Worry grows over Pakistan after Soviets' Afghan foray

The Soviet grip on Afghanistan appears so total that diplomatic sources in this volatile region now are addressing their concerns more the parlous predicament of Pakistan.

Reliable sources, well informed on the situation in nearby Afghanistan, say that short of wholesale and unforeseen foreign intervention, the Soviet takeover is a fait accompli -- despite the occasional skirmish with pockets of guerrilla resistance.

With Afghanistan a lost cause at least as far as checking Soviet influence is concerned, diplomats here are shifting their attention to the wider implications of that invasion. Specifically, they fear that continuing turmoil in the Asian subcontinent may begin to unravel Pakistan.

The strands of trouble are everywhere to be seen.

The Pakistan economy is generall considered to be in poor shape. The country's morale is not much better. The execution a few months ago of popular former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has not helped. And the rule of General Zia ul-Haq is tenuous despite its martial nature.

An American diplomat, who is based at the US Embassy in Islamabad and who was trapped temporarily in the building when Islamic militants burned it down last November, confides, "It hasn't happened yet, but for months we have been expecting Pakistan to blow up any day now."

One key non-Indian diplomat here in New Delhi pointed to Pakistan on the world map and warned: "This country could disappear." He admitted this was still unlikely to happen, but he did not by any means rule it out.

Another diplomatic source, when asked about such a possibility, said, "We also have been very worried about that."

Such a scenario envisages the fragmentation of Pakistan, with India, Iran, and a Soviet-dominated Afghanistan picking up the pieces.

As seen from here, Pakistan is already an artificial creation, having been formed as a political and religious homeland for Muslims when Britain gave the Indian subcontinent independence in 1947. It has already lost its eastern wing to what is now Bangladesh, and three times it has fought and lost major wars with India over territorial claims.

In addition to Pakistan's internal difficulties, which are compounded by an influx of afghan refugees, is the very real threat posed by the Soviet Union.

US military intelligence out of Washington reportedly warns that Soviet military activity in Afghanistan could spill over into northwest Pakistan. Another Afghanistan-type invasion is not anticipated. But some kind of "hot pursuit" of fleeing guerrillas seeking sanctuary over the border in Pakistan is thought quite possible.

Even before the Soviet invasion, military intelligence sources here in New Delhi were troubled by the flow of refugees from Afghanistan to the area immediately above Baluchistan in Pakistan. Baluchistan, with its troubled history of ethnic tensions and demands for regional authority, is viewed as the soft underbelly of Pakistan that could be ripe for Soviet subversion pr penetration.

The number of refugees coming into this area is a direct result of a Soviet military push southward in Afghanistan between Kandahar and Ghazni. Whether this is a tactic designed to complete Soviet military consolidation of Afghanistan or is calculated instead to destabilize Baluchistan and therefore Pakistan is anybody's guess.

Whatever the motivations, the effect of thousands more refugees pouring into northern Pakistan imposes further stress on the already strained host country. It is estimated that Afghan refugees in Pakistan now number somewhere between 400,000 and 600,000. In the next few months this figure could well climb close to the 1 million mark.

There are no nice clear-cut options or solutions for Pakistan, it is said here.

If it moves too close to the United States, its tilt becomes a provocation to the Soviet Union, which is already breathing fire down its neck.

If it appears too eager to accept proffered American arms, it will jeopardize its relations with its militantly Islamic neighbor, Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. President Zia for some time has been shifting his own country onto a more fundamentalist Islamic footing, and he is moving very cautiously on the issue of US weapons.

Nor are Pakistan's ties with China seen by most analysts here as a major factor in the Afghanistan situation. China is not expected to use Pakistan as a conduit for weapons going to the Afghan rebels. As one diplomat, making yet another sharp distinction between the Soviet position in Afghanistan and the US position in Vietnam, put it succinctly: "There is no Ho Chi Minh trail for these guys."

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