Is There Any Change in Pakistan’s Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan? From Political – Military to Political – Economic Perspective

Mir Abdul Hasib Hashimee

by Mir Abdul Hasib Hashimee, Ph.D. 26 August 2019

Given the growing importance
of Afghanistan’s economic position in the region as a regional hub among the
Central, South and Western Asian countries and despite of the long-standing
Pakistan’s foreign policy based on ‘Strategic Depth’ doctrine for
Afghanistan,  Now Pakistan is in dire need of a shift in its foreign
policy towards Afghanistan from political – military to political – economic

From the Afghan experts’ point
of view, there are two views: the first view is the continuation of Pakistan’s
long-standing foreign policy towards Afghanistan and the second view is the
need for Pakistan to change its foreign policy towards Afghanistan from
political-military to political-economic.

First view: according to this
view, Pakistan is still seeking to maintain a long-standing political-security
view of its foreign policy in implementing its ‘Strategic Depth Theory’ towards
Afghanistan. Although, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Qureshi, has
recently rejected the ‘Strategic Depth’ doctrine, he stated that we are no
longer seeking the ‘Strategic Depth’ in Afghanistan.[1]
However, despite USA recently calls for Pakistani cooperation in the Afghan
peace process, it is still seen by Pakistani officials as informally and
formally trying to condition the issue of peace in Afghanistan to the Kashmir
issue with India. As instance, Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the
USA, said the crisis in Kashmir could affect Afghan peace talks since “it could
force Pakistan to move troops from its western border with Afghanistan to its
eastern one with India”. [2]

Meanwhile, former Afghan
President Hamid Karzai has also responded to Pakistani officials’ statements:
‘We call on the Pakistani government not to link the issue of Afghanistan and
Kashmir, which are two separate issues’. He
further stated that “Pakistan’s stance in this
issue proves that Pakistan’s view of Afghanistan has not changed and the
country wants to use Afghanistan as its strategic point to achieve its goals in
the region.”[3]

Recently, after the annulment
of Article 370 of the Indian constitution to abolish the sovereignty of the
Jammu and Kashmir area, and the declaration of an emergency situation in
Kashmir by the Indian authorities, it has increased the tension between India
and Pakistan over Kashmir. Pakistan is also linking the issue of Kashmir by
utilizing its long standing  ‘Strategic Depth’ towards Afghanistan and
trying to get the US to exert pressure on India over Kashmir in exchange for
its cooperation in the Afghan peace process.[4]

It is mentionable that what is
‘Strategic Depth’ doctrine and when did it come into use? This doctrine has a
wide application in military literature and is understood to mean a region that
is well-used, far removed from the threat of advancing enemy forces, to the
withdrawal of a military, cohesion and military planning of that army again. Based on this
view, Afghan experts believe that Pakistan’s application of this theory to
Afghanistan was planned in two ways: Originally proposed in the 1980s by former
Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Mirza Aslam Beg, this theory was proposed
to expand the area of Pakistani influence in Afghanistan to use the territory
of Afghanistan as a strategic backdrop against the possible military invasion
of India. Others, however, believe that
Pakistan’s view of strategic depth theory has gone beyond that. A polarized
view of Islamic countries such as Iran, Turkey and the Middle East and the
Persian Gulf through Afghanistan was planned and the formation of a (Islamic)
polarity against India (Hinduism). However, the Islamic polarist view did not

Based on the above view, the
Afghan experts have always believed that there is no change except a new trick
in Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan’s cooperation in
the Afghan peace process. The Afghan experts believe that, for this reason,
Pakistan has consistently intervened in Afghan affairs and is working to bring
about a friendly and pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan. Based on their
strategic depth theory over the past few decades they have attempted to use the
territory of Afghanistan for the benefit of Pakistan in the event of a possible
war between India and Pakistan.[6] This Pakistani’s policy towards Afghanistan is
rooted in the British policy of treating Afghanistan as part of the security
buffer zone of South Asia. [7]

Second view: according to this
view, Pakistan needs to shift its foreign policy towards Afghanistan from
political-military to political-economic. There are several reasons behind this
view:   On the one hand, the creation of a regional and international
consensus to combat terrorism at its headquarters on Pakistani soil has given
rise to pressure and economic sanctions on Pakistan at the international level.
Including the Financial Actions Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) recently
put Pakistan on its black list. This means that Pakistan’s financial system can
pose a threat to the international financial system due to the effect of
Pakistan’s strategic vacuum on counterterrorism and money laundering.[8] 

