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Pakistan from Strategic Depth to Strategic Vulnerability in Afghanistan

Six months is long in the volatile region commonly known as Af Pak shorthand for Afghanistan Pakistan. This is evident from the challenges that Pakistan faces today in managing instability, lack of governance and control over territorial space by the Taliban, the self declared Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

While there was much triumph in Pakistan for having achieved the objective of pulling out of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, thereby freeing the space for take over by what was seen as a close ally the Afghan Taliban the reality is soon evident with several differences now cropping up.

Thus the Strategic Depth a much cherished national security objective for Pakistan is emerging as a Strategic vulnerability just six months into the Taliban take over of Kabul.

But what is Strategic Depth?

Writing in the Hindu in November 2001,v Noted Indian commentator and former Director-General of Military Operations, Lt Gen V R Raghavan defines "strategic depth," as that which "provides safety and resources to an army or a country."

Incidentally, Afghanistan does not provide either the safety and resources for Pakistan but in turn is a consumer.

Raghavan recalls difficulty that Pakistan had in obtaining strategic depth in Afghanistan post the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 stating it, "proved far more difficult than getting the Soviets out of the country," due to inherent challenges of instability in that country.

The situation is no different today

Key Indicators of Vulnerability

The key indicators of vulnerability are many but presently two are being flagged – a Terrorism Redux and Differences over status and fencing of the Durand Line.

Terrorism Redux

Pakistan is going through a resurgence of terror ascribed to several factors, one of the main ones being sanctuaries now available to groups as the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Baloch insurgents in Afghanistan with the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) or the Taliban having usurped power in Kabul

Importantly terrorist groups have launched attacks on security forces posts in Balochistan and Khyber Pakthoonwa (KP), indicating new capability for strikes while the number of incidents of bombs and IEDs have also increased in the past fortnight. The geographic spread of incidents is across the wider insurgent belt from KP in the North to Balochistan.

Unlike some incidents in the past, the focus of attacks has been security forces rather than civilians. The boldness with which the attacks were launched and the large number of fatalities suffered by security forces is an indication that the forces have been caught napping.

Status of Durand Line

The Durand Line is expected to be a perennial contest issue between Afghanistan and Pakistan regardless of the regime in Kabul.

A top military commander said the Islamic Emirate will not allow fencing on the Durand Line. "We will not allow the fencing anytime, in any form. Whatever they did before, they did, but we will not allow it anymore. There will be no fencing anymore," Mawllawi Sanaullah Sangin, commander of the border forces for the eastern zone. Afghanistan's ambassador to Islamabad called the Durand Line a national issue, saying that the decision over its fate should be referred to the nation.

The Islamic Emirate is forming a joint committee comprised of several ministries to address the problems along the Durand Line.

The Islamic Emirate security forces are clashing on the borders with neighbours ranging from Pakistan to Iran and Uzbekistan. There have been multiple clashes on the Pakistan Afghanistan border – the Durand Line which is now being fenced. On the Iran border, there have been clashes with farmers who had crossed the border wall for farming purposes and were attacked by the Taliban and now reports on the northern borders are emerging possibly due to the high level of security established by the border guarding forces to prevent infiltration of radicals from Afghanistan.

Taliban IEA Government Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid in an interview with the news agency Pajhwok said, "Durand Line is a very big issue, which is above the level of governments," suggesting that there is likely, to be continuous hedging on the issue by the Taliban.

Pakistan authorities have also been ambivalent over the construction of the fencing which has been bitterly opposed by the Taliban resulting in clashes.

Thus there is more pain ahead for both the countries.

What the International Crisis Group Says?

In a new report on February 04, the International Crisis Group (ICG) based in Brussels has clearly identified the challenge of the Taliban taking over in Kabul. The Report says, "Taliban's military takeover and subsequent diplomatic and economic isolation could make Afghanistan's new government more of a burden than an asset for Islamabad".

"Most importantly, the Taliban's failure to take action against Pakistani militants operating from Afghan territory could endanger Pakistan's internal security," the ICG warns.

ICG recommends that "Islamabad should avoid condoning the Taliban's draconian rule, particularly its treatment of women. At the same time, it should use its ties to nudge the Taliban toward compromises on governance and counter-terrorism commitments that could ease the ostracism the new authorities face," but will the IEA or the Afghan Taliban in a triumphant mode in Kabul listen to Islamabad?


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