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Why it is vital for a country

In literal sense, the term ‘Strategic Depth’ is used in military literature. It refers to the distances between the battle fronts and the combatant’s key centers of military production, communication, populations, capital cities, core industrial areas and heartlands. Therefore, in times of war, most important aspect in a military commander’s consideration is that how vulnerable these assets are to a quick preemptive attack or methodical offensive. Whether a country can withdraw into its own territory to absorb an initial thrust and allow the subsequent offensive to culminate short of its goal and far from its source of power.1

            Concept of Strategic Depth to some extent has been replaced by ‘Limited Oblivion’ in response to India’s Cold Start Doctrine. Which means, in case of any major offensive by India at Pakistan’s soft belly like South Punjab from Rajhistan sector Pakistani troops would respond with tactical nuclear weapons just inside Pakistan territory; deflating within minutes after Indian attack. Since the nukes would be used inside Pakistan territory as a response to an Indian offensive therefore, India will not have the right to retaliate and if they chose to do so they would face heavy counter nuclear strikes.

            It was incredible material and human resource of Soviets due to which they survived the disaster of Operation Barbarossa & later won the war; Can Pakistan do that…? Why not copy 21stcentury Japan instead of WW-II Japan. Today’s Pakistan can find an all encompassing Strategic Depth by achieving zero conflict in the region, economic development and proactive policy 360 degrees around. Folks blindly following propaganda themes should avoid intellectual dishonesty to harm country’s interests. If this concept was so easy to be translated to one’s interests then it would not be wrong to state that India’s influence over Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives and Bangladesh is also a measure to gain Strategic Depth. Strategic Depth does not in any way mean to destabilize the neighborhood. So in this backdrop Pakistan Army’s interest cannot be diametrically against Pakistan’s National Interest. Strategic Depth could only be achieved through harmony among the federating units, social welfare through education, health and job creating economy. Similarly, Strategic Depth is provided to a country by the resolve of its people, friendly neighbors and strong economy.

            The measures do not need to be limited to purely military assets, either—the ability to reinforce civilian infrastructure or make it flexible enough to withstand or evade assault is very valuable in times of war. The issue was the trade-off between space and time as witnessed by Germany’s failure to defeat the Soviet Union in 1942. In the face of German invasion, the Soviet military retreating from Poland in June 1941 to the outskirts of Moscow in December 1941 allowed the Soviet Union to move its industrial base to the east of the Ural Mountains. Thus the industries that had been moved could build the resources needed for the Soviet counter-attack.2Militarily speaking, strategic depth describes the insulation of a fighting unit’s core capacity and its distance from the front line. This idea helps explain Pakistan’s interest in a friendly government in Afghanistan.3

            There is another concept of gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan, which is fundamentally different to the military concept, a rather polarized vision, according to which Pakistan seeks to improve its relations with Islamic countries such as Iran, Turkey and the Middle East (Persian Gulf States) via Afghanistan thus creating an Islamic pole in opposition to India. Pakistan’s westward turn, based on developing closer economic, trade and cultural relations with Muslim countries can be interpreted in this context. Nevertheless, Pakistan has failed in its efforts to create any such Islamic Union and its main reasons has been the fact that despite common religion, each of these countries have always been separated by even stronger culture, political and sociological boundaries, hindering Pakistan’s idea of Islamic Unification.4

            A buffer zone could be a strategic depth in politico-military terms. Hitler’s attempts to gain the oil-rich and grain-filled parts of Russia could be said to seek strategic depth. The NATO’s eastward expansion can be said to offer strategic depth both to Western Europe and to the erstwhile Soviet states. The Golan Heights offers the same to Israel. After the cold war the strategic depth is better obtained by shaping relations through engagement and by adding depth to a country’s economic capacity.5

            If someone is advocating ‘Elastic Defense’, Pakistan must understand that their core population areas lie close to the Indian border. Besides this Pakistan has just 2-3 weeks oil reserves and small military production capability so Pakistan cannot afford elastic defense. It can however, only exercise cordon like defense. Similarly Indians too don’t have required numbers for launching offensive deep inside Pakistan. Such concepts were applied by Western armies until WW-II as they had mass armies with huge military productions and ability to sustain operations for years. With war histories of 1965, 1971 and few other limited conflicts, it does not suit both India and Pakistan to fantasize themselves with terms like Cold Start Doctrine, Elastic Defense and Strategic Depth. For Pakistan should understand Elastic Defense does not mean Strategic Depth. As Elastic Defense is an operational doctrine for defensive operations, in which an army carries out a measured retreat while remaining in contact with the enemy and later counter-attacks. The example is the great defensive operation of Army Group South conducted by Von Manstein after the fall of Stalingrad. The extent of retreat depends upon the scale of offensive, but doesn’t require more than few hundred kms. Withdrawal while remaining in contact with the enemy is the most difficult of all military operations. India and Pakistan both do not possess this capability to conduct such an operation.6

