Afghanistan Crisis & Pakistan's Security Dilemma :: Khyber.ORG

پښتو :: پښتانه :: پښتونخواه :: پښتونوالی

Afghanistan's Crisis & Pakistan's Security Dilemma

Parvez Iqbal Cheema

Asian Survey, Vol. 23, No.3 (March 1983), pp 227-243

The revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the ongoing Iraq-Iran war have not only invoked fears of an uncertain future in Southwest Asia but have also injected urgency into Pakistani discussions of an old problem: the question of security in the area. The spotlight, however, was quickly focused on Afghanistan by Pakistan's security planners as the Afghan crisis profoundly and directly threatened Pakistan's security. From its inception, Pakistan has never really enjoyed what can be termed friendly or even correct relations with Afghanistan, mainly because of the Afghani irredentist claim to Pakhtoonistan; the adjoining areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan inhabited by the Pakhtoon community. Before 1976 the Pakhtoonistan issue had reached a crescendo more than once, and Pak-Afghan relations had deteriorated to the point where border closure seemed the only option. However, there was a significant rapprochement between Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1976-78, with President Daud visiting Pakistan twice and Pakistani leaders paying return visits. The outcome was that Kabul dropped its insistence on Pakhtoon self-determination, hostile propaganda in both countries ceased, and an active search for an amiable solution of the Pakhtoonistan dispute was well underway when the Marxist coup took place in Afghanistan in April 1978. Not only did the Marxist takeover immediately reverse the trend, but the birth of a resistance movement and the subsequent violent clashes between the leftist Afghan forces and the resistance groups led to a large-scale influx of refugees into Pakistan. The refugee flow increased rapidly with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

Because Pakistan is sandwiched between Soviet-supported Afghanistan and the Soviets' friend India and is faced with a difficult internal situation, Pakistan's security environment has rapidly deteriorated in the recent past. For the first time, Pakistan finds itself uncomfortably placed in a three-front threat scenario; much worse than India's two-front threat scenario of the 1960s. In order to comprehend Pakistan's security dilemma, it is necessary to start our discussion with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, analyze the resistance movement and refugee problems, and then evaluate the security situation. Admittedly, the India factor cannot be ignored in studying Pakistan's security dilemma, but for the purpose of this article, mere references to this factor will be sufficient.

The Soviet Invasion

On December 28, 1979, Soviet combat troops moved into Afghanistan on a massive scale, killed President Hafiz Ullah Amin, and installed Babrak Karmal as the new ruler of Afghanistan. Since the Marxist coup in April 1978, this was the first occasion on which Soviet troops were directly engaged in deposing the incumbent Marxist leader of the country. This latest change over (the third since Daud's death) in Kabul not only sharply divided the ruling leftist coalition but also caused large scale violent clashes between the supporters of Amin and those of his successor, and between the government and the ongoing resistance movement.

Innumerable interpretations of the causative factors of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan have been put forward. [1] Some analysts suggest that Moscow's decision to replace the independent minded, national communist government of the hardliner Amin with that of the more pragmatic, pliable, and pro-Moscow Karmal was a well-calculated move irrespective of the cost involved; others maintain that the Soviet plunge into the Afghanistan "quagmire" was a desperate move to save a crumbling Marxist regime and that the intensity of the reactions and the cost were never fully calculated. The factors frequently cited by most writers on the subject can be summarized along the following lines.

