U.S. policy confusion on Pakistan and India

January 24, 2010

jinnah flagWhat is the U.S. policy towards Pakistan and India, and in particular over how to deal with their rivalry over Afghanistan which complicates U.S. efforts to bring stability there? I’ve been trying to find an answer for weeks now amid a raft of contradictory signals and statements coming from different U.S. officials.

First we had the leaked report by General Stanley McChrystal in September suggesting the issue should be handled with caution given Pakistani sensitivities about a big rise in India’s presence in Afghanistan following the fall of the Pakistani-backed Taliban in 2001.

“Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment,” it said. “In addition the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India.”

Then we had a series of reports, most recently here, suggesting Washington might welcome a bigger role for India in Afghanistan – precisely the kind of development that would exacerbate tensions with Pakistan given the current sour mood between New Delhi and Islamabad.

U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke toured the region saying President Barack Obama’s administration would welcome better relations between India and Pakistan. But then he was followed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates who, if anything, actually worsened tensions between the two by saying that India might retaliate in the event of a another big attack like the Nov. 2008 assault on Mumbai.

Gates made a similar comment towards the end of last year, when he said al Qaeda and its Islamist allies might try to use an attack to provoke a conflict between Pakistan and India. The problem this time around was the context. Saying this in Washington is one thing; saying it in India is quite different. Pakistan had already been jumpy about Indian intentions after its army chief said the military should be prepared to fight a two-front war against both China and Pakistan. Indian analysts describe those remarks, made at a closed-door seminar, as an aspirational view of the need for military preparedness, rather than any kind of immediate threat; but they went down badly in Pakistan and therefore coloured the way Gates’ remarks were interpreted.

You have to wonder whether Gates had been properly briefed about the context when he talked about Indian losing patience in the event of another big attack, or indeed why someone with such long experience of the region would make what appeared to be a diplomatic gaffe shortly before flying into Pakistan to try to win support there.  Did he, to borrow a word from the now U.S. Secretary of State, ”misspoke”?

 Juan Cole, who has generally been supportive of the Obama administration, was unforgiving, writing on his blog Informed Comment that its policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan were in disarray:

“Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s trip to Pakistan this weekend has in many ways been public relations disaster, and I think it is fair to say that he came away empty-handed with regard to his chief policy goals in Islamabad. Getting Pakistan right is key to President Barack Obama’s policy of escalating the Afghanistan War, and judging by Gates’s visit to Islamabad, Obama is in worse shape on the AfPak front than he is even in Massachusetts. Since he has bet so heavily on Afghanistan and Pakistan, this rocky road could be momentous for his presidency.”

Meanwhile Britain is hosting a conference on Afghanistan this week aiming to flesh out the timetable set by Obama for drawing down troops by 2011 and to convince regional players to cooperate rather than compete over a country which has long been a battleground for proxy wars. But as I wrote in this analysis, anything that might now be achieved in terms of easing tensions between India and Pakistan is likely to come too little, too late to deliver policy results in time for the 2011 deadline.

According to Steve Coll at the New America Foundation, who I quoted in the analysis, Washington’s need to achieve results in Afghanistan by 2011 is at odds with the longer-term clock followed by India and Pakistan. ”My sense is that the administration feels stymied by India’s continued insistence that it does not want any outside help and the frustratingly slow pace by which India and Pakistan are trying (to find a way back to negotiations),” he said. ”The U.S. doesn’t seem to be able to construct a breakthrough.”

The tensions between India and Pakistan complicate the current situation by undermining U.S. efforts to convince the Pakistan Army to turn on Afghan Taliban militants which it may eventually need to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.  Pakistan has also kept the bulk of its forces on the Indian border, limiting its capacity to mobilise troops to fight militants on the Afghan border.  In the short to medium term, India and Pakistan are at odds over how far Taliban fighters should be brought into a process of reconciliation in Afghanistan. And in the long term, both could end up backing opposite sides in any renewed civil war between a weak government in Kabul and Taliban militants active in parts of the countryside. Then of course, both countries have nuclear weapons, so even without Afghanistan, it’s not a place where you would ever want tensions to escalate out of control.

