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Pakistan's Concept of Strategic Depth

Special Issue Brief


Recently, a number of commentators have reflected on Pakistan’s concept of strategic depth. Here we present a selection of relevant articles, as also some material for further reading.

Strategic Depth
Lt Gen Asad Durrani (Retd)
CLAWS Article No. 1487
06 February 2010

Strategic Depth is a sound concept. All countries strive to gain and retain it. It is not merely a geographical or spatial notion, but has many dimensions: military, economic, demographic, social and political; and indeed internal and external.

Russia is a quintessential case of a country endowed with wide spaces that were used strategically in its war against Napoleon and in the Second World War. During the bipolar era, its East European satellites and Central Asian republics provided it with additional depth, externally. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia remained interested in its “near abroad”. That illustrates the significance of this factor.

Israel, because of its very different environment, has taken another path to achieve the same effects. Critically lacking physical depth internally, it has primarily relied upon military power and American support to overcome this handicap, and gain territory externally. But its strategic depth essentially lies thousands of kilometers away, in the US.

Objectives of this concept are indeed best served by a country’s inherent internal strength. All the same, alliances with other countries are helpful and at times unavoidable.

Afghanistan was once assigned the role of a “buffer” between the Soviet and the British Empires; to create strategic depth for both of them. When the latter left the Region and India was partitioned, Afghanistan continued to provide (forward) strategic depth to Pakistan, the successor state in the West, vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Pakistan lost it when Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviets. Its help to the Afghan resistance was aimed at restoring the status quo anti.

Indeed, it also had an Indian context. With the Soviets now on its Western borders and India in the East, Pakistan was- what at that time was called- in a “nutcracker situation”. Considering that the pre-invasion Afghanistan had never exploited its periods of wars with India, Pakistan was all the more desperate to get the Soviet occupation vacated.

There has been plenty of criticism of Pakistan’s policy of helping the Afghan resistance. Some may do so because, according to them, it spread drugs, weapons and militancy in the region. Others opposed to Zia-ul-Haq were loath to support a policy that carried his name (and must have been very depressed when with the Soviet withdrawal it achieved its primary objective). They have every right to run down the policy, but to malign in the process a valid doctrine is a bit devious.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views either of the Editorial Committee or the Centre for Land Warfare Studies).


Defining "Strategic Depth"
Kamran Shafi
19 January 2010

Will our army pack its bags and escape into Afghanistan to disengage itself from the fighting, if India goes to war with Pakistan? And how does it help us? We are engaged in the Great Game in Afghanistan, we are told, because ‘strategic depth’ is vital for Pakistan due to the fact that our country is very narrow at its middle and could well be cut into half by an Indian attack in force.

Strategic depth, we are further informed, will give respite to our armed forces which could withdraw into Afghanistan to then regroup and mount counter-attacks on Indian forces in Pakistan. I ask you!

I ask you for several reasons. Let us presume that the Indians are foolish enough to get distracted from educating their people, some of whom go to some of the best centres of learning in the world. Let us assume that they are idiotic enough to opt for war instead of industrialising themselves and meeting their economic growth targets which are among the highest in the world.

Let us imagine that they are cretinous enough to go to war with a nuclear-armed Pakistan and effectively put an immediate and complete end to their multi-million dollar tourism industry. Let us suppose that they lose all sense, all reason, and actually attack Pakistan and cut our country into half.

Will our army pack its bags and escape into Afghanistan? How will it disengage itself from the fighting? What route will it use, through which mountain passes? Will the Peshawar Corps gun its tanks and troop carriers and trucks and towed artillery and head into the Khyber Pass, and on to Jalalabad? Will the Karachi and Quetta Corps do likewise through the Bolan and Khojak passes?

And what happens to the Lahore and Sialkot and Multan and Gujranwala and Bahawalpur and other garrisons? What about the air force? Far more than anything else, what about the by now 180 million people of the country? What ‘strategic depth’ do our Rommels and Guderians talk about, please? What poppycock is this?

