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Double-edged strategic depth in Afghanistan

Indian aim of strategic depth in Afghanistan can only harm Pakistan’s hard earned reconciliation approach

Double-edged strategic depth in Afghanistan
Photo by Farooq Naeem / AFP

A recent report published by the Congressional Research Service, USA, noted that India’s strategic goals in Afghanistan include preventing Pakistan from gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan. Historically, in the light of Pakistan’s deadly geostrategic rivalry with India along its eastern border, Pakistan has always been uneasy about its western neighbour, Afghanistan, having close relations with India.

General Mirza Aslam Baig, a former Pakistani chief of army staff, has been credited for coining the concept of ‘Strategic Depth’. The term is often cited as Pakistani policy with a military dimension which, considering the ground realities, is implausible. However, it could be argued that by not having a conventional military dimension, the concept did have a non-conventional military dimension which has been used by Pakistan. The jihadi infrastructure which was created in Afghanistan during the covert war against the Soviet Union became Pakistan’s first line of defence against India in achieving its national security objectives. This was because a pro-Pakistan Taliban regime in Afghanistan enhanced Indian insecurity and its further redirection in Kashmir through a proxy war without the direct involvement of the Pakistani army provided Pakistan with perfect strategic depth.

In post-9/11 Afghanistan, with the ascendancy of the Northern Alliance in Kabul, Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan gradually declined, while India gained more political clout. This has troubled Pakistan and it has been particularly been interested in curtailing India’s influence, which is pouring $1.2 billion of aid annually into Afghanistan.

With both the countries — Pakistan and India — trying to woo the President Ghani’s regime in Kabul, the idea of strategic depth has opened a new diplomatic front. Both countries have been trying to reach out to Kabul on different levels: Pakistan because of its direct involvement in the Afghan conflict and India because of its growing economic and diplomatic activity in Afghanistan.

President Ghani, disappointed over Pakistan’s inability to contain the Afghan Taliban, has started to reveal its closeness towards India. During the first quarter of his presidency, President Ghani refused direct Indian military assistance and troops training, primarily because of Pakistan’s concerns. Now Afghanistan has approached New Delhi for acquiring four combat helicopters which is certainly to raise some eyebrows in Islamabad.

Indian objectives of gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan by disallowing Pakistan any foothold there would only create further problems. Afghanistan needs to balance its role between these two historic foes.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have deteriorated in recent months. Afghanistan on many occasions has accused Pakistan of suicide attacks across the country. Last month, militants associated with the Afghan Taliban attacked the Afghan city of Kunduz, and overran it in few hours; globally, their victory was covered as a major triumph since being expelled from power in 2001. Few days after the attack, reports emerged in the Afghan media that the militants involved in the Kunduz assault came from or had support from within the Pakistan. Pakistan, however, denied the reports with ISPR saying that “Pakistan was supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and condemned Kunduz attack, and such allegations were incomprehensible.”

Pakistan, on the other hand, has stressed on many international forums that the only way for peaceful Afghanistan is through an intra Afghan dialogue. Again, few days ago, Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, said in a statement: “So, now it is for the Afghan government to decide whether they want to resume the dialogue process. If they want then we will obviously facilitate.”

Pakistan’s approach towards its national security, domestically and regionally, has witnessed some remarkable positive trends. Domestically, Pakistan has taken a heavy swing on all forms of militancy while regionally its approach has also changed: Pakistan has condemned the Afghan Taliban’s recent militant surge while pushing them towards reconciliation and dialogue.Narendra-Modi

This newly published report, citing Indian interests of preventing Pakistan from regaining “preponderant” influence in Afghanistan, only complicates Afghanistan’s security. The last thing anyone needs in Afghanistan’s convoluted theatre is Pakistan pulling out of any peace process in Afghanistan and reverting back to its old policy of good and bad Taliban.

Pakistan’s peace efforts in Afghanistan have been appreciated by the international community. But reports of Indian aims in Afghanistan can only harm Pakistan’s hard earned reconciliation approach in Afghanistan.

Infighting and divisions among the Afghan Taliban have already limited Pakistan’s influence on the group. While different factions have refused from pledging their allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the newly elected Amir of the Afghan Taliban, a breakaway faction having control on large number of militants, has appointed their own leader. In a gathering at the southwestern province of Farah, Mullah Mohammad Rasool was named the new leader of the Afghan Taliban.

