Just over 35 years ago, on August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan became independent states. What should have been a joyful occasion was marred by the ghastly slaughter of half a million people and the uprooting of about 15 million men, women and children. Only a few months before, few people had ever heard of the word "Pakistan," a concept invented by a few Muslim intellectuals in 1933 who claimed that there were two distinct nations in India; this idea was then adopted by the Muslim League at its historic meeting in Lahore in 1940 as implying an independent sovereign "homeland" for those Indian Muslims who would choose to opt out of a Hindu-dominated India. This concept, so reminiscent of the idea of a Jewish "homeland" in Palestine (Gunnar Myrdal called it a form of Muslim Zionism), resulted from the primacy of the twentieth century's dominant political "form"-the nation-state within definite geographical boundaries-into whose Procrustean bed the world's diverse populations had to be fitted willy-nilly.

The two-nation theory of the Muslim League was never accepted by the Hindu-dominated Congress Party, whose leaders were all for the creation of a united and strictly secular India with full protection for all religious minorities and impoverished outcastes. Born in fire and blood, Pakistan became a reality in the summer of 1947 and tested its mettle almost immediately in the first Indo-Pakistani war over Kashmir. Thus, in a very short while, the main benefit of British colonialism in the subcontinent-its political unity-was destroyed.

The Western world paid scant attention, at the time, to the long-range geopolitical implications of this development. Now, well over three decades later, it might have to pay a heavy price for this negligence, in the light of the recent events in Afghanistan.

This article traces the conflict-laden relationship between India and Pakistan to the present, and then moves to the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which in all likelihood has permanently transformed the geopolitical situation, both to the west and south, and introduced a direct Soviet threat to South Asia. It is the thesis of this article that the most crucial step now required to stabilize the area is a rapprochement between India and Pakistan, involving an end to the hostility of the past 35 years and the beginnings of a cooperative relationship that would both defend South Asia and enable its people to get on with the business of improving their lot. Such a rapprochement would have to be primarily the work of the two countries involved, but since the United States has played no small part in the India-Pakistan relationship from an early stage, the article also considers how America and other nations might assist a reconciliation, or at least not obstruct it.


From the start, Pakistan attracted greater Western sympathy than India. Part of it was due to the greater ease in personal contact with Muslim Pakistanis than with predominantly Hindu Indians whose sometimes complex mental framework and remnants of bitter anticolonialist feelings created obstacles to a better understanding. But a great deal of it was due to the rapidly growing distrust of India's political leadership for the policies of the United States. Again, fear and distrust of colonialism pervaded and still pervades India, which is not the case in Pakistan; and, in this context, many Indians viewed the United States as the neocolonialist successor of the British, operating under the guise of a worldwide anti-communist crusade. Whatever the Pakistanis did, New Delhi always suspected that the United States had put them up to it. No wonder that the mere fact that the United States did not support the Indian position at the Security Council after Pakistani tribesmen had blatantly invaded Kashmir in 1947, while persuading the United Nations to convict the North Koreans as aggressors after they had crossed the 38th parallel in 1950, seemed to imply the adoption of a double, anti-Indian standard on the part of Washington.

This distrust was reinforced throughout the 1950s by John Foster Dulles' anti-communist approach to foreign affairs, according to which there could be no true neutrality in the cold war-indeed, that neutrality between "good" and "evil" was downright immoral. The first practical consequence of this attitude was the American decision to grant military assistance to Pakistan in February 1954, compelling India to devote increasing amounts of its scarce resources to its armed forces. Moscow wasted no time and exploited this unexpected opportunity by sending Nikita Khrushchev and Prime Minister Bulganin to India and Kashmir toward the end of 1955, and expressing full support of the Indian position on the complex Kashmir issue. Not only that: the Soviets followed this up by taking sides with Afghanistan in its dispute with Pakistan over the issue of the creation of "Pushtunistan," a state made up of Pathans to be carved out of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. Bulganin made this plain during his subsequent visit to Kabul.

It was about this time that then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru set the course of India's economic development on a definite socialistic path. Unlike his mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, and his conservative colleague, Vallabhbhai Patel, Nehru was an emotional socialist. Big landlords and major industrialists had already felt the sting of his left-wing views; now, it was private enterprise as a whole which found itself at the mercy of an increasingly powerful, and largely inefficient, bureaucracy. For the next two decades, India tried to march on the path of socialistic development, with conspicuous lack of economic success. It is only in the past few years that, under the leadership of his daughter Indira Gandhi, India has gradually retreated from the stifling and oppressive bureaucratic socialism of the first decades following independence.

For all its faults, the Indian economic system has averaged a 3.5 percent growth rate, which Indian economist Raj Krishna has called the "Hindu growth rate."1 However, taking into account population growth, India's real growth rate per capita has slipped further and further behind that of most other Asian nations, including Pakistan. The result is that India today happens to be both the ninth largest industrial power in the world and the fifteenth poorest country-500 million people who depend on subsistence farming, 200 million who live on modernized farming, industrial work and middle-class urbanized services-the poorest living as they did in the days of the Buddha, the more affluent living in the twentieth century. Three major problems have been wholly or partly solved: there are plenty of savings for investment; the Green Revolution, which is still spreading from the Punjab and Haryana to other states, has put an end to endemic famine and vital dependence on imported food; and, in spite of the oil crisis, there is a reasonable amount of foreign exchange.

