Monday, July 22, 2013

William Dalrymple’s Wrong Conclusions about Evolution of Pak Army’s Doctrine of “Strategic Depth”

Threats which Afghanistan and India have been facing over the last two decades emanate from Pakistan Army’s much debated and discussed Doctrine of "Strategic Depth". This strategic depth theory was conceptualized after Pakistan’s defeat in 14-days war with India in 1971 which resulted in East Pakistan becoming an independent nation as Bangladesh. At that time paranoia had engulfed Pakistan and it was feared that conventionally superior Indian Military could easily annihilate Pak Army and Air force and Indian Navy can easily blockade the Karachi port and choke or occupy Pakistan within few days. So, it was considered necessary to have a friendly government in Kabul which should be averse to any Indian influence and provide refuge to retreating Pak Army in event of an all out Indian Military onslaught so as to save it from annihilation and allow it to wage guerilla warfare against  Indian forces from mountainous regions of Afghanistan. This is the most widely marketed and accepted version of Strategic depth theory in West which made William Dalrymple in his recently published Brookings essay "A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India" argue that the roots of all instability in Af-Pak region lie in so called India-Pak proxy war which is supposedly underway in Afghanistan. However, as we shall see, this black and white analysis misses at least two third of the real story of birth and evolution of the concept of Strategic depth, both in theory as well as in practice. Let us examine those left out causes, namely, the Iran-Saudi Arabia Cold War and Pakistan’s own geopolitical ambitions which have the potential to sustain the instability in Af-Pak as well as the global terrorism even if India goes out of picture from Afghanistan.

Iran-Saudi Arabia Cold War in Af-Pak

The Iranian Shiite revolution of 1979 was seen as a threat by Saudi royal family which rules over regions with Shia majority. From 1980 onwards the apprehensions of Saudi Royals began to materialize when Iranian pilgrims started political activities during the Hajj ceremony. Saudis saw it as an attempt by Khomeini to replicate a larger Shia uprising in the Middle East. From 1981 onwards regular clashes between Saudi pilgrims and Saudi Police and escalation of sectarian tensions were witnessed during the Hajj ceremony. All this ultimately culminated in violent clashes between Saudi Police and Iranian pilgrims during Hajj ceremony on 31 July, 1987, which according to Iranian allegations left 400 Iranian pilgrims dead. After this event, Iranian spiritual leaders openly attacked the legitimacy of Saudi royal family’s rule. Khomeini publicly declared, These vile and ungodly Wahhabis, are like daggers which have always pierced the heart of the Muslims from the back,” and announced that Mecca was in the hands of “a band of heretics.” Saudi royal family was described by his deputy Montezri as “a bunch of English agents from Najd who have no respect either for the House of God or for the pilgrims who are the guests of God.” Just as Jerusalem would be liberated from the “claws of usurping Israel,” Mecca and Medina would be liberated from the “claws of Al Sa‘ud.” All this intensified the already underway Saudi-Iranian cold war which soon spread to Afghanistan. After 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, both Iran and Pakistan supported the anti-soviet insurgency but their support was divided on ethnic and sectarian lines. While Pakistan colluded with Saudi Arabia to create Pashtun Mujahideen who were indoctrinated through Wahabi Madarsas being run in Pakistan financed by Saudi Charities and thus obviously inimical to Shia Iran; Iran supported Tajiks and Hazaras. This divide survived even after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and after Saudi Arabia and Pakistan supported Taliban taking over Kabul in 1996 all attempts were made to minimize Iran’s sphere of influence. Selective killings of Shias were organized by the new Taliban government. In Bamiyan province alone around 5000 Shias were killed by Taliban. Iranian Consulate in Mazar-e-sharif was attacked and ten Iranian diplomats were killed. Iran responded by amassing 300,000 troops on its borders with Afghanistan and threatened to punish the Taliban regime.

The Saudi apprehensions about rise of Iran were shared by Sunni radicals in Pakistan who smelled the presence of a fifth column everywhere after 1971. Thus after 1979, the Shias were begun to be seen with suspicion in Pakistan. The Wahhabi radical version of Islam which was being propagated with Pakistani State patronage to indoctrinate the foot soldiers of “strategic depth” further fuelled anti-Shia sentiments in Pakistani society. Money flowing through Saudi Charities was used in raising anti-shia terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Saheba, to minimize Iran’s influence in Pak by organizing regular attacks on Shia community. The after math continues to play out in Afghanistan and Pakistan till today with suicide bombings of Shia processions and regular massacres in Shia localities.

