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«Asian Journal of Social Sciences & Humanities Vol. 3(3) August 2014 _ _ _ Pak-China Joint Strategy against the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan ...»

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Asian Journal of Social Sciences & Humanities Vol. 3(3) August 2014


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______ Pak-China Joint Strategy against the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan Manzoor Khan Afridi1, Musab Yousufi2 Department of Politics & International Relations, International Islamic University, Islamabad, PAKISTAN.

manzoor_s01@yahoo.com, 2 musab_yousufi@live.com ABSTRACT This paper discusses the bilateral relations between Pakistan and China during the 1980s Afghan War and explores causes of their joint opposition to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Pakistan and China were amon

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The attack of the USSR was a major event in the history of the Cold War which changed the structure of international system. It not only pushed the United States and other countries to halt its way of expansion, but also threatened the sovereignties of its neighbors. With the Soviet invasion, the complicated security situation of South Asia reached its height (Schmeidl, 2002). Another problem to cope with was the Soviet and Afghan supported antiPakistan elements in NWFP and Baluchistan provinces. The long-held demand of the Afghan Government for the accession of NWFP or an independent Pukhtoonistan and also a free Baluchistan were alarmed by the Soviet-backed Marxist regime in Kabul. The Pakistan’s security was also at stake on eastern border where its archrival and pro-Soviet India, could destabilize and disintegrate it as she did in 1971’s Bengal crisis. Islamabad was aware as well about the encirclement plan of Moscow and its access to the warm waters of Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.

The Chinese anxiety was stemmed from the fear of anarchy in its restive autonomous region of Xinjiang and the containment strategy of the Soviet. The Kremlin had already posed a grave situation to Beijing by backing the separatist elements in Xinjiang. The geographical proximity of the region with the Soviet Republics was not out of danger. The Soviet

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containment plan of China through its allies “India and Vietnam” viewed by Beijing with great concerns. The common interest in the form of opposing the Soviet aggression to ensure security, neighborliness and time-tested friendship of China and Pakistan drew them closer to each other. They were joined by the United States and other countries in the struggle against hegemonism and expansionism. Eventually, a balance of power established once again in the region between the US-Pakistan-China and the Soviet-India. The Soviet support for India in defense, economic and technological sectors was increased. The three countries collaborated closely by establishing the intelligence network and base for weapons’ supply. Pakistan received a huge amount of arms and economic aid by becoming a meeting ground to plan strategies and train the mujahedeen against the Soviet.

Another major development in the period was the Sino-Indian rapprochement and the end of the Cold War. It affected the Sino-Pakistan relations. China no longer take the Pakistani side in the latter’s disputes with India. Beijing viewed New Delhi as a rising economy and huge market for investment. By supporting the uprising in Kashmir at the end of 1980s, Beijing feared the Uighurs’ intensity for demand of an independent East Turkistan. On the other hand the collapse of the Soviet Union removed a major threat from the Chinese mind. The strong ally of India was no more in a position to give her the needed assistance whole-heartedly.

However, the Chinese policy to help Pakistan was due to the reason to protect Pakistan from the collapse, particularly after the US refuse of giving military and economic assistance.

Pakistan’s stability was the Chinese interest to get access to the Middle East for energy requirements and influence. An unstable Pakistan could not serve the Chinese interests.

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complications. Due to the rough and 2,400 kilometers long mountainous terrain between the two countries, it was totally impossible for Islamabad to stop the way-in of these refuges in the hour of need. Some criminal also stepped-in the Pakistani soil and carried on the activities of destruction and conspiracy.

W. Howard Wriggins has summarized the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its impact on the security and society of Pakistan that “the Soviet presence in Afghanistan dramatically transformed Pakistan’s geostrategic situation. Instead of being buffered by the mountains, deserts and ravines of Afghanistan – which for so long had separated Russia from the subcontinent – Pakistan now faced the specter of Soviet troops virtually everywhere along the thirteen-hundred-mile frontier. The shadow of Soviet power hung over the entire subcontinent, as never before. Within months of the invasion, Pakistan was inundated by a flood of refugees. And Soviet aircraft periodically violated Pakistani airspace, occasionally “buzzing” refugee camps well within its borders” (Wriggins, 1984).

Eastern Border Although the eastern border of Pakistan was not directly threatened but it was also vulnerable to the danger of aggression. The present circumstances fueled the anxieties in the all-time deteriorated and full of suspicions bilateral relations of India and Pakistan. Pakistan needed weapons to secure her sovereignty while India had reservations about the developments in former’s defense sector. On the contrary, Pakistan had long been protested against the superpowers’ inflow of arms to India which was strengthening Indian position as a hegemon in the South Asian region. In this regard, the Soviet Union role was of prime importance.

Since the inception of Indo-Soviet friendship and quasi alliance, India had been using the Soviet card to maintain her as a guarantor of peace in the region. The USSR was a godfather for India against Pakistan.

In the Afghan crisis, India did not criticize the Soviet aggression openly. “At the United Nations, Indian Ambassador B. C. Mishra remained silent when the issue came before the Security Council at the request of the U.S. and 51 other states, including many of the nonaligned group. After the issue was transferred to the General Assembly under the “Uniting for Peace” process, Mishra became the first non-Soviet block envoy to speak essentially for the Soviet position” (Horn, 1983). Moreover, both the Soviet and India were accusing Pakistan for the Afghan problem as well. In such a convergence of their interests, Pakistan could not ignore the possibility of joint Indo-Soviet effort to disintegrate it, as had happened in 1971’s East Pakistan crisis.

