Afghanistan: Strategic Alliance vs Strategic Depth
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 01 Dec , 2011

Historically, Afghanistan has been the most difficult country for military campaigns and equally difficult to govern. The nature of terrain, the climate and the tribes that inhabit the land make an amalgam of harshness and lawlessness. The “Great Game” of the British ended in a woeful failure. Then the Russians had to beat a humiliating retreat. And now, after a decade-long struggle, the US and its allies, too, are preparing to bid goodbye without leaving behind any trace of peace and stability.

The Pakistan military has always dreamt of exercising control over Kabul, albeit through its proxies, and of acquiring strategic depth”¦

The recently concluded strategic accord between India and Afghanistan covers wide-ranging areas of trade, infrastructure, creation of facilities to exploit minerals and hydrocarbons, education, etc. More importantly, India will now be involved in training and equipping the Afghan national security forces. There will also be regular political contacts and cooperation at the United Nations. This agreement has vastly enlarged the scope of cooperation between India and Afghanistan and, understandably, raised eyebrows in Pakistan.

India training the Afghan security forces and the use of the term “strategic alliance” conjure up Pakistan’s worst fears, more than all the other provisions in the agreement. The Pakistan military has always dreamt of exercising control over Kabul, albeit through its proxies, and of acquiring “strategic depth” against its perceived enemy. The possibility of this perceived enemy gaining considerable influence in Kabul is an anathema to Pakistan. Speaking to David Bradlay of the Atlantic Media Company, Gen Pervez Musharraf reflected the Pakistan military’s view when he said, “In Afghanistan, there has been a kind of proxy conflict going on between Pakistan and India. India is trying to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan and has the vision to dominate the region and weaken Pakistan.”

President Obama and former President Clinton, too, have warned Pakistan against this duality in its stance.

President Hamid Karzai’s writ does not run in most parts of Afghanistan. He has failed to persuade the Taliban to agree to participate in a peace dialogue. The recent killing of ex-President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was appointed by Karzai as an interlocutor with the Taliban, is an indication that the latter are not willing to accommodate Karzai in any future political dispensation. Pakistan’s own designs and its backing of the Haqqani group is a factor that will inevitably play its full course after the US-led NATO troops leave Afghanistan. Pakistan’s obsession with “strategic depth”, flawed as it may be, is the very raison d’etre of its Afghan policy. It would not like India to fish in what Pakistan considers its backwaters. Pakistan has had an inalienable relationship with the Taliban and other extremist organisations. It has travelled too far down the terrorist highway to pull back.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Harwant Singh

Former Deputy Chief of Army Staff. He also commanded a corps in J&K.

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One thought on “Afghanistan: Strategic Alliance vs Strategic Depth

  1. A good article by the General, as always. He is absolutely spot on with his analysis.

    However, I only to wish to point out that the reference to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the “map colored red” has not been historically validated. It was a rumour — likely spread by the British to consolidate their hold on India and Punjab, and convince the gullible and religious Punjabis that the arrival of the British was destined or pre-ordained, so as to gain greater acceptance of their rule in the Punjab.

    Since then, the British severely manipulated the Punjab, even dabbling deeply in their religion, and giving the famous Sikh Regiment a battle song purportedly written by Guru Gobind Singh that historians now assert was never written by Guru Gobind Singh.

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