US Strategic Over-Evaluation Of Pakistan – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

The United States has taken sixteen years down the line and numerous speed-breakers in US-Pakistan relations to realise that Pakistan was not only not delivering on US security interests but also undermining them. Sadly, this Paper of mine (Reproduced as Annexure) was coincidently published on the very morning of the Pakistan facilitated, financed and ISI trained Islamic Jihadi assaults in New York.

Pakistan’s direct involvement in the planning, facilitation, financing and training of Islamic Jihadis in Taliban Occupied Afghanistan involved in the 9/11 assaults on the citadels of power in the United States Homeland was unprecedented. It resulted in the United States second military intervention in Afghanistan to displace the Pakistan-propped Taliban regime in Kabul.

But the United States establishment again post 9/11 fell back into the Pakistani trap when after its military intervention in December 2001, after riding on the shoulders of the Northern Alliance the United States displaced the Taliban regime in Kabul.

Despite the foregoing, the United States facilitated the airlift of thousands of Taliban militiamen and their Pakistan Army minders from Kunduz in Northern Afghanistan to Pakistan. This was strategically regrettable when it is viewed that the Northern Alliance had entrapped these thousands of Taliban and Pakistan Army/ISI personnel in Kunduz and would have liquidated or captured them. It would have resulted in the Taliban menace to Afghanistan effectively liquidated by the Northern Alliance assisting the US military effort..

Afghanistan would have been a different story today. The mystery of the United States facilitating retrieval of Pakistan Army/ISI assets needs to be unravelled. The post-9/11 Afghanistan in terms of security and stability would have been so much in favour of the United States in 2017.

United States strategic over-evaluation of Pakistan has persisted right from 1954 onwards. It was a myopic and flawed American policy which spawned severe limitations for the United States in its wake.

These can be enumerated as follows (1) American South Asia policy formulations were seriously distorted violating the strategic realities on the ground and the natural balance of power (2) United States tilted towards Pakistan and gave precedence to Pakistan Army’s sensitivities at the expense of India (3) Pakistan took advantage of US strategic over-evaluation & used that as a cover for forging Islamic Jihad as an instrument of State (4) Finally, it kept United States and India apart for decades as “Estranged Democracies”

In August 2017, President Trump rightly reviewed the American strategy on Afghanistan and solemnly promising to get Afghanistan rid of Islamic Jihadi terrorist groups operating from safe sanctuaries within Pakistan, not only against Afghanistan regime but also targeting US Forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan was precisely and rightly pinpointed as the ‘Core Destabiliser’ of Afghanistan.

From August 2017 till early October 2017, President Trump and his Defence Secretary have been issuing dire warnings to Pakistan to desist from destabilisation of Afghanistan. Rattled by US warnings, Pakistan went into overdrive to offset the same by reachout to China and Russia.

Suitably coerced by the Americans, Pakistan in a belated damage control exercise arranged the release after five years of the American-Canadian couple and their children, held captive by the Haqqani brothers within Pakistan.

Publicly at least, the Pakistanis have gone into a media hype as to how the Pakistan Army successfully forced the release by effective military action in cooperation with US efforts. Had Pakistan Army been in genuine cooperation with the United States this hostage release could have taken years earlier?

On the United States side too, President Trump and the Defense Secretary made appropriate appreciatory statements. But then, have we not seen this pattern earlier undertaken by the Pakistan Army?

One swallow does not make a summer and the event under discussion seems to be a temporising transaction by the Pakistan Army to take off the searing heat that the Pakistan Army has been subjected to lately by the Trump Administration.

Pakistan has moved out of the United States strategic orbit for sure and now proudly wears the mantle of China’s ‘Frontline State’ and flaunts its Chinese armour.

Reproduction of my 2001 Paper was considered as a topical review in October 2017as a reminder for President Trump and the US Administration not to go in reverse gears from the game-changing new strategy enunciated for Afghanistan and exorcising the Pakistan Army ghosts from destabilisation of Afghanistan.

Pakistan in its long history has never made any positive investments in Afghanistan’s future and its security and stability. On the contrary, unable to win over Afghanistan by positive friendly policies, Pakistan in the last three decades had initially unleashed the Taliban and then facilitated sanctuaries for the Al Qaeda. In the last decade or so, Taliban, Let, and JeM have inflicted suicide bombings and terror mayhem in Kabul and other Afghan towns. US Forces also were targets by affiliates of United States’ “Major Non NATO Ally”

For President Trump and his new US Administration, the challenge in the next three years would be as to how to downsize Pakistan and the Pakistan Army in relation to United States long-term embedment in Afghanistan—- crucial determinant for United States continued embedment in the Indo Pacific Region but also for United States stature as the sole Superpower.

