19. Telegram From the Embassy in Pakistan to the Department of State1

13331. Military addressees also for POLAD/INTAF. Subject: (S) Pakistan and U.S. Security Policy for the Indian Ocean Region. Ref: Islamabad 127952 (Notal).

1. (S) Entire text.

[Page 67]

2. Summary: This is the second of a series of three think pieces on U.S. policy in the region. The first dealt with Afghanistan.3 This deals with the Indian Ocean/Southwest Asia region. The last will deal with US/Pakistan relations.4

3. The 1980’s will challenge the U.S. ability to marshal political, economic, and military resources sufficiently and credibly to deter the Soviet Union from further encroachments in the Indian Ocean, South/Southwest Asian, Gulf, and Middle Eastern regions. Geographically, Pakistan sits on the edge of this complicated area, in a blocking position between South and Southwest Asia. Economically, it is not in itself a prize for either superpower contender. But politically, this Islamic republic is a “frontline” state that other more important nations in the region watch much as farmers do a weathervane, looking to U.S. action here as indicators of American willingness and resolve to add substance to rhetoric in defending vital U.S. interests in the security of the overall region. Over the next several years—an interval in which a new administration in Washington will set the content and tone of its foreign policy—Pakistan will be a testing ground (and unfortunately, not an ideal one) of American ability in this area to meet the growing Soviet challenge of the 1980’s. We will need both to demonstrate the viability of a Southwest Asian security framework and to make it credible to our friends in South Asia as well. End summary.

4. No more than three years ago, then Deputy Assistant Secretary Spike Dubs was able to tell the Congress that things never looked better in South Asia and its environs.5 India and Pakistan were embarked on a new round of relaxing their long-rocky relationship, Pakistan and Afghanistan were on the verge of settling their differences on Pushtunistan and the Durand Line, Pakistan and Bangladesh had kissed and made up, and the Shah was still the policeman at the Gulf. Iran and India, with a reluctant Pakistan, seemed also moving toward some sort of collaborative arrangements.

5. As 1981 dawns, nothing of this remains. There have been fundamental changes in the regional balance of power. The Shah is gone, and radicalized, Islamic instability has taken his place on his portion of the Indian Ocean rim. His successors are warring with Arabs in a conflict for which no end is in sight. Indo-Pakistan tensions have re-emerged, the consequence mainly of the suspicions on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border which Mrs. Gandhi’s return to power has re- [Page 68] kindled. The Soviet Union has an army of occupation in formerly non-aligned Afghanistan, fighting for its life and the life of an unpopular Soviet puppet government whose very imposition was recognition of the failure of two previous Communist governments in that country. CENTO is no more, and Pakistan, once a staunch US ally on the Rim, has become a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

6. The changes have prompted massive new thinking about the security of the region by US policymakers and have produced not only a flat Washington commitment to fight for its interests in the Persian Gulf area but a broader confrontation with the Soviet Union throughout the region, ending the truce-like atmosphere [garble] evoked.

7. The changes have provoked also new policies by the United States. After almost thirty years of token presence, we now have had an Indian Ocean fleet made up of two carrier battle groups for more than a year, despite the severe pressures this puts on the rest of the fleet and on the retention rates of skilled servicemen. We have developed new plans for the utilization of US–UK facilities at Diego Garcia and have negotiated formal agreements for naval and air access and support at other important facilities along the Indian Ocean rim. We have or are creating a Rapid Deployment Force for the region, with pre-positioned materiel at Diego Garcia.

8. In political terms we have sought to defuse what appeared some time ago to be a budding confrontation between the US and radical Islam—the high point of which was the widespread acceptance of the canard that the US had something to do with the attack on the Qaaba in November 1979,6 leading to a round of attacks on US installations in a number of Islamic countries, especially here in Pakistan.7 We have sought also to shore up our relationships with various nations of the region in an effort to prevent further erosion of the Western position.

9. And with regard to Pakistan, we have seen a [garble] this nation—now a “frontline” state facing Soviet ground and air forces in nearby Afghanistan—seek accommodation with the reality of resurgent Soviet power in the area. The Soviet presence in Afghanistan brings Soviet forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean, and Pakistan stands in the way.