In recent months, situation across the LoC has remained volatile. Furthermore, with bilateral relations sliding further into abyss, on global diplomatic forums, both the countries — Pakistan and India — have been trying to settle scores. Pakistan on its part has presented dossiers at the United Nations pleading for action against India’s growing involvement in Pakistan while India has stressed on the issue of Pakistan’s state supported terrorism against India.

Afghanistan’s new military deal with India; India’s intentions of dwarfing Pakistan’s presence in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s bilateral scuffle with Afghanistan won’t sit well with the Pakistan, especially with its security establishment.

There is a geostrategic contour of interest of Pakistan in Afghanistan. A friendly regime in Kabul is a principal objective in Pakistan’s long list of objectives, whether through peaceful means or, if necessary, through unconventional military means. As articulated by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, a former Pakistani chief of army staff, “if Afghanistan is friendly, we have our strategic depth, because our western border is secure. You are not looking both ways.”

India needs to understand Pakistan’s security sensitivities in Afghanistan and Afghanistan should focus on formulating a balanced policy towards both the countries. Indian objectives of gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan by disallowing Pakistan any foothold there would only create further problems. Afghanistan needs to balance its role between these two historic foes.

14 comments

  • Pakistan needs a subservient Afghanistan. And not a freind. The threat of reverting back to policy of good and bad Talibans, just smacks of blackmail. Pakistan needs peace on eastern front so does India , why make it dependent on pak afghan relation. Let two countries India and Pakista work together in Afghanistan. So that there is peace on all fronts.

    • It wasn’t Pakistan who started the whole business of getting Afghanistan involved in the Pak-India conflict. Afghanistan itself openly courted India to form an anti-Pakistan alliance in the early days of Pakistan’s existence. Afghanistan has territorial claims on 60% of Pakistan, and over all the decades following 1947, it has relentlessly waged armed aggression against Pakistan to grab that territory, both by unleashing terrorist proxies and by direct military invasions with its regular army. To that end it teamed up with India and the Soviet Union, and that directly provoked Pakistan into responding in kind after several decades of restraint. It was India and Afghanistan who started the problem you speak of, they are now the ones who must provide the solution too.
      Pakistan has shown good faith by facilitating a peace settlement in Afghanistan that the Afghan government has repeatedly torpedoed in favor of an illusory military solution with the Afghan Taliban. Despite Pakistani offers of facilitating peace, it still has no guarantee that Afghanistan will ever renounce its expansionist ambitions against Pakistan, and India has provided absolutely no formula for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. It has made absolutely no proposal for a productive Pak-India joint Afghanistan policy for the good of that country or the region.
      Pakistan would be happy to keep Afghanistan out of its rivalry with India as soon as Afghanistan stops eagerly being India’s B-team against Pakistan.

      • The region can be a paradise only if Pakistan stops the habit of ‘ Hunting with hounds and Running with hare’ It could save the migraine to the world if they stop imaging the Afghans as its dependents. Afghans are free people and can choose their friends. Pakistan cannot tame Afghans. It is NOW beyond Pakistan.

        • Sir I wish you had read my comment before replying to it. You are reproducing the same clichés that I had addressed in my long comment. Pakistan wasn’t the one who started it, Pakistan is not the one who bears the onus of ending it because everything Pakistan did, does, and will do is nothing but the result of Afghanistan’s bad behavior; Pakistani actions have never had anything to do with any wish to subjugate Afghanistan.

          • Mullah Zaeef has memorably said: “Pakistan … is so famous for treachery that it is said they can get milk from a bull. They have two tongues in one mouth, and two faces on one head so they can speak everybody’s language; they use everybody, deceive everybody.”
            What was once an establishment in denial has become a country in denial. And where previously we were lying to outsiders, now we are lying to ourselves.

            http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/30/lying-liars-and-the-lies-they-tell.html

      • Pakistan never propagated peace ….
        Pakistan always looked to put a leg on US when it was Russia in Afghanistan …
        Then after Russia broke … which Pakistan claims she did was a typical chest thump by Pakistan …
        Now that the so called success of Breaking Russia went in Pakistans head … they though if we can do this to Russia .. we can do that to India too … and will bring US on her knees by using OBL … grand plan ..YES..
        But the 9/11 happened and the famous call came in …. You with us or with them !!!! brought Pakistan on her knees … Finding OBL in Pakistan was best topping on the cake …
        The plot thickens … Pakistan started directing the jihadis to kashmir to bring India in line ….
        Rest is history …. Now Modi at the helm … one bullet is answered by 10 and one grenade is answered by 10 grenades …. Obviously one Nuclear bomb from pakistan will taken care by … may be 20 …
        All the wars were started by Pakistan India just retaliated ….
        So we need to wait and watch …. what is the next provocation by Pakistan and what will be the reaction of India ….

