Indo-Af-Pak and the “strategic depth” – by BR Gowani

"Today, Pakistan is in a limbo: It refuses to fail but then it lacks strength to move forward"


The Humiliation

First the US Navy Seals came in the dark of May 1st night and killed Osama bin Laden, living a couple of miles drive from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Two weeks later, in the country’s biggest city and commercial hub, Karachi, at night time, the Taliban slipped into a naval air base, just six miles from Jinnah international Airport, and fought for 17 hours before the commandos regained it.

What would have happened to Pakistan if the US and the Taliban were in cahoots? It would have become armed forces-free—the Costa Rica of South Asia.

This is simply an idea and should not lead a reader to believe that the Taliban and the US are working together. Already the rumor bazaar in Pakistan is hot with hundreds of conspiracy theories circulating everywhere.

Pakistan’s Armed Forces had encountered such a humiliation way back in 1971, when they had lost a war with India and the people of East Pakistan, who then declared themselves the Bangladeshis.

The then President Z. A. Bhutto (later, Prime Minister), popular and powerful, instead of curbing the power of bloated forces, sent them into the Balochistan Province to crush its people asking for their rights. The forces regained their clout and were once again the masters of the land. Bhutto was overthrown in a military coup and was later hanged.

Then as now, the armed forces are busy crushing Balochis and Bhutto’s son-in-law is in power–though unpopular and powerless.

The 1971 humiliation was out of overestimation of the armed forces’ own strength and underestimation of its enemies’.

However, this time the humiliation inflicted is the result of a few insiders.

Who are they?

Pakistanis will have to wait for some kind of WikiLeaks in future. In the past, the establishment propaganda was that 1 Pakistani soldier equals 10 Hindu soldiers. But Pakistan lost wars against India. However, one doesn’t hear anything about the current reality, that is, few Taliban equals the entire armed force.


Barack Obama, a lawyer from Harvard, was well aware that getting Osama live would result in a lengthy trial with chances of many uncomfortable truths (concerning US) pop out. So the best extralegal solution was to eliminate Osama and throw his corpse to the sharks rather than letting his body sleep in a shrine. The US presidents don’t have to worry; they’re above the law.

However, killing of Osama would have had great impact if it was done within a few years of 9/11, because the memory of that horrific event was still fresh in people’s minds in the US, and the war against Iraq was in its early stage, and the Al Qaeda was still strong. It has lost the importance it used to have because many other militant groups have emerged. Besides, the United States hasn’t experienced any terror incident since 9/11.

Not only has the US vengeance given a new momentum to Al Qaeda (only the time will tell whether it’s a short or long term phenomenon) but has increased Pakistan’s troubles.

“Strategic Depth”

The idea of strategic depth, the brainchild of Pakistan’s generals, was developed keeping India in mind. In case of Indian attack, if Pakistan’s integrity is endangered, the army will have room and time to maneuver if the bordering Afghanistan was friendly. This can prolong the war but can also enhance the Indian casualties, thus forcing it to retreat. So the Taliban were supported by Pakistan.

But in reality it is not so. Dr. Eqbal Ahmed (1933-1999) put it so finely back in 1998:

“Unfortunately, in any meaningful way, it does not. In military thought it is a non-concept unless one is referring to a hard-to-reach place where a defeated army might safely cocoon. Yet far from improving the tenuous notion of ’strategic depth’, the Taliban’s victory is likely to augment Pakistan’s political and strategic predicament.”

Indo/Pak – secure/insecure

Keeping in mind India’s size, and its economic strength, Pakistan has, since the Partition in 1947, felt extremely insecure. It is understandable and one can’t deny that it had every right to find ways to make itself strong in areas it deemed necessary to counter any threat from India.

But rather than letting the politicians work toward those goals, and strengthening democracy, the military meddled in politics through coups and other means and have brought the country at this critical juncture.

Today, Pakistan is in a limbo: It refuses to fail but then it lacks strength to move forward.

For the US, a failed Pakistan could be more troublesome, but then, a strong Pakistan would be out of its control; so it seems, this is the right Pakistan for it.

Many in India would be happy to see Pakistan in this mess. But a long term strategy on part of India, if it wants to savor the taste of its economic prosperity and the regional powerdom, demands that it should have a prosperous and stable Pakistan on its border, rather than a failed nation of 200 million people headed towards India as refugees, economic migrants, and Islamists.

Solution: EU style SAARC

Before Pakistan was created out of India, Afghanistan was India’s next door neighbor. Prior to the introduction of Islam in Afghanistan in the 7th century, it was populated by Buddhists, Hindus, and Zoroastrians (Parsees). The country was part of an empire headed by Emperor Ashoka in 3rd century (BCE).

For a long time now, a tug of war has been going on between India and Pakistan to gain more ground and play an influential role in Afghanistan. But this game has cost a lot to all, especially Afghanistan and Pakistan.

An easy way out of this morass would be to make SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) a more meaningful and powerful organization on the pattern of the European Union. SAARC used to have Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In 2005, Afghanistan was also allowed to join which indeed was good news for the region.

If certain things, such as defense, foreign policy, energy, currency, are handled in a unified manner, it could bring peace and prosperity to all the SAARC countries.

This would not only make Pakistan feel more secure and discard the silly notion of strategic depth, but would also keep in check the US and also China.

But to achieve this goal, two things need to be done:

  • President Asif Zardari and Premier Yousuf Gilani will have to muster enough courage to transport the humiliated army back to the barracks. The PPP has a chance to rectify the mistake Z. A. Bhutto made in the 1970s.
  • And India will have to downsize its Himalayan ego and show enough generosity towards the civilian leaders of Pakistan, and resolve the Kashmir issue by giving its people more autonomy and a strong economy with public and private sector investments.

B. R. Gowani can be reached at



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