Dr. Tahseen Mahmood aslam draws attention towards a
window of opportunity
Change Of Perspective – Perhaps for the first time in Pakistan’s history political forces have acquired the propensity to provide space to the security apparatus. In a monumental twist of fortune, the security apparatus that gleefully attempted a failed soft coup on political polity just few years ago was hamstrung by the morbid flow of events this time round until it was ironically bailed out by beleaguered political forces. It is an ideal opportunity for beleaguered political forces to allay the widespread belief that they are barred from dabbling into national security affairs by initiating a national debate based on these questions. To begin with the civil society may be prompted, through informal means, to ask probing questions about future national security. Once the ground is prepared then media reach and influence may be utilized to give these questions a meaningful content. The Parliament, of course, cannot ignore such motivational concerns and it is indeed the cogent forum to deliberate and decide upon such vital national matters.
The current inner instability triggered off by the proxy elements elevated to national power base by the Pakistani establishment to thwart the gradual strengthening of democratic political elements has boomeranged with the debris falling on the establishment fair and square. This episode has come to fore as the classic consequence of a deftly planned long term pretense incessantly followed by Pakistan Army in shape of pursuing an unreal and disastrous policy of running the country through a hybrid pattern. The factors underpinning the quest for institutional control of the state emerged out of the fallacious devising of the policy of acquiring so-called strategic depth and the intention was that it should be accepted in the name of natural security and should not be questioned.
The elusive quest of strategic depth followed by Pakistan Army was predominantly a colonial legacy. The British colonial policy makers exhibited tremendous concern about the contentious nature of the traditional invasion openings offered by vast and porous borders of Northern India. With the annexation of Punjab in 1849, Ranjit Singh’s formidable creation, the last buffer state disappeared, exposing British Empire to the perils of border transgression. Apart from the dangers of free moving predatory groups, the British faced an organised hegemonic entity in shape of Russian Empire. The inexorable expansionism of Russia was very evident whereas in 1759 the territories of British Indian Empire were separated from Russia by 4,000 miles but by 1885 the gap had closed to mere 400 miles. This hunger for land space drew Afghanistan, an impoverished rump of territory, into the international state system.
Pakistan’s inheritance of treacherous borderlands coupled with turbulent relations with India intertwined one danger with the other and gave Pakistan Army the perfect alibi to couch and cloak its hunger for political power into twin monsters that it imposed on Pakistan as a perennial and ubiquitous threat to national security. Adding to the propitious fortune of Army, the time proved that British concerns for Russian designs were credible when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Russian entanglement in Afghanistan strengthened Pakistan Army’s national security paradigm particularly in wake of continuous trouble in Pakistan’s borderlands, Afghan intransigence and Indian enmity. The Army conveniently brushed under the carpet the cruel fact that internal mutinous activities were a direct consequence of over centralisation of authority by military regimes that not only kept West Pakistan in turmoil but also decisively alienated East Pakistan. It also suppressed the fact that it instigated foreign adventures to keep the country under its toes by using patriotic card.
The setbacks suffered by Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, both in contentions with India, encouraged Pakistan Army to weave a web of strategic depth. General Zia believed that the strategic depth Pakistan needed in its confrontation with India could be best achieved by building an Islamic block in South between the Arabian Sea and in North up to the Urals! After Soviet invasion General Zia felt that by assuming the position of front line state Pakistan had won the right to a regime of its choice in Afghanistan. This became the basis of continuous policy of strategic depth that is less of a geographical than a political concept and pertains more to keeping a grip over a friendly Islamic oriented regime in Afghanistan that is willing to assist Pakistan in avoiding traditional insecurity by means of neutralising its western tribal borderlands. Moreover, the Army expects such regime in Afghanistan to avoid forging links with India that it blames for destabilising Pakistan’s border provinces. Direct intervention, use of proxies, manipulating regimes and cultivating influence are the favoured ploys of this modern ‘Great Game’ with the handicap that Pakistan had the fraction of resources to manage this challenge than the British Raj.
The withdrawal of Russian forces from Afghanistan prompted Pakistan Army to replace India as a source of insecurity on its western borders. Consequently the Army feverishly attempted to restrict ability of India to operate in Afghanistan that resulted in support extended to Mullah Omar and Haqqani network; a classic folly that boomeranged in shape of convergence of interests of India and Afghanistan, two diehard antagonists of Pakistan. The lingering mistrust and heightened enmity existing between Pak-Afghan relations, terrorists in FATA bombing targets deep inside Pakistan and Indian support for Baloch insurgents are clear manifestation of such a damaging axis.
The momentous post 9/11 events constrained Pakistan Army to move away from traditional interpretation of strategic depth policy. General Kiyani gave an impression of implied reversal when he said: ‘we want to have strategic depth in Afghanistan but that does not imply controlling it. If we have a peaceful, stable and friendly Afghanistan, automatically we will have our strategic depth because our western border will be secure and we will not be looking at two fronts’. This purported policy shift however belied the reality considering army’s constant support for Islamist militants in Afghanistan. By implication what General Kiyani stated was restatement of hoary close border policy which focuses resources inward but which does not involve letting Afghanistan pursue its own course free of Pakistani influence. General Kiyani indicated changing tactics without compromising on the basic tenets of strategic depth policy.
The ultimate fall out of fallacious policies pursued for many decades resulted in Operation Zarb-e-Azb and later Raddul Fasaad but that too is shrouded in mystery not only from field operations angle but also from future policy point of view. The wild patriotic fever unleashed in the country has obtusely enveloped contours of future policy and practice. As a consequence, the political elements started to ask inconvenient questions leading the establishment to devise the strategy of sidelining them with army propaganda apparatus went into high gear and produced an alternate reality that ultimately proved nothing but a mirage with the crucial difference that it challenged the authority of its erstwhile mentors exposing the country into unending turmoil. Pushed to the corner the security establishment is now left with very few choices and it appears that it will be compelled to vacate many powers that it arrogated to itself simply against constitutional process of governance. It also appears obvious that the security establishment will mount a rearguard operation but it may probably not succeed as plenty of water has flown under the bridge. The Weekender