  1. Since detente was never meant to be comprehensive and no code of conduct was agreed upon, probing and the testing of will and nerves of each side continued in the Third World and the areas of regional conflict. Compared to the Americans, the Soviets were much more active and responsive to situations that provided opportunities to encourage sympathetic parties to make a bid for power. Afghanistan presented one such opportunity in early 1978 which the Soviets quickly grabbed. But since the April 1978 takeover, the successive Marxist regimes in Kabul have not only failed to consolidate their hold over Afghanistan but have also alienated the population, resulting in the further strengthening of the resistance movement. The Soviets therefore decided to replace Amin on the one hand and to crush the resistance on the other along with installing their own puppet as the President of Afghanistan.
  2. The then incumbent wave of Islamic fundamentalism and its subsequent triumph in Iran generated apprehensions and fears for possible negative influence in the Soviet Central Asian republics. Even though Afghanistan could never prove to be a military threat to the Soviets, the ideological threat exacerbated by the prevalent wave of Islamic fundamentalism was viewed as a real threat that could easily leap over the "Iron Curtain."
  3. The Soviet Union has been sensitive about its borders ever since the revolution in Russia in 1917, and one cornerstone of its foreign policy had been to stabilize its border areas. The Baltic states were taken over in 1940, the Eastern European states were secured after the second world war, and Finland was neutralized soon after the war. The "loss" of Afghanistan would have amounted to providing a vulnerable window on its borders to anti-Soviet forces.
  4. The Soviet response to the 1979 Sino-Vietnam war had come under heavy criticism by the Soviet Union's weaker allies, some of whom began to question the trustworthiness of an alliance with the Soviets. In order to strengthen faith in Soviet friendship and to reestablish its credibility within the socialist world, the Afghan situation could have been interpreted as a test case.
  5. Afghanistan was possibly seen as an opportunity to fulfil the age-old Russian desire to gain access to a warm-water port on the Arabian Sea nearer to the Gulf, thus enabling the Soviets to threaten vital western oil supply lines.
  6. Another possible factor was the emergence of hard-liners within the Kremlin decision-making mechanism, particularly at the higher level, who believed that the Soviet Union must draw a line beyond which it will not retreat. The perceived threat from American pressure upon its NATO allies to deploy on their soil new medium-range missiles and also to increase their military budgets as well as the Sino-American and Sino-Japanese rapprochements, could have influenced the hard-liners not to "abandon" Afghanistan.
  7. There were the anxieties and fears that Amin would be overthrown and his government replaced by an anti-Marxist regime that would not only try to undermine Soviet influence in the area but might also be tempted to attempt to draw Soviet Muslims away from the Soviet Union. Amin was never the Soviet choice and his coup presented them with a fait accompli that they had very little choice but to accept. Since Amin was intensely disliked by the resistance groups and was often blamed for the undesired reforms, Moscow decided to replace Amin before he was overthrown by internal developments.
  8. Both Iran and Pakistan are viewed by the Soviets as important areas of future opportunities. Influence over Iran would provide control over part of the world oil resources, whereas the control of Pakistan means access to the Indian Ocean and an important source of pressure on India and China. A firm foothold in Afghanistan is a prerequisite for all future Soviet designs for the area. Besides, in view of the current situation, the consolidation in Afghanistan would provide the Soviets an opportunity to fan the separatist elements in Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan.
  9. Finally, it seems that Moscow fully considered the American problem of how to reach Afghanistan if it is invaded by the Soviets. Not only were Iranian-American relations at their lowest ebb, but Pak-American relations were also experiencing severe strains emanating from American pressure on Pakistan to abandon its efforts to acquire a sophisticated nuclear technology.

A combination of the above-mentioned factors seems to have influenced Moscow's decision to invade Afghanistan. What Moscow, perhaps, did not anticipate was the intensity of the resistance and of the worldwide reactions. The Soviets never expected that their move would provoke such a storm of criticism and condemnation from the Third World and even from international communist parties.[2] The Islamic countries, in an emergency session of their Foreign Ministers Conference, condemned the invasion,[3] and subsequently the non-aligned movement also took serious notice of developments in Afghanistan.[4] Besides, the initial American and Chinese reactions were equally strongly worded.

Although the invasion subjected detente to severe stresses and strains, the most profoundly affected countries were the neighbors of Afghanistan; China, Iran, and Pakistan. For the Chinese, the Soviet move amounted to further materialization of their plan to "encircle" China, but it was also a demonstration to the smaller nations of the Third World that friendship with Moscow is much more fruitful than it is with China. For the Iranians, the invasion generated strong apprehensions and fears. Aware of Soviet traditional interests in Iran and the troubled situation there, the invasion made Iran somewhat uneasy.

Perhaps the country most significantly and directly affected by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was Pakistan. The invasion introduced many disturbing elements into Pakistan's strategic environment. Not only did it generate fears and apprehensions among many Pakistanis that their country would be the next target, it also rapidly increased the activities of resistance groups and vastly multiplied the refugee flow into Pakistan. The threats of externally supported subversion have reached alarming proportions, especially in view of the turbulent history of bordering provinces and the existence of dissident elements in Baluchistan and the NWFP. A brief review of the Afghan resistance movement, refugee problem, and threat of subversion would be in order here.

The Afghan Resistance Movements

Three years of continued resistance to the Soviet occupation by the ill-equipped and badly organized Afghan freedom fighters indicates that the Soviet-backed Karmal regime has been unable to consolidate its hold over the country even with extensive Soviet military assistance. The initial optimism generated by Soviet superior technological resources has been steadily replaced by a much more realistic appraisal of Afghan ability to carryon a war of attrition in their home ground even with minimum external support. From a small demonstration of resentment in Nuristan, the movement has grown, largely spontaneously and uncoordinated, and now has spread to virtually all 29 of the country's provinces.

