US Security Interests in South Asia: Relations with Pakistan and India

Significance of National Security

In the twentieth century, states faced two world wars that crumpled the economies and infrastructure of the involved parties. After World War II, the United States and the USSR emerged as two super powers in international affairs. Both knew that a strong security and defensive power would give them the upper hand on the other party. After the Cold War, the issue of national security hid behind economic cooperation and increasing trade relations among states, but nonetheless the policy of security remained among the top policy priorities of states. At the start of the twenty-first century, the concept of national security again became the top most foreign policy issue, especially for the United States, after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

US Foreign Policy and National Security

“National security policy is primarily concerned with formulating and implementing national strategy involving the threat or use of force to create a favorable environment for US national interests”. (Sarkesion, Williams, Cimbala, 2008, pp. 5-7)

Since World War II, the foreign policy of the United States has mostly revolved around national security and issues related to it. First it was the USSR with which America was fighting for security and power dominance in the Cold War. Then the United States emerged as the sole super power and hegemon in the international community and could prioritize its own security interests even more.

US Security Interests in South Asia

South Asia has been a region of great interest and conflict, especially for the last 30-35 years.  It has been the area where super powers have engaged in proxy and indirect wars with each other. The Soviet War (December 24 1979-February 15 1989) in Afghanistan is the major example of the clash of big power in this part of the world. The war ended with victory for US-backed Mujahideen, while the USSR would disintegrate within the decade (Coll, 1992)

After the war, the United States left the region. The terrorist elements that the United States had itself created would cause the 9/11 incident in the United States in 2001 and change the whole direction of US foreign policy regarding South Asia. A 2012 Defense Paper issued by US Department of Defense lists South Asia among the major critical regions for the United States. The US government is looking to enhance the security of the region and of its allies in the region. (US Department of Defense Report, 2012: p.2)

Relations with Pakistan

In this “War on Terrorism” Pakistan has been the front ally of the United States. It has been a roller coaster relationship over the years as relations between Pakistan and United States have gone from best to worst and from uncertain to a lack of trust.  Due to regional and international security circumstances, both parties have been close and have signed a number of security pacts like the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954 and the Baghdad Pact, which later became the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), in 1955. (Sial, 2007, p.2)

Relations with India

Although Pakistan became a security ally with the United States before India did and although Indian governments increased their ties with the Soviet Union – at critical points and on certain issues the United States either supported India or did not take any aggressive initiative against it. In 1962, during Sino-Indian border conflict, the United States supported the latter (Kux, 2002, p.1). During the 1960s, some liberal intellectuals of the Democratic Party had been advocating the case of India in United States and were of the view that as India was the most powerful and influential democracy in Asia, it should be supported by the West, in an ideological fight of the “Free World” versus communist states like China. Other examples regarding the United States’ tilt towards India are the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) in 2004 and Civil-Nuclear deal of 2006. Pakistan is the front ally of the United States, but the United States administration signed these highly strategically, militarily and economically important agreements with India.  (Hassan, 2012, pp.44-45)

Reasons of US Security Policy Change in South Asia

Although Pakistan remained a close ally of the United States for last four to five decades, US security policy has been tilting towards India since the 1990s, especially during the government of Bill Clinton. There are number of major reasons for this US policy approach.

  • The United States wants a strong ally in South Asia to counter China’s economic and strategic ambitions in the region
  • India is a fast growing economy. Due to its area and population, it is a huge economic market for US products, both civilian and defense.
  • The trust deficit between Pakistan and the United States is third reason for this US policy change in South Asia. Both states are allies, but a lack of trust has deepened the gulf in relations between both parties.


South Asia has remained a critical region for major powers, especially for the United States. Pakistan and India are highly important states for the United States.  Pakistan chose the capitalist block in the Cold War. It fought both Afghan wars as a front ally of the United States. Despite these relations, Pakistan and the United States often diverge on foreign policy issues and concerns, which leads US security interests to tilt towards India.  As a rapidly growing economy, strategically important India is becoming a close ally of the United States.


Image: U.S. Department of State, Flickr

Posted in , India, India-Pakistan Relations, Pakistan, Security, US

Sulman Ali

Sulman Ali is completing his M.Phil. in International Relations at the University of Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan. Ali’s research interests include the Indian Ocean, Regional Security, Water Security, and Insurgency. He has taught a course on International Law at the University of Punjab, and has been working as a Research Assistant with Dr. Iram Khalid since 2012. His hobbies include reading, travel, and music, and he is learning the guitar. With passage of time research has also become a hobby as he loves to read, analyze and to know about new issues, history, and different international incidents.

