Pakistan’s foreign policy: US-Pakistan relations during Soviet-Afghan war

saddam hussain samo
Saddam Hussain Samo on Pakistan’s foreign Policy: US-Pakistan relations during Soviet-Afghan war

When Soviet invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the US once again became the most allied ally of Pakistan and ignored three threats completely while assisting Islamabad economically and military to stop Moscow’s infiltration towards the Middle East and Persian GulfThese threats included: Indian reaction, Pakistan’s nuclear program and its forging of friendly relations with China.

The US had put sanction on Pakistan earlier in 1977 and 1979 respectively and suspended its economic and military aid. In 1977, the US reacted on Pakistan’s relentless pursue of the French reprocessing plant deal.1 Under its constitutional obligations, it is not allowed to provide economic or military assistance to any country receiving or delivering nuclear enrichment equipment, material, or technology not under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.2 In 1979, the US again terminated its assistance and imposed fresh sanctions, as Pakistan continued its nuclear weapons program at Kahuta facility near Islamabad. 3 Despite these restrictions, Pakistan continued its program and received the samples of highly enriched uranium from China. Moreover, in 1979, some students of Quaid-e-Azam University sacked American embassy in Islamabad when rumors circulated in the local radio stations that the US stood behind the attack on Kabba, which was actually carried out by the local rebels to overthrow Al-Saud. But, Zia did little to protect American citizens.

Under these circumstances, Pakistani leaders were sure that the US would not assist Pakistan in opposing the soviets intervention. Although, they desired to provide clandestine support to Afghan’s insurgents, they needed American protection. For instance, one of the CIA officers reported that general Zia is concerned, however, that unless the United States is committed to protect Pakistan from Soviet retaliation, they could not risk Soviet wrath” by increasing support to anticommunist rebels to much.4

After consultations, the US, finally, decided to align with Pakistan to defeat Soviet. It lifted all the sanctions, previously imposed on it, in December 1979, as the USSR invaded Afghanistan and announced an offer of $400 million in economic and military assistance for Islamabad over 18 months. General Zia turned down the offer dismissing it as “Peanuts.” He wished to get more dollars for risking his country to the Soviet’s retaliation. When president Ronald Reagan succeeded Carter in 1981, Pakistan was rewarded with $3.2 billion over five years and granted permission to buy F-16 fighter jets previously given only to NATO and Japan.

The cooperation between Islamabad and Washington was simple. The US would supply weapons and money to Pakistan and the latter would then convey it to its favorite warlords to fight Soviet in Afghanistan. Zia tried to avoid direct intervention of CIA in providing assistance to Mujahedeen. He insisted that that every gun and dollar allocated to Mujahedin pass through Pakistani hands. He would decide which Afghan guerrillas benefitted.5 Besides, he ensured that no American would be permitted to cross the border into Afghanistan, all training of Mujahedin would be carried out by ISI only, CIA officers would only train Pakistani instructors when complex weapons are introduced. These indigenous instructors would then train Mujahedin. Finally, the US would provide stipends to Pakistani trainers, drivers and cooks for training Afghans. 6

The US supplied containers full of weapons that arrived at Karachi port. ISI established training camps along the Pakistan-Afghan’s border and trained Mujahedin in handling those weapons. Initially, policy makers back in Washington did not believe that these rebels would defeat the Soviets. However, the result of war turned out to be surprising for them. According to CIA estimation, by 1983, the total war expenditure of the Soviets was 8 to 10 times higher than the total money US congress spent on Mujahidin. 7 According to CIA director William Casey, who briefed president Reagan in 1984, Mujahedin had killed or wounded 17,000 Soviet soldiers and control 60 percent of the countryside. The war had cost the Soviet’s government about $12 billion. This damage had been purchased by US taxpayers for $200 million plus another $200 million contributed by Saudi Arabia.8

Keeping in view these astonishing results, the United States raised covert allocations for supply of arms to the Mujahedin from $250 million in 1985 to $470 million in 1986 and $630 million in 1987.9 the US Congress passed Pressler Amendment in 1985 that required the US president to issue an annual certificate that “Pakistan does not possess nuclear explosive device,” failing which economic and military aid to Pakistan would be stopped. From 1985 to 1989, the US presidents issued certificates even knowing the fact that Pakistan was actively working on the bomb. However, since the Soviets war was under way and ISI backed Mujahedin were producing good results, the US could not afford to annoy Pakistan by highlighting the issue of nuclear weapons or suspending its aid.

As soon as the soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the US president George H. W. Bush brought the pressler Amendment in limelight and declined to issue the certificate in 1990. He suspended $700 million that were to be given to Pakistan annually during 1988-1994 as pledged by the US. Besides, he put embargo on the sell of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan for which Islamabad had already paid money. 10 These sanctions, under Pressler Amendment, created economic pains for Pakistan and again deteriorated US-Pakistan relations. To further aggravate the issue, the US left Afghan’s mess without installing democratic government by resolving the issues of different warlords. This attitude of Washington left Islamabad in a lurch because it needed to secure its Afghan’s border by installing friendly government. Pakistan knew that if pro-Soviet or Indian government is formed in Afghanistan, it would face the Soviet’s wrath for cooperating with the US in the form of cross border attacks. Pakistan, alone, indulged into the Afghan’s conundrum, but this led to the development of anti-American feelings among leaders and citizens of Pakistan. Thus, US-Pakistan relations remained abysmal afterwards till 2001 when American again required Pakistan’s assistance to wage its “War on Terror” in Afghanistan.

List of References:

  1. Leonard Specter, Nuclear Proliferation Today (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 80.
  2. “Bush Waives Nuclear-Related Sanctions on India, Pakistan”, Arms Control Association
  3. Larry Pressler, Neighbors in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent (India: Penguin/Viking, 2017), 120.
  4. Gates, from the shadows, p.144.
  5. Ibid. p.146.
  6. Steve Coll, Ghost wars, p.63-67
  7. Howard Hart, CIA’s chief of station in Pakistan, estimated the figures, which he cabled to Langley in 1983.
  8. Steve Coll, Ghost wars, p.89.
  9. Barnett R. Rubin, the search for peace in Afghanistan: From buffer state to failed state, 63-5.
  10. Abdul Sattar, Pakistan’s foreign policy 1947-2016, p.250.


  1. Good sir.
    Sir I am still waiting. We contacted you aome days ago. I want you to prepare article “Democracy of Pakistan since 1947”.


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