The US and its NATO allies which were engaged in a bitter the Cold War with the then Soviet Union decided to use Pakistan as a frontline state against their enemy. Prof Munawar Sabir in his scholarly lecture delivered at the Superior University, Lahore, exclusively for the CSS students preparing for interview on ‘Geo-strategic importance of Pakistan’. He highlighted the geo-strategic importance of Pakistan by discussing Pakistan’s relations with its neighbouring countries and the major powers.
When Pakistan emerged on the map of the world as a sovereign and independent state in August 1947, it was like a baby in ICU with hardly any prospect of survival, on account of its extremely vulnerable defence and fragile economy. However, despite numerous setbacks, crises and turmoils of gigantic magnitude, it has so far been able to survive and make some progress due to several factors, perhaps the most important of which is its strategic geographical location and its particular ideology. Pakistan’s geo-strategic importance can be best understood in the regional and global perspective.
In geographical terms, it is surrounded by four countries: Afghanistan, Iran, India and China, each of which is a major player in international politics. In one way or the other, Pakistan is vital for these countries and this raises its international stature. Afghanistan which is now the focus of world’s attention is generally regarded as the breeding ground of all the international terrorism, militancy and opium production and the whole world, including the US realises the fact that no peace is possible in Afghanistan without the active support and cooperation of Pakistan.
Troubles began in Afghanistan with the Soviet invasion in 1979, which led to a huge influx of refugees to Pakistan. The US and its NATO allies which were engaged in a bitter the Cold War with the then Soviet Union decided to use Pakistan as a frontline state against their enemy. Pakistan’s geo-strategic importance can be best understood in the regional and global perspective. In geographical terms, it is surrounded by four countries: Afghanistan, Iran, India and China, each of which is a major player in international politics.
Besides recruiting thousands of Arab fighters in the name of jihad, young students who were studying in madrassas in Pakistan were picked up, trained, motivated, armed and pushed into Afghanistan as Mujahideen to fight against the occupation forces. This so-called Afghan jihad which was sponsored and financed by the West and its Arab allies received unequivocal support from President Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime and the country’s religious parties most notably the Jamaat-e-Islami, whose Amir Mian Tufail Muhammad described Zia-ul-Haq as Salahuddin Ayyubi of Pakistan.
After the defeat and disintegration of the former Soviet Union, both Pakistan and the Mujahideen, who had played the key role in the war, were completely forgotten by the West. With the spirit of jihad still vibrant in the Mujahideen, a large number of them reorganised themselves and emerged as a new force named Taliban, who were supported by the Pakistani agencies in the hope that a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan might be helpful in checking the growing Indian influence in the region.
The 9/11 attacks and the toppling of the Taliban regime in the wake of the US led invasion dramatically changed the situation, which once again forced the West to realise the strategic importance of its old forgotten ally Pakistan. Now, the US and NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan are well aware that they are heavily dependent on Pakistan for winning the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has other neighbours also such as Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, but Pakistan provides the easiest route for the provision of NATO supplies to the forces in Afghanistan.
Moreover, being a land locked country, Afghanistan has to rely heavily on Pakistan for its cross border trade and economy. The pro-western Arab governments are also afraid that the further strength of Iran may encourage their Shi’ite population to revolt against the dictatorial governments in these countries. In these circumstances, Iran needs Pakistan’s support to foil the Western conspiracies against it. Pakistan’s eastern neighbour India with its huge market and its nuclear capability, is also ambitious of becoming a global power with a permanent seat in the Security Council.
Apparently it insists that a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan is in its (India’s) interests, because any extremist or fundamentalist government in Pakistan may lead to more violence and terrorism in India. But the fact is that India itself has always been bent upon destroying Pakistan. In 1971, when it succeeded in the dismemberment of Pakistan, its army chief at that time told his government that if he was given a few more days, he could easily take the rest of Pakistan. But the then US President Nixon warned Indira Gandhi not to go too far in her ambitions against Pakistan. Nixon is quoted to have said, “Old witch, enough is enough. ”