Insights and Analysis

Pakistan Views India as the Perpetual Enemy and the U.S. as an Unfaithful Ally

September 14, 2011

The following interview with Asia Foundation trustee Teresita C. Schaffer, former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, originally appeared on

Q. The United State and Pakistan have had three “marriages” and two “divorces”. Are the interests that lead to an eventful marriage and factors which caused divorce always the same or do they keep changing with every new partnership?

A. The immediate impetus for the three marriages came from factors external to Pakistan such as the Cold War and Afghanistan. What caused the two divorces is different.

The first divorce came in 1965 during the Pakistan-India war when Pakistan used US-supplied weapons which Washington had warned were not supposed to be used against each other.

Pakistan’s nuclear program caused the second divorce. In the 1980s, the US restored a large aid program to Pakistan, but to get the aid through Congress, it also had to pass the Pressler Amendment. In 1990s, the US could no longer certify that Pakistan possessed a nuclear explosive device because of which its assistance had to be cut-off.

In both cases, divorce was the culmination of Pakistan’s unwillingness to accept US terms and conditions.

Q. What would you describe as the striking findings of your study about Pakistan’s negotiating style with the United States?

A. There are three big influences on Pakistan’s negating style with the United States. The first is Pakistan’s view of its place in the world with India as the perpetual enemy and the US as an unfaithful ally. The second is the supreme importance of personal connections in the Pakistani culture. The third influence is the complicated structure of the government and complex relationship between the military, civil administration and the bureaucracy.

Pakistan tries to put the United States on a guilt trip and has been remarkably successful in doing that.

Q. The United States has historically personalised rather than institutionalise relations with Pakistan. How much has that benefitted both the countries?

A. Both the sides have personalised the relationship. Without some degree of personalisation you are not going to get anywhere with a Pakistani leader. But by allowing the personal relationship to substitute for an institutional one, the United States makes itself vulnerable to the guilt trip.

Q. Do you see a dichotomy between the objectives of a US-Pakistan strategic alliance and expectations of both the countries from each other?

A. Yes. This is the real challenge of US-Pakistan relationship. The assumption during all three alliances was that our strategic interests were the same. In fact, they had some points in common, but were not the same. The key to these differences in each case has been India.

For Pakistanis, India is the long-term existential threat. For the United States, India is not an enemy. In Afghanistan, Pakistan’s prime objective is to minimize Indian influence but the US goal is to minimise the al Qaeda influence. These are not the same.

Q. How much is the growing US-India alliance going to influence US-Pakistan ties?

A. I have no doubt that the US-India relationship makes a lot of Pakistanis uncomfortable. They see this as inconsistent with US-Pakistan relationship. If you had a real economic revival in Pakistan at rates comparable with India, you would see the balance of Pakistan’s interests changing in such a way that the US-India relationship would seem less threatening to Pakistan.

Q. Why has the United States rephrased the term “Indo-Pak” and categorised Pakistan into the newly coined term “Af-Pak?”

A. I hate the term Af-Pak. It sounds demeaning in Pakistan. The term and the bureaucratic structure are the products of the decision by President Obama and Secretary Clinton to bring in Richard Holbrooke as the envoy.

Richard Holbrooke was a man of enormous talent. I think the term was his because he meant you can’t only talk about Afghanistan and forget Pakistan. He was trying to convey the message that Afghanistan was sitting next door to Pakistan.

There was a lot of speculation whether Ambassador Holbrooke’s mandate should include India. From the American point of view, the decision not to include India was correct, because a special envoy whose chief responsibility is Pakistan cannot effectively broker with India.

Read the full interview on

Teresita C. Schaffer blogs regularly at South Asia Hand. She recently published the book, How Pakistan Negotiates with the United States, co-authored with Howard B. Schaffer.


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