Pakistan: A Troubled Legacy and an Uncertain Future - II
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 06 Sep , 2011

Relations with the United States

Pakistan’s relations since the early 1950s with its mentor, the United States, has been a roller-coaster ride. Pakistan has been kept afloat all these years by generous doles of economic and military aid from the United States, first to combat communism in Asia, thence to combat the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan by training and equipping the Afghan Mujahideen, and since the early 1990s to combat terrorism as the United States’ regional standard bearer in the Aft-Pak region, where its own participation in fomenting terror is well known and American policymakers, much against their wishes, continue to underplay. Nevertheless, Pakistan has diverted a fair amount of this aid to India-centric military machine building. Currently, Pakistan is the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel and Afghanistan.

Pakistan has diverted a fair amount of aid to India-centric military machine building. Currently, Pakistan is the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel and Afghanistan.

Contemporary relations between the two countries have certainly dipped after the United States launched Op Gerinomo—the assault and killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a few kilometres away from sensitive Pakistan military installations, which has raised Pakistan’s complicity with the terror chief or its incompetence in not knowing Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts so close to its military installations. U.S. Congressmen are up in arms against Pakistan’s duplicity, asking the Obama administration to stop aid to Pakistan. Many high-level visits in the last few weeks, after Osama bin Laden’s killing, have been undertaken to Islamabad, including by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the CIA chief Leon Panetta apart from the top U.S. military leadership, to caution Pakistan. Nevertheless at least till the U.S. troops are in neighbouring Afghanistan, with the two logistically critical overland routes to Afghanistan running through Pakistan, the United States cannot detach itself from Pakistan’s machinations and will go along employing the “carrots and stick” policy. The United States is also aware of the expanding China-Pakistan relationship and will not like to cede its strategic space to China in Pakistan. It will thus not entirely forsake Pakistan and abandon the billions of dollars it has sunk in Pakistan since years of its “ups and downs” and very complicated relationship with Pakistan.

The United States is also aware of the expanding China-Pakistan relationship and will not like to cede its strategic space to China in Pakistan.

The radicalisation of some elements in the Pakistani armed forces and consequently their loyalties and commitment in safeguarding Pakistan’s growing nuclear assets to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands is a cause of much concern to the United States and Pakistan’s neighbours, especially India. A leading U.S. senator, Lindsey Graham, recently expressed American predicament in its dealings with Pakistan by stating that “Pakistan, you can’t trust ‘em and you can’t abandon ‘em.”11

Afghanistan and the Quest for Strategic Depth

Hapless, impoverished Afghanistan has been the victim of many “great games” in its turbulent history and even today suffers from the same malaise. Its fellow Islamic neighbour, Pakistan, contributes much to its political instability by propping up anti-West and anti-Karzai Pashtun groups, like the Afghani Taliban, warlords like Gulbuddin Hekayatmar, the Haqqani network and al-Qaeda elements, to ensure that any Kabul regime in the future remains Islamabad pliant. Sensing that the United States may stick to its schedule of commencing withdrawal from the Afghan quagmire from July 2011 onwards, as announced by President Obama, Pakistan will endeavour to move into the strategic space vacated by the United States. Pakistan has always sought strategic depth in Afghanistan vis-à-vis India to protect its rear flank and thus sees an opportunity to limit even India’s development-orientated role in Afghanistan consequent to the U.S.-NATO withdrawal.

“¦most analysts believe that Afghanistan is a basket case for United States determination to counter terror worldwide and hence the United States is not going to abandon Kabul”¦

Not surprisingly and entirely in tune with its duplicitous nature, Pakistan has commenced lobbying Afghanistan to dump the United States and instead look for a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan and its ally, China. This pitch was made at an 16 April 2011 meeting in Kabul by Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who bluntly told Afghan president Hamid Karzai that the Americans had failed them both and that Afghanistan must not allow a long-term U.S. presence in Afghanistan. A spokesperson for President Karzai, however, denied that such a suggestion came from Pakistan but added that “even if they did, the Afghan government would never accept it.”12 Notwithstanding Pakistan’s overtures and U.S. president Obama’s timetable for the withdrawal of troops by 2014, most analysts believe that Afghanistan is a basket case for United States’ determination to counter terror worldwide and hence the United States is not going to abandon Kabul so fast and, in reality, is in for a long-term presence in this region.