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9 thoughts on “US Security Interests in South Asia: Relations with Pakistan and India

  1. The analysis mentioned are extremely important and though provoking .
    The foreign policy making skulls needs to read this :d
    I must apprecite ur effor my bro.
    keep it up

  2. Pakistan is a necessary evil for US now (like friction), for following reasons:
    1. To keep the terror factories & nukes in check.
    2. To limit the Chinese presence and not give it a free run across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia.

  3. Sulman,

    Your article addresses a lot, and does a good job of laying out your perspective. However, I think a few assertions are off the mark. I’ll tackle two of them below:

    1. “The terrorist elements that the United States had itself created [to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan] would cause the 9/11 incident in the United States in 2001 and change the whole direction of US foreign policy regarding South Asia.”

    To suggest that Washington “created the terrorists” that attacked us on 9/11 is an exaggeration. Resistance to the Soviet occupation, including from Pakistan, pre-dated American involvement. Furthermore, the United States wasn’t the only country that supported the anti-Soviet jihad. Saudi Arabia and China took a similar approach for their own reasons. Pakistan, of course, had an antagonistic relationship with Kabul since independence, and was enthusiastic to receive any support it could to pursue its perceived interests in Afghanistan.

    2. “Pakistan is the front ally of the United States, but the United States administration signed these highly strategically, militarily and economically important agreements with India.”

    This statement suggests that the United States cooperating with India is somehow a betrayal of Pakistan. Washington does not approach South Asia in these zero sum terms. The United States should have positive relations with both countries. China does more trade with India (in dollar terms) than with Pakistan. Does that mean China is betraying Pakistan? I don’t think it does.


  4. Shail Arora i will not consider Pakistan is an “Evil” rather a necessary “Ally”. I agree with your second point to keep an eye on China. I disagree with your first point as Pakistan has the complete capability to look after its nukes and in recent developments, to keep an eye on terrorist groups.

  5. Shane i appreciate your thorough analysis on my article. Two points you discussed, my take on them are:
    1. I used the term created because Pakistan was the member of capatalist block. US officials has admitted that it was their mistake to leave Taliban after Soviet war. US had the major part in it because these elements were being supported openly by US and they had visited US and met with the political elite. After being left alone and being changed from Mujhahideen to Terrorists did create some grudge. So i think, according to these elements, the US being the target was quite justified.
    2. US cooperation with India seems Betrayal to Pakistanis is because Pakistan sacrificed most in this war. We are a strategic partner but the deals like NSSP and Civil Nuclear deal with India is not accepted by Pakistan very well. i focused more on strategic relations in this piece like China is producing JF-17 thunder with Pakistan not with India. So that is why Chinese economic relations with India is not being taken as betrayal in Pakistan

    I Hope you will keep responding on my work so i can learn more and hopefully let you know story from this side.

    Best Regards

  6. @Sulman
    Please allow me to elaborate the first point then. As a citizen of a sovereign country, it is your right to believe that the Pakistani establishment has the terror camps and nukes under control, and it’s quite natural. However, from US perspective, whether they buy this argument is debatable, considering the evidence unearthed in recent years, predominantly among them, Osama being found in Abbottabad right next to an Army base. Also, pile on the evidence that a faction in ISI supports the Afghan Taliban against the US led NATO forces.

    Now, as for doing America’s bidding in terms of freezing assets or putting sanctions on groups such as LeT, JuD etc, this looks good on paper and perhaps, this might also allow the US Congress to pass the aid package (some $500 million). However, do you really believe the Americans to be so naive that they don’t see the bottomline here? Banning an outfit would prompt another front to pop up, with a different name headed by the same people. It’s not as if people like Hafeez Saeed have been detained or banned from making public appearances. The funding would never stop either because there are several routes, via which, it can happen.

    Although, would the Americans openly admit this, I doubt it, because, Pakistan is a “necessary ally” in their fight against terrorism.

  7. Alas Pakistan might have not joined this war against terrorism, for which she is now facing acute problems; ecoomical; financial as well as political, just for the sake of human being.

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