The India-Pakistan Security Dilemma: Major Issues and Charting A Viable Role for the United States

By Dr. Thomas F. Lynch III

Executive Summary: On July 26, 2011 the Center for Strategic Research, part of National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, partnered with the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council to host a panel discussion entitled, “The India-Pakistan Security Dilemma: Major Issues and Charting a Viable Role for the United States.”  The event took place from 10:00-11:30 a.m. at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.  Moderated by INSS Distinguished Research Fellow, Dr. Thomas Lynch, the panel featured presentations by four young scholars of – and practitioners in –security matters affecting South Asia: Mr. Dhruva Jaishankar of the German Marshall Fund (GMF), Dr. Aparna Pande of the Hudson Institute, Mr. Moeed Yusuf from the U.S. Institute of Peace (USiP) and Dr. S. Amer Latif from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Each panelist made a short formal presentation diagnosing the major issues underpinning the decades-long Indo-Pakistan security dilemma. Panelists then offered recommendations on a viable policy role for U.S. in context of their identified issues.  Steered by the moderator, the four panelists exchanged views on several presentation elements.  The discussion concluded with seven questions from an audience of over 100 attendees.  A transcript of the entire event is available now at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center web site:  It will be available on a future date – yet to be determined – at the NDU-INSS site:

The panel discussion generated three major insights:


  • India-Pakistan Security Dilemma Roots Run Deep, defying Near-Term Policy ‘fixes.’  The bitter legacy of ethno-religious mistrust and bloodshed between Indians and Pakistanis remains dominant – a fact often under-appreciated by outsiders. India’s approach toward South Asian security over the past 20 years may be trending toward restraint and moderation, but this is not the view in Islamabad.  Pakistan’s history with anti-Hindu militants and nuclear weapons still arrests New Delhi’s will to contemplate short-term security concessions much less acts of strategic altruism.
  • U.S. Policy Options – especially in the Near-Term – are Limited by America’s Regional Reputation, Divergent Indian and Pakistani Expectations, and Constrained Leverage.  Many Indians mistrust the basic thrust of U.S. interaction with Islamabad and Rawalpindi, believing that it co-facilitates hostile Pakistani narratives and actions against India.  A majority of Pakistanis loathe American lecturing and ultimatums, convinced these arise – at least in part – from a decade-long tilt of American policy toward preference for India.  American aid to Pakistan generates useful bilateral dialogue and some policy concessions, but produces insufficient leverage to induce any near-term adjustment of Islamabad’s security paradigm or dominant anti-Indian narrative.  Growing American economic interaction with New Delhi has merit on its own terms, but does not produce sufficient leverage for Washington to push for India’s alteration of its firm and longstanding security approach toward Pakistan in critical areas like the Kashmir dispute, Islamic militants and nuclear weapons.
  • Viable U.S. Policy Options Appear Limited to Mid-to-Long Term Efforts that Underwrite Greater Bilateral Dialogue and Compromise on Non-Core Security Issues. A viable American policy approach will be crafted once Washington accepts that its main options are those with mid-to-long run time horizons and largely limited to activities that build habits of cooperation between New Delhi and Islamabad in non-core security issues. A U.S.-brokered dialogue between Pakistan and India about what each desires as an end-state in Afghanistan and where accommodation between them might be reached in the areas of military-to-military and economic ‘rules of the road’ for a post-2014 Afghanistan stands-out as one of the more viable areas for U.S. policy attention. To be successful, such an effort will take time and serious diplomatic focus.  The United States also might quietly encourage sustained interaction and tangible progress in confidence-building activities – especially those in the trade and military dimensions – from the recently resumed India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue. Finally, Washington might push for three-way participation in simple military-to-military maritime and humanitarian exercises. In turn, this initiative should encourage a U.S. review of its presently fragmented bureaucratic arrangements for policy-making in South Asia. These must be rationalized before Washington can develop a coherent and effective long-term U.S. policy approach towards Pakistan and India.


Dr. Thomas F. Lynch III is the Distinguished Research Fellow for South Asia and the Near East at the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies (NDU-INSS). Dr. Lynch wishes to thank Shuja Nawaz, Shikha Bhatnagar and the staff of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center for co-sponsoring this panel discussion. The views expressed are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Atlantic Council, National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.  Dr. Lynch may be contacted at (202) 685-2231 or




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