More importantly, how can Afghanistan be our ‘strategic depth’ when most Afghans hate our guts, not only the northerners, but even those who call themselves Pakhtuns?

Case in point: the absolute and repeated refusal of even the Taliban government when it was misruling Afghanistan, to accept the Durand Line as the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, despite the fact that it was a surrogate of Pakistan — propped into power; paid for; and helped militarily, diplomatically and politically by the Pakistani government and its ‘agencies’.

Indeed, it even refused the Commando’s interior minister, the loudmouth Gen Moinuddin Haider when he went to Kabul to ask for the extradition of Pakistani criminals being sheltered by the Taliban. We must remember that the Commando, as chief executive of the country, was pressing the Foreign Office till just a few days before 9/11 to use every effort to have the Taliban regime’ recognised by more countries!

This poppycock of ‘strategic depth’ can only be explained by our great military thinkers and strategists and geniuses: it is not for mortals like yours truly to make sense of any of it. Particularly because this nonsense can only happen after the Americans depart from Afghanistan. And what, pray, is the guarantee that they will leave when they say they will?

Why this subject at this time, you might well ask. Well I have just been reading David Sanger’s The Inheritance in which he meticulously lays out the reasons why he believes the Pakistani “dual policy” towards the Taliban exists.

On page 247 he states that when Michael McConnell, the then chief of US National Intelligence went to Pakistan in late May 2008 (three months after the elections that trounced Musharraf and his King’s Party, mark) he heard Pakistani officers make the case for the Pakistani need for having a friendly government in Kabul after the Americans departed.

When he got back to Washington McConnell “ordered up a full assessment” of the situation. ‘It did not take long … Musharraf’s record of duplicity was well known. While Kayani was a favourite of the White House, he had also been overheard — presumably on telephone intercepts — referring to one of the most brutal of the Taliban leaders, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, as a “strategic asset”. Interesting, for Kayani’s former boss, Musharraf is quoted thus in Der Spiegel:

Spiegel: “Let us talk about the role of the ISI. A short time ago, US newspapers reported that ISI has systematically supported Taliban groups. Is that true?”

Musharraf: “Intelligence always has access to other networks — this is what Americans did with KGB, this is what ISI also does. You should understand that the army is on board to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda. I have always been against the Taliban. Don’t try to lecture us about how we should handle this tactically. I will give you an example: Siraj Haqqani ...”

Spiegel: “... a powerful Taliban commander who is allegedly secretly allied with the ISI.”

Musharraf: “He is the man who has influence over Baitullah Mehsud, a dangerous terrorist, the fiercest commander in South Waziristan and the murderer of Benazir Bhutto as we know today. Mehsud kidnapped our ambassador in Kabul and our intelligence used Haqqani’s influence to get him released. Now, that does not mean that Haqqani is supported by us. The intelligence service is using certain enemies against other enemies. And it is better to tackle them one by one than making them all enemies.”

Well, there they go again!

But back to ‘strategic depth’. Will the likes of Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, help Pakistan gain this ‘depth’ in Afghanistan? Are we that gone that we need these backward yahoos to save our army?

PS By the way what about our nuclear weapons? Are they not enough to stop the Indians in their tracks? What poppycock is this ‘strategic depth’?!


Analysis: Zaid Hamid and strategic depth
Farhat Taj
Daily Times
13 February 2010

What are we first of all: Muslim or Pakistani? Is our ultimate commitment with Pakistani citizenship or a global Muslim brotherhood? What kind of Pakistan should we aim at: a progressive multi-ethnic social democracy or some kind of medieval caliphate?

FATA continues to be used and abused as a strategic space by the security establishment of Pakistan in violent pursuit of strategic depth in Afghanistan. In short, strategic depth means Pakistan must have a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan by any and all means. People of FATA have suffered more than people in any other part of Pakistan due to this policy. They dread and hate ‘strategic depth’.

