A Skeptic’s View Of US–Pakistan ‘Strategic Dialogue’

April 8, 2010

Before we take another strategic U-turn on Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Policymakers must read this:

  • Pakistan is conceptualized as a theater of war in American operational plans as the term Af-Pak suggests so strategic dialog under the presence of such perception is nothing more than an illusion
  • One option for Pakistan is to work on isolating the extra-regional powers [countries not bordering Afghanistan] and then pitch the extra-regional powers against one another by manipulating the rifts between major EU countries (which are already wary of prolonged Afghan mission) and the U.S.
  • This strategic dialog is an important component of an overall military strategy led by Gen. Petraeus in which enhancing U.S image and closing the trust deficit both in COIN operations at tactical level in Afghanistan and at strategic level in Pakistan.
  • The idea of offering Pakistan the carrot of a prolonged negotiations for a civilian nuclear deal was floated as far back as April 2009 with the aim of aligning US and Pakistani interests

Majid Mahmood

An Assessment


Recent days have seen a deceptive shift in U.S policy towards Pakistan. In a stated aim to ‘redefine’ its relationship with Pakistan a process of strategic dialog has been orchestrated by the United States creating much buzz in Pakistan over the issue. This brief essay will examine the real purpose of this strategic dialog, American plans for the region, strategic implications for Pakistan’s continued alliance with the US, and the formulation of alternative policy options for Pakistan.

Main Arguments

  • Strategic dialog is a futile exercise because United States cannot be trusted as a reliable partner due to its track record and asymmetry in bilateral relationship.
  • Pakistan is conceptualized as a theatre of war in American operational plans as the term Af-Pak suggests so strategic dialog under the presence of such perception is nothing more than an illusion.
  • Pakistan will continue to receive ‘aid’ through Kerry-Lugar act which completely encapsulates U.S influence over all non military sectors of Pakistan.
  • The construction of so called Reconstruction Opportunity Zones [ROZs] in war torn regions in Pakistan will increase the influence of the U.S manifold in tribal areas and would be used as leverage against Pakistan any time in future.
  • Strategic dialog and specifically civil nuclear deal negotiations will meet the same fate as the ‘Friends of Democratic Pakistan’ summits, being merely nice photo opportunities.  And even if the US seriously considers negotiations over a civil nuclear agreement with Pakistan, the quid pro quo would be a nonstarter, which could include asking Pakistan to compromise its position over Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty [FMCT] negotiations, nuclear safety and security issues and possibly ratify Non Proliferation Treaty [NPT].  The orchestrated hints of a possible offer of a civil nuclear deal are meant to give credibility to the so called strategic dialog process.
  • The fundamental aim of this strategic dialog is to win the battle of perception in the Af-Pak Theater.
  • The discussion on Afghanistan will remain the centerpiece of this dialog process which means more cooperation (political and military) by Pakistan against what is by all counts a legitimate Afghan resistance.

Policy Options

  • Formulation of an independent strategic framework by Pakistan for the region after a thorough review of the regional environment rather than looking towards Washington to protect Pakistan’s interests in the region.
  • Pakistan needs to open new venues for cooperation as an alternative.  This could facilitate achieving peace and security for the entire region. One strategy to achieve this objective can be isolating the extra-regional powers [countries not bordering Afghanistan] and then pitch extra regional powers against one another by manipulating the rifts between major EU countries (which are already wary of prolonged Afghan mission) and the U.S.
  • The solution to the war in Afghanistan does not lie within the national boundaries of that country due to proxy wars on Afghan soil. So a transnational setup comprising of Afghanistan and its immediate neighbors [minus extra-regional powers that do no border Afghanistan] can bring a revolutionary change in economic development of the region
  • Strategic dialog with the U.S should be shunned.
  • Pakistan should explore and develop on war footing its immense natural resources to break the shackles of foreign demands and fulfill the energy requirement for short- and long-term industrialization.
  • No relaxation of any sort should be given by Pakistan on its stance regarding FMCT and NPT as a quid pro quo for a civil nuclear deal offer.