India also manufactures virtually all of its consumer goods, therefore imports as little as possible-a wise policy in view of the potentially gigantic size of its home market; the drawback is that it encourages a strangling bureaucratization of industry since bureaucrats, not consumers or producers, determine economic policy. Furthermore, under a predominantly state capitalism such as prevails now, India's nationalized companies possess three-quarters of its industrial assets while running at a loss and contributing only a third of its industrial output. In this protected home market, foreign competition is virtually eliminated, encouraging waste and inefficiency. The silver lining is that in case of a global economic depression, India is largely insulated from the buffeting of external forces. With all that, it still remains that it produces its own computers, has launched a space rocket and possesses nuclear know-how and power. These facts have to be kept in mind when considering the relationship between India and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has developed along more conservative lines, but without the benefit of the political stability and continuity that Nehru's Caesarian power-virtually inherited by his daughter Indira Gandhi-gave to India. Its founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, died on September 11, 1948, barely a year after the creation of Pakistan; his chief disciple and prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was murdered in October 1951, and with a few exceptions since, Pakistan has been ruled by the military. At the time of Partition (August 1947), the two "wings," East and West Pakistan, were predominantly agricultural. What industry there was in the subcontinent was mostly situated in India. Thirty-five years later, despite some modest industrialization, the situation is still largely the same, although on a much larger scale; India remains the predominant industrial power in the subcontinent.

The major change in the relationship between the two countries came in two stages: first, through the outcome of the 1965 war initiated by Pakistan; and then through a second war in 1971, with the result that, with India's help, the east "wing" of Pakistan broke away and became the independent state of Bangladesh. It was a common assumption during the 1950s and 1960s in Pakistan that it was only a matter of time before India, so vast and disparate, would succumb to its centrifugal tendencies and break up into several distinct states. In a conversation with General Ayub Khan, then president of Pakistan, in February 1960, the latter made it plain that he did not expect India to survive as a united country and that, sooner or later, some event would occur that would trigger the balkanization of the country, cutting down what was left of India to a size that would be more to the taste of Pakistan.

As it happened, Ayub got his cue two years later when China attacked and humiliated India in the Himalayas. Not only did this do much damage to India's prestige throughout the world; it also gave the Pakistanis the illusion that in a military confrontation India would knuckle under. Nehru having died shortly after, they tried their chance in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965. The dramatic defeat of Pakistan's spearhead armored division in that war did not lead to any territorial change or resolve the issue of Kashmir, which was the occasion for the war. But it destroyed the credit of the Ayub regime and drastically weakened Pakistan, while at the same time strengthening and uniting India.

Thus, it soon became evident that it would be Pakistan, rather than India, that would break up. When a new conflict occurred in 1971 over the East Bengali revolt and the savage repression that followed, Pakistani leaders soon had to face the shattering of their dream of a united Muslim nation in the subcontinent. Shorn of its more populated east "wing," Pakistan was left with only its western part, facing a united India of far greater dimension, with ten times its population (including an Indian Muslim population larger than that of Pakistan itself), a vast industrial establishment, far more powerful armed forces and a vital, if chaotic, cultural life.

In that war, the United States, under Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, deliberately "tilted" in favor of Pakistan, in large part because of the Pakistani role in helping to initiate the U.S.-China rapprochement of mid-1971 and also for the sake of consolidating its new relationship with China. Because of what it supposed to be an Indian threat to all of Pakistan, the United States went so far as to send an aircraft carrier, the Enterprise, into the Bay of Bengal as a warning action. In the event, the result did not strengthen U.S. ties with Pakistan, which had steadily declined from the mid-1960s onward. Simultaneously, the U.S. relationship with India remained strained, while India deepened a relationship with the U.S.S.R. already embodied in a friendship treaty signed just before the war.

Apart from consolidating Indira Gandhi's position as virtual empress of India, the Bangladesh war contributed to the rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to power in a truncated Pakistan. Scion of a wealthy landowning family of the province of Sind, Bhutto was an avowed socialist who attempted to carry out far-reaching social reforms in Pakistan. A demagogue in the style of Argentina's Juan Peron, Bhutto's supreme power eventually went to his head and he overreached himself. His electoral victory of March 7, 1977 was just too sweeping to be believed-his overzealous subordinates had granted only 37 seats to the nine-party opposition in the 216-seat National Assembly. Predictably, the opposition cried fraud and refused to take its seats. Even the labor unions declared a nationwide strike against him and rioted in the streets of Karachi and other large cities. In the meantime, searching for a new head of the army, Bhutto was persuaded to select General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq over several senior generals as being the least likely to mount a military coup against him, and declared martial law in three of the largest cities. In July 1977 General Zia overthrew Bhutto, had him arrested and charged with murder. Convicted, he was sentenced to death and, in spite of worldwide appeals for clemency, was duly hanged in 1979.

At almost the same time, Indira Gandhi was also overthrown in a stunning electoral defeat on March 20, 1977, a consequence of the excesses of the "Emergency" she had imposed upon India in 1975. The next two years proved conclusively that India could not do without her. The Janata government, based on a disparate alliance ranging from socialists to Hindu reactionaries, and run by tired old men-Prime Minister Morarji Desai was 81-was nothing but a reaction to Indira Gandhi's Emergency rule; by the middle of 1979, Desai was eased out by his coalition partners and disintegration set in. Cleverly using her parliamentary leverage against the coalition in power, Indira Gandhi forced the president to call for new elections, which she won as spectacularly as she had lost in 1977. In January 1980, she came back to power.