Some people of FATA drew my attention towards Zaid Hamid, who, they said, is a new charm offensive of the military establishment to popularise the notion of strategic depth among the youth from affluent families in the big cities of Pakistan. He is frequently given air time by the electronic media, also an evidence that the media, especially the Urdu media, is not free and has to toe the establishment’s line in security matters. Show biz celebrities have joined him. Those who oppose the strategic depth, especially the Pakhtun, who are the biggest casualty of it, are never given so much media attention.

The main concern of the people of FATA vis-a-vis Zaid Hamid is his use of a particularly narrow interpretation of Islam that proposes a belligerent agenda for the Pakistan Army and drawing on controversial Islamic literature. Thus the authenticity of the hadiths — sayings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) — on Ghazwa-e-Hind that he often refers to in terms of the ultimate defeat of the Indians at the hands of the Pakistan Army is highly questionable.

Zaid Hamid claims in his speeches to young people that God determines the destiny of Pakistan. Pakistan will become a grand Caliphate. Pakistan army will cut India down to the size of Sri Lanka. Pakistan will lead the entire Muslim world and its army will be deployed in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and Afghanistan. The corrupt judicial system, consisting of the lawyers and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, will be replaced by an Islamic judicial system that would ensure — Taliban style — speedy and cheap justice. He claims that the current elected set up in Pakistan is implanted by the CIA and prophesies that the current rulers in Pakistan will have their dead bodies hanging on poles in Islamabad, an indirect appreciation of what the Taliban did in Afghanistan with the dead body of Dr Najibullah, the then Afghan president. He openly threatens the nationalists, especially the Pakhtun and Baloch nationalists, for their aspirations. The Taliban government in Afghanistan, he declares, was Pakistan-friendly and condemns its removal by the US in the post-9/11 attack on the country. He glorifies the biggest mass murderer of the Pakhtun — General Zia, the former dictator of Pakistan.

Judging by the obscurantist message that he communicates, Zaid Hamid does not seem to be a new invention of the establishment. He is an addition to the long list of people who have been handpicked to promote an anti-people agenda in the name of religion and hate of India, like the people from the Jamaat-e-Islami. What seems to be new is his apparent ‘tolerance’ of the ‘un-Islamic’ lifestyle of the urban youth and in this context there are some interesting discussions about Zaid Hamid on some blogs and mailing lists. One blogger writes that Zaid Hamid is using a new strategy to communicate the same old conspiracy theories to young people. The strategy is that unlike classical Islamic scholars, joining Zaid Hamid’s group does not necessarily require the youth to shed their sophisticated lifestyle and adjust to hijab, a ban on music and gender segregation. The only thing they have to do is to glorify the Pakistan Army, including its pursuit of strategic depth, and hate Jews, Americans and Indians.

A writer on one of the mailing lists argues that Zaid Hamid is a Pied Piper for our youth from the prosperous sections of Punjab who have no dreams to be proud of. Zaid Hamid sells the dreams of conquering the world, though they are nonsense, yet still work for the youth who are now caught up in an identity crisis, continues the writer. The writer understands that the fault lies with the leftist intellectuals who have lost direction by joining NGOs and leaving the anti-imperialist struggle open for people like Zaid Hamid or Imran Khan.

Zaid Hamid, in his show, sets a dangerous agenda for the youth of Pakistan; the very same youth who are living a comfortable life in poverty-stricken Pakistan. They lack any ambitions in life to give it some purpose. This lack of goals is rooted in the identity crisis being faced by the Pakistani youth. The crisis is expressed in questions like these: what are we first of all: Muslim or Pakistani? Is our ultimate commitment with Pakistani citizenship or a global Muslim brotherhood? What kind of Pakistan should we aim at: a progressive multi-ethnic social democracy or some kind of medieval caliphate?

