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Pakistan Becomes a Frontline State

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made Pakistan a country of paramount geostrategic importance. In a matter of days, the United States declared Pakistan a "frontline state" against Soviet aggression and offered to reopen aid and military assistance deliveries. For the remainder of Zia's tenure, the United States generally ignored Pakistan's developing nuclear program. Other donors also rallied to Pakistan as it stood firm against Soviet blustering, hospitably received over 3 million Afghan refugees who poured across the borders, provided a conduit for weapons and other support, and gave a safe haven to the Afghan mujahidin (see Glossary). Pakistan's top national security agency, the army's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, monitored the activities of and provided advice and support to the mujahidin, and commandos from the army's Special Services Group helped guide the operations inside Afghanistan. In the Muslim world, Pakistan increasingly assumed a leading role. As a long-term goal, Zia envisioned the emergence of an Islamic government in Kabul that would provide Pakistan with geostrategic depth, facilitate access to Muslim West Asia, and forswear a revision of the Pakistan-Afghanistan boundary.

Pakistan paid a price for its activities. The refugee burden, even if offset in part by foreign assistance, created dangerous pressures within Pakistani society. Afghan and Soviet forces conducted raids against mujahidin bases inside Pakistan, and a campaign of terror bombings and sabotage in Pakistan's cities, guided by Afghan intelligence agents, caused hundreds of casualties. In 1987 some 90 percent of the 777 terrorist incidents recorded worldwide took place in Pakistan. The actual danger to Pakistan, however, was probably never very great. There is no concrete evidence to support the revitalized "Great Game" argument that the Soviet invasion was a modern manifestation of Russia's historic drive to garner access to a warm water port and that it was but a first step on a road through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. Nor was it likely that the Soviet Union would have conducted major military operations against Pakistan as long as Islamabad did not flaunt its support to the mujahidin.

The Soviet invasion enabled Pakistan's army to present itself as the defender of the nation in times of trouble, making criticism of military rule almost unpatriotic. Zia used the situation to strengthen his grip on internal affairs by appealing to national unity and pointing to Pakistan's growing international stature. In addition, the substantial amounts of aid money coming from various sources boosted the economy and, in the short run at least, more than offset the costs of the refugees and rearming the military. Overall, the economy grew rapidly in the Zia years, in large part because of remittances from many Pakistanis who worked abroad (see Impact of Migration to the Persian Gulf Countries , ch. 2; Labor , ch. 3).

Zia's ability to obtain high levels of support and modern weaponry strengthened his position within the military establishment and enabled Pakistan once again to build up a credible military capability. Under the United States assistance program, Pakistan bought F-16 aircraft, upgraded M-48 tanks, Harpoon naval missiles, helicopters, and artillery, and received second-hand frigates on loan. In the four years after the invasion, Pakistan's armed forces grew by nearly 12 percent, from 428,000 to 478,000 persons. A substantial amount of the costs of modernization and expansion were covered by United States aid and financial contributions from Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf countries.

Zia was extremely skillful in protecting his base in the military. To ensure control, he was concurrently chief of the army staff, chief martial law administrator, and president, and he carefully juggled senior military appointments. The satisfaction of the military was also enhanced by arrangements under which Pakistani service personnel were seconded to the armed forces of Persian Gulf countries, where emoluments were much more generous than in Pakistan. Retiring officers received generous benefits, sometimes including land allocations, and often found lucrative positions in government service or in parastatal economic enterprises. The assignment of serving officers to approximately 10 percent of the senior posts in the civilian administration also provided opportunities for economic gain, sometimes in ways that were ultimately harmful to the army's image of itself. For example, some military personnel reportedly participated in the rapidly growing narcotics business.

Zia had learned well the lesson of 1965 and was careful not to allow the nation to return to the status of a client state of the United States. Even as Pakistan faced the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, it kept that threat in perspective. Immediately after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, Zia declined the Carter administration's assistance package offer of US$400 million as "peanuts." It was not until 1981 that Pakistan concluded an assistance agreement with the United States, which provided for US$3.2 billion over six years, divided equally between economic and military aid. This agreement was extended in 1986 to provide an additional US$4.0 billion over the next six years. Zia was careful to avoid the trappings of a formal alliance, preferring continued involvement in the Nonaligned Movement--which Pakistan joined in 1979--and with the Islamic nations of the Middle East through his leading role in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (see Pakistan and the World During the Zia Regime , ch. 1). ))

Credit for the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan lay mainly with the mujahidin and their Pakistani mentors, but would hardly have come about had Mikhail S. Gorbachev not decided to cut back drastically on Soviet foreign entanglements. After tedious negotiations, an agreement was reached in April 1988, providing for the withdrawal of Soviet troops by February 15, 1989.