The immediate future portends “interesting times” in this politically unstable region not only for Afghanistan and Pakistan but also for all the other leading players who have a stake in this region, namely India, the United States, Iran, China and even Russia.

The Nuclear Factor

Pakistan’s nuclear program took shape under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, immediately after India tested a “peaceful nuclear device” in 1974, with his famous exhortation to produce an Islamic nuclear bomb even if the Pakistanis have to eat grass. Though initially Washington managed to persuade France not to sell a reprocessing plant to Pakistan, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist working for a European nuclear consortium, managed to steal classified information and materials and pass them on to Bhutto’s government and the Pakistan nuclear program was thus launched. The U.S. response has been a series of flip-flops determined by immediate political needs rather than any long-term strategic thinking. U.S. government sanctions imposed from time to time have been successively withdrawn to reward Pakistan, first for its anti-Soviet efforts in Afghanistan and then later as an incentive for Pakistan to join the U.S.-led coalition against the Taliban.

The recent audacious Taliban attack on Pakistans heavily guarded Mehran Naval base has once again raised questions on the safety and security of Pakistani nuclear assets.

Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions continue unabated, and it is considered the fastest-growing nuclear power in the world, with over 110–120 nuclear warheads in its arsenal. It has adopted the policy of “first use” and the tactical use of low-yield nuclear weapons against onrushing conventional forces. For Pakistan, now unmistakably considered a nuclear proliferator (nuclear linkages with North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and possibly Libya), the nukes present credible insurance against conventionally superior Indian armed forces while providing the ability for nuclear blackmailing of the West. However, worrisome to the entire world is the possibility of some nuclear material falling into jihadi hands, which will have catastrophic implications for the world at large. The recent audacious Taliban attack on Pakistan’s heavily guarded Mehran Naval base has once again raised questions on the safety and security of Pakistani nuclear assets.

Pakistan: Likely Future Trends

Whither Pakistan is a question often asked by many, both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis. Noted South Asian affairs expert Stephen Cohen has observed that “Pakistan has adapted to changing strategic circumstances by ‘renting’ itself out to powerful states, notably the United States, but also Saudi Arabia and China.”13 For decades, Pakistan has survived on generous doles from the United States and to some extent, Saudi Arabia. Cohen, however, warns that the 11 September windfall and the al-Qaeda card will, beyond a certain point, cease to guarantee cash and other forms of support from the United States endlessly. Op Geronimo has further angered the United States and reinforced the perceptions of Pakistan’s duplicity towards the United States and thus, further aid will have stringent strings attached to it.

Editor’s Pick

Overall, Pakistan has a very weak economy, minimal employment opportunities, an abysmal education system based primarily on madrassas churning out fiery fundamentalists, a miserable human rights record and rising radicalisation and maltreats its minorities. Thus, Pakistan displays all the ingredients of a failing state. An objective analysis of Pakistan’s future is warranted to enable immediate and, if required, drastic corrective action to redeem itself.

A summation of all the factors, discussed in the above paragraphs, suggests that firstly, Pakistan’s trajectory appears relentless and there are no institutional structures or capacities for leadership that suggest this can be reversed. Is it the beginning of the end for Pakistan? From all trends, it is likely that internal difficulties may only worsen in the foreseeable future. Secondly, Islamist extremism now dominates a vast space across institutions and society in Pakistan autonomous with its support base within the army. A number of increasingly powerful extremist groups have become independent of, and some hostile to, the army itself. Civil society has shown that it has no capability to confront the violence of these radicals. Thirdly, the future of Pakistan will depend overwhelmingly on U.S./Western will in Afghanistan. If the West withdraws prematurely, leaving behind an unstable Afghanistan, or one ruled by Pakistan’s Taliban proxies, Pakistan’s military-Islamist complex will gain tremendous power and impunity, resulting in a terrorist rampage across South Asia and well beyond.