Secondly, one has to strive very hard for ideals. If the ideal is the former (multi-ethnic social democratic Pakistan), the youth from affluent families will have to share their riches with the poor, downtrodden fellow citizens. This is very hard for this class of people, otherwise I would at least have seen them working for bringing normalcy in the shattered lives of the people of FATA, who have been living in deplorable conditions in refugee camps for over two years now. In the latter case (caliphate) they can placate their conscience by attaching themselves with the higher ideal without having to give up something from their comfortable lives. The only thing they have to do is to support the belligerent agenda of the military establishment and their poor fellow Pakistanis can go to hell. Zaid Hamid’s campaign is like opium for the young that makes them run away from reality, i.e. Pakistan is a class-based multi-ethnic society that cannot be held together with mere Islamic rhetoric and military ambitions.

What is even more dangerous is the fact that Zaid Hamid is glorifying the same Taliban that the people of FATA hold responsible for their massacre at the behest of the military establishment of Pakistan. Case in point, Jalaluddin Haqqani who occupies North Waziristan. I would invite the young fans of Zaid Hamid to take a tour of FATA, or at least FATA IDP camps in various parts of the NWFP, to observe firsthand what the Taliban and the military did to these people. I would remind the youth that people all over FATA hold the generals of the Pakistan Army more than the Taliban responsible for the death and destruction in their area. They view the Taliban — all Taliban, good, bad, Afghan or Pakistani — as a creation of the intelligence agencies of our country. How much more do the people of FATA need to sacrifice for strategic depth in Afghanistan? The never-ending human sufferings in the area could transform into widespread anti-state sentiments. The youth around Zaid Hamid must know that the current pursuit of strategic depth may turn into — as rightly described in this paper’s editorial ‘Strategic death’? (Daily Times, February 3, 2010) –’strategic death’ for Pakistan rather than securing a friendly Afghanistan.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at [email protected]


The Fallacy of the Last Move in Pakistan
Michael Krepon
The Khaleej Times
30 January 2010

This would be a good time for Pakistan and India to negotiate new nuclear risk reduction measures, as both countries may well be in the lull between crises sparked by extremists with links to Pakistan. But one of the many paradoxes related to nuclear weapons is that when reductions in nuclear dangers are most needed, they can be hardest to implement. New Delhi is still smarting from the last mass casualty attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 that killed almost 170 innocent bystanders. The attackers were trained and equipped in Pakistan. They were affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group that was ostensibly banned by General Pervez Musharraf, but which still enjoys considerable autonomy.

Islamabad sensibly calls for a resumption of official dialogue with India. New Delhi sensibly argues that Pakistan must do more to fulfill oft-repeated pledges that its soil not be used as the springboard for cross-border terrorism. Some of those who helped the Mumbai attackers are now on trial in Pakistan. The outcome of this trial will help determine when official bilateral talks might resume. But it is already crystal clear that the most important nuclear risk reduction measure on the subcontinent would be more concerted efforts by the security apparatus in Pakistan to clamp down on extremist groups that use that country as a base.

Pakistan is now caught on the horns of a dilemma: the "assets" it supported to place pressure on India have now become liabilities. Pakistanis blames others for this dilemma, most notably the United States, which also supported Islamic militancy when it served the purpose of removing the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. The United States unwisely walked away from both Pakistan and Afghanistan after the Soviet exit, while Pakistan's security apparatus unwisely decided to redirect jihadi tactics against India.

Had Washington remained in Afghanistan after 1989, Pakistan would in all probability still have employed surrogates to control that ill-fated land, as has been evident by its support for the Afghan Taliban after the U.S. returned to oust Mullah Omar and al Qaida. But in cutting off ties to the Pakistan military with the imposition of the Pressler Amendment - triggered not by the Soviet departure, but by Pakistani uranium enrichment activities during the 1990 crisis with India - Washington lost for a decade whatever influence it might have had on Pakistan-Indian relations. During this time, jihadi groups dined at the ISI's table, and caused considerable grief in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