So you would think that after a year in office, the U.S. administration would have a policy on how to deal with relations between India and Pakistan and their roles in Afghanistan. But I’m still looking for it.

19 comments

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I think people’s assumptions on India and Pakistan are actually what is causing all this confusion. I think all Western minded thinkers really believe that if India and Pakistan engage with each other, Pakistan will turn around and target militants. This is simply not true. Pakistan is not targeting militants because it fears the cost of doing so. It does not want to start a war that will be perceived as Muslims fighting Muslims on the behest of America. Plus the terrain and objectives of such a war would be akin to the South Vietnamese Government declaring war on the North.

This is what Pakistan actually wants from America:

The Americans pressure India into handing over Kashmir to Pakistan. The Pakistanis in return launch a limited war on some FATA militants to look like they are living up to their end of the bargain. America looses interest in fighting these militants after a few years. Pakistan backs off and makes peace with these militants. Now Pakistan has Kashmir, it has leverage over Afghanistan through FATA militants and now it can assume its rightful place as a victorious and dominant Islamic nation in South East Asia.

Moreover, to expect India to go along with this kind of idiocy is vastly overestimated. America does not have that kind of pull on India. It can beg, cajole but it finds threatening India puts it back into its anti-imperialist shell and is counterproductive.

One day there will be peace in Kashmir but the pace at which the countries are willing to move on such a contentious issue is not amenable to the American Presidential Election Cycle. Plus, Obama has no real leverage over either country. During the Cold War the danger of a competing super power helping the other side meant that each country had to listen to its overlord or suffer dire and real consequences. Without the Cold War, what does it matter if nobody listens to America. America can cut of Pakistani Aid but sanctions like that always backfire and more useful as a threat than in implementation. America can sanction Indian trade and commerce by banning American companies from doing business with India. That might have worked in the beginning of the outsourcing revolution when American economic power was at its zenith. I doubt America can convince European companies and East Asian companies to also abandon India. Moreover, this will be convenient for China to step in and put a stop to Indo-Western cooperation that might threaten it in the future. What is the US going to do? Sanction China.

No real solutions for the US if it wants to move over a couple of years. It needs a long term bi-partisan strategy for South Asia. This one of those strategic problems that needs a blue ribbon panel and elder statesman from both parties to intervene. I predict that will happen by the end of 2010 or in 2011.

Posted by amituttam82 | Report as abusive

[...] policy confusion on Pakistan and India – Today, 01:55 AM U.S. policy confusion on Pakistan and India Jan 24, 2010 jinnah flagWhat is the U.S. policy towards Pakistan and India, and in particular [...]

Pakistan created Talibans and assassinated Dr. Nijibullah. It is foolishness to assume that Pakistan will ever go dedicated against any Terrorists organization or any country supporting terrorism.

After 9/11, it came very handy for Pakistan when US demanded Pakistan support to fight Talibans in Afghanistan. It took no time for Pakistan to convince Taliban that if Pakistan joins so called hands with US, it will be the most appropriate option. It will demand heavy expenses from US and also will guide Talibans to stay in the safer areas. Pakistan also ensure that India must stay away from the war.That is in nut shell reason of no result in the Afghan war.

Even in the future, Pakistan will misuse the support coming in from US to fight against Talibans. On the other hands ISI will keep its secret and close tie up with Talibans. It will provide logistics support to them; will use those fighters on its borders with India especially in Kashmir area. Pakistan wants to involve more and more number of countries to have their interest in Pak occupied Kashmir so as to fight all together against India for Pakistani control over the area. Permission to Talibans to rule in Swat valley and grant of some projects to China are some current examples. Pakistan had been using Muslims from many countries on the borders with India on the slogan of liberating a few Muslims in Kashmir.