Thus, at the end of the 1970s, the subcontinent was not divided into two nation-states but into three, with India the largest and most powerful. Pakistan had reverted to its familiar military rule along with martial law and ideological Islamization, and a chastened India had recalled to power the one personality best able to lead and hold together that enormous and disparate country. The Emergency was forgotten, but not the threat of a milder form of it; 19 months after her return to power, in mid-1982, Indira Gandhi cracked down again and her government put through an ordinance giving it the authority to ban all strikes in any services that may be deemed essential, in order to revitalize India's economy.

As for Pakistan, the perpetuation of martial law introduced a much needed discipline into its economic life, although the enforcement of Islamization irritates the more Westernized part of the population. Few traces are now left of Bhutto's corrupt rule, except for a favorable memory of his attempts at social reform, which one might call Bhuttoism and which is as likely to endure as Peronism in Argentina. As Pakistani farmers like to say, when reminiscing about those heady days, "Bhutto may have had his faults, but he allowed us to sit on the cot"-traditionally, when a landlord meets his farmer tenants, they sit on the ground and only he sits on the cot.

Taking into account their respective courses of development in the past 35 years, it is understandable that Pakistan would fear the might of India-not just its undoubted military superiority due to sheer numbers, but also the potential for economic and cultural absorption if it comes too close to its giant neighbor. Right now, trade and economic relations between them are negligible, even though India could supply virtually all the consumer requirements of Pakistan; but that is precisely what the leaders of Pakistan do not want. Over the longer term, they fear that a close economic and cultural relationship would gradually lead to a de facto absorption of Pakistan or at least reduction to the status of a satellite and, in effect, partly nullify the costly Partition of 1947.

It is a fact that the overwhelming majority of Indians have accepted Partition and have no desire to conquer and absorb Pakistan-although few Pakistanis, obsessed as they are by their Indian neighbor, are willing to believe it. They seem to feel that an attitude of constant belligerence is the only way they can affirm their separate existence and specific identity. The trend toward "Islamization" is the latest attempt to recover some form of national and cultural specificity. But, in practice, what does it mean? A thief is sentenced to have his right hand cut off; but no surgeon can be found to perform the operation and sever that hand. Asked what the Islamization of the banking sector means, a banker replies that he and his colleagues still don't know.

The atmosphere between India and Pakistan is emotionally highly charged-and more so on the Pakistani than on the Indian side. This love-hate relationship has all the earmarks of a deep family quarrel. Urdu-speaking Pakistanis understand perfectly Hindi-speaking Indians, share the same culinary taste, enjoy the same music, laugh at the same jokes. Yet most Indians traveling to Pakistan on some errand or other are warned never to stress the profound similarities between their respective ways of life, for fear of offending the Pakistanis' determination to be "different"-to the point where the wearing of saris by Pakistani women is frowned upon. With its greater, if chaotic, vitality, India contrasts sharply with the far more orderly and better-run Pakistan with its lower vitality.


For over three decades, neither Pakistan nor India participated directly in the global cold war, although Pakistan's nominal alignment with the United States and regional partners in the now-defunct Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) alliances-and particularly its military aid relationship with the United States-surely played a significant part in the 1950s and 1960s in the continued alienation of the two countries (as well as in stimulating India's initial ties to the Soviet Union). Yet the three Indo-Pakistani wars and the Sino-Indian war of 1962 were regional conflicts that had little, if anything, to do with the state of global tension between the Soviet Union and the United States at those particular times.

This relative aloofness came abruptly to an end when the Soviet Russian army marched into Afghanistan in the last days of 1979 and militarily took over a small landlocked country that had been nominally neutral since the nineteenth century-a move that brought them 500 miles closer to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Were the Russians sucked into this military adventure, as most Indians, including Indira Gandhi, claim, or had they planned it deliberately? Undoubtedly, it was a bit of both. It must be kept in mind that, for the past 200 years, Russian military might has been coming down into Central Asia as irresistibly as a massive glacier. The British in India were justifiably alarmed and sought to turn Afghanistan into a friendly bastion against the expected encroachments of the Russians. This led to several disastrous wars with the Afghans, who often seemed to view the Russians with greater equanimity than the British.

Nevertheless, from the middle 1880s to 1919, Afghanistan was recognized as belonging to a de facto British sphere of influence, and the Russians officially admitted in 1907 that it was beyond their own. Formal independence came in 1919; in 1933, King Mohammed Zahir ascended the throne, leaving it to his uncles to rule the country for the next 20 years.

Two fateful events occurred in 1953: the extension of the cold war to western Asia when John Foster Dulles organized the Baghdad Pact (later CENTO) that linked Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, while totally ignoring Afghanistan; and, in the latter country, the elimination of the King's uncles by his headstrong cousin Mohammed Daoud. It was Daoud's shrewd but highly dangerous gamble to invite Soviet-American competition inside Afghanistan in order to modernize the country as cheaply and rapidly as possible, and build up a true nation-state that his largely tribal country had not yet become.