It did not take a great gift of prophesy to predict that Pakistan's tactics would eventually backfire. Using violence to draw international attention to the "nuclear flashpoint" of Kashmir initially served Pakistan's interests. But the more its security apparatus played with fire, the more Pakistan's domestic and economic fortunes declined. One decisive turning point came with the 1999 Kargil War, which stripped away the last vestiges of plausible deniability regarding Pakistan's use of surrogates to leverage the Kashmir dispute. No single development did more to solidify international support for the status quo along the Kashmir divide than the Kargil misadventure. Another decisive pivot came after 9/11, when General Musharraf had little choice but to sever ties with an Afghan government hosting al Qaida and to join the Bush administration's open-ended "war on terror." Back then, Musharraf tried to draw the line between "freedom fighters" operating against India, and misguided jihadists that Pakistan once hoped would provide strategic depth in Afghanistan. This distinction was tenuous then, and has become more so over time.

Some of Pakistan's previous jihadi assets have now turned against the state, which has already suffered over 5,000 casualties since 2007. Other "assets" remain quiescent, but allegiances can change quickly, and Pakistan's security apparatus may have difficulty taking on all comers. Pakistan's Army has begun the hard tasks of tackling internal security threats, but neither the Army nor civilian agencies are adept at winning hearts and minds.

Particularly difficult choices now lie between the horns of Pakistan's security dilemma. Without more concerted counter-terrorism efforts, additional explosions are likely to occur in both Pakistan and India. But a more comprehensive crackdown by Pakistan's security forces would surely result in even more of an upsurge in mass casualty attacks.

Put another way, a forward leaning counter-terrorism strategy will produce heavy blowback, but ultimately it leads to a revived Pakistan. Alternatively, Pakistan's leaders might hope for a breathing spell by not further prosecuting internal security threats. But this choice would hasten their country's long-term decline.

Michael Krepon is co-founder of the Stimson Center and author of Better Safe than Sorry, The Ironies of Living with the Bomb (Stanford University Press, 2009).


The secret war in Pakistan
Michael Williams
The Guardian
04 February 2010

Yes, there is a secret war going on in Pakistan, and it is one George W Bush should have started nine years ago. After the US abandoned Afghanistan following Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Pakistan supported Islamist groups in a bid to secure a pro-Islamabad government in Kabul. When Bush went into Afghanistan in 2001 with no plan other than to kick out the Taliban, he also threw billions of dollars at Pakistan to help in the "war on terror".

Islamabad, however, did nothing to root out Islamist radicals near the border with Afghanistan, nor did it spend the $12bn on developing governance. Instead, the Pakistani government bought equipment such as F-16s to use in a war against India. Why the Bush administration allowed this to happen by selling them the equipment is beyond imagination.

It became pretty apparent a few years ago that it did not matter what Nato forces did in Afghanistan if the Taliban were allowed to operate freely in Pakistan. If the Quetta Shura the Taliban command based in the Pakistani city of Quetta and other Taliban bases in remote parts of Baluchistan, for example, were not eradicated, then sending more troops to Afghanistan was pointless. Withdrawing international forces from Afghanistan also won't solve the problem, because the Taliban forces would then just return to dig into Afghanistan to oust the current government. Given what the Taliban allowed to occur when they were last in power this is an unacceptable option for Washington, London and the rest of Nato. Furthermore, despite all the problems in Afghanistan, the current government is far more popular today with the average Afghan than were the Taliban.

The problems are multiple. The civilian government is too weak to take on the Taliban on its own. Some segments of the Pakistani military actually support the Taliban. They see the Taliban as a way to ensure a friendly government in Kabul, necessary for strategic depth in a war against India. If the US was to reduce the power of the Taliban, the situation in Pakistan needed to be addressed. Assassination of Taliban leaders using drones began under Bush and the programme quite rightly accelerated under Obama. So far in 2010 there have been a dozen drone strikes a large increase on the average for 2009, which was about one per week.