If for nothing else, my 2001 SAAG Paper should set the United States policy establishment thinking in reviewing their strategic templates of Pakistan’s utility to the United States. This Paper would also presumably prompt the US policy establishment to “Revisit Pakistan’s Demonstrated Double Timing of the United States”.

Regrettably, it was a US General, as then US Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, who myopically anointed Pakistan Army as an “Ally of Long Standing ‘meriting designation of ‘Major Non-NATO Ally’ and the “Beatification of General Musharraf.

How did General Musharraf as Pakistan’s military ruler repay the United States for its strategic over-evaluation of Pakistan? Pakistan Army harboured Osama bin Laden. The author of 9/11, in Pakistan Army’s major garrison town of Abbottabad from 2001 to 2011 till finally liquidated by US Special Forces in a daring intrusive operation within Pakistan territory.

The years 2001-17 reflect a sordid history of the worlds mighty and only Superpower being severely mauled by the United States in Afghanistan, politically and militarily, by the Islamic Jihadi affiliates of the Pakistan Army/ISI, operating from safe sanctuaries within Pakistan.

The Trump Administration would be well advised not to let history be repeated again in Afghanistan of Pakistan Army/ISI perfidies. United States deterrence needs to be strongly and effectively imposed on Pakistan.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected])



By Dr. Subhash Kapila

United States political involvement in South Asia for over half a century stands singularly marked by a strategic over-evaluation of Pakistan. This has led not only to distortion in America’s South Asian policies but also facilitated the intrusive presence of China in South Asia.

United States today alarmingly views South Asia as a nuclear flash-point after nuclear weaponisation by India and Pakistan. Such American perceptions arise more from a reading of Pakistan as a politically unstable state, its unpredictability and Pakistan’s irresponsible political and nuclear stances. But then, the moot question is as to who created the Pakistani nuclear monster? The blame rests squarely on China for providing nuclear weapon designs, nuclear components for making the bomb and supplying nuclear-capable missiles to Pakistan. The blame also rests more squarely on the United States, for its permissive attitudes to the Chinese nuclear weapons and missile supplies to Pakistan. The United States strategic over-evaluation of Pakistan led to such permissive American policies.

South Asia analysts have heard ‘ad-nauseam’, statements in every American presidential administration by political leaders, politicians, officials and spokesmen speaking of Pakistan in glowing terms as “an enduring ally of long standing” and a strategic contributor to United States’ national interests in the region.

Today, when United States finds itself at strategic cross-roads in virtually all the strategic regions of the world, it becomes relevant to analyse Pakistan’s record as “an enduring ally of long standing” and its strategic contribution to United States national interests in the region.

Cold War’s Early Years: The United States more out of pique, resulting from India’s lack of response to join the Western security alliances, drew Pakistan into a military embrace. Pakistan, soon after its emergence from the partition of India, had signaled its readiness and solicited United States military aid from the United States.

Pakistan’s ‘quid-pro-quo’ was to join every conceivable military alliance system sponsored by the United States and the West. Pakistan thus became a member of the Baghdad Pact, later CENTO and then SEATO. Pakistan’s only contribution to the United States during this period was to permit operation of US spy flights (U-2 planes) from Peshawar. These too were stopped in 1962 after Soviet warnings.

During the early Cold War years, Pakistan as an “enduring ally” of the United States did not contribute anything to furtherance of American interests in the Islamic World (one of US strategic expectations) or the Middle East. As a SEATO ally of the United States, Pakistan did not contribute directly or indirectly, to assist the United States in Vietnam. This was in sharp contrast to other SEATO members like Thailand and Philippines.

Cold War’s Later Years: Pakistan had shied away from the United States from 1962 onwards. Events of the mid 1960s and early 1970s drove Pakistan into violent anti-US outrages including the burning of the US Embassy in Islamabad in the late 1970’s. These were hardly the responses expected from an “enduring ally” of the United States “of long standing”.

The United States did not undertake any initiatives to enliven or reinforce its relationship with Pakistan during this period.

The Afghanistan War: The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 helped jump-start the United States-Pakistan strategic relationship, for different motives though. The United States wanted to do a “Vietnam” on the Soviet Union and there was no better way than to “Islamise” the resistance against the Russians. Pakistan was ready to exploit the situation and offered itself as a spring-board for the United States proxy war in Afghanistan.

