Pakistan's Experience With Strategic Depth Has A Disastrous History

Pakistan's Experience With Strategic Depth Has A Disastrous History
The electoral victory of the PTI in 2018 was welcomed by many Pakistanis and it was seen as an end to the corrupt dynastic politics of the two mainstream political parties PPP and PML-N, that is the Bhuttos and Sharifs. But during Imran Khan's years in office, it became quite apparent that his government was closely aligned with ultra-conservative religious groups and militant organisations – and this offered no hopes for Pakistan to become a more tolerant and pluralistic society, or to move away from an environment that breeds extremism and militancy.

It was only after 9/11 that Pakistan gave serious thought to abandon the policies of strategic depth and nurturing strategic assets for Afghanistan and Kashmir, because by that time this political and security doctrine had turned into a strategic nightmare for Pakistan. It is best to understand the origins of the theory of Strategy Depth and what it has done for Pakistan in the last thirty years or so.

Mirza Aslam Beg, the iconic military chief under dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, is supposedly the author and architect of the idea of strategic depth and strategic assets. In theory, this policy was supposed to be a proactive defensive strategy of securing Islamic depth in the west to counterbalance the militarily superior “Hindu India” – by establishing greater political and military relations with Afghanistan and the Arab world, through a pro-Pakistan or friendly regime in Afghanistan after the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan. Pakistan promoted, trained and helped the group led by Gulbuddin Hikmatyar of the Afghan Mujahideen in the hope that this proxy will be in control of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal, but that did not come to be. Soon after the Soviet withdrawal, the seven groups of Mujahideen were at war with each other, resulting in their total defeat and the rise of the Taliban – who ultimately took control of the entire country and imposed their archaic rule under the guise of Shariah.

The spirit behind the military policy of proxy war in Afghanistan and Kashmir was the use of irregular forces of volunteers drawn from Islamist militant groups, who were prepared to execute this policy across both borders by their use of the spirit of Islamic jihad and their fanatic belief in the ‘cause of Islam’, on top of their willingness to die. This was greatly helped by the use of students from the innumerable madrassahs, training facilities provided by our security agencies and, of course, the huge influx of arms, ammunition and money provided by America's CIA, European countries and Saudi Arabia. Senior officers or even heads of security agencies made no secret of their love and support for some militant organisations, and General Hamid Gul and General Jawaid Nasir are prime examples of people who promoted and encouraged the use of proxies composed of Islamist militant fighters.

Militant groups trained, nurtured and helped by the state have now become nightmares.

After the 2018 elections, the government of Imran Khan continued the policy of harboring a soft corner for the militant groups like the TLP – and embracing the controversial blasphemy laws or even turning a blind eye to the activities of banned militant groups like the Lashkar-i-Taiba led by the infamous Hafiz Saeed or the Jaish-i-Mohammed led by another global terrorist Masood Azhar – not to mention the Haqqani network which was involved in the war in Afghanistan.

Taliban victory in Afghanistan did little to justify the theory that Pakistan would achieve Strategic Depth in Afghanistan.

As such, the highly controversial and damaging theory of strategic depth and strategic assets has proved to be a disaster for the country. Militant groups trained, nurtured and helped by the state have now become nightmares. Thousands of Pakistanis have been slaughtered by them and made Pakistan suspect in the eyes of the world with the net result of facing the wrath of the FATF.

Pakistan continues to face grave and significant threats, not only to its internal security but also to its very existence from factions of the TTP and other Islamist militant groups including the Islamic State organisation or Da’esh. Meanwhile, sectarian militant groups continue their onslaught against the country's security forces and innocent civilians.

While planning and nurturing the theory of strategic depth, our present leaders, the wise people of the Foreign Office, the heroic spooks of the intelligence services and the brave soldiers should not forget that if you raise snakes in your backyard, they are likely to bite you. For the greater good of this nation, the senseless and ridiculous policy of using religion for promoting a political agenda has to be abandoned in totality – or else we face a very dark and uncertain future.