India and Pakistan on the U.S. see-saw

March 26, 2010

wagah2Few who follow South Asia could miss the symbolism of two separate developments in the past week –  in one Pakistan was cosying up to the United States in a new “strategic dialogue”; in the other India was complaining to Washington about its failure to provide access to David Headley, the Chicago man accused of helping to plan the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

Ever since the London conference on Afghanistan in January signalled an exit strategy which could include reconciliation with the Taliban, it has been clear that Pakistan’s star has been rising in Washington while India’s has been falling. 

If the United States wants to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, it needs Pakistan’s help. And Pakistan has shown by arresting Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar amongst others that it intends to keep control of any negotiations. In return for its cooperation, it expects Washington’s help in securing Pakistan’s own interests, including through a scaling back of India’s involvement in Afghanistan.

By contrast, the relationship between India and the United States which blossomed under the Bush administration has been fading as Washington looks to China and Pakistan to help meet respectively its economic and security needs. An initial outpouring of sympathy and international support for India following the Mumbai attack  - which led to intense pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the assault – has dissipated over time.

Nowadays the mantra in Washington is that India and Pakistan must talk to each other to resolve their differences. Pakistan, after initially cracking down on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, eased the pressure on the group in the second part of 2009. India suspects the Lashkar-e-Taiba is not only active again but may have been involved in last month’s attack in Kabul which targeted Indian interests. If true, this would suggest that Lashkar-e-Taiba is acting in conformity with the interests of the Pakistan Army, which is deeply sensitive about India’s growing presence in Afghanistan following the fall of the Pakistan-backed Taliban in 2001.

To rewind briefly, it has always been unclear how far the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency could go in dismantling the Punjab-based militant group it once nurtured to fight India in Kashmir. While few doubt it could shut down the Lashkar-e-Taiba if it chose to do so, the risk has been that action against an organisation which has been scrupulous in avoiding attacks within Pakistan itself would shatter it into splinter groups which would make common cause with al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. A raid on the Pakistan Army’s own headquarters last October highlighted just how vulnerable the country could be to an alliance between militants in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and those based in its heartland Punjab province.

So the debate amongst analysts has been whether relative inaction against the Lashkar-e-Taiba has been driven by self-preservation or a desire on the part of the ISI to retain the group’s operational capacity to use it against India. Islamabad is convinced India’s own intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), is using Afghanistan as a base to destabilise Pakistan, particularly by funding separatists in its Baluchistan province.  Any evidence of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s involvement in the Kabul attack would therefore reinforce suspicions that the Pakistan Army is still using it as part of a proxy war between the two countries’ intelligence agencies. (Both countries deny the accusations levelled at each other’s intelligence agencies.)

 One person who might be able to shed light on the relationship between the ISI and the Lashkar-e-Taiba is Headley,  accused of working closely with the militant group in planning the Mumbai attack. And that is precisely why India is so suspicious of the U.S. reluctance to grant Indian investigators access to him.

Now to return to Washington’s policy towards India and Pakistan. The United States has been at pains to insist that improved relations with one country is not at the expense of the other - although in the zero sum game mindset prevalent in South Asia that is likely to be the way it is perceived.

The worry on India’s part is that in its haste to find a solution to Afghanistan, Washington will grab whatever help it can get even if this means putting Pakistan’s interests first. That could also mean giving priority to action against the Afghan Taliban while turning a blind eye to anti-India groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, as it has been accused of doing in the past.

The enthusiastic reception given to Pakistan Army head General Ashfaq Kayani in Washington this week - belying earlier U.S. promises to nurture democracy - has already raised concerns about a tilt towards the military which has traditionally taken a harder line on India than civilian governments.

“… in its search for an exit route from the quagmire of Afghanistan, the Obama administration is in danger of becoming over-dependent on Pakistan,” the Hindu newspaper says in an editorial.  ”The presence of Pakistan’s army and intelligence chiefs at the strategic dialogue underlined the abnormality of the situation. Terrorism and extremist politics in the AfPak region are mainly the product of the Pakistani military establishment, which nurtured and patronised jihadi groups as a force multiplier. Despite this, a solution is now being sought by valorising and even strengthening the role of this establishment at the expense of Pakistan’s civilian structures of governance.”

Pakistan, on its part, has bitter experience of being used to further the U.S. agenda in ways which are not necessarily good for its own long-term interests – notably when it worked with the CIA to support the mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-1989, and then found itself left to handle the blowback of Islamist militancy alone when the Americans lost interest in the region and left.

 If its new-found popularity with Washington comes at the price of a narrow focus on following U.S. interests, it could once again find itself at the losing end of the bargain.

Pakistan, writes Ayesha Siddiqa in Dawn, really needs to decide for itself the kind of country it wants,  its type of government and its attitude to militant groups long seen as strategic assets against India. “We have been keeping some of the ‘strategic assets’ because of the Pakistani military’s concern for India’s nefarious activities in Afghanistan. Let’s say that we manage to convince the U.S. to give us a role in Afghanistan where we could ensure our larger strategic interests. Would we then be willing to shut down the jihad machine?” she asks.

“Pakistan’s internal dialogue would require an assessment of how far it can go in using force to draw benefits and estimating strategic benefits and costs. While it must aim for gaining a foothold in Afghanistan to secure its position, a policy to force other neighbours out would prove counter-productive. It would help if Islamabad combined the acquisition of a role in Afghanistan with multilateral assurances that India or any other country would not threaten its core interests.”