Initial Practice of “Strategic Depth”

When Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan readily offered its services to CIA and Saudis. However, ISI’s aim was not just to throw out the Soviet Union from Afghanistan or counter Indian influence over Kabul. But at that time Pakistan lacked the capability of realizing the dreams of becoming a regional master. Pak was trying to recover from the shock of 1971 and General Zia was propagating radical Sunni Islam which was seen as the only binding force which would hold Pakistan together amid its growing contradictions. Those who could not be accommodated within this new theological model, namely Shias, Ahmadis and Balochs are to be contained through the strategic assets which this model produced. At that time, CIA would not allow opening of an India front as it will involve shifting of resources from Afghanistan towards India and thus affect the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan. So, ISI had to remain content with arming Sikh terrorist groups in Indian Punjab. Throughout the 80’s Pak Army kept its strategic aims subservient to those of US and Saudi Arabia and used the opportunity to acquire and develop credible nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis India.

Pakistan’s Geopolitical Ambitions: From Strategic Depth to Strategic Breadth

By the time Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, initial thesis of Strategic Depth theory was totally outdated. By 1986-87 Pakistan had successfully developed a nuclear weapon and had acquired credible delivery platforms. The fear of an all-out Indian invasion was fast vanishing from power corridors of Islamabad and Rawalpindi and was being replaced by a new confidence which emanated from the “victory” over a “super-power like Soviet Union.” However, Pakistani leaders and Generals continued to legitimize their policy of using terror organizations as an instrument of State policy internally as well as externally by referring to “Indian threat.” The Pak Army’s “strategic assets” being extremely zealous forces could not have been kept idle otherwise like lamp’s Jinni they could have very well end up consuming their own masters. So Pak Army which was by that time well settled in the nuclear saddle decided to divert freed up resources from Afghanistan towards India. The policy of Strategic depth was transformed to that of Strategic Breadth and object was to make Indian State succumb to bleeding through “thousand cuts.” The very fact that Pakistan decided to launch a militant onslaught towards India and did not changed this policy even when these terrorist depredations on Indian territory repeatedly bring two nations on brink of nuclear war is in itself enough an evidence that there was no fear of an Indian onslaught left and thus initial premises requiring the seeking of Strategic depth in Afghanistan had vanished. Pakistan was very well conscious of its newly acquired nuclear deterrence as well as the new international order. From 1990 onwards Strategic Depth Doctrine witnessed a complete transformation, its new objectives being- First, to keep Afghanistan under Pakistan’s sphere of influence and slowly transform it to status of a satellite state of Pakistan. This along with Pakistan’s nuclear capability put Pakistan on some sort of a geo-political throne. It was also helpful in managing the Pashtun nationalism which could have threatened Pakistan’s integrity. Pak Army through its proxies was able to realize effective control over Pashtun areas despite maintaining physical absence from these areas. Second, to serve Saudi interests in Afghanistan by containing Iranian influence through its proxies. This is well evidenced in Taliban’s actions against Iranian interests and Shias after it occupied Kabul. This policy was aimed to keep up the flow of Saudi money to Pak Army’s “strategic assets” which was particularly necessary in wake of ISI’s expanding adventures from Afghanistan to India and money flow from Washington drying up after Soviet withdrawal. Third, to usurp the whole of Kashmir by fuelling secessionism and cross-border terrorism. Fourth, to avenge the 1971 defeat by supporting terrorist attacks throughout India and thereby impair India’s economy and communal harmony.
Pakistan’s Policy post-9/11: Interim Adjustments

In post-9/11 scenario, Pakistan had to amend its Afghanistan policy in wake of American threats of being “bombed back to stone age” and “with us or against us” demarcation. However, this change in policy was full of inertia and was reluctantly affected under extremely onerous circumstances. As Gen Musharraf recalled in his autobiography that he conducted theoretical ‘war games’ and found that Pak Army had no chance if it continued to support Taliban and Al-Qaeda. So, the Afghanistan policy adopted by Pak Army after Soviet withdrawal was so dear to Pak Army that it contemplated confrontational scenarios with US before reluctantly giving up its support for Al-Qaeda and Taliban. However, not all Generals were on the same page as far as this policy shift was concerned. The delegation headed by then ISI chief Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmad which was sent to Afghanistan by Gen Musharraf on 16 Sep, 2001 to pressurize Mullah Omar to agree to hand over Osama Bin Laden to Americans reportedly advised Mullah Omar not to hand over Osama Bin Laden at all. Ten years later, Osama Bin Laden would be found by CIA in a Pak Army cantonment area in Abbottabad.

To minimize the damage ISI classified these organizations into three categories- First category consisted of the obedient assets which were ready to act in Afghanistan in accordance with Army’s new policy and did not seek to destabilize Pakistan, namely, Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network. Second category consisted of those who saw the new policy as a sell out to US and were not ready to fall in line and seek to convert Pakistan into a true Islamic state and started to carry out terror attacks inside Pakistan to achieve that end. Most pertinent illustration is that of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Operations were launched against these groups by Pak army. Third category consisted of groups which were to be employed against India, Iran and for domestic purposes, namely, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hijb-ul-Mujahideen, Jundullah and Sipah-e-Saheba etc. These continue to freely operate in Pakistan under ISI patronage and have filled the gap created by weakening Al-Qaeda. The most of vacant Al-Qaeda ranks are now filled with former operatives of these organizations.
Mullah Omar and other prominent Afghan Taliban leaders were sheltered in Quetta and together with Haqqanis who operate from North and South Waziristan, constitute biggest threat to the idea of a stable and progressive Afghanistan. The terrorist attacks against Pak Army constitute something which is known in intelligence parlance as “spill-over effect.” When you fill a large container with water and try to turn it around, water is bound to spill out.

