The top military brass has reaffirmed its commitment to eradicate terrorism. The words are sweet, but the reality is more sour. As we were reading the Army’s new pledge, another suicide attack ripped through Peshawar. Today, another blast, this time against the most vulnerable: IDPs. The problem of our own home grown militancy has been discussed elsewhere, most recently in a highly recommended piece by Aziz-ud-Din Ahmad. There is another obstacle to peace, however, which is our Afghanistan policy.
It has long been an accepted tenant of national security strategy that Pakistan requires an Afghanistan that provides ‘strategic depth’. This is not stating anything new. What seems to be unnoticed, however, is what our Afghanistan policy has resulted in. Let us take a look at a few recent news stories as an explanation.
First, the arrest of certain Naval officers allegedly involved in the terrorist attack against Karachi Naval Dockyard. Much has been said about the problem of terrorists infiltrating the armed forces, but what received less attention was this:
The suspects were trying to escape to Afghanistan, when they were intercepted by security forces.
The simplest explanation of ‘strategic depth’ is the idea that in the event of an Indian invasion, Pakistani forces could move into Afghanistan and use that territory as a launching site for defensive operations. We supported the Taliban because we believed they were the most likely to allow this. However, what we are now seeing is this policy of strategic depth being used by Taliban to carry out attacks against Pakistan.
Unfortunately, this is not the only direction of strategic depth. Taliban are planning operations in Afghanistan, but they are planning operations in Pakistan also. This was made clear in the recent announcement by Ismatullah Muawiya’s Punjabi Taliban when they announced that they were pausing their anti-Pakistan operations to do more attacks in Afghanistan.
In the same video, Muawiya said the Punjabi Taliban would continue with Dawat Tablig (preaching) and would be operating in Afghanistan.
In other words, terrorist militants in Punjab may not be planning attacks against Pakistan forces right now, but they are continuing to recruit and build their militias and improving their operational capabilities in Afghanistan. They are actually using Pakistan for strategic depth against Afghanistan. Ismatullah Muawiya’s group may not be planning attacks against Pakistan, but they don’t have to. There are other groups who will do that part. Ismatullah Muawiya’s group is still involved, however, as they are spreading the extremist ideology that creates sympathisers and turns the people against their own security forces.
This is what our current situation has become: Jihadi terrorists have virtual free reign to come and go between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have recruiting and operational capabilities in both countries. If we continue to ignore this reality, we run a very real risk of being defeated by our own strategy.