For much of the latter half of the last century, the United States looked at South Asia in the whole. India, the Soviet ally, was balanced by Pakistan, the American ally, with Afghanistan thrown in after the Soviet invasion of 1979.
Needless to say, no good came of the crude geopolitics, and the Clinton administration began to dismantle archaic "hyphenated" notions of South Asia. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 upended the zero sum game once and for all, and the Bush administration embraced a deeper bilateral relationship with India, a cynical counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan, and a limited vision of a new Afghanistan (built on the foundation of the post 9/11 purge of the Taliban).
The only piece of the Bush administration's policy that promised genuine long-term benefit was with India. The Pakistan piece was predicated on a flawed relationship with individual leaders--first Gen. Pervez Musharraf and then President Asif Ali Zardari--and a heartfelt conviction that billions in aid and good targeting and intelligence constituted a genuine policy. As for Afghanistan, the notion that America could win on the cheap and palm off the fight on NATO led us down the road to today.
All the more strange in light of these and other historic mistakes, then, that the Obama administration has leapt energetically into the re-hyphenation of South Asia policy.
Fresh off his recent regional tour, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke underscored that "we must recognize the inexorable link" between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And after a recent visit from the Indian foreign secretary to Washington, we hear that he also told the Indian government that they are distracting Pakistan from killing terrorists.
None of this reflects on-the-ground reality. Pakistan's love-hate relationship with Islamist extremists is fueled by a false strategic concept--that somehow such groups provide a hedge against Indian dominance. Pakistan exploits the Afghan playground because it can. That fight will be won when the Pakistani military learns to fight a counterinsurgency and the Islamabad government decides they must.
Only in the oldest of schools is India viewed as something more than a sideshow for Pakistan's terrorists and their occasional control officers in Pakistani uniform. Yes, Islamist extremists in India--and there are growing forces there--could coordinate and learn from their brethren in Pakistan. Yes, India should be troubled by the Pakistani government's shaky grip on power. But like Afghanistan's, India's and Pakistan's problems are their own. We serve no one by replaying the 19th and 20th centuries. The great game is over.
Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI.