General Raheel Sharif has said Pakistan is opposed to using proxies against other countries and will also not allow any other country to use proxies against Pakistan. Does this really mean an end to the dogma of strategic depth? Is that was the COAS is implying? Or is it for the Iranian, Indian and Afghani ears?

Our relationship with our neighbouring countries has seen ups and down, mostly downs, and allegations have been thrown back and forth of waging proxy wars on Pakistani soil through local militants and anti-state elements. In March, an Indian naval intelligence officer coming from Iran was arrested in Balochistan. Though many took this as proof of an Indian hand in Balochi separatism, the diplomatic row with Iran soon stopped tongues from wagging, and the issue dissolved to naught.

Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Asim Bajwa in an unusually candid interview with German media on Wednesday reiterated the COAS’s stance. He said that the global narrative that Pakistan has not done enough to fight terrorism was “unfair”. Pakistan has done a lot in the war against terrorism and that too at the sacrifice of thousands of its men. In the interview he spoke about the important role that Pakistan played against the Al Qaeda and all other terrorists that gained power and momentum in the region after Russian aggression in Afghanistan and post-9/11. It is also a fact that Pakistan is still paying the price for its initial involvement in the Afghan proxy war between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Support for the Afghan Mujahedeen during the 1980s cost Pakistan heavily as it encouraged extremism and sectarianism in Pakistan.

In light of these high level military statements, it is about time that the military establishment set a limit on the involvement in proxy wars so a relationship built on trust may be developed with our neighbours over time. But with more and more of a closer relationship being developed between India and Iran and India and Afghanistan, this seems unlikely. Yes, Pakistan’s interests will be better served by working on better diplomatic relations and harbouring trust and mutual understanding with its neighbouring countries, but will the neighbours play the same game? Playing proxies is all we have known for the past forty years. For our own purposes it is clear that using proxies has not worked, it has just lead to the mainstreaming of radical ideologies, and the COAS is echoing that realisation. But there is a lot of slip between lip and cup.