Strategic Dialog And The Battle Of Perceptions

United States President Barrack Obama in his speech at West Point Military Academy in December 2009 linked the success of coalition mission in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s cooperation which effectively meant that Pakistan has to rein in its principle allies the Afghan Taliban both politically and militarily. However there was a realization among policy makers in Washington that with the prevailing strong anti-Americanism both within the population and the wider ruling establishment it is near to impossible to move Pakistan against Afghan Taliban in the FATA region. So a cosmetic change on Washington’s behavior was necessary in order to win the battle of perception in the Af-Pak battle field. So this strategic dialog is an important component of an overall military strategy led by Gen. Petraeus in which enhancing U.S image and closing the trust deficit both in COIN operations at tactical level in Afghanistan and at strategic level in Pakistan.

C. Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation and an expert on security relations between India and Pakistan, U.S. strategic interests in South Asia and Pakistan’s internal security in her policy paper published in Washington Quarterly in April 2009 said in plain terms:

“Pakistan watchers generally agree that the United States will fail to secure greater alignment between Pakistani and U.S. interests unless and until it can mitigate the “trust deficit (…) For its part, Islamabad has numerous complaints against Washington which also span decades. Washington’s ‘original sins’ include providing arms to India during its war with China in 1962 and cutting off arms to India and Pakistan during their wars in 1965 and 1971. As Pakistan was reliant on U.S. weapons systems, arms cutoffs hurt Pakistan considerably more than it did India, which was more reliant on Soviet systems (…) Pakistan’s security elite and citizenry therefore consider the United States an unreliable partner and believe that the United States will abandon Pakistan again when Washington’s security interests change”

Ironically, Christine Fair was the one who floated the idea of offering Pakistan a civilian nuclear deal so as to build ‘credibility’ in the future of US–Pakistan partnership.

Daniel Markey a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council of Foreign Relations in his policy paper at NBR analysis center in November 2009 also focused on improving US image inside Pakistan to achieve American strategic objectives in the region. In his conclusion he writes:

“US can pursue a variety of alternative strategies to meets its counter terror and counter insurgency objectives in South Asia, ranging from unilateral US military and intelligence operations to coercive diplomacy to containment. All of these approaches have significant shortcomings and cultivating strong and effective allies within Pakistan’s political, military, and civic communities may be the best way to secure US strategic objectives over the short, medium and long term. Improving Pakistan’s image of United States is a long term and complex endeavor that would require high profile efforts, including humanitarian relief and non military assistance.”

So it is abundantly clear that U.S–Pakistan strategic dialog is overrated. It may not be more than a photo-op ending, a lot of listening and then a declaration of that contains no commitments whose only objective appears to be to mislead Pakistan’s policymakers, the strategic community and the masses at large in Pakistan and push the country in taking a yet another disastrous U-turn on Afghanistan.

Anatomy Of Civil Nuclear Deal

Much fuss has been created within Pakistani intelligentsia about the proposed civil nuclear deal by US to Pakistan on the pattern of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Before going into the question of relevance of civil nuclear deal and the seriousness of US intentions it must be understood that the notion of civil nuclear deal is added just to make the strategic dialog appear credible or in other words create a deliberate deception and illusion for ‘image building’ inside Pakistan and secondly to extract flexibility from Pakistan’s rightful stance on FMCT, possibly NPT and more intrusion into Pakistan’s nuclear program.

