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Changing Concept of Strategic Depth

Pakistan opted to evolve working relationship with some sections of the Afghan society and in order to achieve that, Pakistan did some maneuvers which were termed by some as Strategic Depth. When those maneuvers became militarized, then Pakistan received high degree of condemnation both at home and internationally, though Pakistan kept on denying it officially.

General kiyani’s remarks that Pakistan does not want strategic depth in Afghanistan, has left many skeptical to this assertion, and as many also hopeful who want to see a revision in this policy because it has brought more harm than the benefits. These feelings emanating from Islamabad have resonated well in the power circles in Kabul and President Hamid Karzai also made the assertion that Pakistan and Afghanistan are twin brothers, implying that no other state can turn Afghanistan against Pakistan.  Historically the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have not been very casual, rather animosity, tension and distrust has been conspicuous in the relations between the two. Nevertheless the importance of having some kind of relations has been felt by the both countries under different regimes in the past. Good relations has become more important especially after the events of 9/11, when the whole world around Pakistan and Afghanistan changed, making it incumbent upon the both to work together.

Because of the uncertainty in the relations between the two and the threat from India, Pakistan opted to evolve working relationship with some sections of the Afghan society and in order to achieve that, Pakistan did some maneuvers which were termed by some as Strategic Depth. When those maneuvers became militarized, then Pakistan received high degree of condemnation both at home and internationally, though Pakistan kept on denying it officially.  Over the years after the 9/11 there has developed a serious understanding between the leadership and strategists of both the countries that the conventional proxy games against the interests of each other will only harm the two and will give a pretext to the international forces to perpetuate their stay in the region.  There are many reasons to believe that the concept of strategic depth is going through an erosion of some sorts, but still the relations between the both are far from being that of friendly neighbors.

In order to understand the concept of strategic depth in its right perspective one must bring in theoretical clarity. Strategic depth must be seen in the perspective of forging friendly relationship with the neighbors, in which the two are not in animosity with one another. In today’s globalized world it is not just a spatial concept anymore, now a state can have strategic depth overseas also, miles away from its borders like Israel has in the US. The other variants of this concept can be economic strategic depth, or political strategic depth, of course through political alliance making. So if taken in that sense, strategic depth can be the need of every country on the globe. Military’s point of view of the strategic depth is the state’s ability to protect its assets and absorb an attack from the enemy, its ability to retreat and regroup and again attack the enemy, engage it effectively  and compel it for a retreat and thus exhaust it in its pursuits of achieving its strategic aims.

The strategists in Pakistan feel compelled to pursue the policy of strategic depth because of the security dilemma, a concept very well explained by Kneth Waltz. In Pakistan’s case it can be explained like, if a nation feels weak in conventional or non-conventional terms and it develops a feeling that the world powers are either not able or weak in resolve to protect its interests or security against another, then it takes some measures that makes him feel relatively satisfied about its security. The security of one state exacerbates the insecurity of the other state, and the weaker state adopts measures and pursues a policy which would become the harbinger of such a conflict that the both states don’t want to enter.  Due to the alliance of India with Afghanistan and incessant danger from both the borders, Pakistan felt the need to secure its western borders by developing a strategic depth in Afghanistan, also to avoid a hypothetical two-front situation when Pakistan has to fight on both eastern and western fronts.

Pakistan in terms of conventional warfare is weaker as compared to India’s military might, which is why it follows a policy of minimum credible deterrence in terms of non-conventional weaponry, so that in face of an all-out defeat on the group it may use that. Pakistan is also conscious to its thinner width and in case of a fully fledged Indian offensive; it fears that India can pierce it into two halves thus disconnecting the supply lines and force Pakistan to crumble on its knees. For that, its military policy makers are of the opinion that Pakistan needs a strategic depth where, in face of such an attack it can retire and then regroup for a counter offensive. These strategists think that Afghanistan can give that strategic depth to Pakistan. Thus they justify Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan.

