring ‘strategic depth’ in Pakistan with a Pakistan-friendly regime in Kabul remains unchanged. Despite being coerced into acquiescing for the Taliban regime-change in Kabul in end 2001 and collusively joining the ‘Global War on Terror’ thereafter, the Pakistan Army all along continued to double-deal, double-timing and double- speak on Afghanistan in relation to US demands. This too, after accepting nearly $19 Billion upto date for its so-called assistance to the United States.

Pakistan Army’s strategy in the last decade was to induce combat fatigue on Afghanistan and thereby prompt a hurried US exit from Afghanistan and thereby facilitating Pakistan Army regaining control of Kabul by proxy use of its Jihadi outfits of various hues.

Pakistan Army was emboldened when President Obama declared in 2009 that United States intends to withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2011.Later with United States sniffing success in its war efforts in Afghanistan the United States declared that US embedment in Afghanistan will last till 2014 and possibly beyond, if necessary.

United States revised intentions on Afghanistan endanger Pakistan Army’s strategic intentions on Afghanistan and could unravel Pakistan Army’s strategic depth doctrine pertaining to Afghanistan.

The United States can expect the Pakistan Army to impede and derail United States intentions to stay embedded in Afghanistan till 2014 and possibly beyond.

Pakistan-United States Military-to Military Relations Endangered

On the face of it, the civilian Government of Pakistan represented by President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani has no qualms with the United States. It is the Pakistan Army establishment personified in the person of General Kayani which today stands at odds with the United States and US policies on Afghanistan.

Historically and contemporarily so far, the United States-Pakistan overall relationship stood firm on the military-to-military relationship between the Pakistan Army and the Pentagon. United States policies in South Asia, and India in particular stood predicated on Pakistan Army’s strategic sensitivities and United States subservience to uphold those sensitivities.

The current frozen turbulence that predominates Pakistan -United States relationship is essentially the making of the Pakistan Army which fears that its strategic ambitions on Afghanistan are endangered and the oft-repeated fears repeated by Pakistan Army Generals that the end-game of the United States is to neutralize Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

With such a trust- deficit existing and likely to grow as the Pakistan Army’s strategic ambitions get circumscribed by United States policies, one can presumably foresee the unraveling of the United States over-valued military-to-military relationship with the Pakistan Army.

United States Future Policy Approaches on Pakistan: Perspectives

Future perspectives on Pakistan-United States relations stand analyzed in my Paper of 23 March 2011 under the head of “Pakistan-United States Relations Prevention of Breakdown: Who will Blink First”.

Of particular significance was the point made there, that: ‘Normal analysis would suggest that the Pakistan Arm Chief and Pakistan would have to blink however grudgingly in a face-off with the United States but as mentioned earlier, Pakistan Army Chiefs are not noted for rational decision-making”.

Further it was stressed that: “The United States therefore has to be alert and prepared for nasty surprises from the Pakistan Army”.

The stress laid on Pakistan Army springing nasty surprises on the United States arises in my oft-repeated assertion that it was the United States that led the Pakistan Army to box much above its true strategic weight and believe in grandiose illusions of its geostrategic utility and which further leads the Pakistan Army to indulge in brinkmanship bordering on strategic insanity.

Pakistan’s nasty surprises for the United States could range from facilitating another proxy 9/11 attack on Mainland USA or once again military adventurism of the Kargil-type in South Asia. In both cases United States vital national security interests would be endangered.

The time is critically now for the United States to carry out mid-course corrections to its policy approaches towards Pakistan and revise its perceptions of Pakistan Army’s strategic utility to United States vital interests.

The United States should have learnt the requisite lessons for the future from its Pakistan-engagement policies in the 2000s over Afghanistan and the dubious record of the Pakistan Army ‘double-timing’ the United States. United States future policy approaches and formulations towards Pakistan cannot be divorced from Pakistan Army’s dubious record. After all the bedrock of Pakistan-United States relationship was based on the Pakistan Army-Pentagon military-to-military relationship.

If that has lapsed into a seemingly enduring trust deficit, then what remains for the United States to rebuild trustworthy military-to-military relations with Pakistan?

Concluding Observations

Pointedly asserted in my earlier Papers was the fact that the intimate and intense strategic relationship between Pakistan and the United States emanated in the First Afghan Mujahideen War of the 1980s against the Former Soviet Union. It was a War in which the Pakistan Army ISI and the American CIA were bound by strong strategic convergences.

Ironically, it was further asserted that at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, it is the Second Afghanistan War which seems to be ordaining the end of the Pakistan-United States strategic relationship after the marriage of convenience of the decade of the 2000s.

Repeating a paragraph from my Concluding Observations of the Paper of 23 March 2011 Paper becomes relevant once again which stated: “Policy analysts and editorials in Pakistan have started joining the dots of the trust deficit that dominates Pakistan-United States relationship and have come to conclusions that both countries are veering towards a breakdown of their relationship.”

In the Pakistani media only one editorial (The Daly Times, April 13, 2011) has hit the nail on the head, echoing the assertions that have been made in my recent Papers. It tellingly states in a commentary termed “Patch Up” on the virtual failure of the ISI-CIA talks of 12April 2011, that : “The brief survey of the goings-on in the diplomatic, security, political and media field should help to underline the very real difficulties that the always fraught relationship between Pakistan and the US is confronted with. It will take a lot of skill, diplomacy and flexibility on either side to overcome the divergence in interests that is opening up as the end-game in Afghanistan draws even nearer”.

The United States decision for continued embedment in Afghanistan even beyond 2014 may well mark the defining moment and a turning-point in the revaluation of United States policy approaches towards Pakistan and 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.

3 thoughts on “Pakistan – US Relations In Frozen Turbulence – Analysis

  • April 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Very nice and engaging article!!! We’ve to drop this duplicitous ally before its too late.

  • April 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    First cousin or the brother of Raymond Davis speaks of duplicitous ally? How gullible does he think we are like him.The time has come to
    end this wedlock and face the pangs with resolute to our sovereignty.

  • April 16, 2011 at 4:32 am

    Duplicitous sure seems the right word to me – especially in view of covert CIA support for the Baloch separatist movement. The Pentagon/CIA make no secret of their desire to see energy and mineral rich Balochistan secede from Pakistan to become a US client state – just like the energy and mineral rich former Soviet republics Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.

    I blog about this at “Our CIA freedom fighters in Pakistan”


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