ISSN 2330-717X

Pakistan’s Abysmal Decline: India’s Policy Options


By Dr Subhash Kapila


Pakistan’s abysmal decline or even worse, its possible disintegration is increasingly being perceived as a distinct possibility even by Pakistan’s most ardent admirers and noted policy analysts in the United States which for nearly half a century has underwritten the continued existence of Pakistan as a nation-state with ‘band-aid’ tactically expedient policies.

Why the United States adopted such a policy is a mystery when it was abundantly clear that in the strategic end-game it was apparent that Pakistan would strategically align with China if it was so forced to make a strategic choice.

The United States is frantically and painfully grappling with policy options that could forestall Pakistan’s downslide or its looming disintegration. It has yet to come up with any substantial and coherent solutions weighed down heavily by the baggage of its permissive policies that permitted China to add nuclear weapons missiles and nuclear-capable missiles to Pakistan Army’s arsenal.

The United States panic to manage or deal with the instability and possible disintegration of a nuclearized Pakistan seems to have infected the Indian policy establishment and many in the Indian policy analysts and strategic thinkers’ community.

Little realized by both the Indian policy establishment and its strategic community is that the United States fears on Pakistan cannot be logically implanted on Indian strategic thinking. United States strategic templates on Pakistan do not apply to Indian policy-making for a number of good reasons, the chief of which being, the United States and India have sharp divergences on strategic perceptions on Pakistan and even in the worst case scenario, Pakistan’s Talibanization is no strategic threat to India. The latter stands analyzed in an earlier paper of mine.


Borrowing from United States thinking, noted political commentators in India have recently started espousing that it is in India’s interests to assist and underwrite Pakistan’s stability and continued existence as a nation-state.

Such thinking is oblivious to the most significant strategic reality that should distinguish Indian strategic thinking and policy options on Pakistan from that of the United States, and that is that Pakistan is not a military threat to the United States whereas Pakistan is a live military threat to India singly and now more jointly in deep collusion with China. Further, the Pakistan Army as the dominant force controlling Pakistan’s policy-making, while submissive and subservient to United States dictates has relentlessly adopted adversarial postures against India extending from military aggressions to state-sponsored terrorism. Foreseeable perspectives do not suggest any change in Pakistan Army’s approaches to India.

India’s policy options on Pakistan arising from Pakistan’s abysmal decline or possible disintegration should be determined by the above strategic reality. It is not long ago that the current Pakistan Army Chief, General Ashfaq Kayani declared for the benefit of the United States policy establishment that Pakistan Army continues and will continue to be “India-Centric”.

India’s policy options need to be examined in the framework of the above two strategic realities to arrive at objective conclusions and not on borrowed templates. With these two strategic realities as the backdrop, this paper intends to examine the main theme under the following heads:

* Pakistan’s Continuance as a Nation-State: Contextual Perspectives 2011
* Pakistan’s Terminal Decline: Is it Retrievable?
* India’s Policy Options on Pakistan: The Contemporary Debate in India
* Option IV-Disengage and Ignore Pakistan Maintaining Only Minimal Diplomatic Relations

Pakistan’s Continuance as a Nation-State: Contextual Perspectives 2011

Pakistan in 2011 presents the dismal picture of a nation-state in terminal decline. This is a sorry and deplorable picture when compared with its next door neighbor India. Both nations got independence at the same time yet India in the last 63 years has zoomed on a global power trajectory and Pakistan has headed towards state-decline? The answer lies deeply rooted in the psyche that impelled the creation of Pakistan.

Pakistan was created in hatred and divisive politics. The same underpinnings today dominate the Pakistani national scene where there are now ethnic divides between Pakistan’s provinces, sectarian divides between Sunnis and Shias, religious divides within the Sunnis between the Deobandis and Barelvis, and Islamist terrorist groups who themselves war with each other.

The following observations would be in order to this effect:

  • Pakistan has been living on borrowed time ever since its inception. The fissures and fault lines within Pakistan were vividly demonstrated in 1971 when the first partition of Pakistan took place after a civil war leading to the liberation of Bangladesh.
  • Pakistan’s further fragmentation stood postponed by a fortuitous convergence of strategic interests between the United States and China for different reasons.
  • In each decade since the 1970s while Pakistan was repeatedly plunging into an abyss both Pakistan and the United States reinvented Pakistan’s strategic utility to US interests leading the United States to underwriting and subsidizing the continued existence of Pakistan despite indications of state-failure.
  • United States with its strategic obsession with Pakistan adopted a permissive posture on China’s nuclear weaponization of Pakistan and equipping it with nuclear capable long range missiles. United States in the first Afghanistan war used Pakistan to employ Islamic Jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan
  • Strategically ironical today is the reality that Pakistan’s nuclear weaponization and the Islamic Jihad both threaten United States security besides Pakistan’s neighbors.