The presence of US forces on the ground is rightly more contentious. But US forces, as well as British SAS forces, have been operating in Pakistan at various points for years. Initially this was without authorisation from the Pakistani government and often because of mistrust between US and Pakistan forces. But after this most recent attack both Washington and Islamabad have to grudgingly admit that they are working closely with each other. Islamabad has been loth to admit the extent to which US forces are helping the Pakistani military with counter-insurgency training, never mind the fact that US forces are at times engaging in operations within Pakistani territory. Given that 80% of Pakistanis reject American assistance in fighting the Taliban, it was perhaps a wise move to keep the issue quiet.

Ultimately the "secret war" in Pakistan represents an alternative model to Bush's very public "war on terror". Bush used the war on terror as a rhetorical tool to terrorise Americans into supporting a massive, ineffective global war abroad while taking away their civil rights at home. Obama and his administration have articulated a much more nuanced policy that does not reduce every actor to a "terrorist". It does not utilise grand rhetoric that elevates "terrorists" to the principal threat facing the US. It pushes them into dark corners, where they should be. It attempts to distinguish between al-Qaida and Taliban. It seems to classify Taliban into different groups.

It is a strategy for using American power effectively, rather than blundering into countries with no clear or definable objectives. Most importantly, it is a strategy that goes after the real problems rather than creating new ones, as was the case in Iraq. It is also one that is backed up with significant amounts of economic and development assistance $1.5bn a year for Pakistan alone.

I have no doubt that this "secret war" being waged by the US with the approval of Islamabad will not be popular with many. At the end of the day, however, the US president is elected to keep the American people safe and to expect an administration not to act in the hope that the situation will just fix itself is fantasy.


Editorial: ‘Strategic death’?
Daily Times
03 February 2010

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in a rare press briefing, said, “We want a strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it.” These words underlie the fact that the Pakistan Army has still not given up on the idea of ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan — a policy that has proved to be disastrous for Pakistan in the past few decades. If one reads between the lines, General Kayani’s statement is also indicative that though Pakistan may not want to control Afghanistan, it wants a government of its own choice in place to control the war-torn country. While General Kayani boasted that the successful military operations in the tribal areas have led to a substantial decline in cross-border attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan, militants in Peshawar blew up a tanker carrying fuel for the Nato forces on Monday. This is not to say that the general was wrong in his assumptions; of course there have been fewer incidents of this sort in the recent past as the militants were engaged in heavy fighting with the Pakistan military. It has finally dawned on the military that to tackle this rising militancy, it has to crush the terrorist network. General Kayani’s remark that “a peaceful and friendly Afghanistan can provide Pakistan a strategic depth” speaks of a realisation that we can ill-afford a volatile neighbour at a time when there is already a tenuous security situation within our own borders.

In view of the various international conferences recently held on resolving the Afghan conundrum, General Kayani has offered Pakistan’s services in the training of the Afghan National Army. India has already implemented a similar offer and in view of the burgeoning trust deficit between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the balance of favour may tilt towards India. Inevitably, Pakistan will not be too happy about it if this continues. But we have to realise that Pakistan should have offered to help the Afghan army a long time ago instead of waiting for India to make the first move and then jump belatedly onto the bandwagon. A proxy war developing between India and Pakistan on Afghan soil is no secret any more; the army chief’s ‘concerns’ about the Afghan army developing a potential to take on Pakistan come in the wake of India’s entry into the Afghanistan imbroglio. Both India and Pakistan must stop trying to outdo each other, as it will only further destabilise the region. A peaceful Afghanistan will translate into a peaceful South Asia.

After the London conference, efforts to reconcile with ‘soft’ elements in the Taliban are underway. The Taliban leadership has declined this olive branch as it has gained strongholds in many important areas of Afghanistan and sees itself coming back to power once the US-led Nato forces leave the country. Some observers are of the view that the reconciliation drive will not bear any fruit due to the persistent intra-tribe and factional tussles in Afghanistan. Insiders in Afghanistan say that the Taliban will not give up their stance against the international forces and cannot be bought. President Karzai is trying to get Saudi help in mediating between Kabul and the Taliban.

