Relevance of strategic depth scenarios

With the escalating cost of war on terror being fought astride the Pak-Afghan border and mounting pressure generated by the US urgings to do more in toeing its objectives in Afghanistan, the concept of 'strategic depth in the framework of the Pak-Afghan relations has taken quite a beating among some circles. A well entrenched school of thought now envisages a 'hands off policy for Pakistan; giving a wide berth to Afghanistans viciously developing situation with a purpose to cut losses and concentrate on bringing the turmoil within Pakistan under control. The recent developments have exposed the naivet of such detractors effectively endorsing the importance of a friendly Afghanistan towards peace and tranquillity in Pakistan. The cross border attacks from Afghanistan in Chitral, Bajaur and Dir delivered from the Afghan provinces of Badakhshan and Kunar, under operational control of the ISAF and Afghan National Army, have resulted into a high number of casualties to Pakistani troops manning widely separated border outposts in small numbers. This worrisome scenario of an increasingly hostile Afghanistan has been further exacerbated by the pernicious fallout of the conclusion of Indo-Afghan Strategic Accord signed during President Hamid Karzais recent visit to New Delhi. This accord, which builds up upon the soft power acquired by India through an investment of over $2 billion in various developmental projects, now seeks an active security-cum-military role for Hindustan in a civil war ravaged Afghanistan. Its interest to seek a formalised security presence in Afghanistan is for no altruistic motives, but reflects a naked desire to rule the roost to the discomfiture of Pakistan whose left flank - in addition to its eastern one - now stands exposed to the threat of Indian aggression. Unless Pakistan plays it cards deftly, it is confronted with the spectre of strategic encirclement; a worst case scenario for Pakistan. With nuclearisation of the subcontinent, the Indo-Pak military focus has shifted from a conventional face-off - primarily over Kashmir - to the windswept and dusty plains of southern and eastern Afghanistan, which has emerged as the new theatre for a proxy war between the two countries. Remaining aloof from the developments in Afghanistan, with India clawing in to find a permanent military and security niche, remains an unaffordable luxury for Pakistan. This aspect was well articulated by General Stanley McChrystal, the previous top NATO commander in Afghanistan, in his COMISAFs Initial Assessment made during August 2009. Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian.[An] increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan and India, he asserted. This was two years ago and with India using its presence in Afghanistan to rake trouble in FATA and the Pakistani hinterland, things have worsened much from a Pakistani perspective. All this, obviously, comes with a nod from the US policymakers under whose tacit patronage the Afghan territory has become a staging area for organising physical attacks in FATA and for supporting disruptive activities of Baloch militants whose leaders are living virtually under the shadow of the Green Zone in Kabul; carrying on with their pernicious campaign in an unfettered manner. So is the unrestrained liberty of action enjoyed by the TTP who are living in safe sanctuaries all along the FATA belt on the Pak-Afghan border and consolidating power, which has made them the envy of Afghan Taliban. The TTPs considerable clout in Afghanistan comes from the money, weapons and state-of-the-art communication equipment provided by a clutch of intelligence agencies, who are pursuing an agenda to destabilise the FATA region all along the Pak-Afghan border. This has changed the time honoured tradition of leaving it to the watch of small contingents of the paramilitary forces, enabling the Pak Army for keeping the major focus of attention on the eastern borders with India. With the flaring up of hostility on the western flank and presence of the Indian juggernaut in the east the 'two front war scenario has come alive for Pakistan with an alarming rapidity. The political dispensation headed by Karzai in Kabul is a barely concealed front, which is dominated by the Northern Alliance with avowed hostility for Pakistan. The Northern Alliance, which spearheaded the US assault on Taliban in October 2001, has Washingtons anointment to hold the reins of power. This puts India in the driving seat of the political agenda, since all the major players in the Northern Alliance representing the Tajiks, Uzbeks and the Hazara minorities are well known Indian protges, who have been working to drive out the Pashtun majority away from the levers of power, despite their being the custodians of the traditional power centre at Kabul with loose control over peripheral areas. This unnatural ascendance of minorities in Kabul bearing allegiance to India is a prospect loaded with ominous consequences for Pakistan. The obtaining environment in Afghanistan is precarious from a Pakistani perspective and to stabilise the situation, Washington needs to take positive steps to effectively curb the perception that it is leaning towards the Indian-Afghan alliance hostile to Pakistan. It is necessary that it treats the sovereignty of Pakistan and the inviolability of the Pak-Afghan borders with the respect and importance they deserve. Stopping the cross border attacks by the TTP and its affiliates from Afghanistan by the ISAF and its surrogate the Afghan National Army - will be a major step in a positive direction. These violations induce a sense of insecurity in Pakistan and are likely to lead to the undermining of security in the entire western theatre of South Asia. It is also important that the US realises the gravity of resolving the core issue of Kashmir, which with the introduction of nuclear deterrence in South Asia has shifted the unending conflict to the realm of proxy war in Afghanistan. Unless the poignant radiation of threat posed by India from Afghanistan to Pakistan dissipates, the proponents of 'strategic depth continue to have a strong case to plead for. The writer is a retired brigadier and former defence attach in Australia and New Zealand. Email:

Momin Iftikhar

The writer is a freelance columnist.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt