The Super Sweet Strategery of Strategic Depth

Pakistan’s beliefs in the value of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan were influenced by two factors. The support it received from the U.S. in waging an armed response against the Soviet occupation triggered the belief. The success of that endeavour with no apparent costs to itself, gave Islamabad the illusion of being able to play a major role in the geo-politics of Central Asia. This more than anything else led to the belief that Afghanistan provided the strategic leverage Pakistan had long been seeking. The energy-rich Muslim states of Central Asia beckoned both Pakistan and the energy-seeking multi-nationals. Iran’s standing up to western pressures was proving an obstacle to long-term plans for energy extraction from the region. Afghanistan offered both shorter energy routing and political control through Pakistan.

V. R. Raghavan (The Hindu, 2001)

Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, “wants a reliable proxy that has territorial control of the P2K area,” Mr. Dressler adds. This desire is the result of Pakistan’s historic conflict with India. “If India comes across the border, Pakistan can fall back into Afghanistan and drive them out. It’s about strategic depth vis-à-vis India. As long as that continues to be a driving concern, Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani network will continue.”

The Christian Science Monitor (via Small Wars Journal)

A highly plausible future scenario indeed (regarding the second quoted item). In the event that the Indians decide on a massive ground invasion into Pakistan and march sturdily through the landscape of jihadi-networks and scattering Pakistani troops – with nary a nuke in sight and the US sitting idly by – it sounds like a winner of a strategy. The supply lines to the Indians will, of course, be Bollywood unicorns pooping ammunition and some sort of MREs.

On the other hand, serious people seem to take Pakistani strategic depth worries seriously. The Indians are forever being told that they must take Pakistani fears of regional encroachment into account so that the United States (ISAF) may have a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan that is stable. Although….

My basic point, lost in the midst of all of those excerpts, is that despite having “full” strategic depth in Afghanistan during the time period of the Kargil War, a conflict occurred between the two.

– from a comment I made in this thread at Small Wars Journal (regarding the theory that strategic depth in Afghanistan may prevent conflict between India and Pakistan).

I think a strategy that brings about the very thing you claim to be worried about (the Indians in Afghanistan with ISAF supporting a reasonably India-friendly government) seems like a loser to me. Want to see the math?

1. Pakistan supports the Taliban in Afghanistan for purposes of “strategic depth.”
2. The Taliban invites in Al Q.
3. 9-11 happens and Americans and others are murdered.
4. Americans invade Afghanistan.
5. India follows with the rest of the development crowd….

See? A loser of a strategy in terms of the vaunted s.d.

What say you ChicagoBoyz commenters? Have I got it totally wrong? Am I a total paranoid? A partial paranoid? Leave a comment below if you must….

PS: I always enjoy reading Max Boot at Contentions but, er….?

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

Respectfully, the Army is not a force of moderation. They are following a long-cherished regional strategic plan that has nothing to do with our alleged “fickleness.” Given China’s monetary support of the regime, I wager the Pakistani Army/ISI will continue to think they can play various networks to their advantage. 2014 or no. Sorry to be so cynical. I hope I am wrong.

12 thoughts on “The Super Sweet Strategery of Strategic Depth”

  1. OTOH, there is this (and maybe this is what Max Boot is getting at):

    As talks with the Taliban gain momentum, Afghan president Hamid Karzai is purging his government of anti-Taliban and pro-Western officials. This week’s sacking of Dr. Davood Moradian, senior policy adviser at the Foreign Ministry, was the latest in a series of dismissals and forced resignations of senior officials who oppose Karzai’s outreach to the Taliban and Pakistan (see Rah-e Nejat Daily, Tolo News, Afghan Paper).

    The Coalition for Change and Hope, chaired by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s chief rival in the 2009 election, had earlier warned that ten to eleven key government officials would be soon sacked or would be forced to resign due to their disagreements with Karzai’s reconciliatory approach to the Taliban and Pakistan, including Karzai’s spokesperson Waheed Omar and national security advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta (Afghan Paper). Omar resigned on Monday (Cheragh Daily), and Spanta is also said to have offered his resignation but the president has not accepted it yet (Afghan Paper).

    Karzai, who has had a troubled relationship with the Obama administration over the past two years, has been seeking alternative allies for his survival. He has intensified efforts to reconcile with the Taliban leaders and tried to improve relations with Pakistan. He has also replaced many pro-West, anti-Taliban officials. Last year, he sacked intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and interior minister Hanif Atmar, both described by Western officials as the most capable members of Karzai’s government. Saleh had publicly opposed talks with the Taliban without preconditions and accused the Pakistani military and intelligence agency of supporting terrorist groups.

    The removal of competent and pro-Western officials is undermining current efforts to defeat the Taliban and improve governance in the country. It also a sign that Obama’s repeated willingness to offer timelines to assuage his domestic base is having a very negative effect on Afghanistan’s security.