Yet the U.S. role was deliberately limited, principally by Washington's concern over an adverse reaction by Pakistan, whose leaders strongly objected to Kabul's claims to the Northwest Frontier on the basis of a "Pushtunistan" that would regroup all Pathans on both sides of the "Durand Line"-the military boundary traced by the British in the nineteenth century for security reasons and which cuts in half most of the big Pathan tribes. Largely for this reason, Dulles declined in 1954 to extend military aid to Kabul, and the United States limited itself to an economic aid program directed essentially at the southern half of Afghanistan.

The Soviet response was more positive, especially in terms of military aid. Early in 1955, Daoud began to negotiate in earnest with the Russians on their long-standing offer of military and economic assistance. Shortly after, the very same year, the Afghans and the Pakistanis almost went to war over the Pushtunistan issue. Fed up, Daoud persuaded the Loyah Jirgah (Grand Tribal Council) to formally accept Soviet military and economic aid. In December 1955, as mentioned previously, Bulganin and Khrushchev came to Kabul to affirm their support for Afghanistan's claims against Pakistan and confirm their offer to provide arms and training for the Afghan armed forces. The die was cast.

Soviet assistance soon started. Roads and bridges were built or enlarged, and the Salang tunnel across the impenetrable mountain range that had hitherto protected Afghanistan against invaders from the north was put through; all this logistical infrastructure was used two decades later by the invading Soviet army. Simultaneously, thousands of Afghan officers spent years training in Soviet Russia, gradually coalescing into a network of pro-Soviet Marxist officers in the Afghan armed forces.

Daoud was forced out in 1963, but after a decade of turbulent government changes, he returned to seize complete power in a 1973 coup, deposing his cousin King Zahir, abolishing the monarchy and proclaiming Afghanistan a republic with himself as president. Daoud thought that he was clever enough to outwit the great Soviet bear from the north; as it happened, the bear crushed him by proxy. Sometime in late 1977, Daoud confessed his growing misgivings to President Zia of Pakistan. It may be that Moscow was aware of these misgivings and distrusted Daoud's belated attempt at a rapprochement with Pakistan, as well as his growing ties with the Shah in Iran-although neither these regional relationships nor any other activity in Afghanistan, then or later, conceivably justified any sense of an Afghanistan-based threat to the Soviet Union.

At any rate, a coup was staged by communist Afghan army officers in the spring of 1978; the royal palace was surrounded and battered by tanks and planes; Daoud and his whole family along with his assistants and their families were slaughtered, and the long rule of the royal Mohammed Zahir family came to an end. President Zia warned Washington that the balance of power had seriously tilted in Moscow's favor, but his warning had little or no effect.

The new Afghan ruler, Noor Mohammed Taraki, denied strenuously that his revolution was communist-inspired, and for a while Marx and Allah subsisted in uneasy coexistence while the relatively indifferent West was slow to realize the full implications of what had happened. Had Daoud been allowed to live and rule, it is highly probable, according to those Pakistanis who saw him a few months before he was overthrown and killed, that he would have pulled Afghanistan away from Soviet Russia; now, however, Moscow's influence increased steadily through economic aid and trade, as well as a large number of Soviet military advisers and constant advice to Taraki from the Soviet ambassador.

The only trouble, at first, was the ceaseless power struggle within the ranks of the Afghan Marxists. The broadly based radical and slightly Maoist Khalq faction of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), to which Taraki belonged, fought against the more moderate, pro-Moscow Parcham, led by one Babrak Karmal, who was eventually sent into semi-exile as ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

Meanwhile, a swelling tide of revolt among traditional tribesmen egged on by their fanatical mullahs began to seriously threaten the regime. The Mujahedeen (holy warriors) began their rebellion with antiquated weaponry which seemed no match for the relatively well-equipped Afghan army of 80,000 men; but the army itself began to melt like butter under the sun through desertions and surrender to the Mujahedeen. By the spring of 1979, some 12,000 political prisoners had been rounded up while the number of Soviet "advisers" increased steadily. A full-fledged revolt in the western city of Herat was brutally crushed, with a reported loss of thousands of lives.

By this time, the real strongman of the new regime was Hafizullah Amin, originally foreign minister and now prime minister. Already the architect of Taraki's brutally repressive policy, with thousands of political opponents killed or in jail, Amin decided to move fast to extend his revolution, although a great majority of the population was by now in full rebellion.

In September 1979, the Soviet Union was obviously displeased and worried by Amin's unnecessary brutality and his show of independence à la Ceausescu, Romanian-style, and also by his repeated refusal of offers of Soviet troops to help him put down the expanding revolt. Accordingly, Soviet officials on the spot worked with Taraki to remove Amin by a coup, but in the resulting confrontation a forewarned Amin turned the tables and it was Taraki who was killed, so that Amin was even more strongly in control.

All these goings on, one must keep in mind, were taking place just as the fundamentalist revolution was sweeping Iran and transforming that vast country into an enemy of the United States, whose whole policy in the Persian Gulf now lay in ruins. Both the unfriendly and shaky regime of Amin, which had to be eliminated, and the opportunity presented by the Iranian revolution next door, finally prompted the Russians to make their most decisive move-one which they had dreamed of for decades, if not centuries, but had never yet dared implement. In the last days of December, Moscow engineered a new coup in Kabul during which Amin was overthrown and killed, to be replaced by Babrak Karmal, conveniently summoned back from Czechoslovakia. Simultaneously, thousands of Soviet troops were airlifted or poured across the Oxus into Afghanistan, moving along a network of communications which Moscow had cannily put in place during the last two decades.