It is also true that India is closely watching all this. India has already given Pakistan, a separate country to Muslims. Why it should give Kashmir? Terrorist’s attacks on India every year, high jacking planes and demanding ransoms may result in a situation that one day a country like India that have a long history of peace loving country take total U turn. India is no more India of 1947. Just a matter of 60 years, basically all Pakistan land belongs to India. Too much cornered from all sides may force India to jump all over this way or that way.

Posted by Sharman | Report as abusive

The US simply cannot get out of Afghanistan by 2011. If they had acted this intense right from 2001, without any distraction in Iraq, they probably would have made a lot of progress. Having left the situation in limbo and allowing the Taliban to regroup and settle down has caused serious damage to their efforts. It has allowed unnecessary tension to develop between India and Pakistan. Turning a blind eye to India’s plight at the hands of Pakistani establishment’s holy warrior brigade and focusing only on the elements that it has defined as harmful to American and British lives, the US has been misled along the path of no return. Now it is realizing that there is no terrorist that is specific towards Americans. Now these mercenary militants can target anyone. Today it is India. Tomorrow it can be UK or Australia. Or the US. They have gained enough experience. By playing victim after creating these elements, Pakistan is trying to dodge all the attention towards its nefarious activities. Now Pakistan has boldly told the US about not pressing on the Taliban for at least another six months. The US will try to bribe Pakistan by giving it sensitive military technology and money and Pakistan will play its part of dancing around for a while, trying to find non-existent enemies. And it will give that technology to China to reverse engineer everything and soon will get everything back from China to target India. This is a never ending game. The US knows it, but will do nothing about it. So long as only American interests are considered, this monster will sleep comfortably and it will work towards further weakening the American efforts in the region. India and Pakistan will engage in a major war very soon. It has to end at some point and the day is nearing. One can see the desperation with which Pakistani military is launching missiles and trying to send in infiltrators across the border. Tunnels are being dug in various places. Pakistan badly wants a war with India to get out of its embarrassing situation. There is no room for diplomacy at this stage.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

[...] is also concern, as US ties with Pakistan’s longstanding rival India continue to strengthen, that the alliance will not last at any rate, and that the US will drop Pakistan the moment they [...]

I find this comparing of Indian and Pakistani roles in Afghanistan as something that is part of a larger agenda. To me it seems part of an attempt to somehow bolster Pakistan’s case for not doing enough against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Take McChrystals statement, “While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India.”

Accepting what the General says is true, and if the US or anyone, actually wants to settle things in Afghanistan, wouldn’t it be better to respect what the Afghans want? By ignoring Afghan sentiments, will the US cause be furthered or damaged?
Suppose India walks out of Afghanistan. Will Pakistan really fight the Taliban there? If so, what prevented Pakistan doing it all these years till India got involved there?

I am unable to really put my finger on it, but I get the feeling, that the persistent raising of this issue is more to do with distracting attention from Pakistan’s reluctant commitment to the fight in Afghanistan.

Where I completely agree is on the issue of the US being totally at sea as regards a coherent policy in the region. Clutching at straws at the moment.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Pakistan has no resources to do anything for its people, let alone for the people of Afghanistan or Kashmir. Pakistan depends entirely on Western and World Bank funds to stay afloat. All the aid that goes to Pakistan is meant to siphon off funds for the elite ruling classes or Pakistan including its armed forces. This is not something unknown in the West or even in Pakistan. The US has always had the policy of mollycoddling Pakistan to take care of its own interests. Now the chickens are coming home to roost for the Americans who are finally beginning to understand that Pakistani leadeship does not have American, or Western, or Pakistan’s interests but its own narrow interests. Nothing that the Americans can do will change the situation and with their threat of the nuclear arms falling into the hands of the Islamists, America is actually being coerced into a no win situation.