Zia's policies inevitably led to a worsening of relations with India, which was disturbed by the reentry of the United States into the South Asian security equation and by what India saw as the impetus to a new arms race. India responded with large-scale arms purchases of its own, primarily from the Soviet Union, which more than matched anything that the United States provided to Pakistan. Zia took considerable pains to reduce tensions and launched several peace initiatives, which New Delhi, however, failed to accept. Whether Zia saw his own efforts merely as diplomatic maneuvers was unclear, but they reflected a growing realization in Pakistan that unconstrained enmity with India was simply too dangerous and beyond Pakistan's means.

There were periods of considerable tension between Pakistan and India. In November 1986, India launched its largest maneuver ever, Operation Brass Tacks, menacingly close to the Pakistan border. The Pakistan Army responded with threatening countermovements, and in early 1987 there was serious concern that war might break out. The India-Pakistan hot line was brought into use, and Zia skillfully seized the initiative by traveling to India to view a cricket game, using the opportunity to meet with Indian leaders to defuse the situation.

Among the major disputes between the two countries, only that over the Siachen Glacier, which is located in a remote area of northern Kashmir where boundaries are ill defined, has led to fighting in recent years. The two armies had been in desultory but very costly (primarily because of exposure to the elements) high-altitude combat there since 1984, when Indian forces moved into previously unoccupied territory at the extreme northern end of the Kashmir Line of Control.

Aside from Afghanistan, the most problematic element in Pakistan's security policy was the nuclear question. Zia inherited an ambitious program from Bhutto and continued to develop it, out of the realization that, despite Pakistan's newly acquired weaponry, it could never match India's conventional power and that India either had, or shortly could develop, its own nuclear weapons. Even after the invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan almost exhausted United States tolerance, including bungled attempts to illegally acquire United States nuclear- relevant technology and a virtual public admission in 1987 by the head of Pakistan's nuclear program that the country had developed a weapon. As long as Pakistan remained vital to United States interests in Afghanistan, however, no action was taken to cut off United States support. Pakistani attempts to handle the problem bilaterally with India led nowhere, but a significant step was a nonformalized 1985 agreement that neither India nor Pakistan would attack the other's nuclear facilities.

Zia showed a remarkable ability to keep himself in power, to promote Pakistan's international position, and to bring a modest degree of economic prosperity to Pakistan. His problem was how to devolve power. Beginning in 1985, a process of demilitarization of the regime was launched, and Zia was elected civilian president of Pakistan through some highly dubious maneuvering (see Zia ul-Haq, 1978-88 , ch. 4). In late 1985, he ended martial law and revised the 1973 constitution in ways that legitimized all actions taken by the martial law government since 1977 and strengthened his position as president. Mohammad Khan Junejo, whom Zia appointed prime minister in March 1985, managed to develop some degree of autonomy from Zia and persuaded him to allow political parties to reform; Junejo also watered down some of Zia's constitutional proposals, notably blocking the creation of the National Security Council that would have institutionalized the role of the military.

The experiment in controlled democracy floundered in May 1988, when Zia abruptly dismissed the Junejo government for reasons that were not altogether clear but may have involved Junejo's attempt to gain a voice in security matters. Zia promised new elections, but most observers assumed that he would once again postpone them rather than take the risk that Benazir Bhutto, Zulfiqar's daughter, who had returned from exile abroad to a tumultuous welcome in Pakistan in 1986, would come to power. Benazir's program included revenge for her father's death and punishment of Zia for staging the 1977 coup, which, under the 1973 constitution, rendered him liable to the death sentence. The crisis facing Pakistan resolved itself suddenly, however, when Zia was killed in a mysterious airplane crash in August 1988. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a senior bureaucrat who was president of the Senate, succeeded to the presidency, and after consultations with the new chief of the army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg, rather surprisingly decided to let the elections proceed as scheduled.

Data as of April 1994

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