Although the resistance movement was first launched in 1973 immediately after Daud's coup against the monarchy, it did not attract international attention until after the Communist takeover of April 1978. And the Basmachis (the Russian phrase for the resistance groups) acquired alarming magnitude and intensified their activities only after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.[5] Organized on the tribal pattern, the resistance was primarily led by a few leading families in each region who operated independently and who disliked and disapproved of the policies of what they called the atheistic government in Kabul.[6] The opposition to the Marxist regime in Kabul consists of religious leaders, feudal landlords, several nationalist groups and tribes, bureaucrats, the loyalists, some disenchanted members of the two factions (Khalqis and Parchamites) of the Marxist movement in Afghanistan, and deserters from the Afghan army. The major factor that influenced all of these groups to take up arms was the hurried and somewhat untimely attempt of the Taraki regime to transform Afghan society with its package of socioeconomic reforms immediately after the takeover. On the eve of the April takeover, not only was Afghan tribal society in a state of appalling backwardness but the economy was also in the doldrums. The efforts to push the reforms alienated the rich and the poor alike. The poor were alienated by the new government's policies of abolition of dowries, forced marriages, compulsory education (especially for women), and the replacement of the Islamic green color with red in the national flag of Afghanistan. The rich were annoyed over the introduction of land reforms and increased official control of commercial activities. A vast majority of the Afghanis who live in rural areas are totally unfamiliar with anything more complex than a tribal jirga (council). Most problems are solved by a local jirga in accordance with existing customs and traditions. The majority of this landless peasantry did not even comprehend the meaning of land reform, and the Khans (local chiefs) and the Mullahs (the priests) who owned large tracts of land resisted the implementation of land reforms. In view of the entrenched orthodoxy and traditionalism in Afghani society, it is not at all surprising that the hasty implementation of the Marxist-oriented reform program backfired and that the people supposed to benefit from these reforms decided to oppose the communization of their orthodox tribal society. The result was that within a year a series of localized outbursts of resistance began to occur in areas that were traditional strongholds of the Khans and the Mullahs.

Except for the permanent elimination of Amin and the installation of Babrak Karmal as the hand-picked new President of Afghanistan, the Soviet invasion did not achieve any of its major objectives. Instead, it strengthened and widened the resistance movement. Although the defense of Islam and anti-Sovietism continued to be the main objectives of the freedom fighters, the presence of Soviet troops infuriated the Afghans and proved to be the major motivating force in attaining some semblance of unity and coordination in the movement. The initial drawbacks of lack of unity and purpose gradually began to give way to greater operational coordination in an effort to drive the foreigners out of their land. The problem of supplies of ammunition and food continued and still hampers the effectiveness of the movement. On the one hand, the Soviets, of course, always maintain that the resistance groups are actively supported by the Pakistanis, the Chinese, the Americans, the Iranians, and various Muslim sympathizers. More specifically, they blame Pakistan for supplying arms and ammunition, training the guerrillas, and providing a haven to these warriors.[8] The Afghan resistance groups, on the other hand, vociferously criticize the Pakistanis for not allowing arms to pass through to them, for preventing guerrilla training programs, and for keeping the resistance groups under strict vigilance.

It remains to be seen whether it is the limited external help that is the major factor in sustaining the resistance or the resolute determination of the Afghan people coupled with their intense dislike of foreign occupation of their land that is producing such a strong resistance effort and protracting this bloody war of attrition. But one thing is certain: the resistance groups have found sanctuaries on Pakistani as well as Iranian soil. Two types of border sanctuaries are known to exist in crises situations; sanctuaries on the soil of a willing neighbor and sanctuaries on the territory of an unwilling neighbor.[9] Since Pakistan has expressed its readiness to look after refugees on compassionate grounds, the Soviets seem to have interpreted this gesture as willingness to provide border sanctuaries to freedom fighters. Not only has Pakistan never said it is willing to allow the use of its territory for sanctuary purposes, it has also tried to plug infiltration routes as far as possible within operative constraints and limitations. What the Soviets have failed to comprehend so far is the nature and length of the Pak-Afghan border-i.e., the Durand Line, which is inhabited by various Pakhtoon ethnic groups whose intertribal and interclanish contacts have never been stopped by the Afghan government or by the British in India or by the Pakistani government. The existence of a formal border has never really deterred Pakhtoons from crossing over periodically without carrying passports. Besides, they are familiar with all the known passes, the not-so-well-known passes, the donkey tracks, and secret man-made paths. Of course this does not imply the denial of the charge about the presence of sanctuaries. The successful waging of guerrilla warfare itself indicates that sanctuaries exist in neighboring countries. The existence of sanctuaries is not really in question; rather, the allegation that sanctuaries are provided deliberately by the government of Pakistan is inaccurate. Pakistan has neither encouraged nor allowed the freedom fighters to use its territory for sanctuary purposes. On the contrary, it has tried to plug all known routes of infiltration, but the nature and the extent of the border defies all Pakistani efforts. Since to encourage the resistance groups to use Pakistani territory for sanctuary purposes deliberately amounts to an invitation to Soviet forces to take countermeasures against Pakistan, no Pakistani government is likely to entertain such a course of action. In many ways the secret hideouts of the freedom fighters are an embarrassment to the incumbent government in Pakistan.