The amount and virulence of popular resistance must have astonished Moscow, and Soviet losses were, and still are, by no means negligible. The trickle of refugees into Pakistan became a flood and has now reached over two and a half million, without counting another half million or more in Iran.

Moscow quickly came to the conclusion that this was a long-term affair and that it would be futile to attempt to crush quickly the innumerable groups of Mujahedeen, even with the help of their powerful Mi-24 helicopter gunships. Once in a while, Soviet forces go on large-scale punitive expeditions but, by and large, they give emphasis to establishing an increasingly powerful and secure grid based on the large urban agglomerations and their fortress-like airports, with widened and improved roads, cleared on both sides of trees and buildings so as to afford clear fields of fire and eliminate the threat of ambushes, connecting massive and impregnable military bases. For the most part, they let what is left of the Afghan police and military personnel run the show during the day, but take over from them the patrolling at night in Kabul and other large cities. They rushed the construction of the first rail and road bridge across the wide Amu Darya river (Oxus) which separates the two countries for about 600 miles, completing it in May 1982, a full year ahead of schedule. This now enables them to avoid the difficult and time-consuming process of ferrying supplies across the treacherous waters of the river. It not only improves the military supply lines but also helps the flow of Soviet-Afghan trade which has almost tripled since the Marxist coup of April 1978.

Meanwhile, with the apparent acquiescence of "President" Babrak Karmal, it seems that Soviet Russia has moved to annex outright the strategic Wakhan Valley, a 150-mile strip of land connecting Afghanistan with China, given to Kabul in the nineteenth century in order to separate the expanding Russian Empire from the British Empire in India. Soviet Tadjiks are apparently being sent in as settlers to replace the departed Afghan population. This move could be, as General Fazli-i-Haq, Governor of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, points out, the forerunner of an eventual breakup of Afghanistan by Moscow; some parts of it would be absorbed into the Soviet Central Asian republics, and the Pathan and Baluchi populations left over would then claim their cousins across the border in Pakistan so as to constitute so many satellite states.

Let us keep in mind that where Westerners think in terms of years, the Russians think in terms of decades. They are in no hurry and play their game of geopolitical chess with no time limit on their moves. While there is no doubt that Moscow would have liked to avoid such a blatant military takeover-and, to that extent at least, were indeed sucked in-this invasion was the almost inevitable outcome of decades of past Russian policies and Soviet efforts at Marxist indoctrination.

In any event, the Soviet Union is in Afghanistan to stay, and any negotiations will only be aimed at providing a plausible political facade for Soviet control-there can be no serious question of the Soviet Union ever accepting the kind of government that would surely result if the Soviet Army pulled out or the Afghan people were left free to choose. Those who would like to believe that the Soviet armed forces will eventually leave Afghanistan of their own free will should study the bloody war of the basmachis (rebels) which devastated Soviet Central Asia in the 1920s and 1930s, during which the Soviet Russians mercilessly slaughtered their native opponents.


In this age of Muslim "revival," what about the reactions of the Islamic world to this brutal invasion and subjugation of a fellow Muslim country? While the first reaction in January 1980 of the 39-nation Islamic Foreign Ministers' Conference in Islamabad was one of outrage, the next one in May of the same year ended with only a slight tap on the Soviet wrist. The Iranians were, at first, as outraged as the others, but for the past two years they have been heavily preoccupied with their war with Iraq, although their rhetoric remains strongly critical and they are not inclined to any compromise. They refused to take part in the July 1982 conference that took place in Geneva, under U.N. auspices, between Pakistan and the puppet representatives of Afghanistan-arguing that they could not do so unless the Mujahedeen were also represented.

The Muslim world, torn apart by multitudes of local conflicts, now has little time or attention to spare for the plight of the Afghans, leaving the Soviet Russians free to pursue their relentless process of absorption of that wild country into the Soviet Union's sphere of control. This is not to say that the other Muslim nations will ever accept this fait accompli but, apart from financial assistance to the Afghan freedom fighters, there seems to be little that they are willing to do to shake the Soviet grip on Afghanistan.

One of the striking features of the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation is the inability of the various groups of Mujahedeen to unite. One of the more noteworthy defectors, Abdul Rahman Pazhwak, Afghan diplomat and president of the U.N. General Assembly in 1967, fled Kabul in early 1982 and declared that he was going to devote himself to fostering unity among them, leading eventually to the possible creation of a government-in-exile. He will have a hard time of it.

While it is impossible to give an overall figure for the total number of fighters involved in the active military resistance movement, it seems clear that the most powerful movement, the Hizbe-Islami, can count on about 40,000 fighting men in the Pathan tribal areas along the Pakistani border, reaching beyond it to Herat in the west and the central provinces of Bamiyan and Wardak. The 20,000 fighters of the Jamiat-Islami movement operate mainly between Herat and Kunduz, in the north, with considerable influence in the area that lies close to the Soviet border; and, according to Pakistan's information services, there is some traffic between them and restless Muslims in Soviet Central Asia, across the border. They and other smaller groups operate effectively in the famed Panjshir Valley, where spring and fall Soviet offensives in 1982 have largely fizzled out. Several groups in the Badakshan and Kunar Mountains, and the Harkat-i-Islami north of Kabul, keep stinging the Russians and, the Mujahedeen appear to exercise greater control over the Kandahar urban area than any other group over a large city.