As far as American intentions are concerned US will not make a civil nuclear deal with Pakistan primarily because it does not want to damage its global image which is already tarnished due to unilateralism of Bush regime specifically related to civil nuclear deal with countries outside the nuclear non proliferation treaty (NPT). Quite the contrary officially United States considers Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal unsafe and different tactics are used to rein in Pakistan’s nuclear program and one such latest tactics was the Kerry–Lugar act. Secondly, materializing the civil nuclear deal would mean more indigenously produced fissile material available for Pakistan which would significantly turn the strategic balance in favor of Pakistan which would jeopardize U.S–India strategic relationship. It would be fair to say that such a result is the last thing U.S would want to happen. Thirdly, it would take the air out of Obama’s global image and U.S ‘moral standing’ in the upcoming NPT review conference next month.

In her latest article in the influential Foreign policy magazine, Christine Fair confirmed the above analysis when she wrote that;

“Any civilian nuclear deal for Pakistan would have to be conditions-based. It would not be equivalent to India’s deal, which recognizes India’s nonproliferation commitments and enables India to compete strategically with China globally. A civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan has a different logic: to reset bilateral relations that are bedeviled with layers of mistrust on both sides (…) This deal should therefore be conditioned upon access to nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan and direct information about his nuclear black markets, as well as verifiable evidence that Pakistan is reversing its support for militant groups and taking active steps to dismantle the architecture for terrorism.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her TV interview with Pakistani English Channel Express news responded to a question posed by the anchor on a possible civil nuclear deal by saying the following:

“The civil nuclear deal with India was a result of years of negotiations which is symbolic of strategic partnership between two states but Pakistan would continue to receive aid through Kerry-Lugar act”.

Pakistan’s Leaders Need An Alternative Model, And Not America

The record of nuclear energy globally and its relevance for Pakistan is a matter worth observing. Globally the quest for nuclear energy shows a fluctuating graph and on the contrary fossil fuel has been the prime source of energy for developing countries. The US generates twenty percent of its electricity from nuclear energy and since 1996 no new commercial reactors have come online, in 2002 Germany enacted legislation to phase out nuclear power plants until 2020 citing the unacceptable risks posed by potential accidents and nuclear waste. In Europe alone collectively there has been no “nuclear renaissance” even after mounting tensions when, after Georgia conflict, Russia blocked gas supplies to Europe. However, examples of the other side of the story exist, e.g. ambitious plans in China and India to produce energy through nuclear power. The point is that the unreliable trend towards achieving power through nuclear energy exists globally. Secondly, Pakistan has immense natural resources to not only overcome the existing manufactured energy crisis and future massive industrialization but can export surplus energy to Afghanistan, India and Central Asia. The only thing needed is an alternative economic model to ensure optimum utilization of more than enough energy resources and its fair distribution. So civil nuclear deal offer by the U.S is a ‘strategic setup’ and Pakistan’s policymakers should not fall for it.

Implication For Nurturing Partnership With U.S.

Despite much fuss Pakistan’s cooperation with the US against a legitimate popular resistance in Afghanistan is the real agenda in the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialog. U.S will be reassured by representatives of Pakistani government that they will mount a full scale offensive operation against all seasoned allies of Pakistan in North Waziristan so as to facilitate US to negotiate with Taliban from a position of strength. Aligning with US in these past nine years has devastated Pakistan economically, strategically and militarily. Recent economic reports indicate that Pakistan has incurred a loss of more than US$ 45 billion and this terror crunch has uniformly and severely affected all sectors of economy. Furthermore, as if this were not enough the ‘development budget’ of the country has also been consumed in Pakistan’s so-called war against terrorism which is actually an American war inside Pakistan.

A country that engages itself in a protracted conflict is doomed to collapse under its own weight and in Pakistan US drone strikes and punitive military operations have set the scene for Pakistan for at least another decade of conflict within its borders. India has emerged as a powerful entity in the region because of US presence in Afghanistan which has made Pakistan economically and strategically weak. Moreover Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state and presence of hostile western troops under American leadership on its western borders should ring alarm bells in Islamabad rather than taking measures to strengthen the foreign presence.  The arguments against Indian military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan and their destabilizing affect are also valid in the case if US military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan and their destabilizing effect on Pakistan and the region.


