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l October 2003 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 2, No 6 l


U.S policy predicaments in Pakistan

Subhash Kapila

Introduction- The Schisms in United States-Pakistan Relations:  Pakistan has traditionally presented predicaments to the United States in policy formulations specific to Pakistan and more largely to American policies in South Asia arising from schisms in mutual perceptions. The United States has pandered to Pakistan’s military needs in the past as a ‘quid-pro-quo’ for use of Pakistan to serve American national interests on a couple of occasions. But, as Dennis Kux (Author of the book “ The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies) puts it : “US-Pakistan ties have lacked a solid underpinning of shared national interests”. 

The same author further amplifies that the “ United States never shared Pakistan’s perception of India as an enemy” and that when Pakistan “one of the junior partners refused to play the game of geo-politics according to Washington’s rules-as Pakistan did in the 1960s over China-trouble ensued.” 

Pakistan repeated this pattern of strategic delinquency vis-à-vis the United States, in the 1990s also. Pakistan’ relations with the United States in the 1990s can be said to have been in a state of freeze due to : (1) Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile build-up with direct Chinese participation (2) Sponsoring anti-Indian Jehad in Kashmir (3) Nuclear weapons tests in 1998 (4) General Musharraf’s military coup despite American warnings (5) General Musharraf’s  military misadventure against India in Kargil in 1999 bypassing the elected civilian government of PM Nawaz Sharif and (6) more importantly emerging as the Mecca of Islamic Jehad by providing sanctuaries, training, consular assistance and free flights to the likes of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban-all involved in a ‘state of war’ against the United States. 

Despite these patterns of Pakistani strategic delinquency the United States chose to break this freeze hours after 9/11 when for the first time instead of cajoling Pakistan, General Musharraf was given an ultimatum to submit without delay to American demands, namely (1) Pakistan to provide bases for United States military forces in the war to liquidate the Taliban in Afghanistan (2) Dismantle all Pak terrorist training camps on Pak-Afghan border and (3) Launch military operations to seal Pak-Afghan border to prevent escape of Osama bin Laden and the hierarchy of Al Qaeda and Taliban. 

Genral Musharraf, visibly shaken, complied with the American dictates to a degree, justifying it to  his nation on two grounds: (1) Pakistan’s survival was at stake, and (2) The holy Koran sanctioned temporizing commitments under pressure but which could be reneged upon at the first opportune moment. 

In the two years since 9/11, despite United States pressure, the picture emerging today is : (1) Pakistan Army permitted the escape of Osama bin Laden and the terrorist hierarchy into Pakistan (2) Pakistan selectively handed  over top Al Qaeda terrorists to USA at carefully crafted intervals to extract political mileage from USA and (3) General Musharraf has not  fulfilled any of the repeated pledges given by him to USA to stop cross-border terrorism whether against India or Afghanistan. Schisms seem to be emerging once again in Pakistan’s approach and sensitivity to United States interests and policies. 

Pakistan once again presents policy predicaments to United States policy makers. The  United States today is facing an Islamic onslaught and Pakistan is the most untrustworthy candidate to combat it on America’s behalf having been the spearhead of Islamic Jihad for over a decade.   Further, Pakistan itself is divided by internal strife endangering  the future of this militarized  nation state.  Therefore, the United States options in Pakistan today are limited and basic. But before this is analysed, it would best be to take a brief looks at the schisms that exist in the United States about perceptions of Pakistan between what is officially articulated by the US Administration (presumably because of political reasons) and the analysis of American think tanks and political analysts as to what events portend about the ongoing situation in Pakistan. The United States Administration officially likes to maintain that Pakistan is in the forefront of the global war on terror and that General Musharraf is a “ courageous fighter against terrorism.” The United States think tanks  think otherwise. 

Perceptions of Pakistan- The Schism Between the United States Administration and American Think Tanks, Journalists, Analysts and Academics:  Within the United States there is a marked schism in the perceptions of Pakistan, between the United States Administration and the American think tanks, journalists, analysts and academia. The prominent ones have serious reservations and concerns about the US Administration’s change in policy in South Asia and the future of Pakistan, as the sampling below would indicate: 

Selig Harrison

Commenting on the US policy change he observed: “It’s a tragedy because it will greatly complicate the US role in South Asia as a whole and India in particular, if we have to get back in bed with Pakistan.” Further he advocated that Pakistan’s cooperation should be obtained by taking a tough line instead of buying them off. 

Gerge Perkovitch. Advised caution by the United States stating that: “ The real concern for the United States should be Pakistan. There is a real potential for civil war”. Implicit in the above, that Pakistan was a failed state, unlikely to contribute strategically to the United States, when it itself was on the brink of a civil war. 

Harold Gould.

“ The question for Pakistan is whether it is too late to draw back from the abyss, its own misguided deeds have opened up. Clearly, General Musharraf is running scared….. and the detention of several of the leading terrorists upon whom his ( General Musharraf’s) Government had conferred largesse, coupled with the serious unrest sweeping Pakistan, tells us that a coup is feared and indeed may not be far down the road, no matter what he does to try and prevent it .” 

