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Pakistan Army and United States Engaged in Re-Inventing Mutual Strategic Indispensibility

Paper No. 5823                                   Dated 18-Nov-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Indi’s security environment is once again in danger of becoming more threatening when viewed from the prism of the ongoing engagement of Pakistan Army and the United States in reinventing mutual strategic indispensability.

Strange are the political and strategic somersaults of the United States when it comes to the Pakistan Army. No Pakistan Army Chief was invited by the United States since 2010 due to the American denouement with the Pakistan Army harbouring Osama bin Laden and not revealing his whereabouts to the United States. This resulted in the US Special Forces penetration into Pakistan Army’s major garrison of Abbottabad and liquidating Osama bin Laden on May2, 2011.Thereafter, relations between Pakistan Army and the United States sunk to an all-time low,

Now, the United States after three years of denouement is feverishly engaged in a campaign to obliterate the murky past and re-invent Pakistan Army’s strategic indispensability to United States’ strategic interests in the region. If this born-again re-invention is limited only to ensure unhindered exit of US Forces from Afghanistan, then it is understandable.

But if this re-invention is a new US strategic formulation to concede wider political and military space to Pakistan Army in Afghanistan Post-22014 then it carries disturbing portents for Indian security.

Twice in the past three decades the United States despite proven evidence of Pakistan Army’s double-timing of the United States on Afghanistan kept re-inventing Pakistan Army’s strategic indispensability to US strategic interests in South Asia. Despite its proven record of indulging in state-sponsored terrorism and proxy war against Afghanistan and India the United States in blindfolded obliviousness kept bestowing honorifics on the Pakistan Army, first as an “enduring ally of long standing” and in the last decade  adding to the foregoing and rewarding, “Pakistan is A Major Non-NATO Ally of the United States”

The United States ploughed in billions of dollars not to Pakistan but to the Pakistan Army in military equipment and permissive in letting the Pakistan Army to divert the civilian component of US  aid intended for development to Pakistan Army’s questionable intelligence subversive activities against both Afghanistan and India.

Against such a dubious record of the Pakistan Army-United States relationship, security alarms should be ringing in the Indian policy establishment that the United States despite all policy briefs issued by Washington think-tanks rich in rhetoric in favour of reinforcing ties with the Modi Sarkar, it is Pakistan Army which counts in US strategic formulations. The US praise bestowed on advent of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is just a smokescreen to garner Indian defence contracts and nothing else.

The acid test for judging US strategic investments on the Modi Sarkar would be the United States readiness to concede strategic and political space in Afghanistan Post-2014 and not accord primacy to Pakistan Army’s strategic sensitivities on Afghanistan.

As a prelude to the ongoing visit of Pakistan Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif to the United States, the United States  unleashed a two-pronged strategy of (1) Prevailing over the new Afghanistan President to visit Pakistan and present a picture that Afghanistan-Pakistan relations are on the mend, and (2) Media campaign by the United States as to how the present Pakistan Army Chief was better than the previous one in launching counter-terrorism operations in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency including “fracturing” the Haqqani  terrorist group network, which is debatable.

While no one can join issue on the visit of the Afghan President to Pakistan and normalise relations but what is really galling and shocking was the act of the Afghan President to visit the Pakistan Army’s Chief in his office as a courtesy/ discussions call. The visuals are disturbing as to how the President of the sovereign State of Afghanistan should stoop or be made to stoop and kow-tow to the Pakistan Army Chief. Why could the Pakistan Army Chief not go and pay a courtesy call on the visiting Afghan President? Why was this demeaning political symbolism imposed on the new Afghan President by the US when earlier the Pakistan Army Chief had already visited Kabul?

 Attendant was a simultaneous media campaign in Pakistan extolling the new Afghan President. As written by me in an earlier Paper the installation of a new Afghan Government of National Unity was an American contrivation of installing a new Afghan President more amenable and accommodative of Pakistan Army sensitivities than the previous President Karzai.

Also significant was that the new Afghan President, presumably under US pressure or connivance selected Pakistan as the country for his first political visit. What political signals should be read by India?

Till only three years back, the United States was livid and Pakistan Army-United States relations sank to a low level following the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in a Pakistan Army garrison by US Special Forces action. On the last visit of the previous Pakistan Army Chief to USA he was subjected to a severe tongue-lashing.

Sadly, the previous Pakistan Army Chief, General Kayani who earned the sobriquet of being “United States Poster Boy” is now being denigrated to substantiate present incumbent General Sharif’s credentials in relation to the United States.

In marked contrast the praise being lavished on General Raheel Sharif is rather surprising in that during his year long tenure nothing dramatic has occurred which furthers US national security interests in Afghanistan.

But beating all these above strategies is the reported analyses in the media that during his current visit to the United States, the Pakistan Army Chief will be marketing the proposal that the Pakistan Army should receive continuing military US aid so that it can take on the ISIS threat creeping towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So in terms of strategic indispensability of the Pakistan Army to US strategic plans a joint and concerted effort is on between the two nations on justifications of combatting the impending ISIS threat. With the bulk of US Forces exiting Afghanistan in the Post -2014 phase the Pakistan Army would have limited strategic utility to the United States. Therefore it was imperative that the Pakistan Army re-invent its strategic utility to the United States and what better plea than the ISIS threat.

For the United States such a re-invention would ensure that a collusive Pakistan Army is readily available as an existential threat on the Eastern flank of Iran which the lawmakers on Capitol Hill strongly despise.

Disturbing for India and the military balance of power in the region are reports of US planning to leave billions of dollars of combat military equipment for the Pakistan Army on the plea that the Afghan National Army would be unable to capitalise this equipment and that prohibitive costs are involved in moving out this equipment to the United States.

Disturbing for India would also be the political concessions that the Pakistan Army Chief would extract from the United States establishment on Kashmir and the imperatives for the United States to prevail on India to desist from strong responses against the Pakistan Army provocations on the LOC and the International Border, in return for Pakistan Army’s collusiveness.

This denotes US trust-deficit in the Afghan National Army which the new Afghan President needs to note this mentally as he considers future perspectives on US and Pakistan Army stakes in Afghanistan.

The United States blinded by its strategic naiievity on Pakistan Army’s dubious roles in the past seems hell-bent on re-inventing the strategic indispensability of the Pakistan Army to serve US interests in the region.

Will this misplaced and born-again US strategic trust in the Pakistan Army bear fruit? Rather doubtful, as it is once again political expediency that is at work again in the Pakistan Army and the United States establishment to re-invent mutual strategic indispensability. What the United States is indulging in is a wholesale “bribing” of the Pakistan Army to buy its complicity and collusiveness and the Pakistan Army Generals are as usual over-obliging in this direction.

Concluding, what needs to be highlighted is that in this re-invention of mutual strategic indispensability between the Pakistan Army and the United States, many lessons emerge for Afghanistan and India. The singular and most significant one being that the United States when it comes to strategic trust, America reposes that in the Pakistan Army and not in Afghanistan and India. The Modi Sarkar needs to revise its strategic formulations on India-US relationship and India-Afghanistan relationship in light of the born-again Pak-Centric American security architecture in South Asia.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley. Combines a rich experience of Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Can be reached at