More ironical for Pakistan and dooming it to looming civil wars is that the very Islamic Jihadi terrorist organizations that Pakistan Army spawned are now threatening the very entrails of Pakistan besides creating schisms within the Pakistan Army. State-failure of a nuclearized Pakistan is opening Pakistan to foreign military intervention.

Pitiably, the very institution that all Pakistanis perceived as the glue that holds Pakistan together has become unstuck as it has not only been the founding father of Pakistani illegitimate Pakistani terrorist organizations but still continues to play politics with the future of Pakistan by not desisting from being in cahoots with them.

Pakistan’s Terminal Decline: Is it Retrievable?

This needs to be viewed on two different planes and contexts. The first and most important is the domestic context in which the Pakistan nation-state has itself to find answers and solutions as to how Pakistan can be retrieved from state-failure. The second is the external dimension in which the United States and China as strategic patrons of the Pakistan Army come into play and the leverages that they can apply on the Pakistan establishment to reverse Pakistan’s downslide.

Pakistan’s domestic scene contextually does not offer any optimistic prospects. The Pakistan Army has a vested interest to let Pakistan downslide to a point when Pakistan’s civil society and the Pakistani masses themselves clamor for the Pakistan Army to intervene and assume political governance.

Pakistan’s political parties have not learnt any lessons from the last 63 years in terms of political unity to forestall or pre-empt military take-overs by the Pakistan Army. They have failed at critical times to mobilize Pakistani masses against Pakistan Army rules.

Pakistani masses are groaning under the tyranny of fear where 97% of Pakistan cringes in fear under onslaughts of about 3% Pakistani terrorist outfits which the Pakistan Army is loathe to controlling as these were strategic assets created by the Pakistan Army and which continues to use them as such against the United States, India and Afghanistan.

The external dimension is equally dismal as the major strategic patrons of Pakistan, namely the United States and China have only invested in the Pakistan Army as a rentier army and not interested in Pakistan’s nation-building. For their respective strategic interests, the United States and China make use of Pakistan Army’s rental propensities and thereby thwart the emergence of real democracy in Pakistan where Pakistan Army is brought under civilian political control.

What does all of this portend for Pakistan? In brief there is no will in Pakistan to reverse Pakistan’s downslide into anarchy. The Pakistan Army stands impregnated with Islamic fundamentalist sympathizers at all levels for a decade now more prominently and that induces fears in the Pakistan hierarchy of divisions within. This factor also creates fears about the safety of Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Notably too, is the reality that an unsettled Pakistan suits Pakistan Army’s vested interests to remain the dominant force in the control and governance of Pakistan.

The short answer to the question whether Pakistan’s terminal decline can be retrieved is therefore in the negative.

Pakistan today therefore presents a deadly minefield to navigate for any policy establishment in terms of exploring policy options and more so to India’s political leadership and policy establishment which is devoid of strategic culture and taking hard decisions.

India’s Policy Options on Pakistan: The Contemporary Debate in India

The contemporary debate in India on policy options on Pakistan seems to be dominated and distorted and determined by United States templates on Pakistan within the policy establishment and by heavy dose of idealism and theoretical prognostications in the Indian intellectuals comprising political and strategic analysts.

Reflective of the United States templates is the goading of India by the United States to continue engagement and dialogue with Pakistan unconditionally, accommodate Pakistan Army’s sensitivities on Kashmir and troop reductions in Kashmir, and preposterously extending to making Indian Army to repudiate its war doctrines like the Cold Start War Doctrine.

Reflective of the heavy dose of idealism that dominates intellectual thinking in India is the constant refrain that peace with Pakistan at any cost is an inescapable imperative for India. The intellectuals try to apply rational templates on an irrational Pakistan Army. The intellectuals’ advocacy of such a line completely ignores the reality of the obsessive mindsets of the Pakistan Army firm in continuing with military confrontational policies with India.

It beats one’s imagination when noted intellectuals and strategic analysts in India start advocating that since the Pakistan Army controls Pakistan, India should open dialogue with the Pakistan Army and its Generals.

