How does one reconcile a challenge viewed by India as long-term but physically immediate and the United States as short-term but far-removed?
The WikiLeaks affair has elicited considerable surprise in Indian strategic circles, with many commentators seemingly taken aback by the extent of American knowledge of the Pakistani security forces’ double-dealing. In fact, it has been clear for some time from President Barack Obama’s statements that Pakistan has been seen by Washington as the critical problem in its region.
The United States and India, however, continue to diverge significantly on how to address this common challenge. Washington continues to believe that Pakistan can be persuaded by various ‘softer’ measures that its present direction is untenable. These include a combination of leaks to major newspapers meant to embarrass the Pakistani government and security forces, and intelligence reports being used to apply pressure, on the one hand, and a strategy of buying off and shaping Pakistan with civilian and military aid, on the other. The United States is fearful of loose nukes, which ultimately prevents it from applying greater pressure or exploring other, more severe, measures.
India’s assessment is different in at last two regards. First, it believes that the Pakistan army is not going to let its crown jewels—its nuclear weapons—go so easily, which is why more pressure can still be applied in order to call its bluff. Viewed differently, the Pakistani army is stronger than it seems, and its failures stem more by an absence of intent than of capability. Second, the present American strategy still rewards Pakistan more than it punishes it.
This divergence of views has at least two aspects. Temporally, the Pakistan problem for India is deeper, caused at its core by a self-serving governing elite, relatively immune from popular pressures, that benefits from a state of perpetual crisis with India. U.S. policy, driven in large part by electoral cycles, is, by contrast, dependent on quick and immediate band-aid solutions, and thus becomes personality-defined (resulting in a series of anointed favourites, General Kayani being but the latest).
Physically, India views the problem with much more immediacy. India’s geographical proximity means that it is much more likely to be a target of direct attack from Pakistani soil, and has been over the past twenty to thirty years. For the United States, this direct threat is still less imminent, which means it has a higher tolerance for Pakistani infractions.
How does one reconcile a challenge viewed by India as long-term but physically immediate and the United States as short-term but far-removed? The differing physical threat assessments are unlikely to converge, barring a successful attack on U.S. soil emanating from Pakistani territory or involving Pakistanis. Differences over the nature of the problem, however, can—and should—still be addressed.