10. In one sense, Pakistan is peripheral to the main region of contest, which is the Gulf region generally and both Iran and the Arabian Peninsula specifically. In another sense, Pakistan itself can be looked upon as a Persian Gulf state, the port of Karachi just down the coast from the Gulf of Oman and Karachi itself closer in miles to the Straits [Page 69] of Hormuz than to Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad. And in still another sense, Pakistan is in a blocking position between the regions defined as Southwest and South Asia, sharing the Islamic heritage and traditions of the Persian and Arab lands to its west, but modified by the historic and pervasive encounter with South Asian Hinduism to its east. It is also a “frontline” state vis-a-vis the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It is through Pakistan that the anti-Communist insurgency in Afghanistan is being supported and fueled from outside sources.

11. We have often said that US interests in Pakistan are essentially derivative, mainly of its geopolitical position on the southern edge of the Eurasian landmass. Pakistan has no natural resources which either we or the Soviet Union (or India) covets, but its loss—as a potential bulwark against further spread of Soviet influence south and eastward—has been seen over the years as a development which would affect our position in the region significantly.

12. Pakistan offers the following to US planners concerned with this part of the world:

—a well-trained and well-disciplined military establishment of nearly one-half million men, in need of new equipment but respected for its capabilities with the second-rate equipment it now has;

—a talented people, backing up this military establishment, providing a substantial manpower pool from a population of around 80 million and providing also thousands of expatriate workers—skilled and otherwise;

—a position of increasing effectiveness and influence in multilateral diplomacy—aided by an able and dedicated Civil and Foreign Service establishment—in such areas as the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Islamic Conference Organization;

—an almost unique position of access to the 1500-mile border Pakistan shares with neighboring Afghanistan as well as the nearly 400-mile border shared with Iranian Baluchistan; and,

—a complex of facilities and airbases, starting with the man-made Karachi harbor and including as well the new port Qasim to its east, as well as the airfields surrounding the harbor—all of these important in halcyon days for the support of a much smaller American military and naval presence in the Indian Ocean area and available again, under the right circumstances and terms, for easing the support burden we have now assumed by our upgraded military and naval presence in the region.

13. Unfortunately, Pakistan also offers us an almost unavoidable involvement in its historic enmity, irrelevant to our interests, with India, a much larger, more important, and much less malleable country to its east—a country which is well on its way to establishing itself as [Page 70] the number one indigenous military and naval power in the Indian Ocean region as a whole.

14. The greatest single obstacle to a stronger Pakistani contribution to the Western security effort in the area is the parlous state of Pakistan-American relations, a subject that will be explored in some detail in a following message. It is only in the most recent of months that the long cooling period in the relationship—based mainly in the American pursuit of global interests to the detriment of those of a regional or bilateral nature—has begun to thaw. But there is a long way yet to go, because rightly or wrongly the United States is still the outside security linkage which Pakistan perceives it needs to enable it to stand firm in the face of Soviet pressure. It was Soviet pressure in the 1950s which provided the setting in which the early American-Pakistan relationship was spawned, and it is those pressures still—directly and in Pakistani eyes through India—which provides the basis of the US-Pakistani security relationship of today.

15. Pakistanis have tended over the years to see this relationship in terms of an explicit guarantee against Soviet expansionism and an implicit guarantee that the US would not sit idly by while India acts out a revanchist fantasy at Pakistan’s expense. It has been seen almost exclusively in its South Asian context, because the threats which a paranoid Pakistan saw to its very existence seemed through most of its years as a nation to derive from the unresolved issues of the 1947 partition of what had been British India.

16. The challenge to US planners concerned with the evolution of a Southwest Asia security framework is to broaden the focus of Pakistan’s international concerns from the purely South Asian preoccupation with India, through the new anxieties brought about by the Russian presence in Afghanistan, to a wider Southwest Asian perception. Only when the focus is so broadened do the measures which do not have the comfortable bilateral fixation of earlier years make any sense as a reassurance to Pakistan, as to the Gulf region in general, that the United States will react effectively if the Soviet Union moves against them.