Sealing off the entire border is certainly an impossible task. Not only have the Pakistanis failed to do so, even the Soviet and Afghan forces have been unable to attain this objective. Frustrated by their inability to check infiltrations effectively, the Soviets have sanctioned a certain number of limited, cross-border air attacks into Pakistan and have also started fomenting trouble for Pakistan by fostering the training of opposition Pakistani guerrillas inside Afghanistan and encouraging these elements to stir up trouble on the Pakistani side of the frontier. To despite Pakistan's repeated protests, the Soviets have carried on their periodic attacks across the border but have so far refrained from undertaking operations to destroy sanctuaries. The reason for such restraint seems to be Soviet realization that such a course of action is likely to force Pakistan, which hitherto has observed neutrality apart from accommodating the Afghan refugees for humanitarian reasons, to take sides.

The resistance movement in Afghanistan can be broadly grouped into three categories; Peshawar-based groups, those operating from Iranian soil, and those who do not have a base outside Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, the more powerful groups are all based in Pakistan, and some of them have not only been recognized by the government of Pakistan [11] but have also established links with many other sympathetic countries. Despite the commonality of purpose, these groups have been functioning independently, and the groups based in one place such as Peshawar have so far been unable to demonstrate effective unity. Even the "religious fervor and implacable hostility to the Soviets have not proven strong enough to bind their groups together politically for any length of time, although united fronts of various kinds have been set up from time to time."[12] However, a greater degree of operational coordination has occurred inside Afghanistan. In many campaigns the freedom fighters ventured to assist and help members of other groups engaged in battles with the Soviet forces. Despite greater field cooperation among the resistance groups, the violence seems to be at a level acceptable to the Soviets. The resistance groups seem to be incapable of raising the level of violence unless they unite, formulate a common strategy, and receive massive doses of arms and ammunition. A rise in the level of violence would be likely to invite massive repressive measures against the Afghan population, the main source of strength for the resistance groups, and the Soviets might increase raids, both aerial and land, across the border and even consider undertaking major sanctuary-destroying operations. The latter possibility, of course, is a great source of worry for Pakistan.


The migration of Afghans into Pakistan is not uncommon. Most of the undemarcated 1500-mile Pak-Afghan border is inhabited by the Pakhtoons, who are known to cross borders at will. Pakhtoon traders and businessmen regularly moved between the two countries, and the Kuchis or Powindahs (the Afghan nomads) were accustomed to move annually with their herds between summer pastures in Afghanistan and winter pastures in Pakistan.[14] The number of nomads and merchants, however, rarely exceeded 75,000 in one given year.

Even though the initial influx of refugees started immediately after Daud's coup in 1973, large-scale migration of Afghans did not take place until the April 1978 takeover by the Marxists. Since then, the number of refugees has increased, rising from 18,000 in December 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, to almost three million in 1982.[15] The number continues to rise at the rate of approximately 20,000 to 90,000 a month, depending on the intensity of the civil war inside Afghanistan.

Taraki and Amin's enthusiastic attempts to quickly transform the orthodox-traditional Afghan society into a modern socialist society not only accelerated the refugee movement but also strengthened the determination of resistance groups. However, more than three-fourths of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan left their country only after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet troops "cleaning up" and "flushing out" operations, coupled with their brutal repressive methods against suspected civilian areas, further unnerved the Afghans, who began to flood across the border.

The estimated three million Afghan exiles can be broadly divided into four categories; the loyalists or monarchists who left immediately after the abolition of monarchy; those orthodox Muslims who crossed the border after the communist takeover of April 1978 and the subsequent introduction of reform measures that they regarded as detrimental to their traditional way of life and their devoutly held religious convictions, those who fled from Afghanistan after the initiation of agrarian and land reform programs coupled with the introduction of increased governmental control over commercial activities, and finally those Afghans who were in some way forced to leave their homeland because of the Soviet invasion and the intensified civil war accompanied by excesses and brutalities committed by both Soviet and Afghan troops. The largest single group of refugees belong to the last category, and it is within this group that one finds the pressing determination to return to their homeland as soon as possible.

By any yardstick, the number of refugees is too large for the Pakistanis to provide for even their basic needs and requirements. Just as the figures are overwhelming, the nature and extent of problems emanating from refugee concentrations in the bordering provinces of Pakistan are equally frightening. Although feeding and housing three million people presents difficulties of alarming magnitude, the government of Pakistan has been coping with the problem rather effectively. Not only has it been paying 50% of the expenses incurred in the relief work, but it has also made arrangements for the schooling of the Afghan children in the tent villages and has provided medical facilities.[16] Admittedly many U.N. agencies (e.g., UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, and FAO) along with many independent relief agencies and groups are helping Pakistani authorities in their massive relief work, but the major burden is borne by the Pakistanis.