Scepticism over the reconciliatory efforts has a lot of weight, as the foreign forces now seem inclined to cut their losses and withdraw. If the US-led forces leave Afghanistan in a quagmire this time around, the world will have to pay an even heavier price than last time. As for Pakistan, our military should be very cautious in supporting the Afghan Taliban. What if the Afghan Taliban, after coming to power in Kabul, support the Pakistani Taliban? After all, nuclear-armed Pakistan is a bigger prize than even Afghanistan. GHQ should revisit the infection in the armed services of jihadi sympathisers. A nightmare scenario is looming if we do not give up the idea of ‘strategic depth’, which may eventually turn out to be ‘strategic death’.


It is within us
Kamran Shafi
09 February 2010

There has been a veritable raft of statements from the chief of army staff in the very recent past on ‘strategic depth’ for Pakistan in Afghanistan.

Variously: “we want a strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it”; “if Afghanistan is peaceful, stable and friendly, we have our strategic depth because our western border is secure”; and “our strategic paradigm needs to be fully realised”. Inexplicably he also said that ‘it would be a cause of worry for Pakistan if Afghanistan’s projected army developed the potential to take on Pakistan’.

The Afghan army’s ‘projected’ development (woefully inadequate five years after it started, mark) and whether that development can be a danger to Pakistan with its half-a-million strong army and a powerful air force when Afghanistan has no air force at all at the present time, to say nothing of our bomb, we shall come to later. Let us for the moment look at ‘strategic depth’.

Now then, whilst matters as critical as strategic depth, especially in other, foreign countries, are best discussed in their minutiae in closed confabulations of elected political leaders, diplomats and military experts, let us look at the many hurdles in the way of the general’s wishes coming true.

While the Afghans can heave a sigh of relief that Pakistan will not take over their country to gain strategic depth, how can Afghanistan ever become peaceful, and stable, and friendly towards Pakistan when the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani father-son team, well known as friends of our very own security establishment, run around that country spreading havoc from Ghazni to Kunar to Paktia?

How can Afghanistan become friendly towards Pakistan when there is continuing ambivalence in wholeheartedly targeting the Taliban leadership, both Afghan and Pakistani, which as we well know are closely allied? How possibly can Afghanistan call Pakistan a friend when senior Pakistani army officers refer to these people, its enemies, as ‘assets’?

On another tack, how can the ultimate leaders of groups that also attack innocent Pakistanis in Peshawar and Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi be the strategic assets of our brass hats?

How can Afghanistan consider Pakistan a friend when the Quetta shura of the Afghan Taliban which has now been outed by no less a personage than the minister of defence, is not even touched let alone degraded to an extent that it will cease being a threat to Afghanistan? When its leaders openly defy government authority and do as they will in Balochistan, extending their murderous tentacles into Iran too?

Unless, of course, it is still the case that our great strategists feel that the Taliban, both the Pakistan and Afghan variety, are the only ones who can ensure a peaceful, stable and friendly Afghanistan. If so, they have very bad memories, for they do not have to look very far back into Afghanistan’s sorry history to see how badly this, for want of a better word, scheme, failed so very miserably the last time around, with the Afghan people facing untold tribulations at the hands of a backward and medieval regime.

How possibly can the Afghans see Pakistan as a friend when they see that their tormentors and the Pakistani security establishment are still friends? No sirs, no, Afghanistan will never consider Pakistan a friend unless those who have made mindless statements about the Taliban being assets retract those statements in totality and without reservation. And far more than that take stringent action against all of the terrorists without exception.

As for the Afghan national security forces, the army and police, developing to the point that they can ‘take on’ Pakistan, those two forces are slated to rise to 171,600 men for the army and 134,000 for the police by the year 2011.