Posted by rummuser | Report as abusive

One thing which the officials & public in US must understand is that if there is any country on this planet which has been affected worstly by terrorism is PAKISTAN. How can you suspect Pakistan’s intentions in their war agaisnt terrorists.

Pick up the statistics for last year (2009), you will find the people & Army in Pakistan have lost lives which are double in numbers which all the other countries including the allied forces in Afghanistan & Iraq have lost.

Still, its Paksitan who is being blamed for supporting the Terrorists. What Justice!

If the West & Indians keep on blaming Pakistan for nothing, its not Pakistan which will suffer, its actually the war against terrorism that will suffer.

I would also like to add another thing. The Al-Qaeda is not an organization that is working for the welfare of Muslims. Its working against Muslims & for the Non-Muslims, especially the West.

Its a dummy organization of USA, which they are using to create reasons for their attacks on Muslim countries. Just think for a moment, ALL THE ACTIVITIES, WARS OF ALQAEDA ARE BEING CARRIED OUT IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES (IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, SOMALIA, NIGERIA, SUDAN). THEY ARE ATTACKING MUSLIMS, (MOSTLY CIVILIANS) IN THEIR BOMBINGS IN BAZARS IN IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, & PAKISTAN.

Al-Qaeda is not a Pro-muslim organziation, its an Anti-Muslim organization.

Posted by idurrani | Report as abusive

According to most experts on the region, India has been using its presence in Afghanistan to sponsor terror activities in Baluchistan region of Pakistan. This was in fact admitted by Indian Prime Minster in the Sharm-el-Sheikh summit with his Pakistani counterpart. Unless Indian role in Afghanistan is curtailed, there can be no peace in Afghanistan or the region.

Posted by hussainahsan | Report as abusive

Hussainhasn writes: “According to most experts on the region, India has been using its presence in Afghanistan to sponsor terror activities in Baluchistan region of Pakistan. This was in fact admitted by Indian Prime Minster in the Sharm-el-Sheikh summit with his Pakistani counterpart. Unless Indian role in Afghanistan is curtailed, there can be no peace in Afghanistan or the region.”

Misinformation adds more to the chaos that is getting worse by the day. Statements like the above with no valid evidence or data add fuel to the fire inside Pakistan. And these are educated people who fall for such conspiracy theories. Imagine the mindset of the Jihadis and their sponsors!

The gentleman mentions about “experts in the region,” without any reference to who these “experts” are. If Rehman Mallik is considered an expert then it makes the claim very dubious. Then he goes on to claim that “India has been using Afghanistan for terror activities in Balochistan.” We have not heard of a Mumbai style attack in Quetta, have we? Indian intelligence might be gathering information through its agents, just like all the other countries do. Embassies are notorious for housing spies and network organizers. No country is exception to that. But that does not become tantamount to organizing terrorist activities. Some Indians might support Balochistan independence. People can have their opinions and they are free to do so. This does not translate into sabotage. Pakistan overtly supports any anti-Indian activity and there is nothing anyone can do about it, other than Pakistanis themselves. Thirdly there is another claim, “It was indeed admitted by Indian Prime Minister with his Pakistani counterpart.” Which Prime Minister will do it publicly even if country is engaged in such acts? Has Pakistan admitted anything about Mumbai attacks until they were forced by the FBI and provided with concrete evidence?

A lie repeated a thousand times begins to sound like a truth. India currently has no more interest in terrorist activities. It has enough issues on hand and has tasted the goodies of economic growth. Pakistanis have become paranoiac and are falling victim to their own poison. They need to stop assuming that a rope is a snake.

American ambivalence in the relationship between India and Pakistan is due to their own inability to make right decisions. They do not have experts who can make the right calls. They equate Pakistan with India and therein lies the problem. The two countries do not compare in any way and yet they keep equating them. This is like equating China with Iran. There is no realization of the reality.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

@Still, its Paksitan who is being blamed for supporting the Terrorists. What Justice”
Posted by idurrani

idurrani: Is that untrue that Pakistan supports terrorist organizations like LeT, JeM, Talibans of Afghanistan?