The refugee problem is pregnant with many complexities which are perhaps less obvious but quite disturbing. Perhaps the most worrisome trend is the continually rising number of refugees. At the present rate of 20,000 to 90,000 a month, the influx could gravely disrupt the socioeconomic life in provinces bordering Afghanistan. More specifically, the refugees are changing the ethnic complexion of the areas in which they are heavily concentrated. They have not only increased the local population by 10% to 15%, but in the case of Baluchistan, the inflow of Pakhtoons is fast reducing the Baluchi predominance, a trend not viewed favorably by most Baluchis in the province. Many Baluch leaders have expressed the fear that the continuous inflow of refugees will upset the existing delicate balance between the Baluchis and the Pakhtoons, and might even make the Baluchis a minority in their own province.[17]

The problem in NWFP is slightly different in nature. Since NWFP already faces an unemployment problem, there are very few openings for Afghan refugees seeking employment.[18] The result is that the streets of Peshawar, the provincial capital, are full of Afghans, some of them even carrying their weapons, wandering aimlessly, causing traffic problems, and generating apprehensions for law and order agencies.

Linked with the sudden and rapid population increase in Baluchistan and NWFP is the problem of providing fodder for the cattle accompanying Afghani refugees. In both provinces the green grazing land is limited. In NWFP most of it belongs to private landowners, but in Baluchistan part of it is owned by the government. The private owners guard their land with all the care they can muster while the government land is not sufficient to handle all the cattle. "Consequently there is pressure for the refugees to move on out into the Punjab in search of fodder; a development that Pakistani authorities have sought to prevent," realizing that the "Punjabis and the Sindhis may not demonstrate the same degree of tolerance as have been shown to their fellow tribesmen in NWFP and Baluchistan."[19] Besides, Islamabad is reluctant to have the Afghan refugees dispersed to other provinces since this might make their eventual repatriation to Afghanistan more difficult. Officially, it is being emphasized that they are in Pakistan temporarily and would return to their homeland once the crisis is politically resolved and conditions are con ducive for their return. But no one knows how and when this will be possible.

Another problem is that the more affluent and wealthier Afghan refugees have not only invested their wealth in various types of businesses but have also bought homes and commercial properties. Their willingness and ability to pay higher rents and rates has resulted in a real estate boom on the one hand, but has generated tension on the other, mainly because rents have been pushed beyond the reach of many locals. Although the Afghan refugees are not allowed to purchase immovable properties, the wealthy Afghans have been able to evade the operative rules and regulations either through utilizing loopholes within the existing rules or through employing illegal means.[20] In addition, many Afghans have invested rather heavily in the transport business, causing a state of intense competition with the local transport interests. These developments have given birth to social tensions and frictions. Periodic clashes, though on a minor scale, have taken place between the locals and the refugees, primarily because of the high-handedness of some of the refugees. However, most of the Afghans live in the Refugee Tent Villages and do appreciate the warm attitude of the Pakistanis as compared to the Afghan army's cold-blooded attacks on its own countrymen.

A further problem is the existence of Babrak's agents in the refugee camps. It is commonly believed that Afghan saboteurs have come into Pakistan in the guise of refugees with the object of spying and creating tension between the refugees and the locals. Although their activities so far have been confined to a few urban centers and remain largely unreported, a few bomb explosions in the offices of resistance groups in NWFP along with resuscitated tribal feuds can certainly create major problems in both Baluchistan and NWFP. The initial sympathy with the plight of their brethren is fast being replaced with increasing apprehensions of social and political tension. It would not be surprising if, in the near future, acts of vandalism coupled with clashes among various groups of refugees take place. Whatever the tactics employed by these agent provocateurs, they are bound to put further strains on the provincial authorities.

Still more serious is the problem of alleged smuggling of arms from tribal areas to Afghan resistance groups. Despite Pakistan's earnest efforts to check this type of smuggling, the Soviet media has been continually accusing the U.S., China, and Egypt of supplying arms and ammunition to resistance groups and training bands of freedom fighters, Pakistan for providing the much-needed sanctuaries and imparting training, and Saudi Arabia for funding the resistance movements. Apart from the clandestine efforts of some foreign individuals who were involved in supplying[21] a negligible quantity of arms, not much evidence is available to support this allegation. Pakistan has, of course, repeatedly denied the charges of either acting as conduit for arms or supplying arms on its own.[22] Even the western media have acknowledged that the overland supplies across the border to the resistance groups had become extremely difficult ever since Pakistan enforced its policy of strict neutrality.[23]

As far as the allegation of deliberate provision of sanctuaries is concerned, the Soviets seem to be dwelling rather heavily upon the circumstantial evidence and have not yet come up with tangible proof. The incumbent government in Pakistan has strictly forbidden the use of its territory for sanctuary purposes. Nevertheless, the sanctuaries are known to exist but no one really knows where. Both the Soviets and the Pakistanis have failed to pinpoint the exact locations despite constant effort and vigilance. The freedom fighters "hit-and-run" tactics and their eventual disappearance into the Pakistani tribal belt on the border has convinced the Soviets that the Pakistani authorities are not only deliberately providing sanctuaries to the fighters but are also actively participating in training and planning such operations.[24]


