There are two perspectives in the United States government vis-à-vis the imbroglio in South Asia, one of which holds that the problem really is about India-Pakistan relations, and the other is that it's all due to Pakistan's behaviour akin to that of a rogue state.
This was disclosed by Polly Nayak, co-author of The Unfinished Crisis: US Crisis Management After the 2008 Mumbai Attacks, during an interaction with a select group of policy wonks, senior administration officials -- including from the National Security Council -- diplomats and journalists at the Stimson Center in Washington, DC, which published the report.
Nayak, a longtime South Asia expert and a highly respected erstwhile intelligence analyst, renowned for her painstaking research, said, "These (perspectives) have different implications. One of them says these countries have been at it forever and that therefore, the solutions like in the relationship."
She said, "The other one says Pakistan is behaving like a rogue state -- that it's Pakistan."
While reiterating that "the two have very different implications," Nayak said, "the second one is dominant at this time," in US government circles.
In the report, the conclusion was that US crisis management efforts, "scripted as well as ad hoc, have helped slow the momentum of crises between India and Pakistan but have not reduced factors contributing to the next crisis or to its potential escalation."
While arguing that "crises between India and Pakistan remain unfinished and unresolved," it lay much of the blame on Islamabad, noting that "militant groups that operate from Pakistan against Indian targets remain in business after receiving slaps on the wrist from Pakistan's security establishments and judicial bodies."
Thus, the report said, "With no satisfactory resolution or outlets, Indian grievances risk becoming cumulative."
Nayak said the report did not take a position "about whether resolving Kashmir would prevent another crisis. What we are saying is that it's not going to happen in the immediate future (a resolution of the Kashmir problem)."
She said, "The premises of this study is that more crises between India and Pakistan are all but inevitable, but it's important to say that this may bear little resemblance in their origins to what has happened so far -- much will depend on how the players perceive whatever happens."
"The second premise of the study is that it is useful for not just policymakers, but also their advisers and scholars who follow these issues to understand what could be different next time, and in thinking about what could be different next time is actually a contribution to the future management of whatever the US defines as a crisis."
In 2008, as in 2001-2002, Nayak said, "The US saw the stakes as very high -- terrorism, possible escalation of war between India and Pakistan and the remote, but still real possibility of nuclear use, perhaps accidental in its impetus, but nevertheless on great consequence."
"In 2008, as in 2001-2002, the key policymakers were National Security Council principals, reflecting the importance that was given to the issues as they emerged," she said. "They were mostly civilians -- Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Steve Hadley as national security adviser, and also of course, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral (Mike) Mullen and senior diplomats and officials from a variety of different elements of the Washington policy community as well as of course, the Regional Commands, CENTCOM (Central Command) and PACOM (Pacific Command)."
Nayak who interviewed Rice, Hadley, Mullen, US ambassador to New Delhi and Islamabad at the time -- David Mulford and Anne Patterson -- and several other senior officials for the report, said, "One question that informed the analysis in this paper was how much does the familiar inform the management of a particular crisis -- how much is there that is drawn from a recipe book when things start to go askew?"
She also said the role technology played during the Mumbai crisis on 26/11 was highly significant compared to the crises in 2001-2002, especially video teleconferencing, and the widespread availability of smart phones that were crucial, particularly since the crisis broke on the eve of the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend when everybody had left Washington.
Nayak said, technology "really came of age in this crisis and allowed people in the field -- American officials in the field, ambassadors and others to sit at the table to exchange information. To not only streamline the pass the information, but also decision-making by eliminating in effect, what had been an integrative process before."
She acknowledged that because American lives too had been lost on 26/11, the information sharing with India as well as law-enforcement cooperation was unprecedented.
But Nayak noted that "there were limits to routinising this law-enforcement cooperation -- evidence based approach -- with India.
However, she reiterated that overall, unlike in previous crises, where the US had sought to be more helpful but had to work around bureaucratic barriers, with the appointment of P Chidambaram as home minister, had "made considerable difference to the way things worked, and again, highlighted the effect of personalities and particular relationships."
Nayak said that it helped immensely that Chidambaram "saw this as an opportunity and the requirement to change the Indian system, not simply to find who was to blame. He wanted a better defensive strategy for India."
But she noted that "there are important differences in the weight that each side -- US and India -- gives to the global element in terms of terrorist attacks."
The report had said a key assumption from past India-Pakistan crises was that "Indian political leaders would not preempt a terrorist plot by attacking targets in Pakistan even if they possessed actionable intelligence."
Nayak said that in the interviews and research, the study had also looked "at the continuities and discontinuities over time, including the discontinuity that was injected in this particular (Mumbai) crisis by the presidential transition underway right at the time when the attacks occurred."
However, she said that although here were "two administrations (the outgoing George W Bush administration and the incoming Obama administration) that in many respects couldn't have been more different, there really was a substantial amount of continuity in the approach to the crisis and that's partly because there were repeatable mechanisms and circumstances that smoothed the handing over."
But Nayak argued that there were key uncertainties that could shape a future crisis that would make the traditional playbook used by the US null and void.
Thus, she said, "There are some long-standing assumptions that have become part of what people referred to as the US playbook on South Asia crises that certainly need to be re-examined."
Nayak said one of them for example, "is that as long as senior US officials are on their way back and forth doing shuttle diplomacy to India or Pakistan or both, that neither country is likely to do anything aggressive, bellicose or kinetic."
"That assumption may turn out to be incorrect in the future," she said. "So, we probably should make ourselves aware in preparation for whatever may come in the future -- of what some of those are and how robust they are."
Nayak also contended that some of the legs of the argument that the US is indispensable as a crisis manager in South Asia "was also changing, which was also an assumption in the US's extraordinary commitment of diplomatic resources to this and prior crises that the US is indispensable."
She said this superpower image, "if not the reality of the US, is fading," as was the US claim "to have an equal in with both parties," which she asserted was in jeopardy.
Consequently, Nayak said this would call into question "not only on the Pakistani side, but also on the Indian side our value as a broker."
She said it was not only a question of whether "the US is considered to be an honest and balanced broker, but also whether we are considered to be useful. So that's a possibility which we certainly need to bear in mind that the regional parties themselves -- both of them -- will see as less useful since each counted on the US to influence the other."
Thus, according to Nayak, in future, "The US may need to partner with China for example, in South Asia, or perhaps even with Saudi Arabia -- to spend more of our effort on countries that are closer to Pakistan to the extent that our relationship is no longer equally credible with both regional parties and that we may end being the interlocutors on the Indian side."