Lately, a new refrain his being repeated in the Indian debate on Pakistan that India bears a heavy responsibility to retrieve Pakistan from its impending state-decline. Here once again this advocacy ignores the reality that if the United States and China which have brought Pakistan to its present state do not feel any moral responsibility to retrieve Pakistan from state-failure, what moral responsibility devolves on India which is not instrumental in Pakistan’s downslide to retrieve Pakistan.

Both these schools of thought debating on India’s policy options are advocating reactive solutions and resorting to tactical recommendations without taking into account the contextual situation in Pakistan or the major question whether Pakistan’s terminal decline is retrievable?

Till sometime back at the apex political levels it was being retorted to criticism of India’s Pakistan policies that India perforce has to deal with whosoever is in power in Pakistan. Is it not reflective of helplessness unbecoming of India aspiring to be a global power? My question then was whether India would deal with a Taliban Government should it grab power in Pakistan?

India needs to take a strategic and long view of Pakistan’s future when examining its policy options. India’s long view on Pakistan’s future should incorporate the following scenarios:

  • Talibanization of Pakistan with a Taliban regime in power
  • Fragmentation of Pakistan resulting in emergence of independent states of Balochistan and Pashtunistan.
  • United States military intervention in Pakistan leading to US-China hostilities on India’s doorsteps

India is in no position to prevent the above situations taking shape in Pakistan with the present advocacies floating around in the Indian debate on its Pakistan policy options. All the three scenarios above would possibly arise from acts of omission and commission of the Pakistan Army. India’s dialogue with Pakistan Army Generals cannot sway the Pakistan Army from its self-destruct mode.

Further in all of the above three scenarios, the United States and China would emerge as the prime actors to retrieve Pakistan and no strategic space would be available to India for independent initiatives in consonance with its own national security interests. If that be so, then the only prudent policy option for India in the above three scenarios would be for India to stand disengaged from any United States and Chinese initiatives and let them deal with the turbulence in Pakistan that their acts of commission and omission has generated.

India in that case would be required to maintain credible and deterrent defensive postures on its borders to insulate India from the turbulence that is likely to engulf Pakistan India would also be required to maintain a high state of war preparedness of its Armed Forces in the run-up to the three worst scenarios as this phase would be a very muddled and uncertain phase in which the Pakistan Army could be tempted for aggression against India to divert domestic and international attention.

India’s policy options on Pakistan against the backdrop of the situation unfolding there necessarily have to be dominated and determined by India’s security and military imperatives. There is no scope for idealist prognostications within India and no scope exists either for external preaching on Pakistan’s retrieval from instability.

Strategically, it is not in India’s interests to assist in the perpetuation of Pakistan Army’s political control of Pakistan or pandering to Pakistan Army’s sensitivities as desired by the United States.

India’s policy options on Pakistan in either case essentially boil down to the following, whichever perspectives are adopted:

  • Option I. Persist in Continuance and Adoption of the ‘United States Template’
  • Option II.Adopt the ‘Intellectuals Advocacy ‘of Pakistan Appeasement at Any Cost’
  • Option III. Subsidize and Assist in Economic Development of Pakistan and Promotion Of Democracy
  • Option IV. Disengage and Ignore Pakistan Maintaining Only Minimal Diplomatic Relations

India’s present policy approaches are following a combination of Option I and Option II in varying mixes. Following the ‘United States Template’ and the ‘Appeasement Policies’ of the Prime Minister has only emboldened Pakistan’s intransigence towards India. The adverse spin-off for India is as follows:

  • India stands diminished and reduced to a ‘strategic co-equal’ of Pakistan despite its regional power status. It severely impacts India’s global standing.
  • Pakistan continues with its state-sponsored terrorism, a fact repeated by the Indian Foreign Secretary this week.
  • Pakistan’s present Army Chief breached the four year old ceasefire along the LOC in Kashmir agreed to by his predecessor, secure in the belief that the United States would shield Pakistan from any reprisals from India.
  • Pakistan has repudiated all agreements/ understandings/ progress made towards normalizing relations made by General Musharraf

The ‘Pakistan Appeasement’ policy approach advocated by Indian intellectuals and followed by the Indian Government to complement the ‘United States Template’ has been an equal failure. Even the tentative but positive peace approaches made by the Zardari regime in the last two years were over-ruled by the Pakistan Army Chief, General Kayani

Option III, the economic-centric approach to subsidize and assist in economic development of Pakistan and promotion of democracy could have been soundly beneficial for Pakistan as by Pakistan’s economic plugging-in into India’s booming economy, Pakistan could pull itself out of its economic morass. Pakistan’s economic stability so resulting and the economic interdependence with India could have paved the way for political stability in Pakistan. However Option III remains a non-starter even before it can take-off as any normalization of relations with India is stiffly opposed by the Pakistan Army.

