Liberal façade of strategic depth — I —Farhat Taj

The writer is the author of Taliban and Anti-Taliban


At least three of the ‘elite’ who contributed to the controversial report, ‘Pakistan, the United States and the End Game in Afghanistan: Perceptions of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Elite’, by Jinnah Institute (JI) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) have come out to defend it in the face of growing criticism: Humayun Khan, Nasim Zehra and Ejaz Haider. This is a welcome move. Unfortunately, rather than confronting some serious questions raised about the report by several people, they are playing with words to discredit the critics.

The methodology and text of the JI-USIP report are pro-strategic depth policy and anti-Pakhtun. The report discriminates against the representative Pakhtun views on strategic depth. It attributes notions such as “Pakistani Pakhtun resentment” to the Pakhtun that has no empirical existence on the ground. It has blatantly ignored some of the most painful facts of Pakhtun society today, such as Pakhtun resistance to the Taliban in the form of anti-Taliban lashkars (private militias). All that the report does well is that it candidly serves the Pakistani military establishment’s strategic depth policy by providing it a liberal façade.

The report claims that “only participants with direct expertise — practical policymaking involvement, on-ground experience in Afghanistan, or an academic understanding of the issue at hand — were invited” (pg 17) to participate in discussions for the report. The claim does not concur with the selection as well as outright exclusion of representatives of the political parties that have a clear stance against the strategic depth policy: the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). These parties are not part of the narrow Pakistani security elite that are running the strategic depth policy, but since two of the parties, the PPP and ANP, are part of the ruling political alliance in Pakistan, it is thus understandable that their representatives were included in the ‘elite’ participants invited by the JI-USIP, although it has ensured to discriminate against the parties to such an extent that their anti-strategic depth views neither enrich the debate nor appear in the report.

Since 2007 the PPP formed a committee on FATA reforms to study the phenomenon of terrorism in FATA, which is closely linked with the security crisis in Afghanistan, in consultations with people across FATA, with people having expertise on Afghanistan and whosoever the committee deemed appropriate in order to make policy recommendations to the party. Moreover, the Peshawar-based Shaheed Bhutto Foundation (SBF), linked with the PPP, has long been engaged in sharpening the internal PPP expertise on FATA and Afghanistan through discussions and seminars. The work of the PPP’s FATA reforms committee and the SBF has contributed in the current PPP-led government’s recent political reforms in FATA, whereby some human rights as well as Political Parties Order 2002 have been extended to FATA and a provincially administered tribal area, namely Kala Dhaka, has been legally integrated with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

PPP stalwarts linked with the FATA reforms committee and SBF would be the most appropriate people from the party to participate in a policy debate like that of JI-USIP’s report. But the JI-USIP invited Mr Abdullah Riar, a former PPP senator from Punjab, who has never been part of the PPP homework related to Afghanistan (the key issue here is not his belonging to Punjab but his lack of association with internal PPP expertise on Afghanistan). The PPP interviewee in the JI-USIP project, Malik Amad Khan, is a parliamentarian from Punjab and a former minister of state for foreign affairs. He has never been part of the internal PPP circles dealing with FATA/Afghanistan. His experience as a former foreign minister of state for a ministry that is dominated by the establishment makes him more likely to concur with the military establishment view rather than bringing an informed/expert PPP view to the JI-USIP report.

Note that most PPP members linked with its FATA reforms committee and SBF are Pakhtun. They all stand excluded from the JI-USIP project without any reason assigned in the report. The PPP’s own members who I discussed the report with have expressed surprise why JI-USIP ignored the most relevant PPP politicians from their exercise. This happened despite the fact that Sherry Rehman is a PPP parliamentarian. This is a remarkable exclusion given the report’s claim of having consulted people “with established expertise on Afghanistan” (pg 17), which the report should have explained.

The ANP, a Pakhtun nationalist party, has a longstanding position against strategic depth and is against the sanctuaries of the Afghan militants in Pakistan, i.e. the Haqqani Taliban and Quetta Shura, which some participants of the JI-USIP project, defend and even demand their accommodation in a future Afghan set-up (Pp 13 and 22). The ANP has think tanks and several experts on Afghanistan. A representative of the party has been interviewed, but no one from the party has been included in the discussions for the JI-USIP report; no reason was given for excluding the party from discussions. Everyone in the ANP who I discussed the JI-USIP report with rejected it as ‘the same old strategic depth policy with a liberal cover’.

Another striking exclusion from the JI-USIP project is the Pakhtun nationalist party, the PkMAP, especially when compared with the inclusion of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in the report, which has no political representation in the Pakhtun areas. The party’s view is most relevant, especially when some of the report participants demand a role in the future power structure of Afghanistan for the Taliban Shura in Quetta city, the political centre of PkMAP, and the Haqqani Taliban in Waziristan, where the party has significant political support. Political workers of the PkMAP were the first ones to be eliminated when the target killings of anti-Taliban tribal leaders began in Waziristan in 2003. The PkMAP too has a longstanding position against the policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan.

Thus, the views of the political parties that represent the Pakhtun, reject the strategic depth policy and have given the blood of their leaders and workers in the military establishment’s pursuit of this policy have been excluded or restricted by what seems to be a selection bias in the methodology of the JI-USIP report. This has heavily skewed the report towards those participants who are close to the military establishment. Thus the report captures their views and not the views of the Pakhtun nationalists and federalist secular political elite of Pakistan.


(To be continued)

The writer is the author of Taliban and Anti-Taliban



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