De-hyphenation Dilemma of the U.S. in dealing with Pakistan and India

moeed testifying
USIP South Asia Adviser, Moeed Yusuf, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on U.S.-Pakistan Relations. Thursday May 5, 2011.


By Ch. Musawar Sharief Sandhu 15 May 2019

De-hyphenation, in general, is perceived as a policy of the U.S. to deal with Pakistan and India in different silos without linking to their bilateral relations. Under this policy, the U.S. relations with Pakistan and India are to be carried out by an objective assessment of its interests towards each state (Pakistan and India) keeping in view their merits and demerits. This policy commenced its operation when the then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Washington’s decision to De-hyphenate U.S. policies towards India and Pakistan in 2007.

As per Stephen P. Cohen, this policy of the U.S. to deal with two nuclear-armed neighbors in the South Asian region can be regarded as an Aristotelian approach where justice meant to each as per their virtues and assets free of each other.

According to Ashley J Tellis, there are a few reasons behind this strategic shift in the U.S. policy. First, the vital importance of India as a rising power in the international arena with a population of 1.2 billion having democratic credentials. Second, a vast consumer market for the U.S. to explore in terms of military equipment, raw material, and white goods. Third, the inherent ability of India to counter China, defending the freedom of navigation, safeguarding lanes of communication, and the space race. Fourth, a unique way that could provide the U.S. with the ability to build its relations with Pakistan and India on separate tracks. Lastly, the U.S. is in dire need to share the weight of regulating the global norm and values based on internationally recognized principles. This task has become critical in Indo (Asia) Pacific region where India is ready to share the burden.

De-hyphenation has severe ramifications both for Pakistan and the region. Not only has it strained Pakistan’s relation with the U.S. but also has tilted the South Asian Balance of Power in favor of India. This has also triggered an arms race in the region that could prove catastrophic because both the states possess credible nuclear weapon capabilities. Under this policy, the U.S. relations with India flourished to such an extent that India became a strategic partner whereas, its ties with Pakistan deteriorated to the extent that in 2011-2012 some South Asian experts in the U.S. administration started talking about ‘containing’ Pakistan and ‘talking tough’ to Pakistan.
Under this policy, the U.S. abandoned Pakistan’s legitimate concerns vis-à-vis India, which proved to be sheer discrimination on its part. Pakistan felt cheated on the pretext that having sacrificed more than eighty thousand lives and suffering an economic loss of $120 billion, still it is Pakistan that is being accused of harboring terrorist’s safe havens, the double game in Afghanistan and is being subjected to “do more” mantra.

Now the question arises that to what extent De-hyphenation has taken place between Pakistan and India in terms of their relations with the U.S., and the answer is self-evident. First, the U.S. signed civil nuclear cooperation with India not with Pakistan. Second, India is granted a pro-active role in Afghanistan despite having no direct geographical link with it. Third, the U.S. has also supported Indian request for the membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group. Fourth, the U.S. has granted India waiver to import oil from Iran despite sanctions on Iran. Fifth, the U.S. has no objection from India to purchase state of the art S-400 surface to air missiles from Russia. Sixth, the U.S. is helping India modernize its military and technological capabilities and last but not least, in post-Pulwama scenario the U.S. did not play its due role as a superpower of the world to de-escalate tensions between Pakistan and India instead, acknowledged that India has the right to defend herself. This encouraged India to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan as a result; Pakistan had to respond for the sake of strategic stability in the region.

All these developments are seen with suspicions in Pakistan. Now, it is left only with a few options to readdress this altered notion of security dilemma to keep the strategic balance in the South Asian region. Pakistan can either go for self-help or alliances formation with its friends and neighbors or else cash its vital geo-strategic significance.

Regarding self-help, Pakistan has already started producing its indigenous JF-17 Thunder aircraft along with Al-Khalid tanks. Pakistan has also successfully tested Ababeel missile which is regarded as a game changer because it can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads including multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV).

However, in terms of alliances formation, Pakistan has started a close cooperation with its neighbors. For example, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is going to be strategically vital for Pakistan both for its economic growth and military cooperation. Pakistan has also started working for close cooperation with Russia as a result Russian forces took part in multinational Naval exercise AMAN that took place in Pakistan from February 10 to February 14, 2017. Besides, Pakistan and the Russian army have been conducting joint military “Friendship” drills since 2016 with the most recent one held in Pakistan’s northwestern town of Pabbi from October 21 to November 4, 2018. Both the states agreed to upgrade their bilateral relations to Strategic partnership in the near future.

Apart from that Pakistan has to convince the U.S. to Re-hyphenate it with India in the region because Pakistan has become a lynchpin for the safe exit of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan. To quote Pakistan’s Foreign Office statement “U.S. President Donald Trump, in his letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, has stated that his most important regional priority was achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war. In this regard, he has sought Pakistan’s support and facilitation”. Moreover, he also maintained that both states should “explore opportunities to work together and renew partnership.” Mr. Trump also “acknowledged that the war had cost both USA and Pakistan” therefore, “Peace and stability in Afghanistan remains a shared responsibility.” Thus, Pakistan must use this window of opportunity to neutralize the De-hyphenation induced Security Dilemma in the region.

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