            Strategic depth on the other hand requires vast space in the interior to retreat to stretch/ extend lines of communications of the enemy e.g. retreat of Russian Army against Napoleon. But even in this case Red Army was almost annihilated by the German Wehrmacht despite their strategic depth.7In military terms, it refers to a state’s ability to deal with an offensive through elastic, multi-layered defense, absorb the initial thrust, stress the enemy forces and inflict attrition on it through multiple counter-strikes that would lead to the offensive petering out and falling short of its objectives. At a basic level it is a rather simple calculation of distances between the front-lines and/or any forward battle sectors and a state’s strategic assets: industrial areas, key urban and population centers, communications lines, military production centers, in effect the state’s heartlands or, to put it another way, all the soft and hardware whose agglomeration makes a state viable.8

            Pakistan’s physical thinness that runs along its length helps it in having shorter interior lines, a plus for quick mobilization. But it also makes her vulnerable to a sweeping offensive with thrusts directed at strategic locations. Pakistan’s mil-ops strategy against a potential Indian offensive, given a relatively weaker air force, more reliance on air defenses and lesser logistics and reserve capabilities, has entailed a combination of holding the Indian offensive in certain areas and striking in others. This meant identifying points of no penetration, points where the Indian forces could be pulled in, areas where Pakistan would strike back and also, areas where, if need be, Pakistan could cross over. This is a very simplistic overview of a complex military-operations strategy which subsumes multiple operational plans.  But the logic is to use interior lines that benefit the defender rather than taking the stress of exterior lines necessary for an offensive.  All these concepts continue to be debated which is exactly what the job of a military is. The concept goes beyond the military operations category and comes in the folds of political-diplomatic strategy. Whereby it means the ability of a state to reduce threats by a combination of strategies which include improving relations with neighbors, bringing possibility of armed conflict to a zero and eventually creating space for economic development and projection.9

            A critical realist analysis of the concept of Strategic Depth provides a criticism of the realist geopolitical thinking on which the concept of Strategic Depth is based using the insights of the critical realist philosophy of science. It takes the concept of ontological depth from critical realism and extends it to Gramsci’s analysis and develops the concept of hegemonic depth. Underlying the concept of hegemonic depth is the idea that geopolitical relations should be thought of in connection with the social structures that give rise to them. This also provides for a historical materialist analysis of Indian Foreign Policy.10Pakistani security establishment’s ties with Afghan Taliban are often described as Pakistan’s ‘Double Game’ or ‘Hedging Strategy’ which arise from Islamabad’s desire to gain Strategic Depth in Afghanistan (to have a friendly Pashtun dominated government in Kabul) as an insurance policy in Pakistan’s historical rivalry with India. This policy renders Afghanistan as a satellite state. Deny India political and military influence in Afghanistan and ensure that the government in Kabul will not incite Pakistani Pashtuns to secede.11

               Above analysis tends to strengthen the view that Strategic Depth is the necessity of even great powers. When we touch the subject in more detail we find that US has its strategic depth in many areas like Canada, parts of South America, Western & Central Europe, Economy, Capitalism and Dynamic Diplomacy which have been virtually winning her on almost every front. Taking US model in view, it is suggested that Pakistan should try to explore strategic depth in dynamic ways in more than one area.


1,2 Retrieved on 22 Mar 13

3,4Kamran Shafi DAWN, Retrieved on 22 Mar 13

5,6,7 Retrieved on 22 Mar 13

8,9 Ejaz Haider, Pakistan needs strategic depth

10Faruk Yalvac, Middle East Technical University, Ankara

11By Shehzad H. Qazi 3 Nov 2011 Pakistan’s Afghanistan Plan: Strategic Depth2.0, World Politics Review

Researched by: Saeed Muhammad

Published in Apr 2013

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