Further he adds: “.. the next coup will undoubtedly succeed through a marriage between the military and the fundamentalists given the widespread inclination towards fundamentalism in the lower ranks of the Army and among at least a few of the Generals who sit quietly and non-committedly around Musharraf’s round table”. 

With these sorts of perceptions and perspectives on Pakistan, by American analysts it is, intriguing as to what impelled the current United States Administration to edge back towards a permissive relationship with Pakistan and continue with it, when the following factors are considered:

* Pakistan was a failed state upto 9/11.

* Pakistan Army’s middle ranking officers and lower echelons have strong fundamentalist leanings.

* Pakistan Army is a highly politicized army in which now both politics and Islamic Jehadi ideology get rolled into one.

*  General Musharraf till the morning of 9/11 was reputed to be a leading light of the clique of Pakistan Army Generals with strong Islamic Jehadi leanings and linkages with Islamic Jehadi parties. This also extended to Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and Taliban. 

United States Three Options in Pakistan Today: Since what the United States Administration has done in the years since 9/11 cannot be undone,  the next question that needs to be analysed now is as to what are the options open to  the United States today in Pakistan in terms of its policy formulations, keeping in mind the prospects of military coup, civil war and fragmentation of Pakistan. These options basically center on the means to achieve stability in Pakistan through:

* Option I. Stable General Musharraf

* Option II. Stable Pakistan Army.

* Option III. Stable Democratic Pakistan Nation State. 

All three of the above cannot be considered as synonymous. They carry separate implications for both Pakistan and United States which are analysed below. 

United States Option I- Stable General Musharraf. United States seems to be presently pursuing this option, convinced because of the following factors:

* Removal of General Musharraf from power by whatever means would bring Islamic fundamentalists into power in Pakistan.

* General Musharraf’s opportunistic character would ensure that United States strategic interests would be well served, with his continuance in power. 

If this be the United States preferred option for the moment, it carries the following implications:

* General Musharraf’s hold on Pakistan and Pakistan Army stands greatly weakened today due to what the mass of the Pakistan Army and the Pakistani nation perceives as his “sell-out to America”.

* No amount of US economic assistance, military largesse and vocal American support for General Musharraf, personally, can bolster his continuance in power,

* General Musharraf may be indispensable for current American interests, but he is not indispensable for the Pakistan Army or the masses that throng Pakistan’s bazaars and mosques.

* Too much hue and cry and alarm has been raised that the arrival in power of Islamic fundamentalist parties in Pakistan is inherently destabilizing. They could not be more de-stabilising than an Islamic fundamentalist General Musharraf at the helm of affairs (It is juvenile logic to assert that in a photo-session to journalists, carrying two lap dogs in his arms makes General Musharraf a moderate and a liberal). 

Genral Musharraf today is at odds with the Pakistani polity, the Pakistan Army and the Islamic fundamentalists. The more the United Sates attempts to bolster General Musharraf’s perpetuation in power in Pakistan to serve US interests, the more counter-productive are bound to be the results for USA. 

The United States, in this connection, should pay heed to historical precedents, as to what happened to the Shah of Iran as a result of such policies. The same could happen in Pakistan. The United States should dispense with this option forth with. 

United States Option II- Stable Pakistan Army: Seeing the volatile trends in Pakistan today and the mounting opposition to General Musharraf, within the Pakistan Army and without, the United States is likely to be tempted into adopting Option II i.e. Acquiesce to the removal of General Musharraf from power by any combination of forces within Pakistan, but ensuring that Pakistan Army’s hold on the Pakistani nation state continues to be stable to deliver on American strategic interests. 

United States predilection for this option seems to rest on a number of fallacious assumptions, namely:

*  Pakistan’s military hierarchy is secular. Pakistan Army military hierarchy today is not of the same mould as General Ayub Khan’s genre holding on to the secular traditions of the old British Indian Army. General Musharraf included, the Pakistan Army hierarchy today is predominantly Islamic fundamentalist in attitudes.

* Pakistan Army is a military effective fighting force ready to serve America’s strategic needs. Historically, armies which have tested political  power rarely remain military effective.

* Pakistan Army is popular in Pakistan. It is not so. There is widespread resentment in Pakistan not only against military rule but also for the disproportionate perks appropriated by the Pakistan Army hierarchy for its personal gratification.

* Pakistan Army is the glue which holds Pakistan together. Not so, as would the opposition to it  in NWFP would indicate and also the resolution in Balochistan  Assembly asking for reduction of Pak Army cantonments in Balochistan and also reduction of Pakistan para-military forces there.

* If Pakistan Army was secular and the glue which held Pakistan together and was a popular Islamic Army of Allah, as they like to claim then why the widespread massacre of Shias by the Sunni majority in Pakistan and the atrocities on Christian and other minorities.

* Pakistan Army’s hold on nuclear weapons reduces nuclear conflict chances in South Asia. Not so, because the opposite is true. It is General Musharraf and the Pakistan Army that has resorted to nuclear brinkmanship and nuclear war mongering. 

