IN response to my column of January 9 there came an email message from a Russian friend resident in Pakistan. He stated that contrary to Pakistan’s fears, the Soviet government “never had any intentions to walk into Pakistan”. He also pointed out that even when the Soviet Union had a “military presence in Afghanistan Pakistan remained beyond our strategic plans. The reason for such an approach is that historically we had partnership relations with India”.
The narrative taught in Pakistan starts with the assumption that the Soviet Union was anti-Pakistan right from Pakistan’s creation, just as our media is now busy trying to convince us that the United States is out to get us. Such was the Pakistani aversion to the Soviets that the process to set up diplomatic relations took over seven months even though Zafrullah Khan, Pakistan’s foreign minister, and Andrei Gromyko, Soviet deputy foreign minister, met on the subject of diplomatic relations in April 1948.
Pakistan saw relations with the Soviet Union from the prism of relations with India just as these days it sees ties with the US. In May 1949 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru announced his plans to visit the US in October 1950. Pakistan’s leaders were keen to have the US on their side and actively sought an invitation from Washington. They were disappointed that Nehru was invited before their prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan.
Soon thereafter it was announced that Liaquat would visit Moscow, becoming the first Commonwealth head of government to visit the Soviet Union. The Moscow visit never materialised and instead in December 1949 it was announced that the prime minister would visit the US in May 1950.
The real reason why the US was chosen over Soviet Union became apparent in a background paper written by the Study Group of Pakistan Institute of International Affairs in 1956: “There are important divergences of outlook between Pakistan, with its Islamic background, and the Soviet Union with its background of Marxism which is atheistic … Pakistan had noticed the subservience which was forced upon the allies of the Soviet Union … Furthermore, there was the question whether Russia could supply the aid, both material and technical, which Pakistan so urgently needed.”
The main reason why Pakistan sought friendship with the US and joined the American camp during the Cold War was economic and technical assistance. That the Pakistani government and policymakers cloaked the rationale for this assistance in ideological terms is not surprising.
After decades of assumptions and speculation, we now have access to the Soviet archives to find definitive information on Soviet intentions towards Pakistan. But Pakistanis do not delve into these archives because rather than searching for the truth, they prefer to live in a make-believe world.
Out of all the declassified Soviet archives related to the military intervention in Afghanistan there are only a few which even mention Pakistan. Those that do, mainly talk about the need for talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan. None mention the “push towards warm waters” cited by Gen Ziaul Haq as the explanation of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and as justification for the US-backed jihad that haunts Pakistan to this day.
According to documents in the Soviet archives, the Soviet ambassador to Afghanistan Alexander Puzanov advised Afghan president Nur Muhammad Taraki in June 1979 of the need for meeting Zia to resolve problems. It was proposed that in exchange for Afghanistan’s support for Pakistan’s entry into the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), Pakistan would ban political activities of Afghan refugees and refrain from sending armed groups into Afghanistan.
In a meeting held the following month, July 1979, while Taraki insisted that Pakistan was not helping, Puzanov stressed the need for Afghanistan to do its best to initiate a dialogue and resolve pending issues with its neighbour.
Documentation from December 1979 highlights disagreement between Soviet military and civilian leaders on the decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan. Soviet chief of general staff Nikolai Ogarkov is on record as arguing, “We will re-establish the entire eastern Islamic system against us and we will lose politically in the entire world.” He was overruled by the Communist Party ideologues.
In July 1980 Zia put forth a proposal for holding talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran under the aegis of the Soviet Union. Soviet archives reveal that in correspondence with East German Chancellor Eric Honecker, the Soviets reveal their suspicion of the “seriousness” of Zia’s “intentions”. Yet they agreed to go ahead with the proposal and offered themselves as mediators. The talks never took place because of Soviet and Afghan refusal to accept Pakistan’s demands that president Babrak Kamal be replaced and also because Iran backed out from these talks as well.
Out of the entire declassified Soviet archives available these are the only ones which discuss Pakistan. While not pleased with Pakistan’s support for the Afghan resistance movement and while often labelling Pakistan an American or western stooge, at no time and in no correspondence is there evidence that the Soviet Union planned an invasion of Pakistan.
My Russian friend is, therefore, right in pointing out that contrary to Pakistani belief and narrative, an invasion of Pakistan was “beyond our strategic plans”. While militarily intervening in Afghanistan for various reasons, Soviet strategists never contemplated invading Pakistan. They had a strategic relationship with India and did not wish to threaten a close ally by extending their military presence to India’s borders.
Pakistanis need to examine the Soviet archives and we need to review our entire unreal narrative of history. We must know where we deceived ourselves to avoid being deceived again. Russia is one of our close neighbours and could be an important economic partner.