The term ‘Strategic Depth’ has been word of mouth of recent, after it was brought up during a recent visit of an Afghan delegation to Pakistan attending Pakistan-Afghanistan Bilateral Conference hosted by South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA).
The concept of Strategic Depth emerges from the realm of military operations which denotes the distance between enemy forces and the main center of gravity of a country (anything from a military base to economic and commercial hubs). For a military strategist the greater the distance to be traversed by enemy forces to reach these bases, the better are the chances of successful defense line and stance as the enemy in such situations end up in a war of attrition.
One of the best examples of such strategy emerges from German invasion of Soviet Union, where the Soviets traded space for time.
Another example of such policy is the Pakistani Strategic Depth.
As a professor at National Defense University of Pakistan and a military strategist, Gen. (ret) Mirza Aslam Beg, who would go on and become the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan replacing Gen. Zia ul Haq; in early 1980s while the Soviet involvement and engagement in Afghanistan was at its height and Indians had close ties and cooperation with the Soviets, decided to come up with a policy that will prevent an encirclement of Pakistan by its archrival India in the East and a Soviet supported Afghanistan in the West.
The policy was to define the Strategic Depth of Pakistan in case of an India invasion. For this Pakistan would assist the Afghan opposition and install a Pakistan friendly government in Kabul and if India invades Pakistan, the Pakistani Army will fall back to Afghanistan so to inflict a War of Attrition on the Indians, thus making Afghanistan Pakistan’s Strategic Depth [de facto].
Mostly this Strategic Depth policy has been rejected by Pakistani establishment and even ridiculed at times by international military strategists, yet this has been the hot topic of recent days.
Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser, brought up the topic at a Senate briefing few days ago where he made it clear that Strategic Depth meant nothing for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Adding Afghanistan was free to make decisions about its political future on its own, that peaceful neighborhood was the top priority of the incumbent government, and that Pakistan was following the policy of non-interference in Afghanistan and not fighting proxy wars.
This made it clear that the idea of Strategic Depth still is on the minds of Pakistani strategists and politicians even though they are trying to overcome it and establish a new, cooperative and peaceful strategy towards Afghanistan.
Now to assess what could be best for both countries in a new strategy towards each other we should consider the recent developments in the region and the ever-growing economic dependency of the regional countries on each other. With this we can come up with a long-term solution and strategy that will counter the problems facing both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In order to accomplish this solution we could start with revers-engineering the 19th and 20th century policy of “Divide and Rule” with a pluralistic and integrative policy. A policy of integration and contexture of interests of different entities, in this case nations.
One of these interests not only for Afghanistan and Pakistan but also India is the urgent and ever-growing need of energy which has hindered the economic growth of the mentioned countries to great extents.
Projects such as CASA-1000 (Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project) where electricity would be transmitted from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India Pipeline) where the pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan into Pakistan and India, and the Kunar River Hydroelectric Dam which is a joint management of common rivers project between Afghanistan and Pakistan providing 1500MW of electricity once constructed; could be some steps toward countering the problem.
Beside the common interests of energy, APTTA (Afghanistan Pakistan Transit and Trade Agreement) is another project of mutual interest for both countries which opens doors for the traders of both countries as well as connecting Central Asia with South Asia. With Afghanistan recently becoming a member of International Union of Railways and with the growing railways infrastructure in Afghanistan, APTTA could play a key role in bringing the two regions (Central Asia and South Asia) closer.
The proposed idea of extending Pakistani Motorway to Afghanistan and the Asian Highway Network are some other ideas that could benefit not only the two nations but the region.
These are some of the projects that could make the two countries economically interdependent and with common and mutual interests I don’t see a reason why the two countries cannot walk on the same path parallel to each other in peace.
Now going back to the Strategic Depth policy, India is also developing and growing at a fast pace and would prefer a peaceful neighborhood for its future growth. And with economic dependency of it over Central Asian energy giants, it becomes an obvious urge for it to have cordial and close relations with Pakistan.
Pakistan not having India scratching its back, means Afghanistan would be no more the Strategic Depth of Pakistan military policy, resulting in a common and transparent desire of the two nations to fight terrorism that has been imported and installed in this region.
In conclusion I think adopting each other’s interests as your own will result in interdependency of nations, making a cooperative environment in the region.
We should also remember that the main and core reason behind the success of European integration as an union was the desire of the once conflicting nations to cooperate in sectors of trade and economy so to recover from the aftermaths of World War II.
If the Europeans can manage to live side by side in peace and prosperity after centuries of conflicts between the members of today’s European Union, then the regional countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and India can definitely do it, especially while considering the close history, culture and customs that the nations share with each other.