Strategic Depth: The potential causative factor of post-Taliban Afghan Armed Conflict

Afghanistan is one of the most unfortunate countries on earth that has witnessed decades of seemingly endless armed-conflict. While analyses of the post-Taliban Afghan armed-conflict has assumed it as because of the domestic power structure and in another assumption as US-led Global War on Terror (GWoT). However, the geo-strategically important Afghanistan that is known as crossroads of Asia and the heart of Asia has been at the core of the unregulated interest of Pakistani establishment since the earliest. Therefore, the major stakeholder in the post-Taliban Afghan story is Pakistan and the International Relations theory of Strategic Depth suits best to describe Pakistan’s broad objectives in Afghan story.

Strategic depth is a political-military concept. It has been referred to as the distances between the actual or potential front-lines of battle and key cities, population centers, logistic or industrial core areas, or military installations. The concept of strategic depth can be traced back to that of the 19th century when imperial Britain be afraid of an influencing Czarist Russia wanted to safeguard its empire through ensuring Russia would be deprived of a warm-water port and every opportunity to control Afghanistan. Similarly, Russian be afraid of British intentions hooked on Central Asia opposed the growing British commercial involvement in the region and thus Afghanistan becomes an ambition and buffer zone between the two powers.

Similar to Britain and Russia of the 19th century, Pakistan has strategic desires in Afghanistan. Pakistan has considered Afghanistan as a fundamental sphere for its security from a possible Indian incursion. Pakistan from its creation in 1947 is in a struggle with India. The tensions between these two countries have led to some brief wars that resulted in important victories for India, which ultimately led Pakistan to lose entire East Pakistan ‘Bangladesh’. With these strategic defeats, Pakistan followed the British approach and acquired ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan to keep trustworthy rear protection for Pakistan in case of future aggression with India, and strengthened the strategic depth as means in Afghanistan to block any pro-Indian regime in Kabul and ensure a pro-Pakistan regime in control of Kabul in order not to be encircled by enemies from two sides. Since then Pakistan is supporting various militant groups in Afghanistan to represent their interest. The rise of the Taliban and taking over almost the entire Afghanistan was in part of direct support from ISI of Pakistan. ISI’s interest with the Taliban was determined predominantly not out of a common Islamic ideology but slightly on ISI’s intentions that it needs to sustain influence in Afghanistan to develop strategic depth. The Taliban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 is still having strong ties with Pakistan. Pakistan recognized the Afghan Taliban as a valuable asset that could be co-opted and utilized to advance its long-term interest in the region. And still upholding the Taliban Quetta Shura ‘council’ which is blamed for leading all operations in Afghanistan. Thus, the post-Taliban armed-conflict in Afghanistan is due to Pakistan’s hazardous double game, on one hand supporting the US in its GWoT but on the other backing the Afghan Taliban movement to continue fight in Afghanistan. It has in the process destabilized Afghanistan beyond any easy recovery and created huge problems for itself as reflected in the worsening internal security of Pakistan, and burning more resources than possibly it should be. Pakistan all along meddled in Afghanistan and continues to do so to gain ‘Strategic Depth’ to secure their own backyard by keeping off anti-Pakistan forces out of Afghanistan. Pakistan, such deliberate plans to intervene in Afghan politics through supporting militant groupsand to reshape the political scene in Afghanistan have whipped up outrage among the Afghan public. Upholding such undiplomatic strategies, however, are a significant blunder for Pakistan diplomatic image in world politics.

Indeed, this is the reason that any peace initiatives undertaken by Pakistan or proposed by Pakistan is hard to trust and is not free without any mysterious objectives of the Pakistani establishment. While this argument to a great extent is true, that Pakistan used Afghanistan as its strategic depth to block any pro-Indian regime in Kabul. Nonetheless, India continues to have a significant influence in Afghanistan. India’s role in Afghanistan can be categorized with the Constructivism theory of international relations. It has tried to build institutions in Afghanistan and despite facing severe opposition, it has contributed greatly to Afghan reconstruction. India’s effort still had a limited but very important impact on Afghanistan.