The strategic dialog aims to create an illusion amongst Pakistan’s policy makers in order to facilitate their U-turn on Afghanistan. The ‘change’ in US attitude in other words can be summarized as a strategic bribe for Pakistan to facilitate U.S interests in the region. Establishing two or three power plants inside Pakistan and donating substandard military hardware will not and should not be the price for compromising on the strategic interests of the Pakistani nation.




  1. no doubt, U-turn is a new form of bribe to keep US interests working in region.

  2. Firasat is required for diplomacy,which is totally missing.One must have an intellectual background and must be well read.

    Zia’s policy was so successful that Kissinger said”we thought we were fooling him but he fooled us”

    Similarly,Americans feel that Musharraf double crossed them,but still he is welcomed in America and he travels fearlessly.

    Shah Mehmood Qureshi is still learning English grammer and cannot face the smiley looks of Hillary.

  3. Americans are dangerous people and may God keep them 1000’s of miles away from us!

    Any american on our shores is a bad sign!

    Pakistan MUST stop this American centric policy and start wealth generation programs which is the only way fwd.

  4. What strategic dialog?? Its Pakistan that requested the “so called” strategic dialog in Washington DC – the USA just humoured their stooges in Washington DC. The mercenary Pak Army is in USA’s pocket. The pak army Generals have no sense of history otherwise a sovereign state would never have allowed the drone attacks. This has created more suicide terrorists and these suicide terrorist (indirectly created by the USA) have started the beginning of the end for Pakistan. The US needs Pakistan, really!! – it is a myth created by the US itself. THE US DOES NOT NEED PAKISTAN.
    China & Saudi Arabia know this – I wonder why neither the Chinese or the Saudi Arabian ambassodor were present on Pakistan Day 23Mar2010 celebrations held in Washington with General Kiani and his ilk in attendance??

    • Your pea brain is still stuck up on 23rd March.
      You find it easy to comment on Pakistani affairs just to relieve yourself from the maddening problems which India is facing these days.

      Maoists are making your leaders’ nights sleepless.

      Telengana state will herald the dis-integration of India.

      Gandhi’s sex life (with his grand nieces) has become a feather in your cap.

      Your Hijra “Jawans” are afraid of fighting with Maoists.

      Even after fetus killing of girls,your population is getting out of control and explosion can take place any time.

      I saw a video,in your north,upto 3 and 4 persons are marrying one girl,resulting in birth of children who do not know who is their father.

      We can go on and on and on.India’s existence has become a burden on this planet.Sooner it is dis-integrated,the better.

    • Yawn yawn!!.The end of Pakistan has been predicted since the 1940′!!.Now go and do the dishes as this is not your place!

      Pak will humiliate the USA when the time is right just like the USSR experienced.The absence of the Chinese and Saudi’s on Pak day proves nothing!!

      • @Imran

        You have been soft on Jane while advising to do dish washing.

        In fact they are sewer workers and their job is to clean toilets in gulf as they do not have toilets in India.

  5. @ No Nonsense

    Your absolute nonsense needs to be rectified.

    Zia was a client ans subservient to the Americans with zero intellectual attributes. More of a clown rather than a soldier to say the least.

    By sharp contrast Musharraf is smart , patriotic and a Pakistan First diehard at heart. This was the scary part for Pakistan’s enemies including the U.S and when they hold him as double crossing them it simply means that he was prudent and intelligent enough not to be gullible and play into foreign hands but to ensure that Pakistan remains the winner at all times instead of being servile to US interests.
    For the same reason he was hounded out by the West in connivance with the ‘dyslexic democrats’ in Pakistan . Again this idiotic obsession with our brand of feudo/dyslexic democracy has been thoroughly exposed once again what with the NRO used by Nawaz/ Bhutto to broker a return has effectively resulted in their self undoing and it has imploded in their own faces as a hand grenade detonating in their own hands . Who then is the smartest ? Musharraf undoubtedly.

