The Eternal India Pakistan US Triangle

Gulf News , April 6, 2005

General Pervez Musharraf has declared that extremism is the biggest challenge being faced by Pakistan. Pakistan’s “development and dignity in the comity of nations” is threatened by extremism, he told the Balochistan cabinet last week.

If that is the case, one may well ask why is official Pakistan celebrating the US decision to sell F-16 fighter jets as a boon to national security? Should Pakistan not focus on building democracy and reorienting its national discourse to marginalise extremists who have an exaggerated view of Islam and Pakistan’s role in the world? What good would the “offensive punch” that the F-16s are supposed to bring to Pakistan’s air defence do in battling extremism?

It is a good thing that the architect of Kargil now recognises that “war is not a solution to any problem”. There is, however, no connection between General Musharraf’s diagnosis of what ails Pakistan and the prescription he offers.

What is often described by the Musharraf regime now as extremism was, until 9/11, described by the government as jihad for Pakistan’s national survival. The goals that fuelled the jihad settlement of the Kashmir dispute on terms favourable to Pakistan and competition with India may have been deferred or supplemented by new slogans of enlightened moderation. But the Pakistani state’s national objectives have not been replaced by more realistic ones like prosperity for Pakistan’s people and their inclusion in the country’s governance.

The Musharraf regime continues to raise expectations within Pakistan of a solution to the Kashmir issue though there appears little realistic prospect of that happening in the near future.

A few months ago, Musharraf fanned the flames of rhetoric over Kashmir by telling a garrison durbar in Quetta: “We will not give up Kashmir; we have fought wars over it”. Even in his latest speech in the same city he insisted that Kashmir was “the core issue” between India and Pakistan.

There is no doubt that Pakistanis have strong feelings over Jammu and Kashmir, which would have been included in Pakistan in accordance with the logic of partition. But 58 years after partition, and in the absence of any incentive or compulsion on the part of India to revise the status quo, it might be prudent for Pakistanis to give priority to normalisation and stability in South Asia over settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

To make that possible, the rhetoric fed to Pakistanis over Kashmir must end. Musharraf too should try to lower the rhetoric over Kashmir rather than raise his people’s expectations in that regard.

Most disturbing

The most disturbing aspect of Pakistan’s current engagement with the United States, including the F-16 deal, is that it reinforces the traditional pattern of the US-Pakistan-India triangle.

In pursuit of a short-term quid pro quo, the United States believes it is stabilising Pakistan by lending support to its military regime albeit dressed up as transition to democracy.

The Americans also see themselves as encouraging dialogue and facilitating peace between India and Pakistan. But Washington satisfies neither side by its “strategy” of treating them equally. Deep down, Pakistan’s generals expect an American role in getting them a territorial settlement in Kashmir. American military sales encourage Pakistan’s military to believe they can qualitatively keep up with India, thereby postponing India-Pakistan normalisation.

The real reason for the United States selling F-16s to Pakistan (and offering them to India as well) may have been to keep Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant in Texas operational after the US Air Force and Navy stopped ordering F-16s. But Pakistani strategists consider the F-16 sale as a signal of American acknowledgement of Pakistan’s strategic value to the US Central Command.

The prospect of the United States’s partnership and the feeling that Pakistan has a special place in American grand strategy has consistently encouraged Pakistani military planners to think like a Middle Eastern country rather than a South Asian one. Illusory US military support leads Islamabad to overestimate its power potential, which in turn makes it difficult for its military leaders to seek a realistic role for Pakistan in South Asia.

India and Pakistan are going through a choreographed peace process, which is hardly different from a similar course adopted in the past.

India is convinced, with good reason, that it should be a global and not a South Asian player and it is unlikely to spoil its relations with the United States over Pakistan.

But given Pakistan’s internal contradictions, the fragility of its relationship with the United States and the military and economic disparity between India and Pakistan, there is hardly any incentive for India to make significant concessions to Pakistan.


America could help stabilise South Asia in the long term by persuading India to concede something substantial to Pakistan, which at present appears unlikely.

Alternatively, the United States could encourage Pakistan to accept India’s pre-eminence in South Asia.

Neither objective is served by Washington’s decision to sell F-16s to Pakistan and offers of similar or better weapons systems to India.