Anti-Pakistani Militants Find ‘Strategic Depth’ in Afghanistan
December 3, 2022
General Mirza Aslam Beg as a chief instructor at the National Defense College during the early 1980s allegedly first articulated Pakistan’s version of the military doctrine known as “strategic depth,” which posits Islamabad’s hegemony in Afghanistan as critical in case of war with India. Many in Rawalpindi felt the Taliban seizing Kabul (again) was crucial in fulfilling this vision, although within the past week alone it appears Pakistan has become yet another victim of the law of unintended consequences.
On Thursday, the U.S. – in addition to two AQIS leaders – designated as a global terrorist the deputy emir of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), an entity committed to toppling Islamabad. Washington accused TTP of “operating in Afghanistan” and using its soil to launch terror attacks, something the Afghan Taliban as part of the Doha pact promised not to let happen.
A day later, Islamabad’s top diplomat in Kabul was the target of a failed assassination attempt, which came just days after TTP claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in southwestern Pakistan. On Friday, Pakistan summoned Afghanistan’s Chargé d’affaires to the foreign ministry to express its “deep concern and anguish,” over the “extremely serious security lapse.”
The Afghan official told the Pakistanis that the “highly unfortunate” attack was perpetrated by the “common enemies” of Pakistan and Afghanistan and that Kabul would ensure full justice is served.
“Pakistan is in contact with the Interim Government in Afghanistan and enhanced security measures are being taken to protect Pakistani diplomatic personnel and Missions in Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement after the meeting.
Almost since the day the Taliban took Kabul last August, Pakistan has been berating the insurgents-turned-rulers for allowing the TTP to launch cross-border attacks. Islamabad is usually on the other side of this equation. Pakistan has long been blasted by the international community for playing host to both the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda, along with several anti-Indian terror outfits.
Not to mention, the Afghan Taliban’s apparent unwillingness to crack down on the TTP is quite alarming when considering they were created by Pakistan in the first place.
Ex-CIA station chief Charles Cogan has claimed the Taliban were initially created in 1992 “as a wholly owned subsidiary” of Pakistan’s spy agency – the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who ruled from 1993-1996, often dubbed “mother of the Taliban,” even admitted to providing the key support that allowed the insurgents to take over Afghanistan the first go-round.
All in the name of “strategic depth.”
STRATEGIC DEPTH GONE WRONG
Although Beg in later years denied machinating such a “defeatist” doctrine, his boss General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq fully embraced the concept of creating strategic depth against India in the wake of a hoped-for Soviet exit from Afghanistan. Many Pakistani leaders over the years have called the concept defunct in the nuclear age, although Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was quite blunt about Pakistan’s goal.
“We want a strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it,” Kayani told journalists at the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2010. “A peaceful and friendly Afghanistan can provide Pakistan a strategic depth.”
Some experts are correct in suggesting that the concept has lost some significance when India and Pakistan are now both nuclear powers. However, more than just a policy of territorial control, strategic depth was also always about ideological control, exemplified in the policy of “de-Pashtunization” – that is, Pakistan’s attempt to crush Pashtun nationalism by replacing it with radical Islam. Which is why the Taliban were deemed the ideal asset: an extended expeditionary ground force and ideological weapon all wrapped up in one.
But the policy is based on a colonial mindset. The Pakistanis took the torch from their British viceregal forefathers, who drew the Durand Land in 1893 to keep the Pashtuns divided. Pakistan, when it was born in 1948 from British partition, inherited the boundary. But in both cases it has in the long run proven self-defeating, as writer Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri explained it last year.
“This strategic depth derivative was a flawed concept. In fact, it was a ‘compulsive’ thought for the Colonial British. The Windsor Empire always saw Afghanistan as a buffer for Czarist Russia. This paradigm later split a homogenous nation of 45 million Pakhtuns living on both sides of the Durand Line into two suzerainty halves,” Mekhri wrote in The Express Tribune in June of 2021.
The divide now allows the “Bad Taliban” (TTP) to find safety on the other side of the border, protected by the rulers in Kabul who Pakistanis once considered the “Good Taliban.”
Oh, what a tangled web we weave.
Kayani, today, must be quite disappointed that, despite being under Taliban rule, Afghanistan is not “peaceful and friendly” – and provides a strategic depth of completely the wrong sort.