@Its (Al-qaida) a dummy organization of USA, which they are using to create reasons for their attacks on Muslim countries. Just think for a moment, ALL THE ACTIVITIES, WARS OF ALQAEDA ARE BEING CARRIED OUT IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES (IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, SOMALIA, NIGERIA, SUDAN).”
–That’s sunni versus shia Muslims hatred. You can call Al-qaida whatever but they are dumb and extremist Muslims.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

First of all, the terrorists are a gift of the Anglo-American collaboration with Pakistan, to fight the Soviets.

Using terrorists as tools of foreign policy and hedge against India, is the crux of the issue now.

It is for the Anglo-Americans to decide if they would like to entertain Pakistan’s evil options against India.

As far as India is concerned, it will do all it can to protect its own national interests, and not that of the Anglo-American power.

Posted by Neel123 | Report as abusive

The notion that in the event of another Mumbai-2008 style attack on India, India’s patient will be thin and India will retaliate against Pakistan is an utter non-sense. With both countries possessing nuclear weapons and missile systems, any future conflict will be extremely dangerous. Cool heads should prevail on both sides of the border.
Robert Gates is the US defense secretary and the corporate defense industry in US needs to sell multimillion dollar weapons to India to make money. How can that happen? by simply stoking tensions between India and Pakistan. That is what Robert Gates is doing, and he has been told bluntly by Pakistani military leaders. No more military ops in tribal regions for 6-12 months until the gains already made are consolidated. Unless the US treats India and Pakistan equally, Pakistan will not fulfill any American demands which are undue.
US has a huge market in India to sell its arms and ammo, however only a trustworthy relationship with Pakistan will ensure a face saving exit for US troops in Afghanistan and protection of regional American interests. Otherwise, US can always turn to India for help, let me see how many thousands of Indian soldiers can fight and die in the so-called ‘war- on (t)error’.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Umairpk:

@The notion that in the event of another Mumbai-2008 style attack on India, India’s patient will be thin and India will retaliate against Pakistan is an utter non-sense. With both countries possessing nuclear weapons and missile systems, any future conflict will be extremely dangerous. Cool heads should prevail on both sides of the border.”
–You got the crux of the matter after a long time. But given this background, Pakistan should not worry at all. If one is not prone to hot statements from India, it is clear that Indian military is under the control of Indian politicians. So no worries on that account. Indian military did took over when there was emergency in India’ so forget now. Talking about “Cool heads should prevail on both sides of the border”, you have seen the behavior of both Congress and BJP, they become responsible when given power.

@Unless the US treats India and Pakistan equally, Pakistan will not fulfill any American demands which are undue.”
–Umair, I have not seen anyone getting respect by begging.

@Otherwise, US can always turn to India for help, let me see how many thousands of Indian soldiers can fight and die in the so-called ‘war- on (t)error’.”
–I am not Indian PM but you are right, India should not fight the so-called ‘war- on (t)error’. This is Pakistan and West’s problem and India will deal with it from as far as possible. Reason is simple, India has its own terrorism to solve—the one which Pakistan is unready to touch—and is not going to fight for the West or for Pakistan.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

” Cool heads should prevail on both sides of the border.”

I tend to agree with that statement Umair, with emphasis on ‘both’. So far it seems only one side is showing restraint.

“Robert Gates is the US defense secretary and the corporate defense industry in US needs to sell multimillion dollar weapons to India to make money.”

Considering that the US keeps supplying arms to Pakistan, either by way of aid or at concessional rates, they need desperately to make money somehow.

