Pakistan’s Sqeamishness On Obama’s Visit To India


By Dr. Subhash Kapila

President Obama’s visit to India from November 6-8, 2010 has drawn political and strategic attention in more ways than one, both globally and regionally. It was one more significant step in the overall reinforcing of the US-India Strategic Partnership which thrives on the strength of bipartisan political support in both the United States and India.

Significant to note is the fact that the US-India Strategic Partnership has evolved based on shared strategic convergences outweighing the normal political clichés of shared values of democracy and liberal societies. The evolution of this Partnership spans two different political dispensations in both the United States and India. The path traversed in the past decade may have been bumpy for both sides and nuances too at times may have hung precariously on United States giving priority to its short term strategic interests in South Asia because of American policies focusing on Pakistan. The reality however is that this vital Strategic Partnership still continues to receive political priority in both the United States and India and both perceive strategic value in it.

Both in the United States and India, the media and the policy analysts have analyzed and overanalyzed President Obama’s visit to India many times over in a segmented analysis of President Obama’s statements in India, and therefore this paper would steer clear of repetitiveness. This paper would like to concentrate on the significantly noticeable ‘squeamishness’ that pervaded in Pakistan both during President Obama’s visit to India and thereafter.

Discarding a segmented review, the overall major conclusion for Pakistan’s current squeamishness arises from Pakistan Army’s strategic realization that the United States in the face of India’s growing strategic weight is veering away from its long bestowed status of “Pakistan as a Strategic Co-Equal of India”

‘Squeamishness’ is the right word to describe Pakistan’s reactions as the dictionary meaning describes it as ‘nauseated’, ‘shocked’, ‘sickened’, and ‘disgruntled’. Pakistan’s reactions were a mixture of all these elements to President Obama’s visit to India, its underlying symbolism, his statements on crucial political issues and the political recognition he bestowed on India in terms of ‘India not being an emerging power, but a power that has emerged.’

Since Pakistan figures so prominently in United States strategic formulations on South Asia, even at times at India’s expense and US insensitivity to India’s strategic concerns, this paper would attempt to analyze Pakistan’s squeamishness that has surfaced in the wake of President Obama’s visit to India a week back. To this end this paper would attempt to analyze the following relevant issues:

* United States South Asia Policy Formulations: Adjusting to Emerged Strategic, Political and Economic Realities.

*  Pakistan Squeamish Over Loss of “Strategic Co-Equal Status” with India in United States Policy Formulations

* Pakistan’s Squeamishness : A Policy Challenge for the United States

United States South Asia Policy Formulations: Adjusting to Emerged Strategic, Political and Economic Realities

Analytically, what strikes this author in the overall review of President Obama’s visit to India in November 2010 is that the United States in its South Asia policy formulations and even in Asian and global perspectives seems to be adjusting to the emerged strategic, political and economic realities that portend that India would increasingly figure substantially in the regional and global power calculus on the strength of its inherent national attributes of power, independent of India’s political governance.

India’s geostrategic location and her strategic strength endow on it a strategic relevance and a factor to be considered in South Asia, Middle East, South East Asia and even East Asia. In current United States policy formulations this strategic relevance stands conceded in South East Asia and East Asia. The United States in the face of growing strategic clout of India would have to concede a primacy to India in US policy formulations in South Asia, notwithstanding Pakistan, and once that takes place by extension to the Middle East too.

India’s political significance in Asia and even globally outweighs that of China even. This arises from a very basic reason and that is China’s power rise phenomenon generates strategic uneasiness and fears in Asia as a power prone to aggressive and confrontationist postures. India on the other hand is politically viewed as a benign rising power with no aggressive instincts and further a stable democratic country which has remained politically stable ever since its independence.

India’s economic success story scripted by late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and implemented by Dr Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister then stands widely acknowledged. India’s sustained economic growth for over a decade and a half has now led to forecasts that India in another two decades or so could outstrip China.

It is no mean significance that President Obama’s visit to India was more focused on US firms bagging sizeable Indian orders amounting to $ 10 billion creating 50,000 jobs in USA. And this focus is growing. It is for nothing that one astute US commentator suggested that the US-India Strategic Partnership strengthening should entirely be left to the business people of both countries. One can safely assert that it is economics that will add ballast in India’s favor in the growth of the US-India Strategic Partnership.

In terms of United States future policy perspectives it would be hard for the US policy establishment to ignore that India offers herself as a major strategic partner in ensuring the United States continued embedment in Asia and with all the global implications attendant on this reality.

India should not expect that the United States policy establishment can overnight change or reverse its entrenched policy directions especially in South Asia. India would have to be patient and await the weight of history and contemporary power realities to concretize what this author perceives as the United States adapting and adjusting to the emerged strategic, political and economic realities that portend a bigger and more prominent role for India.

Pakistan Squeamish Over Loss of “Strategic Co-Equal Status” with India in United States Policy Formulations

Pakistan’s squeamish responses in wake of President Obama’s visit to India in terms of protests over United States endorsement of India’s candidature for Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council, President Obama omitting a concurrent visit to Pakistan while visiting India as has been the pattern of such Presidential visits to South Asia and President Obama not mentioning Kashmir in his address to the Indian Parliament, basically arise from Pakistan’s perceptions that its hitherto fore “Strategic Co-Equal Status” with India in US policy formulations stands devalued, if not lost completely.