17. The problem is one involving several aspects of American credibility, for Pakistan’s current doubts about American will and interest to stand up to the Russians if Pakistani territory is at stake undercuts our credibility in the region as a whole. Our oldest security relationship with any country in the region is the one we have with Pakistan, and while it has undergone major stresses and shifts in emphasis, as Pakistan has moved into the mainstream of the turbulent politics of Third World diplomacy, there are positive elements within the relationship which remain to be tapped and re-awakened. Even FonMin Agha Shahi—no friend of the United States—feels compelled to look constantly for signs of a new American willingness to take what he terms [Page 71] “the bold decisions” necessary to bolster the friendly countries of the region and safeguard both their interests and America’s in preventing further erosion of the anti-Communist, pro-Western position here.

18. Yet another element of credibility is involved in Pakistan’s doubts, in the first instance growing out of Pakistan’s experience in 1965 and 1971 conflicts with India, and aroused anew by such constraints on effective American action abroad as the War Powers Act, the assertion of a more vigorous legislative role in foreign policy, the erosion of executive freedom, and the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate evidence of diminished confidence and interest in foreign places.

19. The challenge is to get Pakistanis to broaden their security receptivity to the same width as their threat perception so that American military and political actions taken in the Indian Ocean region as a whole, since the fall of Iran and the invasion of Afghanistan, are seen by Pakistanis as having direct relevance to their security. Too often the Paks see U.S. actions in a specifically bilateral context involving the U.S. and only one of the other Rim countries or a specific reaction to an immediate crisis such as the continued detention of American hostages in Iran. Only rarely does it seem to occur to Pakistanis—because of their South Asian myopia—that their Saudi and pan-Islamic diplomacy is coincident with our mutual interests in a broader move to construct political ties which complement the purely strategic and military aspects of our regional response.

20. Yet another problem results indirectly from Pakistan’s close links to the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, as well as Iran. The difficulties we have in meshing the Arab-Israel peace process with satisfying Saudi and other Arab objectives are mirrored in Pakistan, where the diplomatic discomforts caused by US policy in the Levant have important domestic and international resonances. So too with Iran. The US confrontation with Iran through the early months of 1980 paralleled an intensive effort by the Pakistanis, especially Foreign Minister Agha Shahi, to keep the Iranians focussed on the Soviet danger and to influence the direction of the Iranian revolution in ways constructive to the security of the region as a whole. The Pakistani effort eventually collapsed, as the Iranian Foreign Minister who played a key role was gobbled up by the cannibalism of a revolution in full spate. But Pakistan cultivates Iran still, and only after the hostage situation is behind us is there much hope that the US-Iran confrontation will recede as an impediment in US relations with Pakistan.

21. Overcoming the climate of suspicion, of disappointment, of disparate security perceptions, and of latent non-alignment, an American-Pakistan security relationship will not be easy. It will involve important choices of a strictly bilateral nature (septel). It will be costly, no doubt. It will require a much better understanding of the perceptions [Page 72] of those inhabiting this Indian Ocean rim state so that American responses are played in terms other than those which sound attractive to Western audiences in Washington, Bonn, or Paris. And it will also require a much more aggressive and credible informational effort than we are currently engaged in overseas to have a chance of gaining public awareness of our actions and appreciation of their relevance to Pak security concerns.

22. The Soviet aggression in Afghanistan and other events have fractured the shaky symbiosis of the region, leaving challenge and opportunity for the US to construct a system of relationships divorced from the euphoria of the 1950s and early 1960s and from the disillusionments thereafter—a system that will deter Soviet adventurism as well as protect US interests. Pakistan is an important, we would even say vital, element in such an evolution. Our own economic lifeline reaches into the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula; important parts of it pass along the Pakistan Makran coast. But the political environment for its protection may well begin at the Khojak, Tochi, and Khyber passes which lie astride the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and are part of the historic invasion routes into South Asia from Southwest and Central Asia.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800609–0033. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Sent for information to Karachi, Lahore (pouch), Peshawar (pouch), New Delhi, Kathmandu, Dacca, Colombo, Jidda, Kuwait, Beijing, London, Moscow, CINCPAC, USNMR SHAPE, and CINCEUR.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XII, Afghanistan, Document 338.
  3. See footnote 2 above.
  4. See Document 471.
  5. Dubs testified before the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs of the House Committee on International Relations on March 22, 1977. (Department of State Bulletin, April 11, 1977, pp. 344–346)
  6. See Document 375.
  7. See Documents 376385.