Pak-Afghan relationship after 9/11:

Pakistan feels more comfortable with dealing the Pashtun element within the Afghan government and has tried to befriend the Pashtuns of Afghanistan to evolve a friendly voice in Pakistan. Pakistan tried to make it a point with the US when it was attacking Afghanistan in October 2001, that the Northern Alliance will not occupy Kabul, that did not materialize but in the coming government of President Hamid Karzai the Pashtun element was quite dominant, but with the Northern Alliance leaders holding quite important portfolios. Both the governments knew that they need to do business and quite positively they agreed on a Tripartite Commission comprising of Pakistan, Afghanistan and US/NATO .It was mandated with monitoring security and coordinating information and intelligence sharing along the Pak’ Afghan border. Afghanistan despite its reservations on Durand line agreed to be a part of it because this commission was also tasked with pushing for the international recognition of the Line. This showed that the ice was breaking in the ties between the two and the trust was developing.

Pakistan catered for millions of refugees during the Afghan war of 1990s, about three million that time. After the fall of Taliban in 2001, numbers of people crossed into Pakistan and the number of refugee surge climbed up to five million. Pakistan is one of the largest refugee hosting countries in the world and most of the refugees in Pakistan are from Afghanistan, out of total 2.9 million Afghan refugees about 1.7 million were living in Pakistan by 2009. Pakistan’s role as a host to the refugees is also criticized by some quarters, but a fact remains that the Afghans are obliged of this generous and sustained help that Pakistan has made available to them all along right from 1979. This can be a point which can be used as an argument to help improve relations and do away with the mistrust.
“In the transit-trade pact signed in July 2010 the two countries agreed on opening eighteen roads and border crossings, it was also agreed that Afghanistan will be given access port Qasim and Gawadar.”
The economic cooperation has deepened after the 9/11 specially bilateral trade has been boasted and the transit trade deal is signed. Pakistan’ Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission is constituted .Now Afghanistan is number one trading partner of Pakistan as of imports, and Pakistan is the third largest market for Afghan exports. The Bilateral trade has grown manifold since 2000; it reached $540 million in 2003′ 04 and $1.2 billion in 2004′ 0512 and the Afghanistan’ Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement in 2010 committed to increasing that figure to $5 billion by 2015. In the transit-trade pact signed in July

2010 the two countries agreed on opening eighteen roads and border crossings, it was also agreed that Afghanistan will be given access port Qasim and Gawadar. It was good news for the Afghan businessmen who could export their products to the region and develop trade links to central Asian republics. The joint economic commission is also working to exploit new ways and avenues of bolstering trade.

Pakistan has put into its share in rebuilding Afghanistan. It has committed up to $330 Million in reconstruction and assistance programs to Afghanistan.  It has helped build and maintain the Turkham to Jalalabad road in Nangarhar province and the Ghulan Khan’ Khost road. In 2010 projects like building Peshawar’ Jalalabad and Quetta’  Kandahar rail links were set as priorities. Pakistan is also involved in constructing buildings at universities in Kabul, Nangarhar, and Mazar-e-Sharif, there is a project to build a hospital in Kabul called Jinnah Hospital. Pakistan is currently hosting 6000 Afghan students in Pakistani schools and hundreds and thousands of Afghan child refugees attend schools in Pakistan. This shows the degree of concern in Islamabad to project an acceptable image to the establishment in Afghanistan.

The continuation of blame game and occasional outbursts of anger and frustration has conspicuous in the relations between the two countries, but this time around this delinquency has not acquire such magnitude , as to be able to derail the process of peace. The cross border attacks from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory, the assassination of Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani , attacks inside Kabul and other irritants have not been able to stop the two countries from talking to each other, which is a positive sign. . For the sake of the progress of South Asia, India and Pakistan should also exercise the ‘Hand off’ policy in relation to Afghanistan.  The reservations on both the sides are reasonable, but the venues of negotiations should never be closed. The two countries have the right to forge any kind of relationship with any country, but to avoid the internecine security dilemma that may endanger the fragile understanding that both the countries have so far secured.

By: Murad Kassi

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