All of the above fallacies should discourage the United States adopting Option II. The United States opting for Option II would entail pandering by America for the Pakistan Army’s insatiable thirst for weaponry to reduce its asymmetry with India. It was tried in 1950s  and thereafter with active US military aid and the consequences have been unfavourable both for the Pakistani nation state and the United States. The Pakistan Army has not allowed anyone to question its own military defeats at the hands of India, corruption and military ineffectiveness. 

Further, Option II adoption by United States and its fall-out could lead India to impose an arms race on Pakistan which Pakistan could ill-afford  and nor could the United States subsidise  such a Pakistani  defence build-up. This Option also endangers the successful culmination of the emerging US-India strategic partnership. 

Most importantly, this would reinforce the image of the United States in Pakistani minds of United Sates standing with the Pakistani Army in between them and opposing the return of democracy to Pakistan. 

United States Option III- Stable Democratic Pakistan: Stable  and democratic Pakistan entails what? It entails that a political climate is engineered in Pakistan by the United States which could ensure the following:

* Pakistan Army role in the political and foreign affairs of Pakistan be marginalized and Pakistan Army is forced to return to the barracks.

* Restoration of Parliamentary ( not Presidential) democracy in Pakistan in elections initially to be conducted in presence of foreign observers to pre-empt rigging by Pakistan Army and its ISI.

* Pakistan Army be made subservient to the Parliamentary system.

* De-jehadisation of Pakistan as an essential pre-condition for economic aid from international  bodies and foreign investments. 

The United States has within it the power, muscle and coercive pressure to force the release of the Pakistan Army stranglehold on the Pakistani nation state. It is bewildering for people in South Asia to witness within South Asian countries, the United States following double standards. The United States clamours for democracy in Myanmar and political emergence of Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet the United States is silent on restoration of democracy in Pakistan and has never made any statement for the return from exile of former premiers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. 

A democratic Pakistan in full civilian control, however disorderly to begin with, due to prolonged spells of Pakistan Army misrule, will be at peace with itself, peace with its South Asian neighbours and more amenable to United States advice and directions. 

If historical precedents are to go by, then the United States would find it very difficult to adopt Option III,. unless Cold War mindsets are changed in the civil and military bureaucracies in Washington. For them it is easy to deal with military rulers of Pakistan. 

Option III of the United States will be stoutly opposed  and impeded by General Musharraf and by the Pakistan Army. The Pakistan Army for its own survival as the commanding elite in Pakistan can distract the United States from Option III by even de-stabilising Pakistan using Islamic Jehad or even opt for regional destabilization by indulging in war with India. But the United States can bring the Pakistan Army  on its knees by cutting off all Western economic aid and military assistance to Pakistan. 

Yet, it is imperative that the United States adopts Option III for its own long term good in terms of  its political standing and strategic interests in South Asia. 

Concluding Observations: As per the tenets of the United States new national security strategy formulations, if there is one state that demands ‘regime change’ by United States intervention, it is decidedly Pakistan. The Pakistan Army-commanded Pakistani nation state has excelled in state-sponsored terrorism across borders on both its western and eastern peripheries, nuclear weapons proliferation, nuclear war-mongering and has forced Pakistan’s slide into a ‘failed state’ status. 

Owen Bennet Jones of the BBC in his recent book has made the comments on the Pakistan Army as follows: “ Pakistan Army enjoy a better reputation than it deserves. Both on the field of battle and in periods of military rule its record has been far from glorious. If Pakistan is, as many Pakistanis believe a failed state, then the army (Pakistan Army) must take its fair share of the blame.” 

Commenting on General Musharraf, Jones states: “ General Musharraf’s regime has another problem. It faces a fundamental contradiction. A man  who assumed power illegally, and whose legitimacy depends on military forces, has argued that he alone can restore democracy to the country”. 

The above would indicate that the Pakistan Army and General Musharraf are the main culprits contributing to the ills that plague Pakistan and impeding its emergence as a moderate Islamic state at peace with itself and its neighbours. Therefore in terms of excercising United States options in Pakistan, the US Administration  needs to dispense with Option I and II analysed above. It would be in America’s long term interests to adopt Option III i.e. bringing about a politically stable, moderate and democratic Pakistan. 

The United States has the political and military standing to ensure the restoration of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. The United Sates should refrain from manipulating the perpetuation in power of the Pakistan Army to serve its geo-political strategic interests. That is the only honorable course of action for the United Sates. 

Concluding, it is for the United Sates to act forthwith and act now before Pakistan in its downward slide under Pakistan Army rule becomes irretrievable and beyond redemption. Caution here can best be expressed in the words of John Norris, Special Advisor to the International Crisis Group who states: “ The world community should approach Pakistan and its problems with open eyes. Offering tacit support for quasi-military rule into the indefinite future may make it more difficult, not less, to tackle the foundations of Pakistan’s insecurity.”


The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group -- courtesy of which this article appears here.


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