Old friend and once a comrade-in-arms, Ejaz Haider could obviously take it no more. Fed up with the unrelenting war on strategic depth, unleashed even before the one on terror, he told off the hecklers to go first understand what the concept was all about in his article “Pakistan needs strategic depth”, published on these pages on October 7. He need not have bothered, because it is not the notion that they are gunning for, but our Afghan policy.
Indeed, a great deal has been stated about its fallout: proliferation of drugs and weapons; more violence in the region; millions of refugees constantly on the move; three decades of war (still counting); and much else. So, in case one was wondering why an innocent sounding concept had to be given a bad name to kill a dog already under fire, there just might have been a reason: to ascribe motives that otherwise could not be.
That we wanted to occupy Afghanistan and make it our fifth province, for example! After what happened to some of the mightiest who tried, no one in his right mind and certainly not the collective decision-making apparatus gave it another thought. But then we must have at least wanted to install a ‘friendly government’ in Kabul (to secure this depth of course)! Yes; if only one knew how, and then keep all others who followed in line. After the Saur Revolution, the Soviets executed an installed president every three months in pursuit of that objective, till in frustration they moved in — and became history.
Frankly, it is futile to argue when the hammer has already fallen. Thereafter, any distortion of a concept or of history, as long as it adds to the gravity of the charge and severity of the punishment, is kosher. We are supposed to have fought ‘America’s proxy war’ in Afghanistan. That we took the plunge when the Yanks were still counting peanuts did not impress our nemesis; or for that matter the plea that, even if we did, we too might have had an interest in the Soviet withdrawal. And just in case any of us dared to suggest that some price had to be paid to achieve this sublime objective, the retort is ingenious: ‘but that was not a very smart idea; it destroyed the global balance of power and now the sole surviving superpower is running amok’.
Not to worry; the imbalance is being redressed, the US has already started suffering from Imperial Overstretch, and we are doing all that we can with help from the usual suspects. Our friends would still not relent: ‘revisit your Afghan policy’ is their constant refrain; without ever suggesting a coherent alternative. In the meantime, I have to pick up the thread from where Ejaz Haider had left.
Strategic depth, within and without, is of course the need of every country. ‘Friendly neighbourhood’, ‘near abroad’, and buffers are some of the more familiar variants — serving more or less the same purpose. And of course it is not merely a spatial concept (Israel has it in the US), it is also economic, political (alliance building), and is best provided by unity within. Now that Poland’s overtures towards Ukraine have been described by Stratfor as pursuit of strategic depth, maybe this doctrine can be placed in its right perspective.
If not, we might be tempted to use it for the ulterior motives we are being suspected of: nurturing the Haqqanis et al as our strategic assets against the archrival. The idea is attractive, but for a problem: the Afghans do not fight outside their country. We will therefore have to persuade India to give us a battle in Afghanistan. Next time the Indians come charging, we will simply get out of the way, and before one can say ‘too little depth’ they will be in Afghanistan. Well, isn’t that where all elephants go when their time comes?
Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2011.