In early 1982, the six principal groups managed to consolidate at least into two. Fighters in the field have reached a degree of coordination in their operations that was unknown two years ago, but are sometimes at odds with the emigré groups in Peshawar. Most important for the future, visits to some of the hundreds of refugee camps, and conversations with Afghan freedom fighters who come there to rest and gather supplies, appear to indicate the growth and development of a true and new sense of Afghan nationhood resting partly on common Islamic ties and increasingly on their common fierce opposition to the Soviet occupation.

As of now, however, the only link between them all is a virulent hatred of the Russians and of their Afghan stooges. Even that feeling is not always sufficient to unite them; some freedom movements in such areas as Logar and Nooristan seem to be more interested in fighting for the complete autonomy of their areas than in the common struggle against the Russian invaders-a vivid illustration of the fact that, up to now, Afghanistan never was a homogeneous nation-state.

In fact, divisiveness is still the hallmark of Afghans of all persuasions. Even the ruling communist PDPA remains, to this day, bitterly split between the Parcham faction of Babrak Karmal and the Khalqis of his predecessors, Taraki and Amin; so far, all Moscow's efforts to end this internal conflict seem to have failed. This fundamental cleavage, which dates back to 1967, is not only ideological, but also the result of deep tribal rivalries: Khalq, the majority group, finds its main support among the Pathans, whereas the Parcham faction has ties in several urban and rural areas, including the Hazaras of central Afghanistan. And all together, the two factions number barely 50,000, or 0.3 percent of the population. No wonder that the overwhelming majority of the Afghan people consider the PDPA to be nothing more than the mouthpiece of Moscow.

While the military occupation of Afghanistan is an expensive proposition, the country does provide some economic rewards. Ninety-five percent of the present production of Afghan natural gas is exported to the Soviet Union at advantageous prices to the Russians-the meters are on the Soviet side of the border, and production is expected to double between now and the end of 1983.

It seems that, to date, the greatest failure of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is its inability to rebuild a loyal Afghan army, now shrunk from 80,000 to barely 30,000 unreliable men. Desertions, purges and casualties have not been compensated by recalls of reservists to active duty, nor by the extension of service of those who are now in uniform to a full three years. This is counterbalanced by the unfortunate fact that the West and the Islamic countries extend insufficient assistance to the Mujahedeen in terms of weapons and supplies, partly because the Pakistani authorities appear to lean over backward to avoid provoking Moscow. They fear that the United States would not come to their assistance in case of Soviet aggression against them-and worse, that they would be caught in a pincer between such aggression and what they mistakenly view as unremitting Indian hostility. Clearly, something must be done to change the Pakistani perception of Indian intentions.


What is the West to do to repair the damage done by decades of neglect of Afghanistan and misunderstandings with India? First, it seems, have a clear perception of what the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan entails in geopolitical terms. The Russian venture is one further step in a long-term process which aims at reaching the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The prospects are even more tantalizing in the latter part of the twentieth century than they were in the nineteenth, in the days of Kipling's "Great Game." The presence of massive sources of energy in the Persian Gulf on which the industrial West and Japan depend presents a great and twofold temptation-the possibility for Moscow to deny access to them and thereby create massive economic disruptions in the non-communist world; and the added possibility of appropriating these resources for the benefit of the Soviet Union in case of forthcoming shortages at home.

As Hassan Gailani, one of the leaders of the National Islamic Front, points out, the huge air base which is in the process of being expanded at Shindand in western Afghanistan is a bare 600 miles from the Strait of Hormuz and the entrance of the Gulf where 60 percent of the world's oil reserves lie. In fact, it is becoming clearer by the day that many of the bases being built or expanded by the Russians in Afghanistan are meant just as much for aggressive strategic purposes of eventual operations in the Gulf and beyond as for fighting the rebellion within the country; Pakistani military authorities who have access to full information on this point are firmly of the opinion that this is the long-term purpose of the impressive Soviet military buildup. This illustrates the danger implicit in Western policy, affected to some extent by Pakistani pusillanimity, in not massively helping the Afghan freedom fighters with adequate supplies and weaponry in order to keep this protracted war as a festering sore for Moscow.

The obvious next step for the Soviet Union is to reach the open seas by taking over Baluchistan, which is mostly underpopulated desert. For decades, the Russians have tried to nurse a nationalist movement among the anti-Pakistani Baluchis and attempts to foment grave disturbances in that part of Pakistan can be expected in the future, aided and abetted by the powerful Soviet military presence in nearby Afghanistan. There is no love lost between the Baluchi tribes, who make up half of the population of the province, and the Punjabis who dominate Pakistan's bureaucracy. Discontent today is not as great as it was during the 1973-77 revolt that was crushed with the loss of thousands of lives. The more realistic and humane rule of President Zia ul-Haq is keeping things apparently more peaceful among the roughly 60 tribes who populate Baluchistan and great attention is being paid to the economic development of the province; in fact, this has priority in Pakistan's internal policy, and foreign help for this specific purpose is being sought. President Zia minces no words about it: "We are going flat out for its [Baluchistan's] progress and development: agriculture, minerals, the social and educational aspects, electrification of villages, construction of roads and development of the rural areas."2 Right now, Pakistani authorities plan to develop fishing ports at Pasni and at Gwadar, 40 miles from the Iranian border. A feasibility study by a Japanese agency for the development of Gwadar has led Pakistan to look for external assistance, the cautious Japanese having withdrawn from the project.