      • sudhir kumar sharma

        Taliban is nothing without Pakistan. It just an offshoot of ISI and wud remain so till Pakistan desires so.Now it has to tell US and India that we would let an independent Govt function in Kabul which maintains an equal distance with India and Pakistan. Such a Govt will remain neutral in case of hostilities between Pakistan and India.

        In liue of this concession Pakistan has to close its Taliban shop in reality. No pranks.

    • No, a friendly or neutral Afghanistan. The Pakhtun population on both sides of the border have common interest in maintaining trade and commerce and easy crossing for social interaction. This is only possible when Pak-Afghan have good relations.
      However, some leaders in Afghanistan think by playing India against Pakistan they can mint money and favors is dangerous and not a correct policy. Taking into account the geography , Afghans must appreciate reality and finally settle down as sober state.

  • Ashraf Ghani should know better. The warlords and war profiteers who make up the Kabul regime are the ones responsible for the continued violence in his country. They are the ones who scuttled the peace talks in Murree just when they were about to deliver a ceasefire in Afghanistan. The regime that he presides over is the one that bears the whole blame for directly provoking the Afghan Taliban violent campaign that ensued.

  • Afghanistan has the right to have a productive bilateral relationship with India. What it does not have the right to do is have an anti-Pakistan alliance with that country.
    Afghanistan can only shield itself from the damaging externalities of the Pak-India conflict by maintaining either strict neutrality or providing Pakistan non-military assistance like it did during the 1965 war.
    Where is the wisdom in constantly poking a lion’s nose and daring it to maul you?

  • a very sentimental & short sighted decision to just go and sit in indian lap.. what can/will afghanistan achieve with that, At this moment of time pakistan cannot allow anyone to open another front against them as they are already fighting for their survival. One thing i dont understand is that most afghan leaders are thriving on pak-agaisnt sentiments like Modi is doing in India.. a very bad gamble whcih will bring more chaos and destruction to the region and more sadly the peace process will be further delayed.

  • Read this very carefully. This is what Afghanistan had been doing to Pakistan relentlessly for many decades until Pakistan finally had enough and decided to achieve strategic depth to ensure its own survival and security along its entire western flank that Afghanistan was actively destabilizing as a matter of state policy and national honor in order to conquer all of Pakistani territory west of the Indus river: http://yalejournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Article-Gartenstein_Ross-and-Vassefi.pdf

  • “The last thing anyone needs in Afghanistan’s convoluted theatre is Pakistan pulling out of any peace process in Afghanistan and reverting back to its old policy of good and bad Taliban.”
    Same old Pakistan: If things do not go your way, issue threats.
    “India needs to understand Pakistan’s security sensitivities in Afghanistan and Afghanistan should focus on formulating a balanced policy towards both the countries.”
    Same old Pakistan: Everybody else needs to understand and act according to Pakistan’s wishes and whims while Pakistan can support “non-state actors” directed by ISI to gain on its so called “strategic depth” by sponsoring terrorism across its borders.

  • USSR didn’t ask Pakistan before invading Afghanistan.The Afghans didn’t ask Pakistan before starting their resistance.Pakistan didn’t ask USA before it started to help the Afghan insurgents.The USSR fought in Afghanistan an ideology based on religion with bombs and bullets and lost.Turned the entire country into rubbles.They bled and were humiliated.It was a fitting response to the USSR after what it did to Pakistan in 1971.Pakistan was simply reacting.or at the most taking advantage of a situation.
    USSR didn’t learn anything from it experience and is doing the same in Syria.USA is not behind in this stupidity.Afghanistan is still bleeding.
    The Pakistani ruler elites;including military,bureaucrats,politicians,etc.don’t have the mental capacity and depth of thinking to do something creative.They only react.Or they have to be ordered to do something.The elites are very good at carrying out orders.So,please don’t give him too much credit.

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