Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on May 19, 2016
Obama’s Pakistan care: Are the days over?

It is no secret that US President Barrack Obama’s policy towards Pakistan was at best cautiously friendly, despite the growing unease of his administration’s duplicity with Pakistan, and consequently America’s receding fortunes in Afghanistan. Furthermore, it was aided with Pakistan’s covert and overt sabotages of American interests. However, there are strong headwinds to this uncomfortable friendship and the telltales now are more shriller than ever. Is America’s bitter honeymoon with Pakistan over?

The background

Pakistan for decades has played out a well rehearsed and an effective foreign policy doctrine which consists of inter-alia, duplicity, double-cross, selective action and over-active military-diplomacy, which, much to their credit, has worked very well, especially since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and thereafter.


Pakistan has well cultivated two faces — the one that it shows to the world, which is benign, modern-Islamic, culturally rich and economically progressive. To visualise this face — pick up an artist, a novelist, human right activist, a retired military officer or a mainstream politician and follow their narrative in pitch-fine English language. You will hear progressive and accommodating voices often laced with self-pity and haplessness. These faces are visible in literary festivals, cultural and diplomatic exchanges, and are advocating people to people contacts. While some of these faces are genuinely interested in durable peace and establishment of a progressive and modern state, others are purposefully injected for perception and more so for deception.

The other face of Pakistan is its deep state — the deadly nexus of mullah, mujahidin and military. This nexus is not like a straight line but like a circle. With one’s tail between other’s legs, they are indispensible to each other even at times when they are uncomfortable with each other. However, they just don't have a choice and have to carry on rubbing each other’s backs. Take the example of The ‘Lal Masjid’ siege or operation ‘Sunrise’ (July, 2007) that proved too costly for the establishment as well as the coterie of mullahs as they stood barrel to barrel against each other.

Pakistan needs these ‘two faces’ to run this well-oiled complex foreign policy machine topped with lethal doses of military inputs — which from the outside looks like pushing the cart forward and delicately balanced. However, on a closer look it looks discerning to the eye and at times self-contradictory and imploding.

The current context

Despite Obama’s misgivings about Pakistan, time and again it was proved by events such as Abbottabad raid, that got Obama America’s number-one fugitive Osama Bin Laden, who was found in the highly secured garrison town outside of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Or the 2011 attack, which dried NATO’s supply lines that ran from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Or the detention of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who helped CIA track Bin Laden that ultimately led to his capture and elimination.

Till recently, Obama or the American establishment was playing on the expected continuum of America’s foreign and military policy on Pakistan — which is to compensate Pakistan monetarily and militarily and exchange whatever support can be yielded from them for American interests in Afghanistan and in South Asia, and also obliquely keep them away from China. This strategy would have continued to play on like this for some more time — with both Pakistan and American continuing to hate loving each other.

However the ner in the wheel came when the US congressional body objected to the part funding or subsidy to Pakistan for sale of F-16s and instead asked Pakistan to make the purchase outright at market value. This practically has stalled the Pakistan’s plans of augmenting their fleet with F-16. Further to this, the US Congress has also initiated a move to block $ 450 million in aid to Pakistan for not complying with agreed anti-terror commitments and for continued fostering of the Haqqani Network.

All of the aforementioned events are the consequences of elevated realisation and readjustment of American geo-political concerns and India’s effective foreign policy outreach, both formal and backdoor, that is spinning the yarn for pro-India or at least India centric conversations in US power corridors that sees Pakistan as a common threat to American interests in Afghanistan and to India.

Also, while the recent concerns of the US Congress are the manifestation of the widely held belief, which was often whispered privately among the US intelligentsia, politicians and other significant members of informed society, the second rung in America, however, was still comfortable or at worst, indifferent to Pakistan as it was termed mostly as an ‘unreliable friend’ than a ‘determined foe’.

To seep the neo-narrative on Pakistan and re-tag Pakistan as determined foe or at-least as an unreliable friend and partly find someone to pin America’s failure on its Afghanistan policy and visibly show as a face-saver that Americans are getting more pragmatic, CIA in a typical agency style planted or leaked a recent story in major newspapers, suspecting that Pakistan’s spy agency ISI might have tried to poison the CIA chief in Pakistan, Mark Kelton, who played a significant role in bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice for the 9/11 attacks.

The significance of this news of Kelton’s alleged poisoning is not the subject matter itself. Actually, the real news is outdated. It is in the timing and pattern of news that is flowing in from US since last month. This news of a patriot’s poisoning is not going to be seen as usual business. It is in fact aimed at resetting the popular discourse in the US which is carefully focused on checking any popular support that Pakistan is getting in Washington and elsewhere. This is significant because it has potential to change the axis of US-Pak partnership, from a fair-weather friend to an all-weather adversary.

The India angle

The recent opening of America’s leading think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in India at a time when the Indian government is aggressively monitoring the western sponsored think-tanks that are long suspected of carrying anti-India agenda certainly points towards opening all the communication channels between India and America for cementing a shared vision and goal that Americans and Indians together call ‘strategic partnership’ through syndicated lobbying.

The anti-Pak narrative most certainly has the stamp of India’s overreach to America and to other countries — which have today become Pakistan’s weakest foreign policy links. It is no coincidence that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is strengthening relationships with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran. It is also worthy to note the recent statements of Ashraf Ghani, who once side-stepped India and over-reached to Pakistan, who publicly admonished Pakistan, saying that Pakistan is sheltering terrorists.

Indians never really had an issue with finger-countable and outdated F16 fighter jets, which India herself has rejected. This deal of F-16s to Pakistan was never about undermining India’s sky power either. Instead, it was to send out a message that Pakistan is not a reliable friend and is harbouring terrorists, and India has thus far done well on this count.


One hopes that India continues to isolate Pakistan and engage directly with Pakistan’s civilian government from the position of strength. However, India always has a perennial itch towards overreaching to Pakistan. After 1999 coup in Pakistan, India gave the legitimacy to then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf by inviting him to India in 2001 — which gave Pervez Musharraf much acceptance as a leader of Pakistan across the world.

India needs to control this urge to reach to Pakistan and give it a breather — when Pakistan is really chocking under global pressure on terrorism. Will it? This is a question that is frozen in time and tied in geography.

Sunny Makroo is CEO and co-founder of MilitarytoCorporate (M2C)), which is India’s only talent advocacy firm that assists Indian military and para-military veterans’ transition to the corporate sector. He is an avid follower of key geopolitical trends in South Asia.

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Sunny Makroo

Sunny Makroo

Sunny has spent close to six years as a strategy consultant advising Fortune500 and fast-growing companies around their top-line growth agenda. He currently serves as ...

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