    • @excalibur

      Firstly,my comment about Zia,does not need to be approved by a person of your calibre,which anyway,is “ex”.Zia’s honesty and sincerity is not questionable despite his political mistakes at home(which are understandable as he was a military man).

      And you completely mis-understood my comment about Mush.I endorsed him,despite all his blunders,at home and abroad.

      You call the present leadership as “dyslexic” but I call them “deaf and dumb and blind”.

      • Zia was simply a spent ‘caliber’ which perhaps has your approval notwithstanding the fact that he was responsible for the proliferation of Madressahs by saudi money ( with a slavish mentality towards them from the time he served as a Brigadier in KSA )and the cultivation of Taleban. The Klashnikov Culture,the Lal Masjid and the judicial murder of Bhutto besides the fathering of despots like the Sharifs are some more of his ‘achievements’

      • I don’t,usually indulge into discussion where,a man,who was cursing everybody i.e Dilliwalas,Bombaywalas,Luckhnow-walas but when asked,he turned out to be Madinawala.Hope you got the point.

        No one is perfect,so was Zia.Wish you remember Nusrat Bhutto’s statement,in those days when she said”We will throw out Afghan Mohajirin from Pakistan”.And what was the reaction to her statement.

        No wisdom is required to discuss the results of some actions as good or bad,after thirty years,whereas it is difficult to decide when you are on the spot.

        Had the conspiracy to kill him,not succeeded,things would have been completely different.Islamophobia eliminated him.

        As for murder of Bhutto,partially,Bhutto himself was responsible.The country was on “Pahia Jam”.Army had to intervene.Then Bhutto became”Sher” and started threatening the Army.Out of two candidates,one had to be in the grave.

        Fathering of Sharifs,was undoubtedly his biggest mistake.

  6. JAMITAT is not wrong as an organization, there should be some people who are involved in such activites.

    It is wrong to blame Jamiat only if any of the jamiat’s student does any imoral activity. Why we donot do the media trial of the PSF, MSF, NSF and other orgnaization, the LEADERS OF THOSE not students involve SERIOUS CRIMES.It is not fair.

  7. @ NoNonsense

    To earn a seat at the Roundtable the legendary Excalibur has to be understood first !

    • Let excalibur learn himself first.

      Why do you think that people are aspiring to be at the roundtable,which has no end in itself.

      For a true Muslim,there are enough legends to follow.

      I appologise if I have hurt your feelings.

  8. Wake up moderator.

  9. It seems the PKKH moderator is a product of PARCHEE SYSTEM i.e.SIFARISHEE.

  10. Those who think that bhutto was a leader, please go through the history books written by unbiased authors and you will come to know the reality of how bhutto damaged Pakistan. Calling him shaheed or an act of judicial murder does not wipe of history. If you want to know the truth search for it, you won’t find it on TV.