India is therefore left with Option IV as the only option in the face of the following determining circumstances currently obtaining in Pakistan;

  • Pakistan Army’s control of Pakistan’s governance continues kind courtesy of the United States and China.
  • Pakistan Army’s persisting obsessive mindset against any normalization of relations with India as it would destroy the very rationale of Pakistan’s existence and control of Pakistan’s governance by the Pakistan Army.
  • Pakistan Army’s refusal to give-up state-sponsored terrorism as an instrument of state-policy against India
  • Pakistan Army’s propensity for ‘double-dealing’. Pakistan Army’s double-dealing has persisted even with the United States which subsidizes Pakistan Army’s existence. How the Indian policy establishment can expect hat Pakistan would be ‘clean’ in its policy approaches and dealings with India and be trusted with any commitments that Pakistan makes in dialogue processes.

Option IV which is likely to be frowned upon by the Indian policy establishment, policy analysts and intellectuals need more amplification which is done in the following paragraphs.

Option IV Amplified-Disengage and Ignore Pakistan Maintaining Minimal Diplomatic Relations

Option IV would normally be distasteful as a preferred option in international relations especially with a sizeable neighbor like Pakistan. However, this is an option which would be forced to adopt in view of the following contextual circumstances:

  • Pakistan Army does not espouse any peace initiatives towards India and has suppressed the emergence of any peace lobbies which could assist normalization of relations
  • The United States stands defied by the Pakistan Army to cease state-sponsored terrorism by non-state actors against India. China would be permissive on this issue.
  • Pakistan Army has scuttled all Track II, III. And Track IV Peace Dialogues with India sponsored by United States.

Option IV is the only alternative short of war to tame the Pakistan Army from its military adventurism against India. The major components of Option IV should incorporate the following:

  • India should totally dispense with the ‘United States Template’ on Pakistan and so also the Pakistan-Appeasement policies of the Prime Minister.
  • India should disengage from Pakistan in all political, economic and cultural processes including the virtually defunct SAARC framework.
  • India should dispense with the Pakistan-Centric obsessive fixations that dominate policy-making in the PMO, NSA and the Foreign Office.
  • India should without any ambiguity apprise the United States that India has no part to play if the United States South Asian policies are going to be dominated by Pakistan-Centric perspectives and balancing of India by the Pakistan Army.
  • India should impress on China that Sino-Indian normalization is not possible unless it recasts its South Asian policies and moves away from using Pakistan as a regional spoiler state against India.
  • India should not indulge in any troop reductions from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. On the contrary, India should deploy additional Army formations along the borders both for better security and as a ‘strategic pressure point’ against the Pakistan Army.

In this over-arching framework, India just maintains the minimal only diplomatic relations on the lines the United States maintains with North Korea and Japan maintains with North Korea.

Militarily important in this Option IV is that India maintains a high degree of war-preparedness and military reprisal capabilities to stem any reactive aggression emanating from Pakistan and indirectly by China. Equally important is the imperative that India’s political leadership should dispense with their propensities to lower India’s political guard by Pakistan’s deceptive peace rhetoric or any reassurances from the United States on Pakistan.

Concluding Observations

Pakistan as a stable entity in the comity of nations in South Asia is a desirable policy objective of India. In the last sixty three years India has resorted to a wide variety of initiatives to attain this objective. A stage has been now reached where the garrison state of Pakistan dominated by the Pakistan Army has begun to perceive India’s peace initiatives towards Pakistan as those of appeasement arising from strategic and diplomatic timidity

Consequently, the Pakistan Army has begun to imagine itself as a ‘strategic co-equal of India’, a perception further arising from the balance-of-power policies followed by the United States and China in South Asia.

India can ill-afford such a diminution of its strategic weight either in the domestic context or in the international context as a rising power. Domestically, the Indian Prime Minister is increasingly being perceived as in a state of disconnect with Indian public opinion on Pakistan which desires strong policies against Pakistan’s terrorism.

Internationally, the inability of India to order its South Asian environment, particularly Pakistan, to serve its national security interests, creates doubts about India’s potential as a global power.

On both counts, therefore, India needs to revise its perspectives on Pakistan and recast its policy approaches on Pakistan which diminish India’s strategic and political standing.

(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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