Beyond Strategic Depth in Afghanistan
Paper presented at 26th annual conference of British Association of South Asian Studies, University of Leeds, 3-5 April 2013
Pakistan's association with the 1980s jihad in Afghanistan and subsequent pursuit of India-centric Strategic Depth policy in Afghanistan have been particularly consequential in the post-9/11 period. It has faced an unprecedented wave of religiously motivated terrorism, causing irreparable human and material loss. The country has also confronted growing regional isolation and consistent international scrutiny for practicing counter-terrorism duality. Pakistan's internal security quagmire will most likely aggravate due to continuing Afghan war and renewed Afghan civil war after NATO’s military exit from Afghanistan. Such constraints of the recent past and uncertainties of the foreseeable future leave Pakistan with little choice but to undertake a paradigm shift in its foreign policy—one that is premised on normalising relations with India and building peace in Afghanistan.

In the past couple of years, Pakistan’s civilian regime has, indeed, taken some preliminary steps for the purpose. If this is indeed the case, what are the underlying constraints and motivations behind this policy shift? What does such shift mean in essence and what are its implications in terms of ending the war and securing the peace in Afghanistan? Has Pakistan finally bid farewell to the ‘Strategic Depth’ policy? How seriously does it now aspire for contributing to peace making in Afghanistan? Whether or not the state establishment is ready to end calculated ambivalence or alleged duplicity in its regional counter-terrorism approach? And also why Pakistan’s role in Afghan conflict resolution still remains most crucial?

Of course, to answer these questions properly, we first need to understand the current nature of the Afghan conflict and its probable future course in the light of NATO’s exit plan. A framework based on realism constitutes a more suitable framework for analysis for the purpose. While the role of all regional and extra-regional actors in Afghan conflict resolution is important, Pakistan will particularly need to reprioritise its strategic interests in Afghanistan as well as reshape its approach towards India. Pursuit of peace rather than sustainability of conflict is in order. Pakistan must also simultaneously undertake an internal reformation process ensuring counter-terrorism transparency, de-radicalisation of society and secularisation of politics.

Only introduction to this paper is available