The period is also witnessed for the high-level exchange of visits between the countries, including the Brezhnev, Indian President Reddy and Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, Nicolai Firyubin and Indian Defense Ministry team. As usual, Moscow dispatched a huge amount of arms to New Delhi’s defense field. They were agreed to a 1.63 billion dollar credit to India to buy weapons and equipment over a 10-15 year term. The Soviet leadership also “agreed to sell five highly sophisticated MiG-25 “Foxbat” aircraft, an unannounced number of fast attack boats equipped with missiles, and 100 T-72 tanks with another 600 to be license-produced in India” (Horn, 1983). Pakistan was one of the targets of these supplied-weapons of the Soviet. The Soviet and India were trying their hard to make a sandwich of Pakistan by encirclement.

Minton F. Goldman has observed that Beside “Pakistan’s traditional fear and dislike of communism, its government had been apprehensive about Soviet ambitions in south central Asia, especially in Afghanistan which, in Pakistani perception, had been turning into a Soviet client since the coup of April 1978. Pakistan was in danger of encirclement by hostile

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neighbor: a pro-Soviet Afghanistan in the west, the Soviet Union to the north, and a proSoviet India to the east and south. Fear of this encirclement undoubtedly was heightened not only by the Kremlin’s conspicuous friendship with India and its support of India’s side in Kashmir dispute but also by Pakistan’s domestic weaknesses, notably its ethnic diversity and conflicts, its economic underdevelopment, and its reliance on foreign sources for sophisticated weapons” (Goldman, 1984).

Indian Ocean One of the prime reasons of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the southward drive. The Soviet strategists were planning to have a direct access to the warm waters of Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. Being the junction of Asia, Africa, Australia and an important passage way for European maritime, many great powers in the past had been competing for influence in the Indian Ocean. The geo-strategic position of the Indian Ocean, the American influence there and the oil-rich Middle East attracted the Soviets as well. The Soviet Union had given a high priority to Southwest Asia where she had political and economic interests. To achieve their grand strategy, the Soviet policy makers were using Afghanistan as a stepping stone to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The possible route was through the Gwadar Port of Baluchistan in Pakistan. Here also Pakistan Military had to fight war on the two fronts; one by the joint Soviet-Afghan in the west and another with India in the east. “Even if the Soviets had no intention of making a direct move against Pakistan, the danger existed that a war that dragged on could spill over, drawing in Pakistan as a combatant. A victory by the communists would leave a permanent border threat, especially since it was likely to include an indefinite Soviet military presence in Afghanistan” (Weinbaum, 1991).

The Soviet-Afghan created problematic situation in Baluchistan had produced fears in the Pakistan’s military and civil leadership that the fall of Baluchistan would certainly leave the Red Army for presence in the shape of naval base in Arabian Sea. The USSR move was not acceptable for a Western ally, Pakistan and also for Arab States, which were mostly antiSoviet. “The proximity of Afghanistan to strategically valuable ports located near the Gulf of Oman and Straits of Hormuz, especially Gwadar in Pakistan and Cha Bahar in Iran, increased the seriousness of the invasion…. In fact, the fear that the Soviets might have been inclined to meddle in Baluchistan, either for the purpose of bringing Soviet influence to the shores of the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, or as a punitive lever vis-à-vis Pakistan, was hardly farfetched” (Hilali, 2005).

The Soviet planners had already drawn a map connecting the Gwadar Port with some areas of Afghanistan, leading to the Merv city of Turkmenistan Republic. In the wake of such motives of the Soviet, Pakistan’s fear of encirclement was duly authentic to believe. The southern part was important for Pakistan to keep contact with the Muslim neighbors of the Arab states. In the case of Soviet presence there, it could be hard to secure the energy supply route. Moreover, the fear of the Indian collaboration with the Soviet in Indian Ocean was much troublesome for Pakistan.

To sum up, the Soviet Union has aspirations of expansion driven by the geopolitical considerations as the Imperial Russia did before it. “Moreover, the allures of pulling Pakistan into its orbit are especially enticing”. This game of Kremlin was played on planet to get rid of “capitalist encirclement” where the aim was to break “the chain of hostile land powers around the USSR and its contiguous allies, acquisition of access to the open ocean unencumbered by foreign straits or pack ice” and “establishment of a salient that outflanks India on the one hand and the critical Middle East energy reserves on the other” (Arnold, 1986).

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CHINA’S CONCERNS Xinjiang Region Like Islamabad, Beijing was also deeply concerned about its Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and western border in the wake of Moscow’s aggression. In this context, two factors were greatly detrimental for the Chinese worry; first was the geographical proximity of the Xinjiang region with the USSR and Afghan border and second was the restive separatist Muslim population. This closeness of the territory loomed large in the “geopolitics of China” (Bhola, 1986). Beijing was “apprehensive about the Soviet subversive activities in this region. Even before China regained control Soviet influence loomed large there. During the early 1960s serious differences arose between Russia and China over Sinkiang (Xinjiang)” (Bhola, 1986). Long before in 1930, Stalin was tempted to establish a protectorate in Xinjiang. The area’s broadness was adding a new fear in the dilemma. Xinjiang has 5,500 kilometer long “international borders and occupies a sixth of China’s landmass”. Its geostrategic position increased in the way that it had touched different cultural regions;

Central Asian Republics of the Soviet Union, Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet and China proper” (Becquelin, 2000).

In a competitive hostile environment, a crisis changes and shapes the policies of nation states.

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