US-Pakistan Strategic Talks – Part II



As identified inPart I of this series, ultimately, the three burning questions regarding the strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistan are bound to be: Will either country give way on the subject of India? In the region’s present zero sum environment, will the future of South Asia and Afghanistan be shaped at the cost of Pakistan or India? And, what leverages do different parties hold, to change the position of another player and thus shape the future according to its respective vision?


When talking about leverages of different players, it is critical to review the types and characteristics of different advantages:

  • Political leverage is usually time bound since the local, regional, and global environment is continually in flux. A political edge if not exercised at the right time, can turn in to a liability with the turn of events.
  • There are also natural advantages such as the ones offered by geography, which tend not to change over a protracted period of time.
  • In the present day world resources such as water, food, energy and minerals have become a super leverage for the ones possessing them or for those who even have the ability to impact their supply to others.
  • A player possessing a superior understanding of the culture, and history of the people involved, also has a significant advantage.
  • Intellectual, scientific and technological advantage can alter the dynamics of the leverage-game in a fashion that, perhaps, no single factor can on its own.
  • Lastly, economic and financial strength provides the backbone to shape and creates leverage.

When the vision and interests of two parties are shared, the leverages often become synergies. However, if there are no commonalities, they can turn in to weaknesses. With the above parameters in mind let us explore the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue and the leverage of each player.

During the Cold War period Pakistan and the United States had a common enemy and this is what kept the relationship going. As soon as the Soviet Union was dismembered, the US interest in Pakistan and Afghanistan dissipated quickly. This marriage produced an offspring, and while one of the parents (US) lost all interest and didn’t even pay for child support, the other parent (Pakistan) bore the burden of raising the child. In the long run, however, both parents not only separated, but they discarded the child they had produced as well. This consequentially produced an enraged adult bent on taking revenge, which it did: On 9/11 and on a number of occasions in Pakistan. Now, both parents want to rid the world of the Frankenstein they created and this represents a new common goal between the two.

From the perspective of Pakistan, the US has a history of leaving the region once its immediate interests are achieved. Pakistan appears willing to help the US and go all the way, but it fears being let down again. Pakistan cannot let history repeat itself so that it can be used again and then left alone to face the world. This is not the whole story, while the US is asking Pakistan for all it can do; it is itself unwilling to go all the way for Pakistan, as it has already built a strategic relationship with Pakistan’s arch enemy India through which it can cajole, coerce, and manipulate Pakistan. This is a new leverage which the United States has created.

India has also used this relationship with the US to its advantage, and started to use water as a new leverage to weaken Pakistan’s agricultural produce and negatively impact the production of hydroelectricity. Similarly there are indications, such as the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia (a close economic ally of Pakistan), that both the US and India are attempting to influence and alter Pakistan’s strategic calculus. PoliTact has previously pointed to the deteriorating situation in Yemen which represents a new thorn in Saudi’s back. It is increasingly pressing on the Saudi’s to help shape its positions, not only towards South Asia, but also towards the Middle East Peace Process and in convincing China to support strong sanctions against Iran. Turkey is also taking an increasingly active role not only in the Middle East but also related to the Af-Pak theater and Indo-Pak matters, while also maintaining cordial relations with Iran. PoliTact had earlier pointed to the growing cooperation and partnership between Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.

Pakistan learned a harsh lesson in 1971, in the form of the dismemberment of East Pakistan. Ever since, it has established and kept a committed partnership with China as part of the vision of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and China also shares the country’s sentiments regarding India. Thus, this relationship between Pakistan and China created a leverage against both the US and India.

Similarly, Pakistan continues to maintain a geographical and cultural advantage which comes from a superior ‘know how’ of the people involved on the battlefield and the terrain. They also have control of the supply routes upon which the US and NATO depend on to remain a fighting force in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Pakistan has continued to retain the leverage of good relations with Iran despite heavy western opposition. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline agreement is an example of this, including the assistance Pakistan offered to Iran in the recent capture of Abdul Malik Regi and getting its envoy recovered, who was abducted in Peshawar last year.

