Kamran Shafi makes short shrift of the idea of ‘strategic depth’ in Pakistan. In what is sure to be a controversial article (Mr. Shafi has never shied away from controversy, has he?), the author looks at the arguments being made for Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan as a means to thwart Indian aggression and doesn’t find much besides ‘hot air.’
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’?!