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Indira persuaded Zia-ul-Haq to join regional grouping during Afghan crisis:CIA

Worried over Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi tried to persuade then Pakistan President Zia-ul-Haq in 1980 to join an Indian-sponsored regional strategy to effectively deal with the “occupation”, according to a declassified CIA report.

The report said Indira sought to form a regional grouping to exert diplomatic pressure on the Soviets to confine their “activities” to Afghanistan. The Pakistani establishment was also concerned that India might take advantage of the tension along the Af-Pak border to intimidate Pakistan or that India might launch a preemptive strike against its nuclear facilities. According to the report declassified last week, in the wake of the invasion, Pakistani leadrship was also apprehensive about the potential for Soviet and Indian efforts — separate or joint– to undermine Pakistan’s stability.

“Immediately after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Indira Gandhi — who had just returned to power– tried to persuade President Zia’s government to adopt an Indian-sponsored regional approach to the Soviet occupation,” the report said. Rejecting India’s proposal, the Pakistani officials characterised the plan to the US diplomats as “hegemonistic” and instead accepted American offers of arms to counter the Soviet threat from Afghanistan.

On its part, India feared that the revival of any US-Pakistani military ties and the expanded US naval presence in the Inbdian Ocean will increase super-power competition in a region where India aspired to have unchallenged dominance. “Senior Indian officials believed the extent of the threat posed to India and the region by the Soviet invasion would depend on whether Pakistan became a ‘buffer state’ or whether it became a ‘confrontation state’ by accepting major military help from outside powers, allowing foreign bases on its soil,” the CIA assessed.

In response to Indian arguments that Pakistan’s acquisitions of US arms threatened India, Zia in 1981 had proposed a non-aggression pact with New Delhi. The report said New Delhi continued to parry Pakistani initiatives on the pact. Talking about various issues involving Indo-Pak ties, the CIA said Islamabad feared that India’s desire for “regional pre-eminence threatens Pakistan’s survival”.