The United States “enduring ally of long standing” did not contribute any military resources (men or materiel) to the US effort in Afghanistan. On the contrary, it extracted from the United States $4 billion military aid against a non-existent military threat; it siphoned off more than 60% of US arms and ammunition for the Islamic Jehad to Pakistan armouries and it put into operation a vast network of narco-terrorism apparatus for provision of funds to its intelligence agencies like the ISI.

If Pakistan had strategically contributed to US national interests during these years, United States today would not have been faced with the scourge of the Talibanised Afghanistan and Islamic Jehad against homeland USA itself.

The Gulf War: Following the end of Cold War in 1989, the United States had to resort to a massive military operation in 1990-1991 against Iraq’s military intervention in Kuwait. United States used the UN flag to draw in traditional allies from Europe and Islamic allies from the Middle East, namely, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt and even an anti-US state like Syria.

Where was United States “enduring ally of long standing”? Pakistan did not join the United States during the Gulf War. It made a token contribution of a battalion each to go and defend “the holy places of Islam” (Mecca and Medina). A preposterous proposition as if President Saddam Hussein would have attacked Mecca and Medina. The Pakistan Chief of Army Staff, then, General Mirza Aslam Beg openly criticised and opposed the United States for initiating the Gulf War. Pakistan’s record in the Gulf War was hardly the one expected of a United States ally.

United States Current Strategic Expectations from Pakistan: United States, currently as the global uni-polar power, realistically, should not have much strategic expectations from a country the size and potential of Pakistan. The United States has far many more options available to further its national interests.

Pakistan’s well-wishers in the United States comprising Cold War warriors of earlier era, however keep advancing the following strategic factors promotive of Pakistan: (1) Pakistan provides a link and outlet for the United States in Central Asia (2) Pakistan as a ‘moderate’ Islamic state could promote US interests in the Islamic World (3) Pakistan could keep Afghanistan under control (4) US does not want a Talibanised Pakistan (5) Pakistan could help US oil companies to build their pipelines from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan to Gwadur port on the Makran coast in Pakistan (6) Some US analysts also argue that a military strong Pakistan with nuclear weapons could rein-in India’s long-term strategic ambitions.

Can Pakistan Deliver?: Pakistan in its current state has been dubbed by many US analysts as a ‘failed state’ or ‘failing state’. It also has been dubbed by them as a “rogue nuclear state” or modified into “states of concern”. Talibanisation, today, stares Pakistan in its face and the economy is at breaking point.

Pakistan is in no state to deliver to the United States, the strategic expectations American Cold War warriors would like to cite in its favour. On the contrary Pakistan itself needs to be delivered from the paralytic attack of Islamic fundamentalism and Talibanisation engulfing it.

Analytically, Pakistan has no foothold in Central Asia to advance US interests. Pakistan is perceived in that region as the factory of Islamic Jehad threatening them. In the Islamic World, the United States has better and stable allies to advance its interests, like Turkey and Egypt. Pakistan has lost control over the Taliban in Afghanistan; their tentacles are now spreading to take over Pakistan. Much to US dislike, better oil pipeline routes are available through Iran. Turkey is a still better option.

Lastly, any long term strategic evaluation by US policy makers of building Pakistan as a counter-weight to India is grossly faulty. India as a good learner, could follow the United States model during the Cold War of beating USSR out of existence by imposition of an unaffordable arms race. India could similarly impose an unbeatable conventional arms-race on Pakistan to off-set such designs. Pakistan cannot, therefore, deliver in this field.

Conclusion: Pakistan stands strategically over-evaluated by United States foreign policy planners and strategists. Pakistan even in earlier years, when it was relatively more stable and moderate, made insignificant strategic contributions to US national interests.

Pakistan’s military hierarchy which would continue to call the shots in any political dispensation are a totally different breed from what United States officials dealt with during earlier military regimes. Pak military hierarchy and the bulk of Pakistan Army today is highly Islamised (fundamentalist attitudes). They are not US-friendly today and hence unlikely to serve US interests.

United States national interests in Central Asia, Middle East, South Asia and South-West Asia face strategic challenges from Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists. Pakistan can hardly emerge as United States’ strategic ally to confront such challenges. In fact, it may emerge as a challenge itself.

The United States needs to re-valuate its strategic evaluation of Pakistan and of its relationship. What is increasingly becoming apparent, on analysis, is that Pakistan is likely to emerge as a “black-mailing state” on the North Korean model, preying on United States fears of Pakistan’s nuclear unpredictability and irresponsibility.


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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