India-Pakistan Linkages

Fred Kaplan writes that the situation in Pakistan is inextricably linked to Pakistan’s issues with India:

Meanwhile, the Pakistani military has little desire to improve its counterinsurgency skills. Many officers are more loyal to the Taliban than to the central government. And though the army is beginning to crack down on Taliban fighters in the Swat and Buner districts, it is still the case that 80 percent or 90 percent of Pakistani troops are stationed on the border with India, which most officers still see as the country’s greatest threat. This perception is no mere idiosyncrasy; it is integral to the Pakistani worldview, dating back to the founding of the nation and the partition from India in 1947. It has been reinforced by three wars between the two nations, in ’47, ’65, and ’71, as well as a war or two that nearly broke out in the past decade, and has been hammered home further by the fact that both counties have nuclear weapons. […]

Meanwhile, is anyone trying to persuade India to take steps to ease tensions on its border with Pakistan? This is a precondition to getting the Pakistani military to take its threat from within more seriously. The fact that it’s difficult doesn’t make it any less necessary. Everything that needs to be done — and done fairly soon — is difficult, and none of it can be done by the United States alone.

I like the diagnosis, but I’m less certain about the prescription. It seems to me that Kaplan’s approach creates a situation in which the stronger the Taliban grows, the more Pakistan’s goals vis-à-vis India get advanced. But given that India is Pakistan’s top priority, and the Taliban is our top priority, that creates perverse incentives for the Pakistani military to do as little as they can possibly get away with in terms of Taliban-fighting. This is similar to the dynamic by which if the Pakistani military is effective at fighting the insurgents, the civilian government is bolstered, whereas the closer the Taliban comes to the capital, the more inclined the West becomes to support a coup.


I would put the linkage to the Pakistanis in a different way. I would say that the United States is prepared to exert pressure on India to prevent Pakistan from becoming the victim of unprovoked aggression. But I would observe that if the Taliban grows too strong, that’s a more pressing problem for India than it is for the United States. And I would follow up with the observation that if India seriously feels that the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is being compromised, that there’s no way we’re going to be able to restrain the Indians. Consequently, by far the most likely scenario in which the Indian threat manifests itself is a scenario in which failure to combat the Taliban effectively prompts an Indian preventive military response.