Future Scenario after 2014 US withdrawal

After US military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, the situation in Afghanistan and the region will closely resemble that prevailing prior to 9/11. Afghan Taliban will be effectively controlling not less that 65% of rural Afghanistan. The only difference this time will be that Taliban will not be able to have a free run over major cities and confine legitimate regime to a meager territory in north like it did in 1996 due to a relatively strong Afghan Army backed by international community. Pak Army will try to come to a truce with Pak Taliban and will gradually call off it operations in Tribal areas in return of Pak Taliban stopping its attacks inside Pakistan. A lull in Pak Taliban attacks in Pak hinterland is being already witnessed. The new Nawaz Sharif government has good contacts in Pak Taliban and attempts are already underway for a ceasefire. This will mark de facto partition of Afghanistan on ethnic lines. Though this will also involve minimal physical control of Pak Army over Tribal Areas but the sense for now in Rawalpindi is that this has always been the case since British times and all through the life of Pakistan. Islamabad has always micro-managed Pashtuns by administering them regular doses fundamentalism and unleashing them against India and Afghanistan.

The changed situation will be utilized by Pak Army to re-direct terror groups against India. Terrorist violence has already begun to rise in Jammu & Kashmir and regular ceasefire violations are being reported along Line of Control (LoC) whereby Pak Army attempts to push infiltrators into India. There has been revival of faith in Pak Army about its policy of using terror groups as instruments of State policy as this has been successful against USSR as well as against US in Afghanistan. ISI seeks to overcome the spill-over effect at play in Pakistan by re-deploying these groups from Afghanistan to India. Moreover, starting from Zia era, Pak army has been nurturing these groups and its ranks now suffer from what may be termed as reverse indoctrination, open play out which came to surface when attack on Gen Musharraf was traced back to Pak Air Force Officers and retired ISI officers repeatedly visited tribal areas to co-ordinate Taliban operations. It is just wishful thinking that some open minded General with western leanings can change this character of Pak Army. Even General Kayani had to face some embarrassing moments during his nationwide tours to Army Cantonments explaining the security situation after Osama Bin Laden killing by US forces in Abbottabad.

With each passing day in office, distance between Gen Kayani and other Corps Commanders will be widening in seniority terms which will mean less effective coherence on policy matters. We have seen this transpiring during Gen Zia’s times as well as during Gen Musharraf’s reign. Another problem about guessing the true intentions of Gen Kayani is that most of the policy makers and analysts in West judge them from what he is saying and not from what he is actually doing. Since, General Kayani came into office, ISI’s support for Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network has become more bold and overt. The attacks carried out by these groups in Afghanistan have become more and more audacious. ISI has opted for such a flimsy deniability that worst attacks in Kabul have been easily traced back by US and Afghan intelligence to Haqqani-ISI linkages. Moreover, Gen Kayani’s public discourses after killing of Osama Bin Laden by US forces in Abbottabad, though invoking Pakistan’s sovereignty have been no less than mourning. ISI immediately laid hands over Dr. Shakil Afridi who was instrumental in providing necessary information to CIA for raid on Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad and despite immense pressure from highest levels of Obama Administration and Capitol Hill, Pakistan has repeatedly refused to release him. Terror infrastructure against India has been kept well-preserved. All these are clear pointers that Pak Army intends to revert to its policies of pre-9/11 era. Another point that is to be noted is that despite immense US military presence in Afghanistan and billions of dollars being given in aid to Pak, Pak Army has not complied with US strategic goals in Afghanistan and continued its support for Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network. In such a situation, it is nothing else but self-deception to assume that Pak Army will be working for a stable Afghanistan after US withdrawal in 2014. Doha talks with Taliban will only give acceptability and legitimacy to Taliban and it will only be pursuing its well known agenda after 2014. Af-Pak is going to be theatre of another phase of Saudi-Iran proxy war which is already intensifying since this Muharram. The magnitude of recent attacks on Shias in the region is fast catching up with those witnessed in Iraq.

The most unfortunate thing is that after more than a decade on international efforts, Af-Pak seems to be all set to be back to square one. This region will again be the haven in which Islamic fundamentalists will be taking refuge from all over the world and from which indoctrinated trained terrorists will be dispatched to create chaos across the world.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis! Western "experts" unable or unwilling to accept the depth of Shia Sunni (Iran Saudi) animosity.