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Pakistan Army’s Graveyard of Imperial Pretensions-Afghanistan

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Paper No. 5409                                           Dated 26-Feb-2013

By Dr. Subhash Kapila

The projected drawback of United States and NATO Forces in 2014 has once again rekindled Pakistan Army’s imperial pretensions over Afghanistan. Post-2014 scenarios being discussed in the strategic community paint dismal scenarios of Afghanistan re-emerging as a global and regional hotspot with destabilising spill-over effects all around.

This phenomenon chiefly arises from Pakistan Army’s compulsive strategic obsession of enslavement of Afghanistan on the implausible plea that Pakistan needs ‘strategic depth’.

 Pakistani scholar, Syed Farooq Hasnat, a former head of the Middle East section of the Islamabad Institute of Strategic Studies, rightly observes in a recent work that Pakistan could have stayed out of events in Afghanistan both in 1978 and 2001 ‘with little strategic impact on its own society.’ His observations need verbatim reproduction in italics to drive home the point that Pakistan Army’s imperial pretensions lie now buried in Afghanistan.

“The strategic requirements of Pakistan are a world apart from those of Afghanistan. It is true that events in Afghanistan had a bearing on upon Pakistan, at least twice in recent history in 1978 and then in 2001, but that was because of choice and the improvised policies of Islamabad. Otherwise, Pakistan could have stayed out of the events in Afghanistan with little strategic impact on its own society. The meddling in Afghan affairs had its negative repercussions, which not only involved the tribal areas of Pakistan but other parts of the country were radicalised, as well. It wreaked havoc upon the centuries-old liberal and accommodating Pakistan society by inducting alien cultures of bigotry, extremism, and fanaticism.”

Rightly concluded above is the strategic reality that both in 1978 and in 2001, Pakistan was pushed into interventions in Afghanistan because the Pakistan Army’ own volitions,  perceiving  that by doing so it would achieve the upper hand in Afghanistan’s affairs courtesy serving as the strategic handmaiden of the United States to further US security interests.

In both 1978 and 2001, the Pakistan Army was in power and control of Pakistan’s policy formulations. In both cases the Pakistan Army in collusive military collaboration with the United States made Afghanistan a battleground victimising the Afghan people for no complicity of their own.

Sadly, ignoring the deleterious effects on regional stability of incorporating Pakistan Army in US strategic games in Afghanistan in the US first and second military interventions,, a large measure of blame for fanning Pakistan Army’s imperial pretensions lie on the shoulders of the United States.

In the First Afghan War the United States military intervention was aimed at inflicting ‘a Vietnam’ on the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan. The United Sates consciously chose the Pakistan Army as its policy tool fully aware that the Pakistan Army military hierarchy would jump at the opportunity. The Pakistan Army ever since 1954 had displayed a propensity to collusively serve US interests in the region for mercenary gains in the shape of massive military aid and military hardware.

The United States winked and was permissive in encouraging the Pakistan Army to wage war in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the name of Islamic Jihad. Pakistan Army’s notorious intelligence organisation the ISI was used by the United States as its focal spearhead in Afghanistan enabling it to establish a network in Afghanistan which after 2001 was to be a military scourge for the United States second military intervention.

The military exit of the United States in1989 facilitated the  second Pakistan military intervention in Afghanistan in the years 1989 to 2001.United States strategic disinterest in Afghanistan thereafter prompted the Pakistan Army to exploit the strategic vacuum in Afghanistan for facilitating the proxy take-over of Afghanistan by Pakistan Army protégé, the Taliban. The Pakistan Army was exuberant in that with a Taliban regime in Kabul not only had it attained its obsessive ‘strategic depth’ in Pakistan but now had a vast expanse of territory to be used as a laboratory and infrastructure for conducting Islamic Jihad as a foreign policy tool.

Ironically, the first steps for Talibanisation of Afghanistan were not taken by a Pakistan Army ruler but by the so-called democrat Benazir Bhutto. The full exploitation of this military misadventure was left to General Musharraf as the military ruler assuming power in 1998.

Pakistan Army’s enslavement of Afghanistan through its proxy Taliban would have continued much longer but for 9/11 when the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Army military ruler, General Musharraf was bludgeoned into meek submission by the United States to militarily collude in US military intervention-the Second US Afghan War/

Post-2001 events are recent history and need not be recalled here. The significant fact to be noted here is that the Pakistan Army despite being reduced militarily to the status of a usable entity by the United Statesdespite its double-timing the United States has still not given up its imperial pretensions on Afghanistan. It still hopes to be a strong determinant in the shaping of Afghanistan’s future course of actions post-2014.

As 2014 draws near and with the prospects of sizeable US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army is eagerly awaiting in the wings to regain control of Afghanistan, once again through its militaryprotges, the Afghan Taliban and the other armed militias nurtured by it like the Haqqani brothers.

Afghanistan and the regional security environment in 2014 is no longer akin to 1978 or 2001 where Pakistan Army had a virtual walkover in Afghanistan. For one, the United States is not inclined for a hasty wholesale military exit from Afghanistan. Secondly, the United States cannot ignore the strategic sensibilities on Afghanistan of regional powers like India and Iran and a global power like Russia. Even China as a strategic patron of Pakistan would not be inclined to countenance Pakistan’s attempt of Talibanisation of Afghanistan post02014.

To the above needs to be added the domestic dynamics within Pakistan where the hapless ordinary people of Pakistan have been at the receiving end of suicide bombings, terrorism killings and incessant violence.

In the ensuing post-2014 scenarios the Pakistan Army’s attempting to give shape to its imperial pretensions in Afghanistan seems pre-destined to see the interment of its strategic ambitions in the Afghanistan graveyard. Pakistan may be a stake-holder in Afghanistan but its record since 1978 historically proves that Pakistan is no longer a responsible stakeholder in promoting a promising future for Afghanistan.

Pitiably, in the pursuit of its imperial pretensions in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army suffered a major hit in terms of its domestic standing within Pakistan where the Pakistan Army “damaged its reputation as a professional institution”.  It was increasingly no longer being perceived as the glue holding Pakistan together, leave alone capable of imperial military misadventures in Afghanistan post-2014. It is likely that the ensuing domestic dynamics within Pakistan may itself hold Pakistan Army’s hand from military adventurism in Afghanistan post-2014.