Afghanistan Continues to Keep Pakistan in Limbo
TORONTO: Pakistan’s famed strategic depth is fast turning into a strategic nightmare.
On the night of Saturday, Afghan artillery forces killed 11 and injured 46 alongside the Chaman border.The military in Pakistan has always justified its meddling in Afghan affairs by arguing that Islamabad’s foothold in Afghanistan would serve as a strategic depth on the Western border if Pakistan is attacked from the east – meaning by India. In case of a broader war with India, Pakistan can rely on the vast and rugged terrains of Afghanistan to draw in and encircle the Indian forces.
The theory was first floated by military dictator Ziaul Haq and his cronies in the 80s who were perhaps finding a rationale behind their headlong plunge in Afghan affairs in exchange of US dollars and Saudi Riyals.
The generals’ lust for dollars was also garbed in another theory – since Soviet Union wanted to reach ‘the warm waters of Persian Gulf’ that was why it was imperative to stop the red army in its track. No one asked what happened to then Soviet Union’s Black Sea ports and its reach, stretching from the Cuban waters to the Korean peninsula. Today, Pakistan is striving hard to woo backthe once infidel and sworn enemy Russia because its client state contract with the US seems to be reaching an end.
After ‘strategic depth’, the latest buzz term is ‘crescent doctrine’ first espoused by ‘renowned military philosopher’ and former chief of army General Aslam Beg.’ Beg wishes to string China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia making a crescent with unlimited power and access in the Indian Ocean and West Asia. The general, however, never bothered to explain where the US and NATO forces would go. Would they pack up and leave at the first sight of the ‘Crescent forces’? If only wishes were horses….
Now back to real world after this intoxicating flight of imagination. The northeastern border of Kashmir remains as volatile as ever. India is finding it hard to handle Kashmiris and Pakistan is finding it harder to handle India on its east and Afghanistan in the west.
If Islamabad really changes its heart and genuinely shifts towards Afghan and NATO forces, it would draw all Taliban, ISIS and Punjabi Taliban once again to the tribal badlands resulting in yet another bloodbath of terror. The Pakistan military would find it difficult to handle this now. Conversely, if the security establishment of the country decides to keep Taliban and associates in the stable, occasionally using them against the Afghan and US forces and sometimes using them against the Indians in Kashmir – it does seem that this time round the old trick is not going to work.
The strategy worked fine under former President General Pervez Musharraf when he openly ran with the hares and hunted with the hounds. But now with the Trump administration in place and a bill in the House seeking to declare Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism, the signals couldn’t be clearer and choices for Pakistan starker. The bill if approved would cut-off the vital money line for the Pakistan military by discontinuing the Coalition Support Fund which runs over 700 million dollars.
The temptation is to go the Musharraf way – managing to convince Washington that Pakistan is at the forefront of the war against terror and at the same time keeping the Jihadis alive for potential use. The policy, many think, has exhausted its expirty date.
Now the question is what Pakistan could do to avoid international isolation. The answers lie in the country’s immediate future.