As the United States and India grow ever closer as partners, they cannot escape the challenges posed by Pakistan, which has been a complication in the bilateral relationship between Washington and New Delhi since 1947. The next American President and his Indian counterpart will find it impossible to ignore the dangers and opportunities posed by Pakistan today. Cooperation between Washington and New Delhi on how to deal with these challenges is crucial and fortunately seems to be improving especially as we prepare for the 2014 transition in Afghanistan.
Both India and America have strained and complex relations with Pakistan. The terror attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 brought India and Pakistan to the brink of another crisis. Fortunately, cool heads prevailed, especially in New Delhi, but four years later, a gradual détente has begun. Visa restrictions have been loosened on travelers between the two countries, trade is increasing, and there is talk of a genuine free trade zone. These measures benefit both countries but especially help Pakistan with its weaker economy. President Asif Ali Zardari visited India and seems genuinely committed to improving ties. A September Pew poll shows Indians understand the paradox. 77 percent of Indians see Pakistan as an enemy, yet 77 percent also believe it is important to resolve the Kashmir dispute to improve relations with Pakistan.
What is unclear is how committed the Pakistani army and its intelligence service, ISI, are to détente. Traditionally, they have seen India as the enemy and the justification for their disproportionate share of the national budget. They remain closely aligned with the spoilers in Pakistan, the jihadist groups determined to fight India, not to make peace with it. Lashkar e Tayyiba’s boss, Muhammad Hafeez Saeed now has an American bounty for information leading to his arrest but he operates openly in Pakistan. The mastermind of the Mumbai massacre travels the country, appears at large ISI sponsored rallies and regularly appears on talk shows demanding jihad against India and America. There is every danger that another major attack is coming, ironically made more likely if détente deepens since the dark forces in Pakistan are determined to halt it.