THE QUEST for improvement in the deeply troubled relationship between the United States (along with its Western allies) and Pakistan focuses largely on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and on the country’s approach to governing. But this quest has not yielded much, and relations between Washington and Islamabad are spiraling downward. Lost in this American struggle to induce change in Pakistani behavior is a fundamental reality—namely, that there probably can’t be any significant progress in improving the relationship so long as the India-Pakistan conflict persists. For Pakistanis, that conflict poses an ominous existential challenge that inevitably drives their behavior on all things, including their approach to the West and the war in Afghanistan. But if the India-Pakistan confrontation could be settled, chances for progress on other fronts would be greatly enhanced.
That in turn raises questions about U.S. policy toward India. For years, that policy has been guided by the geopolitical thesis that the West needs to court India in order to counterbalance China’s growing power in Asia. Hence the United States has resisted the idea of pressuring India for concessions toward Pakistan in the ongoing conflict of nerves between the two countries. So long as that policy continues, prospects are high for ongoing tensions between the United States and Pakistan, which has ominous implications for America’s efforts in Afghanistan.