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s economic
growth has been recently declining sharply. The IMF, for example, recently
issued a statement addressing serious economic problems, slow economic growth, and
high monetary and debt inflation in Pakistan. The organization has reported
Pakistan’s request for $ 6 billion in funding for the 13th time since the end
of the 1980s. These all show, that Pakistan relies heavily on World Bank and
IMF funding to sustain its economy, both of which are under US influence. On the other
hand, Pakistan has been suffering from energy shortages for many years. As one
of the aspirations of Pakistan over the past three decades is, it’s economic
and trade relations with Central Asian resource-rich countries for the sake of
accessing the Central Asian energy and in return for the transit and transport
of Pakistani goods through Afghanistan.  As instance, historically the Benazir Bhutto government’s efforts
in the period of Taliban regime to persuade Safar Murad Niyazov to export
energy and transfer gas from Uzbekstan and Central Asia through Afghanistan.
The aspirations that have recently come true and the Central Asian countries
open the doors to Afghanistan with the Afghan initiative under the names of
TAPI Natural Gas Pipeline Project, CASA 1000 Hydroelectric Power Station, TUTAP
Power Line and the like projects to achieve regional integration on the
Afghanistan axis.[9]

In the meantime, the Pakistani
government recognizes that Afghanistan has the potential to collaborate to
facilitate the China-Pakistan economic corridor and initiate ‘One Belt One
Road’ project to further enhance regional integration. Afghanistan can play its
role as a regional trade hub in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is
part of the “One Belt One Road” or New Silk Road initiative. It
includes a land-based business route from China to Pakistan’s Gwadar port and
includes several infrastructure projects in Pakistan.[10]  

Afghanistan can pave the way
for Pakistan the possibility of cooperating with its rival projects in the region
such as Chabahar port. On the other hand, it can facilitate easier access to
Pakistani goods for trade and transit to Central Asian countries as a potential
corridor in the future. Though, it sounds simple, but it is difficult unless to
overcome on the existing challenges – and requires extensive regional
cooperation, especially between Afghanistan and Pakistan.[11] 

Given the economic and
strategic position of Afghanistan in the region, the adoption of an
economic-oriented policy by the Afghan government and the establishment of the
regional and international consensus could make Pakistan
politically-economically recover.  Since, the prosperity of Pakistan’s
economy also requires the sound management of its foreign policy, based on the
adoption of specific economic strategies in its interaction with the countries
of the region.

Afghanistan can facilitate
Pakistan as the only bridge to connect with the Central Asia and Pakistan can
serve to Afghanistan’s access to the sea. [12] Afghanistan should also keep
India out of their bilateral relationship by agreeing based on a set of ground
rules and the United States is likely to be able to persuade and press Pakistan
and India in this respect for the sake of regional
Last but not least, this is a good opportunity,
more than ever, for Pakistan to adopt an economically-driven foreign policy
towards Afghanistan to free itself from the escalating economic crisis and, on
the other hand, to keep Afghanistan away from the regional conflicts. It
is only possible through confidence-building measures, i.e. open borders,
promote bilateral trade and enhance people-to-people contact.

[1]  Khalid Mehmood, “Theory of Strategic
Depth a Dead Horse” Tribune, June 23, 2019,

[2]  Rick Gladstone, “Pakistan’s
Envoy Suggests Kashmir Crisis Could Affect Afghan Peace Talks,” New York Times,
August 12, 2019,

[3]  Mohammad Zaher Akbary, “The India–Pakistan Historic Tensions and Its Spillover on Afghanistan,” Outlook Afghanistan, August 14, 2019, .

[4]  Kunwar Khuldune Shahid,
“The End of Article 370: How Pakistan Surrendered Kashmir” The Diplomat, August
6, 2019,

[5] Manoj Kumar Mishra, “Strategic Depth and Pakistan’s links with
Radical Islamic Groups”, International Journal of Humanities & Social
Science Studies Issue No. 6 (May 2016): 98-100,

[6]   Barnett R. Rubin and
Abubakar Siddique, “ Resolving the Pakistan Afghanistan Stalemate,” USIP
Special Report 176 (October 2006): 6,

[7] Rubin and Siddique, “Resolving the Pakistan Afghanistan
Stalemate,” 9.

[8]  Muhammad Ikram and Niala
Mohammad, “Watchdog: Pakistan Could Still Be Placed on Blacklist” VOA , June
30, 2019,

[9]  James Durso, “Central Asia
Opens the Door to Afghanistan” The Diplomat, May 10, 2018,

[10]  Ahmad Bilal Khalil,
“Linking Afghanistan to China’s Belt and Road” The Diplomat, April 24, 2017,

[11]  Khesraw Omid Farooq,
“Chabahar Port: A Step Toward Connectivity for India and Afghanistan,” The
Diplomat, July 30, 2019,

[12] Rubin and Siddique, “Resolving the Pakistan Afghanistan
Stalemate,” 15-16.

[13] Rubin and Siddique, “Resolving the Pakistan Afghanistan
Stalemate,” 18.

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