One of the more obvious ways for India and Pakistan to get off the U.S. see-saw – where when one is up, the other comes crashing down – would be for them to take control over their own relationship. 

Both India and Pakistan have an interest in a stable Afghanistan. This is not Kashmir, whose disputed status goes right to the heart of both countries’ identities - Islamic Pakistan first laid claim to Muslim Kashmir on religious grounds back in 1947;  secular India says Kashmir’s fate cannot be determined on the basis of religion.  Afghanistan has however been a battleground for a proxy war for decades, run by intelligence agencies whose activities have probably been far bettter known to Washington than to the people of either India or Pakistan.

But finding common ground on Afghanistan would require both countries to build on the dialogue which began last month when India invited Pakistan’s foreign secretary to talks in New Delhi.  The alternative – as amply demonstrated over the past week – would be to leave it to Washington to set the agenda.

(Photo: India-Pakistan border checkpoint at Wagah, near Lahore)


It is not important whether India or Pakistan or even US vying for power in Afghanistan, but what is more important is the people of Afghanistan, they have seen so much blood shed, first in the hands of Soviet Union then by islamic jehadis and fundamentalists backed by Pakistan’s ISI in their bid to control narcotics trade to finance their own nefarious activities. The simple fact is India and Afghanistan share common history for more than thousand years. Gandhari , a queen in ancient hindu epic , Mahabharata, was said to be the daughter of the King of Kandahar, which is presently in Afghanistan. Bamiyan statues of Lord Budha are the testimony of Indo-Afghan relationship dating back thousands of years. for centuries , Indians and Afghans were traveling to each other countries without any difficulty. Afghans were part of Indian social fabric , there are countless tales of Afghans living in India as part of Indian society. Indians still remember the famous novel by Ravindra Nath Tagore , a nobel prize winning author fron Bengal, his holiness Guru Nanakji , religious head of Sikhs, spent a long time in Kabul.

Sudden warming of US- Pak relationship in Afghanistan will definitely not go down well with people of Afghanistan. It is certainly a very unhealthy development for the people of Afghanistan. If India is doing some good work in Afghanistan, it should be read in the context of Indo-Afghan historic relationship. India has no interest in destabilising Pakistan in any way. Pakistan has been regularly making noises about Indian hand in various terrorist activities in Pakistan, but so far these remained a wild allegation , Pakistan has not been able to present any proof of Indian involvement in any of these acts.

Pakistan has been habitual lier,Pakistan is surviving on one or other lies . First they created the monster of terrorism and now that this has boomeranged on them , Pakistan is claiming to be a victim of terrorism to win sympathy of the world.

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive


In this power struggle, poor and innocent Afghans have become victim . In their bid to early exit from Afghanistan, US is willing to go to any length even willing to consider power sharing deal with talibans, US is also ready to work out deal with Pakistan at the cost of Afghans with full knowledge of Pak role in post Soviet Afghanistan .

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive

Bob Andersen,

The very basis of your argument “The land was divided based on religion” is erroneous. Pakistan was formed on a religious basis & ideology, not India. India never agreed to be divided on religious grounds because if that were the case, it’s 12% Muslim population (at the time of partition) would’ve been asked to leave or forced to leave just as the minorities in Pakistan were. Today, India’s minorities constitute app. 21% (2002 figures) of it’s population out of which 15% are muslims.

I won’t get into Kashmir’s history since others have already done so.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

@@I stand corrected there are 107 Indian consulates (terror networks) in Afghanistan. an-consulates-in-afghanistan-spreading-t error-to-pakistan/

–Is it not a case of a liar quoting another liar? Moin is a professional one….Is that your limit of fact checking?

India for years have been formenting terror in sri lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. Indians live their pipe dream of competing with china and have sold the idea to west that they can contain china. Maybe the Indians have fogotton the 63 war!
Posted by jb2010 | Report as abusive

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

@Soon after the 9-11 attacks, corps commanders meeting took place in GHQ Rawalpindi. Some of the corps commanders had told then Army chief not to support the US impending attack in Afghanistan, that same story of Soviet occupation will be repeated. Pakistan will give it sweat and blood in return suffer. Still Pakistan supported the US at a huge cost.”

—-Do you know the reason why few corps commanders who were saying firm NO to allying with the USA on WOT finally agreed with him. Mushy told them if Pakistan will not go for it, India will. That did it. lol…The brand India sells well in Pakistan.

Just a bit of detail for you.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

@Any one still arguing a master-slave relationship between Pakistan and US?
Posted by Umairpk

—Very much.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

@American ambassador can hardly enter the GHQ in Rawalpindi much less jump in a C-130 for a ride with Gen. Kayani.
Posted by Umairpk

–May be he can sub-contract TTP. They are good at it.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

@When the Punjab sikh population was fighting the Indian forces.

—get some cold shower or dip your head somewhere. There are genuine sikhs on this blog. I am sure they would have sided with you if it was “Punjab sikh population” (LMAO..) was fighting the Indian forces.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive


Same here pal. Can’t imagine how the old ones put up with all those hindus
Posted by jb2010

—So that explains the drop in Hindu population in pakistan!!!

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive


Can India produce the legal document that verifies signing of accession of kashmir to India by Hari Singh? In either case, you must retract the claim.

“….Hari Singh panicked asked for Indian help which was refused as he was not part of India. It was then that he signed the accession to India.”

Posted by redmax | Report as abusive

This site seems to recieve a large ammount of visitors. How do you advertise it? It gives a nice unique spin on things. I guess having something useful or substantial to post about is the most important thing.


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