In any case, the West will be chary of burning its fingers by any military intervention inside Pakistan, especially after its continuing bitter operational experiences in neighbouring Afghanistan, which remains a festering sore for the U.S./NATO. Fourthly, an unresolved Afghanistan situation will gradually result into centrifugal forces within Pakistan getting stronger and directly confronting the Pakistan army along the FATA/Waziristan belts along the Durand Line et al., reducing the Pak army’s internal cohesion and also multiplying the rogue elements within the Pakistan armed forces—a sure recipe for disaster of the Pakistani state. Fifthly, the popular nightmare scenario of an abrupt Taliban/radical takeover of Pakistan is unlikely. Rather than an incident, Pakistan’s transformation will remain what it has long been, namely, a process. As the process advances, other power centres will crystallise, some out of the purely defensive imperatives of survival. These broad dynamics thus proffer a number of alternatives regarding Pakistan’s likely future, which currently, is anybody’s guess!14

Pakistan will also go strongly at all radical groups and terror elements and forsake the policy of exporting terror as state policy.

Crystal-ball gazing is not a definitive science, and when it comes to the many uncertainties existing in Pakistan, the analyses of any strategic thinker is likely fraught with many inaccuracies. Nevertheless, most analysts opine that any of the four undermentioned futures await Pakistan, and its ability or otherwise to measure up as a nation and society to serious challenges it faces will lead to the shape of the nation in the years ahead.

Firstly, the good trajectory would be for Pakistan to truly strive to become a moderate, modern state at peace with itself and importantly its neighbours, primarily India. In this option, Pakistan will also go strongly at all radical groups and terror elements and forsake the policy of exporting terror as state policy. This option is perhaps the most difficult in the short term, considering the current mind-set of the Pakistan army, but presents the only chance for Pakistan to emerge as a normal country in the world community. The exercise of this option would naturally limit the powers of the Pakistan army in state governance and restore to its civilian and democratically elected government the powers in foreign affairs, defence, economic, educational policies et al., which are exercised by governments all over. This option presupposes Pakistan eschewing itself of India centricity in all its policies, including its mindless obsession with Kashmir. In addition, the United States and the UN may generously assist Pakistan in its economic and social recovery, with China and India also chipping in.

“¦China could use Pakistan more intensely as its proxy against India.

The second plausible future is the perpetuation of current policies or a business-as-usual option. In this situation, Pakistan will continue to ride in two boats, namely fighting terrorism selectively and supporting it at the same time. This has also been called the “muddling through” option and perhaps is the most likely according to most analysts. In such a setting, the “pendulum will continue forever,” which would mean that after this particular civilian cycle, there will be another military coup after a few years and the old history of Pakistan will get repeated off and on. In this scenario, Pakistan’s economy will be saved from a total meltdown by some doles from the United States temporarily, thence by China and Saudi Arabia, whose influence will increase exponentially in the country. China could use Pakistan more intensely as its proxy against India. Nevertheless, this option only delays the inevitable decline of the Pakistani state in the future and could trigger an Indo-Pak war or even a jihadist takeover of Pakistan.

The third “future” option for Pakistan is its becoming a full-fledged jihadist state by design and not default, somewhat like an Islamic Emirate. In this scenario, the Pakistani army and other state institutions, confronted with a very strong radical uprising in the country, will decide not to provoke a civil war and eventually capitulate to the extremists, strike a deal with them on sharing power, ease out the United States from Pakistan and thence try to replicate the same in Afghanistan. “Glory to Islam” and a call to the “Islamic Ummah” to confront the infidels the world over would unite most in Pakistan. For Pakistan to survive in this scenario, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran will have to assist substantially, which may not be very likely considering the world stage at the moment.

Conditions in Pakistan, ranging from an era of “ugly stability” to near or total collapse, carry grave implications for India, which must be prepared to face any situation occurring out of cataclysmic events in the neighbourhood.