However, the opportunity is there for Moscow to exploit-not only among the Baluchis of Pakistan but also among the one million who live next door in Iran-and discontent is still simmering; as recently as early 1982, serious disturbances were reported in the Marri and Bugti areas of Pakistan's Baluchistan, although it is not known whether Soviet agents had a hand in them. At any rate, the eventual prize is remarkably attractive: a 200-mile coastline along the Indian Ocean, naval and air bases at Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara, from which Soviet fleets could operate at the mouth of the Gulf and link up with their existing bases in Aden, Socotra and Ethiopia at the entrance to the Red Sea-in effect, the Soviets would have the potential to interdict entrance or exit from both the Gulf and the Red Sea.


This is the longer-term threat: what to do about it? If anything has become clear in the decades since independence in the Indian subcontinent, it is that India is the local superpower in every sense of the word and that nothing effective can be done against its will and without its cooperation. It is in the power of India-so far, Soviet Russia's only genuine non-communist friend in the world-to nullify any arrangements made by the West with any other country in the subcontinent-Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or Nepal-by sheer force of gravity.

Pakistan, right now, benefits from a five-year program of American economic and military aid to the tune of $3.2 billion, with no strings attached except to refrain from developing nuclear weaponry. This is supposed to help bolster Pakistan's defenses against potential Soviet aggression-yet the amazing fact is that, in the world's present geopolitical context, the great majority of Pakistani troops are on the Indian border, facing a nonexistent threat of Indian aggression instead of a much more plausible one coming from Soviet-occupied Afghanistan-disguised at first, as it has already been in the past two years, as the right of "hot pursuit" of Mujahedeen across the border of Pakistan.

The first priority, it would seem, should be to ensure the preservation of Pakistan's territorial integrity against both external aggression and internal subversion. It is bad enough to have Soviet military power extended all the way to southern Afghanistan, that much closer to Arabia and the Gulf. It would be truly catastrophic if this power were allowed to reach the Indian Ocean's coastline. This preservation can only be achieved by altering New Delhi's perception of the geopolitical situation so as to face up to the danger threatening India itself because of the relative weakness of Pakistan vis-à-vis potential Soviet aggression. In a recent interview with Time magazine, Prime Minister Gandhi stated that "We want our neighbors to be stable and strong. Nothing is so dangerous as a weak neighbor."3 Now is the time to take this up and start reorienting India's policy in regard to Pakistan.

This reorientation implies that India must see that its own first line of defense is the territorial integrity of Pakistan against Soviet potential designs-no mean feat considering the fact that the official view of the Indian government, and that of Mrs. Gandhi personally, is that the Soviet presence in Afghanistan is a defensive, and not an offensive, move, that it is motivated by Soviet fears as to the loyalty of their Central Asian populations of Tadzhiks, Turkmen, Uzbeks and Kazaks. In this, the Indians unconsciously project onto the Russians their fear of their own enduring communal troubles, due to the presence in India of a large Muslim minority, and attribute to them the same fears-forgetting that the Russians have largely de-Islamized their minorities and, from all accounts, seem to face no such danger.

So long as the Indian political leadership will not perceive the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan as an aggression and as a threat to India itself, there is little that the West can do to strengthen Pakistan and thereby thwart Soviet expansionism. While Indian public opinion does not condone the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the present Indian government acts as if there is nothing amiss and, in the spring of 1982, even went so far as to revive the Indian-Afghan Joint Economic Commission that had been put on the shelf after the Marxist takeover in 1978.

The second priority should be to put an end to India's underlying dread of the Islamic revival. New Delhi sees Mideast money flowing to Indian Muslims in the guise of financial assistance to Islamic institutions and indirectly fanning communal trouble. Dispelling such fears is essential, since India has to deal not only with the relatively or potentially hostile military reality of Pakistan but also with the feelings and emotions of about 100 million Muslims within its own borders. The wealthy Arab countries of the Gulf should be persuaded to do nothing that can possibly disturb communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims-if they want, as they should, Indian support and cooperation against the Soviet threat from Afghanistan.

In the same vein, something should be done to help undo decades of ideological propaganda and misinformation concerning India among the Pakistanis. In this matter, it is Pakistan that needs a complete overhauling of its educational program and of its media's message concerning its giant neighbor. The average Pakistani's misconceptions about India are truly appalling, fed as they have been since Partition by propaganda designed to create a sense of Pakistani identity and nationhood, if only in a negative sense. There is no such problem in India, where the perception of Pakistan is, on the whole, fair and realistic. Where Indian perception conflicts with reality is in the broader context of the Soviet threat to India itself.