Pakistan has faced external threats to its independence and territorial integrity right from its inception. Added pressures emanating from periodic domestic troubles and internal subversion further complicate the situation for the security planners of the country. Although it is true that perceptions sometimes matter more than visible objective facts, the Indian threat was so overt that it hardly required any help of perceptions (or misperceptions) to convince the decision makers to devise an adequate defense strategy with a view to effectively warding off the threat. To deal with the perceived threat from India, Pakistan's security planners engaged in a ceaseless effort to improve its security situation. It was this operative sense of insecurity that compelled Pakistan to align itself with the West. The Indians interpreted Pakistan's membership in western-sponsored defense alliances as an attempt to attain parity with India and to challenge the "natural" power-hierarchy in the subcontinent, i.e., Pakistan's drive towards improving its security was interpreted as directed at distorting the existing regional balance. The difference in perceptions of each other's intrinsic aims explains the three major armed clashes in the area since 1948. It was not until the signing of the Simla Accord in 1972 that India-Pakistan relations began slowly to improve. The 1970s witnessed the emergence of a nuclear India and the initiation of a modest nuclear program in Pakistan, and the relations between the two countries continued their slow development. The recent Pak-American military sales package in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan evoked an hysterical reaction from India, and the pace of improving relations became even slower. The somewhat unexpected Indian response to Soviet aggression in Afghanistan and New Delhi's vociferously critical reaction to the Pak-American aid package once again generated feelings among many Pakistanis that the Indian threat had not receded and should not be treated lightly. Another development that strengthens such feelings was India's poor and unenthusiastic initial response to Pakistan's offer of a "No War Pact," which most Pakistanis feel was an offer made in all earnestness.

The Afghanistan crisis did not grow to threatening proportions until the Soviet occupation of the country, which dramatically complicated the security situation on Pakistan's western border. Afghanistan, on its own, has never been able to pose much of a problem because Pakistan's military strength was regarded as more than sufficient to cope with Afghan threats. But a Soviet-backed and protected Afghanistan introduced many disturbing elements into Pakistan's security environment. First, the invasion has generated fears and apprehension among many Pakistanis that their country would be the next target. Many Pakistanis believe that after consolidating its position in Afghanistan, Moscow will try to extend its influence beyond the Afghan borders. The argument that the Soviets are likely to use Afghanistan as a spring-board to destabilize Pakistan in order to gain much-desired access to a warm-water port on the Indian Ocean, is still held valid by a sizable number of Pakistanis. Since Pakistan is sandwiched between Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and India, such anxieties do not seem too farfetched, especially if viewed within the context of past Soviet attitudes towards Pakistan.

Second, because of the presence of large numbers of Afghan refugees on Pakistani soil and the ongoing Afghan Civil War, it cannot be ruled out that Pakistan may be drawn into the Afghanistan cauldron, willingly or unwillingly. Given the nature of the Afghan Civil War, it can be safely assumed that it will be a long war of attrition. Assuming that the civil war persists and the Soviet casualty rate increases dramatically over time, there may come a point where the Soviets would seriously contemplate active hot pursuits and sanctuary-destroying operations. Once this happened, Pakistan would be dragged into the Afghan crisis unwillingly. Such eventualities look real when one realizes that the Soviet leaders and officials have already charged that Pakistan is in a state of undeclared war with the Soviet Union.25 Undoubtedly the Pakistanis became involved in the Afghan crisis from the day they decided to accommodate a large number of refugees on compassionate grounds, but this involvement is of a very different nature from the Soviet interpretation. What the Soviets appear to have so far failed to recognize is that the massive refugee influx has presented the government of Pakistan with an irreconcilable dilemma. If Pakistan organizes help and provides the bare minimum facilities to these refugees on humanitarian grounds, then Moscow begins to accuse Pakistan of aiding, abetting, and encouraging what it terms counterrevolutionary elements. If Pakistan does not look after the refugees, then the danger of refugee camps becoming hotbeds of intrigue appears even more likely.

Third, the Soviets may be tempted to exploit the internal problems arising from the activities of the dissident elements in the provinces of Baluchistan and NWFP. More than once the substantial internal security capacity of Pakistan's military has been tested in these turbulent provinces. It has been often reported that the Baluchi feel that "they never had a fair deal and are still not getting one,"[26] and that the Punjabi-dominated army and bureaucracy is unable to understand the gravity of Baluchi problems. Similar kinds of feelings also exist in other minority provinces. The problems of NWFP and Baluchistan have been further compounded by the massive influx of the Afghan refugees. The danger of possible fall-out from Afghanistan's political instability and a reemergence of subversion by the dissident elements cannot be underestimated. There exists sufficient evidence to support the contention that subversive activities in the past were actively encouraged and materially supported by the Afghans as well as the Soviets. The situation today could lead to greater Soviet capability than in the past to promote subversion primarily because of the presence of a massive number of refugees in these provinces and the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan.