“Unless the US treats India and Pakistan equally, Pakistan will not fulfill any American demands which are undue”

60 years down the road it is about time Pakistan got over its India phobia. Someone wrote recently about Pakistan’s bluff/blackmail over support for the war on terror. This is as good an example as any.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Correction: Indian military did NOT TAKE over when there was emergency in India’ so forget now.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

Umair writes: “Unless the US treats India and Pakistan equally, Pakistan will not fulfill any American demands which are undue”

Pakistan cannot equal India from every angle. Pakistan compares in population to Bangladesh and both are off shoots from the same country. So may be Pakistan should be treated equally with Bangladesh. In the past Pakistanis saw themselves superior to India. Now they are talking of equality. That is progress in the right direction. Once the reality dawns on them that they are in fact comparable to Iran or Bangladesh, they will stop and start looking at building their nation to match up with those countries. May be the US should start telling this to the Pakistanis. They have pampered Pakistan’s generals for too long and it has made Pakistanis too arrogant. Truth must be told at some point. Pakistan does not equal China. India can be compared to China. Therefore Pakistan cannot equal India. First this belief has to be broken. Only then things have any chance of improvement between the two neighbors. If Pakistan is so strong with its nukes, how come it caved in when told that it will be sent back to stone age by the US in 2001? Get off the high ground first and take a good look at yourself.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

The Americans it seems haven’t understood anything in India-Pakistan or nature as such. When you put a fire at your neigbour’s house, the fire is bound to reach you too!

This happened with 9/11 & Alquaeda, the so called anglo-american gift coming back to roost.

Why can’t we human beings live in peace without these short term commercial & political interests.

Why can’t we have an organisation which can enforce law in lawless and dummy states like Pakistan ?

Pakistan is a really toilet nation with a beggar bowl all the time!

Posted by Indo-European | Report as abusive

I totally disagree with the view that Gates visit to India was a disaster. Actually it reminded all those involved, including Pakistan, the danger of heading into a war could be catastrophic for all parties involved. To India, things are reiterated, an incident may happen but do not jump straight with arms. It was a kind of words, preparing the Indian political leadership about a definite possibility and asking for a measured response rather than something on impulse or emotions. I think he was mentally preparing the world about such a risk.

To the Americans, I can only sensibly think an immediate exit strategy from Afganistan. They failed and it is as simple as that. Next thing they can do is to make an exit without losing face. When they leave there is a real risk of Taliban uprising. In all their solutions they have to see Afghanistan and Pakistan as brothers. A solution differentiating these two will not work. They are inter-linked, so tied up that I would treat them as a single state.

I would suggest dismantle the Pakistan Nuclear establishment for the safety of the world and let the Mullahs rule both states. But contain them in these shells. Only covert operations can bear success with these brainless fanatics. Degrade the diplomatic status of both countries to avoid other 9/11s.

The trouble with Muslim countries in the world is that they cannot co-exist peacefully. They fight for one reason or another. Their history is best showcase. They won’t grow beyond certain limits. As far as Arab domination in Muslim world prevails things won’t change. But if countries like Indonesia or Malaysia take the lead, things may improve. This line of thinking can make a better tolerant Muslim society and if Americans can make it, at least some of afghan mullahs will be history!

Posted by Appus | Report as abusive

The problem is that all the three countries mentioned (US, Pakistan and India) do not have a clear cut policy towards Afghanistan. Afghanistan continues to be a pawn and suffers as a consequence of it. From an Afghani stand point the best thing that could happen is for all the three countries to pack up and leave along with their friends. But unfortunately this is not going to happen.

http://www.indiafirsthand.com

Posted by IndiaFirstHand | Report as abusive

The biggest problem with any supposed attempts for a dialog between India and Pakistan by anyone (India, Pakistan, Kashmiri leaders, US) is that Pakistani military / ISI is not held accountable. It is Pakistani military / ISI that is in (most) control in Pakistan, and it gains tremendously from keeping animosity with India alive. I hope all parties involved get this (which they likely do), and more importantly, start acting upon it. Shying away from engaging in talks or curtailing the power of the Pakistani military / ISI will not get anyone anywhere on Indo-Pak peace, no matter what the intentions are.

Posted by Agni | Report as abusive