No Afghan Policy Worth the Name

Ziaul Haq
For Pakistan, as for Iran, the invasion of Afghanistan resulted in the immediate escalation of the Afghan refugee influx, putting a strain on the social and economic fabric of the two front line provinces, the NWFP and Baluchistan. An Afghan Cell had been created in the Foreign Office in 1973 but had become dormant. It was revived in 1978. As Secretary Interior, I was a member of the Cell. At the beginning, discussions were quite open and frank. Very soon we realized that Cell meetings were called to discuss peripheral matters only. More sensitive issues were discussed in restricted meetings. The security implications of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for Pakistan were discussed threadbare in the Afghan Cell meetings.

What were the Soviet objectives? The majority view was the ultimate objective was to reach the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and that aggression against Pakistan was inevitable and only a question of time. General Zia’s view was that, after crushing Afghan resistance, the Soviets would turn their attention toward Pakistan. It was his assessment that it would take the Soviets about two years to control the situation in Afghanistan, before continuing their march to the Arabian Sea. He told us that the pot must therefore be kept boiling for at least two years so that he could set things in order and prepare himself for the inevitable blow. The Soviet Ambassador, in one of his informal discussions with me, dismissed the theory, saying that the Soviet Union had plenty of warm waters of its own and was not interested in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.
Little did Zia know that on 13 November 1986, the Soviet leadership had decided, for internal reasons, that the war must be ended within one to two years and the troops brought back home. ‘You had better be ready,’ Gorbachev told Najibullah, ‘in twelve months because we will be going whether you are ready or not.’ When the decision became known in the fall of 1987, Zia was caught unprepared with no contingency plan for the fast-changing situation. Zia and all his advisers proceeded on the assumption that since the Soviets had not given up territorial acquisition under military challenge since the Second World War; the question of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan except on terms favourable to the Soviets simply did not arise. ‘What the bear has eaten,’ so says a Chinese saying, ‘he never spits out.’ All our plans were based on this wrong assumption.
Zia made another wrong assumption while assessing the post withdrawal situation in Afghanistan. He thought, as did everybody else, that Najib would not survive after the Soviet withdrawal. They all thought that he would flee Afghanistan, on the first available Soviet helicopter. They were in for a rude shock. Subsequent events showed how we had completely misjudged Najib and overestimated the power of the mujahideen (or Muj, as the Americans called them). However, the fatal error Zia and (in fairness to him) all his advisers committed was to view the Afghan conflict not as a nationalistic movement, as it largely appears in hindsight, but as evidence of a major communist drive for access to warm waters and for hegemony in South Asia. We badly misread Soviet objectives. We did not realize that Soviet leadership was sharply divided and that the decision to intervene did not have the support of the entire leadership. What is worse, we branded all the Afghan leaders as Soviet stooges. We saw them first as communist and only second as Afghan nationalists. We did not realize that Afghans are Afghans first and Afghans last. We misjudged Daoud, Hafeezullah Amin, Taraki and Dr.Najib. We did not know – or did not want to know – that they were desperately struggling to secure their release from the Bear’s embrace. We did know that Daoud had clashed with Brezhnev on 12 April 1977 during his Moscow visit which led to the tragic events which followed. Recalling this encounter, Abdul Samad Ghaus, then Deputy Foreign Minister and Daoud’s long-time confidant, writes that the Soviet leader objected to what he called a ‘considerable increase’ in the number of experts from NATO countries working in Afghanistan. In the past, Brezhnev said, the Afghan Government did not allow experts from NATO experts to be stationed in the northern part of the country, but this practice was no longer followed. The Soviet Union took a grim view of these developments and wanted the Afghan government to get rid of these experts who were nothing more than spies.
‘A chill fell in the room. Some of the Russians seemed visibly embarrassed. In a cold, unemotional voice Daoud told Brezhnev that what was just said could never be accepted by Afghans who viewed his statement as a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan—Dauod said, and I remembered clearly his words: we will never allow you to dictate to us how to run our country and whom to employ in Afghanistan. How and where we employ the foreign experts will remain the exclusive prerogative of the Afghan state. Afghanistan shall remain poor, if necessary, but free in its acts and decisions.’ After saying this, Ghaus concludes, Daoud and all other Afghans present abruptly stood up and were starting to walk out when Brezhnev, ‘rising from his chair with some difficulty,’ hurried after him. Reminding Daoud of his request for a private conversation, the Soviet leader offered to meet, ‘whenever convenient to you,’ whereupon Daoud replied, in a clear loud voice for all to hear, ‘I wish to inform Your Excellency that there is no longer any need for that meeting.’ This episode sealed Daoud’s fate, but we did not know it and we did nothing to help him. Hafeezullah Amin met the same fate for standing up to the Soviets but we refused to do business with him.
From the very inception of Pakistan, we played into hands by treating Afghans as our enemies and their leaders as Indian or Soviet stooges. We failed to analyze our assumptions critically with the result that the foundations of our decision-making were seriously flawed. Is it, therefore, surprising that Afghanistan today is in a mess and Pakistan has no Afghan policy worth the name?

Courtesy: Pakistan—A Dream Gone Sour by Roedad Khan, Oxford University Press Karachi 1998.

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