    – Madhu

  2. The nation-state model doesn’t fit. The nukes take Indo-Pak major conflict off the table. We are dealing with individual players who are, to a western mind, inscrutable. It’s warlord time all the way down.

    Our strategic objectives have been met – no more state supported AQ. We have given them a whiff of the grape and this time it worked.

    I am an unrepentant hawk. That conflict is now more trouble that its worth.

  3. I concluded a year ago that Afghanistan is not worth the effort to “save” it. Pakistan is milking us and our natural ally is India. I said this a year ago and haven’t changed my mind.

    Al Qeada has already moved on to Yemen and other places. Our most serious terrorist risk now is probably home grown. A relative who is a FBI agent has told me that they are very concerned about recruitment in prison, mostly of angry young black criminals.

  4. It’s no surprise to anyone that’s read my comments or posts around here – or elsewhere – that I have been skeptical of our overarching strategies in Afghanistan so I tend to agree with much of what both of you have said.

    We do have larger important long-term interests in South Asia and Asia “et al” so the poor quality thinking about the region evidenced by our foreign policy political types (in this administration and the last) has me worried.

    I have a theory that the poor theorizing is one more piece of evidence that our legacy cultures of the late twentieth century have broken down or are inadequate.

    We had an fairly long standing transactional relationship with Pakistan during the Cold War so when faced with a current problem in the region our senior policy makers went with what they knew best: in part, attempting to cajole and rent out an army of a sometime client state known through our previous patronage. Given that, we were never going to have an easy time of it.

    – Madhu

  5. Mahdu,

    I think you are right about the old client thing. They were our “friend” during the cold war because India was our enemy. The current policy makers misunderstand the motives, thus the fumbling and stumbling.


    p.s., I was in Peshawar during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  6. It seems in the interest of the Pakistani elite to culture terrorists in their petri-dishes as a form of rent-seeking. Just imagine all of the “something of the top” they rake in from Americans and other foreigners donors when they have a flourishing terrorist manufacturing base as opposed to the dismal foreign direct investment they generated during the nineties when their terrorism industry was in a mini-depression and no one in Washington would return their phone calls.

  7. How’s this for underscoring your points, Joseph Fouche: one blogger at an Indian think-tank website I was reading proposed that India herself pay the elite money. In order to peel the elites away from their bad habits, I guess. I have to go back and read the “proposal” more carefully.

    – Madhu

  8. That suggestion made me recall this:

    Bueno de Mesquita’s model suggested: Kim agrees to dismantle his existing nuclear weapons but not his existing nuclear capability. “He puts it in mothballs with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors on site 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And in exchange, we provide him with $1.2 billion a year, which we label ‘foreign aid,’ of course.” The “foreign-aid” figure published in the newspapers was $400 million, which concerns Bueno de Mesquita. “I read that and I said, I hope that’s not the deal because it’s not enough money. He needs $1.2 billion, approximately, to sustain the loyalty of his cronies in the military and so forth.

    The fundamental problem with such an approach is that its inflationary. You’ll find that the price of corrupt elites will rise as you pile on the Danegeld. Such an approach is only guaranteed to get you more Dane.

  9. It’s basic economics. If there’s a rise in demand for corrupt Third World oligarchs, producers will respond to the price incentive and manufacture more corrupt Third World oligarchs. If the same producers find that they can increase profits on their pricier line of corrupt Third World oligarchs by manufacturing terrorism as a complimentary accessory, they will produce more terrorists.

    More demand == more supply.

    More Danegeld == more Dane.

  10. Yeah, that’s my general feeling JF. I’ll dig up the link to the argument, and counterarguments, when I am feeling less lazy.

    BTW, the Washington Post reports VP Biden is going to travel to Pakistan soon to offer more military and intelligence aid and “frank talk.” Good luck with that.

    – Madhu

    *You know that Cheers where Frasier imagines Woody as President and a series of events happen that lead to the big boom? Huh.

  11. I caught a snippet of the BBC World News the other day and was informed that some deputy assistant executive vice secretary of State in our elite State department had called in some Tunisian diplomatic functionary and delivered some “frank talk” about the apparently appalling state of Internet freedom in Tunisia. While the U.S. has as much right to meddle in the affairs of other nations as any other sovereign entity, one definition of successful strategy is “the luxury of picking on one enemy at a time”.

  12. This is a segment I saw on WTTW11 with Amrullah Saleh the former Afghan intelligence chief talked to the show Frontline. Wanted to get your thoughts on his commentary about the Taliban. Look at about 42 minutes into the video. Looks like he was tossed out last year according the the NR article above, and sounds like he might have aspirations to change things in Afghanistan. Love to hear thoughts.


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