  11. Pakistan must seek US’s help to boost neglected education sector:
    No doubt, the recent strategic dialogue has failed to produce anything substantial. Since it was a ploy to exploit the ‘sentimental’ Pakistani masses, into broader regional quigmire, as the U.S is trapped in Afghanistan, and can’t get out without our human intelligence.
    We should be clear in our minds that the Obama administration is not in a position to help Pakistan nor in the acquisition of Nuclear technology nor they can give us financial support (other than what Kerry-Lugar envisages), so long we have leaders like Zardari’s and stuff, and even soft-spoken Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who lack strategic focus and can’t think beyond their pocket.
    (This is why General Kiani had to chair a meeting of federal secretaries at GHQ before drafting the famour 56-page wish-list. Because he does not simply trust these bankrupt politicians, with leaning to outside forces)
    So I propose, we must ask for modernisation of our education, institutions of higher learning, S&T right from the K.G to the post graduation levels.
    Pakistan needs a complete overhaul to its outdated curricula, a shift in future oriented education. And to this end, we need substantial investments in the facilities, labs and infrastructure and support from the west.
    I think improving educational standards with the US and West’s help will help survive Pakistan in this world.
    Can you imagine, in Punjab, which much bigger than countries like Iran, Egypt, has only 85,000 students enrolled with technical educational institutions. Off that more than 80 per cent are studying commerce.
    The students studying technical or vocation eductions courses are less than 10,000. In these How can we move forward.
    On this account Shahbaz Sharif disappointed me.
    Please visit tevta.org.pk website to see the horrible figures of enrollment.
    An educated Pakistan can do wonders in his/her area of interest.
    We need to upgrade our institutions of higher learning like Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College,we need thoundands of surgens, dentists, medical PHDs, we needs thousands of chartered accountants and similarly engineers.
    There is huge demand for these educated people outside Pakistan.
    We need education system that can put to work a boy or girl in rural areas, and provide technical or vocational training to every drop out.
    Recently our eastern neighbbour has announced plans to open hundreds of universities and institutions of higher learning, allowing foreign investment in the sector.
    On the contrary, our educational institutions are marred by dirty students politics, campus violence, and unions.
    Its time we should get rid of it and seek the U.S and Europe help, who are willing also.
    What if we get uplift to educational institutions in far flung Northern areas, Azad Kashmir, to Cholistan and Khuzdar, at par with FAST, LUMS or IBA.
    Ad what if we raise the standard of education at par with those in Britain or Japan or the U.S.
    Just imagine, what it look like if we manage to invest in this area, raise strong faculty and create dozens of new universities at par with those in West, in the scenic valleys of Azad Kashmir, Swat, Northern Areas etc. It would not only change the real Pakistan but could attract international students that can make these institutions enough funds.
    We need quality education in science and technology, agriculture, economics but in also fashion designing, fine arts, industry specific training, media, and new technologies Nano, space, aerospace etc to open new areas and creating more jobs.
    Can you there are 100,000 Filipinos working in the merchant shipping and there another 600,000 working in the service industry in the GCC nations. They are part of one million others who are employed in Far East, the U.S, and Canada.
    So anyone, who is asking for the U.S’s help in the education area is a real friend of Pakistan.
    Because, only education will make us independent, self- reliant, confident and real sovereign.
    I appeal, all readers of this blog to make it a point to advocate for the improvement to our education standards at all levels, forums.
    May be we can change the fate of our bewildered youth, who have the potential to do anything in making this great country, a formidable force.

    • Nice and sincere thoughts.But who will bell the cat.

      There is a spate of MNAs/MPAs being disqualified for false degrees.University Professors are accused of plagiarism.Once a Chancellor of a University was non-matric.

      Dr.Ataur-Rahman,not only was removed,but is categorised as “Musharraf ka qareebi sathi(as a gali)”when he was wrongly issued an invitation for the Presidential address.All his projects of foreign Universities have been closed.He was the person who believed in Leap Frogging,in the educational sector.

      As long as we keep degrading and disrespecting our scholars,we will never be their.

      I believe Dr.Naqvi,another gem,is still with HECP,but he seldom comes in public and the role of HECP has diminished.

    • Very sensible post…this is probably one of the right ways to bring about “Pakistan ka Khuda Hafiz” and live up to the name of this website…Let’s encourage a dialogue to examine real issues facing Pakistan rather than be swayed by the usual Army-ISI line of scaring the awam with the Indian bogieman and keep poking into the Kashmir/East Pakistan wounds…

      • The above comment is not from me.Someone is impersonating me.

      • “The above comment is not from me.Someone is impersonating me.”

        Actually the above comments is not from me and clearly someone is impersonating me and claiming otherwise…



    • Yaar Communist! Aapki CAPS LOCK ki key kharab hai kya? Khuda kay waastay usay OFF kar dein please…

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