The final major source of threat to Pakistan's security emanates from the internal situation. Among the host of domestic problems three seem to have haunted the minds of scholars and leaders alike: the continued search for a viable political system; lack of national cohesion; and the operative inequalities and disparities among the federating units that form Pakistan. The continued inability of the Pakistanis to evolve a viable political system in which political legitimacy is ultimately sought by a reference to the people of Pakistan has not only consistently impeded the development of nation-building institutions but has also generated a number of complex problems. Excessive political experimentation at various periods of Pakistan's history by different leaders has not yet provided a means for resolving the political problems of Pakistan. An equally potent problem is the lack of national cohesiveness. While the cultural and linguistic heterogeneity of the federating units of Pakistan is frequently referred to by many outsiders, the two main motivational and binding forces that hold Pakistan together are often relegated to secondary levels: namely, the religion of Islam and a common aspiration for the future. Many Indian scholars have often argued that Islam does not have any binding appeal, often quoting in this connection the example of the sepa ration of East Pakistan and insisting that the two-nation theory that produced Pakistan died with the birth of Bangladesh.[27] The two-nation theory stipulated that Hindus and Muslims are two different nations of the subcontinent. The emergence of an independent Bangladesh has in no way invalidated this theory since Bangladesh is a separate national entity.

Bangladesh was a product of a peculiar set of circumstances which included not only the above-mentioned major internal problems but also the effective exploitation of the geographical remoteness of the eastern wing of Pakistan coupled with active Indian and Soviet involvement. However, this does not mean that heterogeneity does not exist in Pakistan and is not taking a toll.

The third and perhaps the most important sources of tension are the economic disparities. Because of ill-advised and badly planned developmental strategies, economic disparities were allowed to grow unnecessarily, and were much more visible in the regional distribution of industrialization programs over the years.[28] Despite the rectification processes undertaken in recent years, the effective removal of these incumbent social inequalities and economic disparities is likely to take some time to fade into oblivion.

The Security Dilemma

Given the existing situation, Pakistan faces a variety of security threats; an internal threat, an Indian threat, and the threat from Afghanistan. In addition, a coordinated Indian, Soviet, and Afghan attack designed to fragment Pakistan along ethnic lines is also lurking in the minds of security planners. The threat scenario is indeed overwhelming. For the first time Pakistan finds itself in a three-front threat scenario which no other South Asian state has ever experienced. Perhaps the only situation that comes close is the Indian two-front threat scenario in 1962. At the time India at least felt it could cope with the perceived threat from Pakistan but was unable to check the sudden Chinese onslaught. In the current strategic environment, Pakistan lacks the requisite capabilities to cope with either the Indian threat or the Soviet-backed Afghani threat or a joint Indo-Soviet-Afghan threat. The capabilities of either India or the Soviet Union are much beyond the reach of Pakistan,[29] and their past attitudes are too well known to be easily ignored. Several frightening scenarios can be visualized: in view of Pakistan's deteriorating security environment, India could decide to attack in order to regain the territories of Azad Kashmir that it has always claimed as part of Indian-held Kashmir; India in collusion with the Soviets could attack Pakistan to completely dismember Pakistan, each taking the part it deems necessary for its requirements; the Soviets could decide to undertake sanctuary-destroying operations, which would automatically drag Pakistan into a major war on its western border, or the Soviets could decide to invade both Baluchistan and NWFP in order to completely eliminate the resistance groups based in Pakistan; the Soviets could decide to inflame the subversive activities in both the bordering provinces; and finally the Soviets may decide to capitalize on the internal situation in Pakistan and begin to participate actively in internal politics with the objective of installing a sympathetic party or group in power.[30]

Pakistan is indeed exposed to external as well as internal dangers. To ward off the materialization of the above-mentioned eventualities, Pakistan has not only initiated a strategy to modernize its armed forces in order to have "a fair chance," but the major thrust of its approach revolves around political resolution rather than military solutions. Three aspects of its political approach need to be mentioned here: normalization with India, negotiations with Afghanistan and the Soviets, and a search for political order in Pakistan. Each of these processes is studded with obstacles. For instance, the normalization with India is impeded by major hurdles: the hangover of past issues that include the Kashmir dispute, differing security perceptions, varied interpretations of normalization, and finally different approaches to the resolution of the Afghan crisis. Similarly, negotiations with the Soviets and the Afghans over the Afghanistan crisis is also a formidable task. Pakistan insists on the withdrawal of Soviet troops, but the Soviets are not likely to withdraw until they have attained their objective. "If Pakistan could not persuade India to evacuate its armed forces from Kashmir, would Pakistan have better luck in ejecting the Soviet armed forces from Afghanistan?"[31] Indeed the negotiations would be long and protracted unless one of the parties modifies its commitments. Modification is likely to have even more adverse effects and dangerous ramifications for the party concerned. What the parties need is an effective face-saving device that can go down well for all the involved parties. Equally complicated is the road to political legitimacy and internal stability. The search for political order started at the time of the birth of Pakistan, and the Pakistanis have failed, so far, to find a viable political system. There has been experimentation with different systems within the Pakistani environment. And the current government is trying to evolve a new political system with dual emphasis on Islamic and democratic principles.[32] Until the new Islamic democratic system is put to test and a reference to the people is made, the question of political legitimacy is likely to continue to haunt the government and political stability will remain a major issue.