One has to analyze President Obama’s statements on India and Pakistan made during the visit. He described United States relations with India as ‘the most defining partnership of the 21st Century’. He further emphasized that India was not an emerging power but as a power that has ‘emerged’

The reference to Pakistan by President Obama was as a strategic ally/partner of the United States. In Mumbai President Obama stated in an interaction that Pakistan as an enormous country with enormous potential. No one can seriously argue that a ‘rogue state’ indulging in state-sponsored terrorism against both its neighbors, and however enormous, can be seriously considered as a strategic ally of the United States.

Perceptively, the differing emphasis and connotations by the US President on his references to India and Pakistan should be self -evident. Once again it cannot be construed as the United States abandoning Pakistan in its policy formulations but surely going by Presidential statements and these expectedly cannot be read as double-speak, one can discern a certain overdue American recognition of India’s stature over and above that of Pakistan.

Judging by Pakistan’s pronounced squeamishness over United States newer directions in US  South Asia policies and shift in US positions on what Pakistan terms as ‘core issues’ one can conclude that this squeamishness arises from the Pakistani policy establishment,(read Pakistan Army military hierarchy),  realization that Pakistan has lost its “Strategic Co-Equal Status” with India in US policy formulations.

Consequently, Pakistan has marshaled the ‘Pakistan Lobby’ on Capitol Hill and more so the US strategic analysts, especially those who have been CIA heads in Pakistan, to re-advocate Pakistan’s strategic utility to the United Sates and making calls that the United Sates should pressurize India on Pakistan Army’s ‘core issues’ to retain Pakistan as a US ally.

The United States if it respects contemporary strategic realities has finally now to concede that Pakistan is “No Strategic Co-Equal” of India and the time for ‘Balance of Power Strategies’ in South Asia is over.

Fortunately, within Pakistan itself, in the ranks of its policy analysts and retired senior military officers devoting time to strategic analysis, calls are being made in the wake of the American President’s visit, that Pakistan must come to grips with strategic realities, modulate Pakistan’s imperial pretensions and revise her confrontationist stances with India.

Pakistan’s Squeamishness: A Policy Challenge for the United States

Within the Pakistani governing structure, the Pakistan Army would emerge as  least inclined to accept Pakistan’s loss of “Strategic Co-Equal Status” with India in US policy formulations. It can be expected to fight a bitter rear-guard battle both with the United States and India.

The Pakistan Army in its rear-guard battles with the United States over Pakistan’s strategic devaluation can be expected to worsen the military situation in Afghanistan for the United States by use of its affiliates like the Al Qaeda, Taliban and the Lashkar-e Toiba for terrorist attacks and insurgency operations. This way the Pakistan Army would hope to re-invent its strategic utility to the United States.

On a strategic plane the Pakistan Army can be expected to intensify its military linkages with China by allowing a deeper Chinese penetration into Pakistan as presently witnessed in Chinese military obtrusiveness in the Northern Areas of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. One cannot rule out Pakistan Army’s blackmail of the United States to extend to facilitate basing rights to the Chinese Navy in Gwadur.

In short, Pakistan can be expected to play the blackmailing “China Card” against the United States to put United States strategic policy re-appraisal in South Asia in reverse gears.

Herein exists the greatest policy challenge for the United States Would the United States use its tremendous leverages over the Pakistan Army to bring it to heel and realistically accept its strategic asymmetries with India and modulate its confrontationist policies or would the United States succumb to Pakistan Army blackmail and persist in pressurizing India to be accommodative to Pakistan Army’s ‘core concerns’?

The predicament for the United States would be strategically vexing, long used to prop up Pakistan as a “Strategic Co-Equal of India”. The United States would be faced with a fateful decision to make a strategic choice between “Policies of Realpolitik” and persisting with its “Narcisstic Obsession” with Pakistan, long invalidated by contemporary strategic realities.

As a long-time practitioner of ‘balance of power’ strategies, the United States can be expected not to be unmindful of the shifting global power calculus in which India has open to it other options to correct the United States propping of Pakistan as a “Strategic Co-Equal” of India.

In terms of the spin-off of Pakistan Army’s squeamishness over United States possible shift in policy directions against India, an intensification of border clashes on the LOC in J&K and revival of Pakistan Army state-sponsored terrorism in heartland India should not be ruled out.

Concluding Observations

The US-India Strategic Partnership to emerge as the most defining partnership of the 21st Century for the United States would entail the United States to relentlessly pursue the course scripted by President Obama and his predecessors to strategically recognize India’s ‘emerged power status’. Further, that Pakistan cannot be propped up to act as a “Strategic Co-Equal” of India in South Asia.

Emphasized in my past papers and re-emphasized now once again is the reality that  the United States’ continued embedment in Asia greatly depends on the tenor and content of the strategic importance that the United States bestows on a comprehensive relationship with India in the 21st Century. India has other strategic options to correct any United States continued persistence to prop up Pakistan as a “Strategic Co-Equal of India” The United States has limited strategic options.

To the above strategic ends, the United States has to firmly deal with Pakistan’s current squeamishness arising from a perceived loss of its “Strategic Co-Equal Status” with India, long unrealistically fostered by the United States.

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


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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