Former Pakistani Chief of Army Staff and erstwhile envoy to the United States, (retd) General Jehangir Karamat has acknowledged that while in the past elements within the Pakistani security establishment viewed Afghanistan as an essential part of its strategic depth vis-a-vis India, the rapprochement between New Delhi and Islamabad in recent years has made such a policy obsolete.
Discussing the US-Pakistan Strategic Relationship under the aegis of The Brookings Institution as a continuous series by this leading Washington think tank as a run-up to the Pakistan elections, Karamat said, "That may have been the case at some point in time, but I do not think it is the case now."
He argued that it was Pakistan that was zealous about hardening the porous border with Afghanistan to halt the militancy and not the other way about as some would believe, because they were still stuck in a time warp that using Afghanistan for strategic depth against India continued to be a policy set in stone.
Karamat said, "As far as the border is concerned, Pakistan has been hoping that the border will be hardened, that the border will be defined, that all movements across the border will be documented as it is in every other country and that eventually the special status of tribal areas and movement rights that have been given in due course could be changed into regular movement between the two countries."
"So Pakistan has been for that and is for that," he emphasized.
Thus, Karamat said, "Even if at some point in the past there were concentrations of strategic depth, and I think that question came in when we had a very active threat from our East from India and we were in conflict with India."
But he said, "With that having moved into a dialogue stage -- we have not reached resolution on anything -- but the very fact that both countries being nuclear weapons states, both into institutionalized dialogue, both having shown the political resolve to move on the track of dialogue, I think there is less and less thought of strategic depth in Afghanistan."
On the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the former general who preceded President Pervez Musharraf as Chief of Army Staff and was then posted in Washington as ambassador by Musharraf, said it was seen across the board in Pakistan "as a very great tragedy and a great blow to Pakistan at a critical moment when we were moving toward democracy."
"I think she was, beyond any doubt, a leader who had experience, who had learned from her previous experiences, and who everybody thought has come in at the right time and is going to be a very positive influence in the whole transition to democracy."
Karamat acknowledged that "her removal from the scene had created an imbalance which everybody is now trying to correct one way or the other."
He said that "as far as the present government -- I will not say President Musharraf, let me just say the present government -- in concerned, the freedom that the media has come in under this dispensation, it is not going to go away."
"There have been ups and downs in that with crackdowns and releases, but I think it is there to stay and it is going to continue," he predicted.
"The civil society, which has developed as a very powerful lobby in Pakistan, again, regardless of crackdowns, regardless of military tutelage or regulatory procedures, is again a force which is there to stay. It has demonstrated its sustainability and it is going to be a very important force as we move toward democracy, and this is welcomed by everybody."
Karamat said "the problem starts when destabilization comes in because of one particular element sort of taking off at a tangent or in a direction which is unpredictable and you have to bring it back on track, and that has been happening in Pakistan."
But he reiterated that "there is a tremendous urge for democracy and there is a tremendous urge for stability and I think the urge is more important now when we have this threat on the Western border, that we want the country to come together and cope with this threat with the military being supported with the full force of public opinion and the population."