On the military side, Pakistan's effort to modernize its armed forces with American assistance is in no way meant to and could not possibly attain the level that could even remotely be considered a threat to either India or Soviet-supported Afghanistan. Most of Pakistan's forces are equipped with weapon systems that were used in the 1950s, and its own defense production capability is almost negligible. Needless to say, Pakistan's security predicament is acute and options to strengthen its defenses somewhat limited. The recent aid-cum-sales package with the Americans is unlikely to resolve the Pakistan security dilemma since it provides only a limited amount of modern defense equipment. Given the magnitude of the threats, the acquisition of limited modern weaponry will at best register a marginal increase in Pakistan's ability to increase the costs for a potential aggressor. The 32 billion dollar aid-cum-sales package (half of which is meant for economic assistance) can in no way increase Pakistan's ability to raise the cost for an aggressor to an unacceptable level.

Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema is Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.


  1. A vast amount of literature exists on the causes of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, I am only listing a few articles and books. K. P. Misra, ed., Afghanistan in Crisis (New Delhi: Vikas, 1981); Kuldeep N ayar, Report on Afghanistan (New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1981); Syed Shabbir Hussain, Abdul Hamid Alvi, Absor Hussain Rizvi, Afghanistan under Soviet Occupation (Islamabad: World Affairs Publications, 1980); Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Afghanistan Since April 7978 (Islamabad: Department of International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, 1980); Nancy Peabody Newell and Richard S. Newell, The Struggle for Afghanistan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981); Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, "The Afghanistan Crisis," Islamic Defence Review, 5:2 (1980); Alfred L. Monks, "The Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan" (The University of Wyoming, reprint distributed by the International Communication Agency in 1981); Ramesh Thakur, "The Reasons for India's Distinctive Approach," The Round Table, N6J. 280 (October 1980); Hafeez Malik, "The Afghan Crisis and Its Impact on Pakistan," fournal of South Asian and lvliddle Eastern Studies, V:3 (Spring 1982); and Jagat S. Mehta, "Afghanistan: A Neutral
    Solution," Foreign Policy, No. 47 (Summer 1982).
  2. Mehta, "Afghanistan: A Neutral Solution," pp. 143-144.
  3. Time, February 11, 1980.
  4. NAM Foreign Ministers Declaration, February 9-13, 1981.
  5. Arabia: The Islamic World Review, April 1982.
  6. The Guardian, August 26, 1979.
  7. The Muslim, May 24, 1979.
  8. Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, "Pakistan: Nation on a Tightrope," Reader's Digest, October 1982, pp. 22-25.
  9. For a detailed study of sanctuaries, see Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Sanctuary and War (Islamabad: Quaid-i-Azam University, 1978).
  10. Nearby Observer, "The Afghan-Soviet War: Stalemate or Evolution," The Middle East Journal, Spring 1982, pp. 151-164.
  11. Arabia, April 1982.
  12. Nearby Observer, "Afghan-Soviet War," p. 156.
  13. "Afghanistan: Two Years of Occupation" (U.S. Department of State Paper on Afghanistan, Washington, December 23,1981), pp. 1-17.
  14. See Beverly Male, "A Tiger by the Tail: Pakistan and the Afghan Refugees," in Milton Osborne et aI., Refugees: Four Political Case Studies (Canberra: The Australian National University, 1981), p. 39.
  15. South, October 1982, p. 24; Arabia, pp. 27-28.
  16. Arabia, April 1982, pp. 27-28.
  17. South, October 1982, p. 25.
  18. Male, "Tiger," p. 57.
  19. Ibid., pp. 57-58.
  20. South, October 1982, p. 24.
  21. The Muslim, October 2, 5, 1982.
  22. Asia Week, December 4, 1981, p. 36.
  23. Time, April 14, 1980.
  24. See A. Dzasokhove, "Peace and Security for Asian Nations," International Affairs (Moscow), No.5, 1980, p. 88. Also see B. Demchenko, "Afghanistan Enters a New Era: A Journalist's Notes," International Allairs, No.6, 1980, pp. 118-119.
  25. Evans and Novak, "Pakistan," p. 23.
  26. See Selig S. Harrison, Afghanistan '5 Shadow: Balueh Nationalism and Soviet TemjJtations (New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1981).
  27. O. N. Mehrotra, "Pakistan and the Islamic World," Strategic Analysis (Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi), V:I-2 (April-May 1981), pp. 32-33. See also other articles in the same issue.
  28. See Khalid Bin Sayeed, Politics in Pakistan: The Nature and Direction of Change (New York: Praeger, 1980), pp. 113-136.
  29. For details, see The Military Balance 1982-83 (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1982), pp. 13-17,85-86,91-93.
  30. Some of these scenarios are already spelled out in detail by Hafeez Malik, "Afghan Crisis," pp. 47-50.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Asia Week, December 4, 1981.