Another option, which represents the worst-case scenario, and could be a consequence of the third option, stated above, is the collapse of the Pakistani state as known today. In these circumstances, with civil war not being able to be contained, some provinces will go their own way and the Lebanonisation of Pakistan will become a reality. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and/or some Taliban/other radical elements would manage to lay their hands on nukes/nuclear materials and threaten the West/India. This nightmarish setting is not far-fetched, and only a united nonradicalised Pakistan army under a strong leader will be able to prevent this doomsday scenario for Pakistan.


Pakistan, both as a state and as a nation, has not been able to recover from its troubled legacy and now unmistakably seems to be in a downward spiral. Alarmingly, recent years have seen the militant nexus focus on Pakistani territory itself, with frequent targeting of soft targets in the Pakistani mainland with Punjabi militant groups becoming as active as their terror brethren in the violent FATA, Khyber Pakhtunwa and Waziristan belts. Even heavily guarded governmental and security installations not being immune to terror attacks from myriad terror groups, Pakistan is at siege from within. With all developmental indicators failing and the economy in near collapse, Pakistanis have to close ranks, fearlessly circumspect and seek answers for their survival themselves. Pakistan must muster enough courage to recognise its many faultlines. Before terrorists of inexplicable hues further consolidate and the many ethnic entities in Pakistan fructify their political yearnings, leading to the collapse of the nation, Pakistanis, notably their army, have to undergo a major transformation in their attitudes especially concerning the war on terror, the India centricity and the Kabul fixation.

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Conditions in Pakistan, ranging from an era of “ugly stability” to near or total collapse, carry grave implications for India, which must be prepared to face any situation occurring out of cataclysmic events in the neighbourhood. It will be worth our while to be aware that whenever conditions deteriorate in Pakistan, the Pakistani establishment to restore their slipping power may indulge in military adventurism against India as a last resort. India thus needs to put into place more than adequate counter-response mechanisms embracing the political, the diplomatic and importantly the military to shield itself from any Pakistani machinations. As India prepares to take its rightful place on the global “high table,” it wishes Pakistan well in the larger interests of all who inhabit this region. And in the final analysis, for Pakistan to survive, it has to heal itself—sooner the better. The Pakistani army must undergo a radical attitudinal and professional transformation and ensure its country’s interests are above its own corporate interests.

Notes and References

  1. Seymour Hersh’s review of the book Frontline Pakistan by Zahid Hussain (rear cover).
  2. Quoted in http://
  3. Ahmed Rashid. Descent into Chaos. Penguin Books: London, UK, 2008, p. 50.
  4. K. Subhramanyam in an address at a seminar on security at the USI in 2004.
  5. IDSA. Delhi Papers (ISI Dte). 2000. New Delhi.
  6. Attributed to General Karamat, former COAS, Pakistan army, at an international conference in 2005, quoted in Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, CLAWS Journal, winter 2008, New Delhi.
  7. Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan. “Interview with Honorable Luo Zhaohui, Ambassador of China in Pakistan.” 29 July 2009. <>.
  8. Mohan Guruswamy sponsored Stephen Cohen–led research team in Italy, referred to as “The Bellagio Papers,” in 2010. Brookings Institution, Washington. 
  9. Pakistan ambassador Hussain Haqqani, in 2006, addressing as visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment., United States, quoted by Mohan Guruswamy, ibid.
  10. Government of India, Ministry of Defence. “Annual Report 2008–2009,” Tabled in the Rajya Sabha, New Delhi.
  11. Quoted in Uma Purushothaman. “Future of US-Pakistan Relations.” The Observer Research Foundation Papers, New Delhi, 11 May 2011.
  12. Wall Street Journal (World News). 27 April 2011.
  13. Stephen Cohen. The Idea of Pakistan. Brookings Institution Press: Washington, 2004, p. 367.
  14. Discussions of the author with noted strategic analyst Dr Ajai Sahni, New Delhi, June 2011.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Kamal Davar (Retd)

a distinguished soldier and veteran of the 1965 and 1971 wars, was the founder director general of the Defence Intelligence Agency, raised after the Kargil conflict. After retirement, he writes and lectures on security, terrorism and allied issues in the national media and many forums.

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