Pakistan’s greatest vulnerability is its economic dependence, which has been aggravated due to fighting the War against Terror and India’s use of their water supply as a weapon. To counter this, Pakistan depends on the economic assistance of the US and the control it exerts on other multilateral organizations such as the IMF and World Bank. Additionally, there is no doubt that the US has the scientific and technological edge over many other players, particularly in their defense equipment. Pakistan has over the years relied on the US to acquire technology and equipment to counter India. However, with the establishment of the special relationship between India and the US, their defense business has become tricky. India has frequently used its influence to lobby US Congress against supplying weaponry to Pakistan, which could be utilized against India. Nevertheless, Pakistan has still been able to acquire defense equipment to augment its counter-terrorism duties which US wants to bolster.

From this analysis one can easily decipher that the main demands made by Pakistan from the US, are related to the downward spiral its economy is falling into:

  • Trade access – Trade not Aid.
  • Assistance in the energy sector, which is needed to run the engine which supports a strong and viable economy
  • Mediation in talks with India to tackle the Kashmir and water issues.
  • Assistance in easing the terms related to economic aid offered by IMF and World Bank.

To alleviate these vulnerabilities what would the United States want in return? The US wants to, and is using, Pakistan’s cultural and geographic position as an advantage towards a favorable outcome for the US and NATO in Afghanistan. However, the US recognizes that it will not be able to manage Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan if it is solely dependent on that country. Therefore, there is an attempt to see if Karzai can pull some kind of mediation with the Afghan Taliban without Pakistan’s help.

The United States will also be monitoring the level of influence Pakistan continues to maintain over Afghan Taliban groups. The arrest of Mullah Baradur by Pakistani authorities have raised eyebrows since this was perhaps a signal that Pakistan will not allow for unilateral settlement of Afghanistan, i.e., without its involvement.

PoliTact believes that the US will use the Indian pressure on Pakistan against it, as it relates to water issues between the two countries. Furthermore, India’s interference in Baluchistan is also likely to continue. However, Chinese offer to join the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline project has put India in to a puzzle. It does not want to be left out from such an important energy project. The US, with the help of India, will gradually escalate matters related to Kashmiri Jihadist groups which receive support from Pakistan i.e., Lashkare Tayyiba (LeT) and Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), in order to extract Pakistan’s support in Afghanistan. Admiral Robert Willard of the US Pacific Command in a recent hearing to Senate Armed Services Committee stated that LeT activities are expanding to countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. He also noted that LeT activities in these countries appear to be India specific at this point. This testimonial can potentially change if threat perception of US changes, with exponential increase of pressure upon Pakistan to act against these groups.

The final element related to the leverage game is the timing of its exercise. If a player shows its cards too early it looses the prospect of greater benefit later. If it mistimed their use, it could potentially be harmful. Thus, the question is whose side is the time on in the current conditions?

Pakistan’s economic situation continues to worsen while the US also suffers from the impact of global recession. If the lessons of history are any guide local players always have more stable power. Not to mention that the US and NATO have other global worries, such as those emanating from China and Russia. The US-China political and business relations have worsened recently while Russia-US relations have improved with the new START agreement. These topics will be examined in the next article.

Therefore, PoliTact believes that US strategy should be to quicken the number of operations against the Taliban, and delay offering of any significant strategic assistance to Pakistan which can give it an edge over India. Meanwhile US will also test the strength of the leverages Pakistan presently holds and attempt to alter them if it can. The United States’ long-term concern continues to be China, keeping India in a better position than Pakistan. This was recently demonstrated by a news report that the type of F-16’s being offered to India posses much better capability than the one’s being given to Pakistan. The type of strategic relationship US desires with Pakistan is of different type and magnitude than the one with India. As PoliTact has maintained in the past, most of the help Pakistan is likely to get is tactical and in the form of carrot and stick. From the perspective and attitude of the United States, it is Pakistan that still needs it more than themselves. We will continue to monitor this high stake leverage game.

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