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Volume 3, No. 2 - July 2003

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The mire of Pakistanís Strategic Depth
K.N. Pandita

In 1980s and 90s, the rise of fundamentalist ideology in Iran and Afghanistan coinciding with the implosion of the erstwhile Soviet Union threw up a new strategic prospect for Pakistan. As a matter of fact, the new opportunity was seized tenaciously by Pakistanís democratic regime led by Benazir Bhutto. Perhaps she had inherited the ambition from her late father who was executed before he could translate the vision into reality.

Under Z.A. Bhutto, Pakistan had made her strategic depth eastward a reality by forging strong political linkage with the ďenemy of the enemyĒ. China never had the remotest idea of a windfall of 5,000 sq kms of Kashmir territory in Aksaichin. Pakistan had not the slightest qualms of conscience in ceding a chunk of the disputed territory to Indiaís enemy. All succeeding regimes in Islamabad held on steadfast to that concept of strategic depth. Even Zia, who sent the father of that concept to gallows, remained an inveterate upholder of the concept. At the core of that concept lay Pakistanís strategy of containment of India by proxy.

In a bid to broaden the base of the concept, and not make it strictly India-centric, Pakistan looked westward into the emerging region of Central Asia. Benazir was pursued by Pakistani strategists to goad Turkmen President, Saparmurad Niyazov, into agreeing to the proposal of exporting her gas through a trans-Afghanistan pipe line that would fill the huge tankers at Gawadar port on Makran coast.

In her strategic depth westward concept, Pakistan managed to keep the US on her side in sponsoring the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact the Unocal oil cartel had its strong clout in the American Congress and represented economic interests of that country.

However, intransigent Taliban leadership failed to visualize the dire consequences of too rigid and accusative a posture and, therefore, had to pay through the nose. It was obvious that Islamabad had burnt her boats by dragging the US into her ambitious yet reckless westwards strategic depth concept. She had left no option for her but to be on the side of the United States when the later began the carpet bombing of Afghanistan.

With General Musharraf announcing Pakistanís collaboration with the alliance forces against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the entire concept of strategic depth fell like a house of cards. Once liberated from the strangle hold of Taliban, the nationalistic Afghan factions began analyzing what had befallen them by allowing their eastern neighbour to pursue her strategic depth policy at the cost of the poor Afghans.

The news has come that a thousand - strong Afghan nationalist youths attacked the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, ransacked the rooms, destroyed the furniture and turned the embassy into shambles. This was in protest to Pakistani regulars attacking the columns of newly raised national army of Afghanistan on Pakistan Ė Afghanistan border. It was the second incident of its kind.

Earlier reports came that the US field commanders had taken exception to Pakistani regulars attacking their contingents engaged in pursuing the Taliban and Al Qaeda on the border and Islamabad had promised to look into the matter. Pakistanís self-styled concept of strategic depth has blown up at its bottom. She had tried much to carve out a foothold for herself when the popular government was about to be installed in Kabul. General resentment of Pakistan and her military is the prevailing mood in Kabul. Having eaten the humble pie in Afghanistan, Pakistan quickly realized that her adventures and ambitions in Central Asia were not going to be her cup of tea.

After a long slumber, India has woken up to the ground realities in the region. She has opened her consulate in Kandahar, the same town where Indian foreign minister had arrived to negotiate a humiliating peace accord with the Pakistan-based Islamic fundamentalist-terrorist outfits who had hijacked the Indian airliner. This is gall to Islamabad.

Not only that, even the concept of strategic depth eastward is also coming under severe strain. If it were not that, Pakistan would not have given vent to her ire when the Indian Prime Minster visited Beijing. In exasperation, a Pakistani spokesman said that India was distorting facts to mislead China. It speaks more of Pakistanís apprehensions that her bonhomie with China had lost its gloss. Thus Pakistan finds that the concept of strategic depth was nothing but a reckless march into the mire that has left her bruised and mauled.

Returning to its cocoon, Pakistan army finds its wings clipped. Such a restless army poses a threat to the General who is holding the top position. This is one of the reasons why the General is visited by the hallucination of ďmore KargilsĒ. This is also the reason why his puppet Prime Minister blows hot and cold in the same breath. After acquiring nuclear capability, Pakistan remained obsessed with the fantasy of an emerging power in Asia. She has already assigned to herself the role of political pioneer and mentor of the Muslim states and is elated by becoming their spokesman at international fora like the UN General Assembly or the UN Human Rights Commission and conclaves outside the UN.

But with the developments in Afghanistan and more particularly with the situation obtaining in Iraq, the strategy of coercing the Muslim states into accepting her as the leader of the group has run into serious difficulties. The entire geo-strategic situation in the region has substantially changed. The entire region has been exposed to big power intrusion with obvious political and economic interests to pursue. With the closure of that chapter, which is only a matter of days, Islamabad will find itself pushed back into the cell to struggle endlessly with the Frankenstein of her own creation. 

With India progressing steadily in building her relations with Afghanistan, Iran and the Central Asian states, Pakistani diplomacy is faced with a dilemma of whether to mend her own fence or to combat growing Indian influence in the region. It is obvious that the debacle in her foreign policy will have its adverse impact on her Kashmir policy. The Hurriyat has come to the verge of a split. It means that the base of Pakistanís maneuvers in Kashmir is getting eroded.

That is why she is desperate that Ali Shah Geelani should float a new party. At the same time, it is simple logic that the planners of Kashmir insurgency will accelerate the pace of attacks on military camps, political leadership and civilians in the Indian part of Kashmir. The process is already under way.


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