It would therefore seem that the present situation requires a complete reevaluation of the Western policy toward the subcontinent aimed at eventually detaching India from its virtual alliance with Soviet Russia and steering New Delhi toward a true neutrality whose centerpiece would be a complete reconciliation with Pakistan along with guarantees as to its territorial integrity-the prickly issue of Kashmir being shelved temporarily and left to the next generation to sort out. Such reconciliation is possible if lessons from elsewhere are heeded: who would have thought at the end of World War II that two such hereditary enemies as France and Germany would, within a few years of bitterly hating and fighting one another, become faithful allies against a common enemy? Today, even if NATO did not exist, the French are fully aware that France's first line of defense lies on the eastern border of West Germany. Such psychological mutations, provoked by new circumstances, are by no means rare; history is full of them. It should therefore become the permanent policy of the West to work relentlessly toward full reconciliation in the Indian subcontinent.

One way to work toward this goal would be to approach military and economic assistance to the subcontinent on a unitary basis in the style of the postwar Marshall Plan for Europe when, refusing to deal with each nation separately, the United States enforced on the Europeans a grudging cooperation, a true pooling of needs and requirements. Prime Minister Gandhi's July visit to Washington shows that some such form of assistance is possible and that the United States has some leverage in this regard: regardless of the great progress made in the past few years, India is still vulnerable to drought and needs wheat; its oil imports are greater than originally estimated and deplete its reserves of foreign currency; power shortages plague both manufacturing and irrigation, and so on. All assistance should be extended on a subcontinental basis which would include both India and Pakistan; and would, one hopes, lead to a greater economic integration of India and Pakistan, at a time when economic relations between these two neighbors are minimal.

Another potential ally in this endeavor could be China. While border problems still exist between India and China-mostly due to the fact that China would like to achieve a package deal and India insists on piecemeal negotiations-there is evidence that China has been quietly encouraging Pakistan to mend its fences with India. The present rocky negotiations between the two countries over a "No War" pact show that this will be no easy task; but there is no doubt that China would like, not only to put an end to its border quarrel with India-if only to free its hands in its confrontation with Soviet expansionism-but also to help establish friendly relations between India and Pakistan. It can therefore be assumed that the overall Chinese aim coincides with what should become the major Western goal: a complete reconciliation in the Indian subcontinent.

The present political leaderships in India and Pakistan appear to be ready to straighten out and solve outstanding problems. Mrs. Gandhi is firmly in the saddle. She would undoubtedly have the gratitude and support of a great majority of the population of India on her side if good relations could be established with both China and Pakistan. President Zia of Pakistan has proved over the past few years to be a statesman of considerable stature; while martial law prevails at present and Pakistan is in fact ruled by a military dictatorship, political conditions are not harsh and a great deal of the harm done by the demagogic rule of Bhutto up to 1977 has been repaired. Even a modicum of democracy has been cautiously reinstated; the first local council elections in 20 years took place in September 1979 and over 4,000 rural and urban councils elected representatives on a nonparty basis. The five-year plan that is due to go into effect in 1983 provides for handing over ten percent of the development budget to the local councils to use as they please.

But, for better or worse, there is little likelihood that military rule will soon come to an end. Probably the best thing that could happen, at this stage, would be renewed and growing friendly contacts between the Indian and Pakistani military aiming for peace and good relations between the two countries. Many of their now senior officers were once part of the same army, were trained together and sometimes even fought together in World War II. Their renewed contacts could usefully supplement the efforts made by statesmen and politicians on both sides.

Such a permanent settlement would represent a grave geopolitical setback for Soviet expansionism, and Moscow is aware of it. The pro-Moscow Communist Party of India (CPI) has abandoned its parliamentary alliance with Mrs. Gandhi's Congress Party (I) and gone into opposition. However, the Soviet-Indian tie remains strong, and Mrs. Gandhi's visit to Moscow this summer was marked by several new Soviet offers of assistance, which India has so far treated with reserve.

At any rate, if some permanent settlement were achieved, as a quid pro quo the United States could well offer some form of progressive demilitarization of the northern part of the Indian Ocean-matched, of course, by a similar withdrawal of Soviet guardians of freedom of navigation in that part of the world on behalf of the international community.

Failure on the part of India and Pakistan to achieve the required settlements of their outstanding differences might ruin both of them. Sooner or later, if mutual hostility were ever renewed, leading to a fourth Indo-Pakistani war, the possibility of its becoming nuclear would have to be faced. India's capability, in this respect, is well known; and Pakistan appears to be within a couple of years of the same capability. It seems clear, therefore, that every effort should be made to achieve a final and historic reconciliation between the two countries.


To conclude, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is the most serious and dangerous demonstration of Soviet Marxist imperialism since the end of the Second World War. Compared with it, such events as the Vietnamese military occupation of Cambodia pale into insignificance. It is essential that the West, and the United States in particular, realize that India holds the key to successful resistance to further Soviet encroachments and that all their efforts should tend toward the reestablishment of a unified foreign policy on the Indian subcontinental level. We are dealing here with a subcontinent populated by 900 million people whose economic welfare, political stability and mutual cooperation are essential to a successful defense of the non-communist world.

1 The Economist, March 28, 1981, special section on India.

2 "Pakistan: An Economic Profile," International Herald Tribune, August 9, 1982.

3 Time, August 2, 1982.



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  • Amaury de Riencourt is a French historian, scholar and lecturer now resident in Geneva. Over the past 35 years, developments in South Asia have been one of his principal concerns, and he has visited the area repeatedly and for substantial periods, most recently in the early summer of 1982. He is the author of The Soul of India, The Eye of Shiva, and many other works.
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