Both the projected numbers fly in the face of the views of independent observers and analysts trained to make such projections who say unreservedly that let alone the non-availability of suitable manpower, the mere costs of maintaining such numbers are way above the capacity of the Afghan government. Empirical evidence also shows that fully 40 per cent of present recruits came out positive when tested for drugs. So much for the Afghan forces ever being able to ‘take on’ Pakistan.

As to our strategic paradigm(s) being realised by other people, I can only say that whingeing will get us nowhere because no one owes us anything at all. We Pakistanis are the only ones who can, and should, realise what those paradigms are, and how we can best achieve them. We have to understand that the best strategic depth is that which comes from within our own country, from within ourselves. That the best strategic depth is that which comes from within our own people.

All of us have to understand that instead of looking beyond our borders, a literate, healthy and happy populace that lives in peace and tranquillity is the best strategic depth any country can possibly have. This, of course, cannot be, given the state of the country as it is today with completely skewed national imperatives, and a state whose writ is eroding by the day.

For, how can Pakistan educate its children in halfway decent schools; or give its people halfway decent healthcare and housing when only three per cent of the budget goes to the social sector? How can the people feel at peace when the mainstream press carries photographs of private, mark, anti-aircraft guns deployed in a cotton field in Sindh?

Instead of looking towards others it is time we sat up and took notice of the dire situation we are in. And jolly well did something about it.



Further Reading

Pakistan: vindication on Afghanistan, assertive with India
Nirupama Subramanian
The Hindu
07 February 2010

A constructive role by Pakistan is likely to come attached with the demand that the international community address its “legitimate” concerns and issues in the region.Some of those concerns were articulated by the Pakistan Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani when, in two meetings with journalists this week, he said India remains the primary threat to Pakistan and the focus of the Pakistani military. He spoke of the peace, security and stability of Afghanistan as the main element of Pakistan’s “strategic depth”, and said Pakistan had a more “legitimate” expectation in the matter of training the Afghan security forces than India.


Pakistan: ditching “strategic depth”
Myra MacDonald
19 January 2010

Pakistan’s policy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan has been up for discussion since 9/11, when it was forced to abandon the Taliban regime it had backed to try to contain Indian influence there and give itself the space that it felt was so lacking on its eastern border. I have heard Pakistanis saying it was a stupid idea; others saying that even within the Pakistan Army there was a recognition that strategic depth nowadays was best achieved through building a strong domestic economy.


State of Failure - India and Pakistan are joined at the hip
Krishnan Srinivasan
The Telegraph
01 February 2010

Attempts by Pakistan to influence Kabul are designed to co-opt a neighbour to counter India to the east, although the ‘strategic depth’ that Pakistan craves makes no modern military sense and the Pakistanis failed to install a pliable government in Kabul even after the Russian withdrawal.


Bad news from Afghanistan
Balbir K Punj
The Pioneer
01 February 2010

As Pakistan still has considerable sway over the Taliban, once they are back in power in Kabul, Islamabad will regain its strategic depth. All this while Pakistan’s strategy has been to reacquire full control over Afghanistan through a proxy regime and reverse the Indian presence in that country.


A win-win situation
Iqbal Ahmad Khan
14 February 2010

At this delicate juncture hare-brained ideas of strategic depth and coercive diplomacy should be farthest from our minds. The government is in an unenviable position given the monumental problems it has both inherited and created for itself internally. It should focus at the strategic picture, cut down its liabilities and establish realistic priorities. Peace with India and within Afghanistan should be at the top.


Folly, not clash of institutions
Ayaz Amir
The News
29 January 2010

Angels from heaven can descend tomorrow and minister to the needs of the Islamic Republic, but the ideological warriors and the definers of strategic depth -- one and the same thing -- won't be satisfied. Why do they suffer the Constitution? Why do they endure civilian trappings? If they are so impatient with democracy they should make Myanmar their model and once and for all have done with the charade of democracy.


(Views expressed in this Issue Brief are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies)

A compilation of articles on Pakistan's concept of 'Strategic Depth'

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Pakistan's Concept of Strategic Depth
February 18, 2010

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