By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal

Drone and suicide bomber are the new facets of contemporary warfare; representing the concepts of ‘bomb without man’ and ‘man as a bomb’. Moreover, all nuclear states have a tendency to indulge in proxy wars through non-state actors and third party state actors. These warfare related innovations have altered the conventional time space calculus; thus warranting a relook at the traditional concept of strategic depth.

This necessitates a paradigm shift in the way national security problem is approached. Traditionally, Pakistan has been viewing its national security in a narrow perspective, confining it to “the integrity of the national territory and its institutions”. Now, there is a need to transcend to its wholesome rendition-‘Comprehensive Security’- focusing at: “Absence of threat to acquired values.”

There are two basic notions of strategic depth, viz non-military and military adaptations. These two can be mixed in a number of combinations to create numerous models.

Turkey is following a non-military version. Turkish doctrine of ‘Strategic Depth’, was put forward by its foreign minister Ahmet Devatoglu, in his illustrated book “Strategic Depth: Turkey’s International Position”.  It is a nonmilitary model. Devatoglu     identifies   essential conditions   for   Turkey   to   succeed   in   its   global strategic   ambitions.   First, on the domestic front, resolve Kurdish issue. Second, on the international front, resolve all the bilateral   disputes   to achieve “zero problems” with neighbours. Third, “de-securitization” of foreign policy and transforming Turkey from a security centred to an economic oriented state.  Fourth, play the role of mediator in the   international conflicts.   

Globalization has impacted the concept of sovereignty by bringing down the walls of inviolable borders. These days, sovereignty is circumscribed by the ratio of bilateral dependencies and interdependencies; and it functions within the constraints of a wholesome conglomerate of multilateral regimes. Every nation has to learn to live within the comity of nations, with a host of factors impacting them collectively and individually. Peace at home and peace abroad are a necessity, indeed both are mutually harmonizing. Isolationism is no longer an option.


Military notion of strategic depth refers to the distance between actual or potential frontlines and key centers of population, communication hubs, means of logistics, industrial and military production facilities etc. It corresponds to a state’s ability to deal with an offensive through multi-layered defence, absorb the initial thrust, stretch the enemy forces and inflict attrition on it through counter-strokes.

This time-distance calculus also takes into account the reach of enemy’s unmanned munitions and the space required by the defensive structures to counter such weapons. A state facing ICBMS would require thousands of miles of early warning to counter an ultra-fast multi-warhead missile. This necessitates placing of sensors in other countries. America is vying for placing its missile defence related structures in Eastern European countries.  America’s overseas stationing of military in nearly 150 countries, including deployment of tactical nuclear missiles in Western Europe, is based on the necessity of strategic depth. Moreover, American naval and air lift capabilities have the capacity of rapidly relocating the military assets at continental ranges, hence creating varying envelops of strategic depth. One of the reasons given by Israel for not withdrawing from West Bank is its notion of strategic depth. Hence, it would be fair to assume that from militarily perspective, each country looks for strategic depth.

In the same context, Pakistan's geographic narrowness has perpetually haunted its military planners. Pakistan needs strategic depth to avoid a multi-front war. It is not confined to Afghanistan; it is applicable in case of China and Iran as well. However, because of exceptionally good relations, it is assumed that China and Iran would never pose such dilemmas to Pakistan. Pakistan aims at elevating its relations with Afghanistan to a similar level.

  America in Afghanistan

Possibility of a friendly Afghanistan providing requisite comfort in relation to India propped up as a viable option in the post Soviet era. Unfortunately, concept attracted undue negative projection, because it was taken in the raw military context. Even now, recent spree of trans-border attacks on Pakistan by miscreants using Afghan soil as launching pad reinforces the necessity of such cordiality with Kabul so that any third country loses the option to use Afghan soil against Pakistan.

Induction of nuclear weapons in South Asia has also added new dimension to the concept. Pakistan’s military capability precludes any long thrust by India threatening the strategic targets. Battle field nuclear weapons also reduce the need for strategic depth, but at the risk of expanded nuclear exchange. 

Traditionally Pakistan and Afghanistan have been source of strategic depth for each other. During peace time Pakistan takes care of smooth flow for Afghan logistics and keeps its economy afloat by absorbing the effects of illicit trade. Pakistan facilitates ease of movement for Afghan nationals, at times, at the cost of its own internal security. During dire times of foreign invasions Pakistan provides safe living places to millions of refugees alongside business opportunities. This amounts to doling out sustenance necessities to millions of Afghans out of own economic pie, which has telling effects on the prosperity of own people.

At times, Pakistan has helped Afghanistan sustain its resistance against foreign occupation. Likewise, during 1965 and 1971 wars, Afghanistan informed Pakistan that it could take all its forces on Indian borders without fear of any mischief from Afghan side. Pakistan moved even para-military forces from its western borders to eastern front during both the wars. Ongoing process of strategic divergence between Pakistan and America in the context of future of Afghanistan and the  American delusion that it could prop-up India as its regional proxy has prompted Pakistan’s revisit to the concept of strategic depth, albeit in a new context and with changed connotations. 

  Afghanistan: Trilateral Talks

In search of strategic depth, Pakistan is in the process of extending its outreach to all regional countries, like Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Central Asian Republics, China and even India. Projects like IPI, TAPI, CASA 1000 etc indicate that Pakistan is looking for strategic depth through interdependencies, and not in the military sense of yesteryears. In contrast to military basing on foreign soil, Pakistan views SAARC, SCO and ECO as vital instruments for achieving its much wanted strategic depth.