Saudis, Gulf states, Pakistan try to forge their own security ties
One year after Soviet troops began round-the clock landing operations at Kabul, Afghanistan, airport: * The Soviet Union has not consolidated control over that nation.Skip to next paragraph
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* Nor has it significantly advanced from its "beachhead" into the strategic, oil-rich countries of the Gulf.
* But recent regional developments do suggest that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan has distanced it considerably from most nations of the Middle East (except Syria, which this fall signed a 20-year friendship treaty with Moscow), and has caused deep suspicion of Soviet intentions.
This explains why Soviet PResident Leonid Brezhnev's recent call for turning the Indian Ocean into a "zone of peace" was greeted coolly by almost all leaders in the area. Among moderate Gulf nations, Kuwait was the only one to lend mild support to the "Brzhnev plan."
A five-point "doctrine of peace and security" proposed by the Soviet leader in New Delhi, India, the plan would pledge all nations to ban nuclear weapons in the area, stay out of the internal affairs of nations in the region, and allow unfettered use of sea lanes.
Prior to Afghanistan (and to the Iraq-Iran war), such a proposal would have fallen into line with the aspirations of most Gulf leaders, who had been striving to be aligned to neither Moscow nor Washington.
Saudi Arabia, the leading Gulf moderate, had been opening channels to Moscow just before the invasion of Afghanistan. But Saudi Crown Prince Fahd now contends that regional peace and security must start with the immediate withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
To Saudi Arabia, moreover, banning big-power presence in the Indian Ocean area would mean loss of United States surveillance aircraft (AWACs) that are helping warn the Saudis of any possible spillover of the Gulf war. Also gone would be the back-up presence of 60 US and allied warships plying the waters off the Strait of Hormuz.
But the post-Afghanistan Mideast also is the Mideast after the failed US hostage rescue mission. Saudi Arabia and other states are even less sanguine now about the ability of US forces to come to their aid rapidly. So instead of embracing Washington out of fear of Moscow, these nations are attempting to make their own collective arrangements.
Saudi Arabia has led the effort to nail together a Gulf security pact with Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and -- the Saudis hope -- well armed Pakistan. This alliance would form a front against an attack on any member.
Discussion of the alliance last week in Islamabad, Pakistan, between Saudi Prince Fahd and Pakistan President Zia turned quickly to Afghanistan. Pakistan is the main Afghanistan refugee area as well as a base for Afghan resistance.
The Gulf nations have been attempting to fend for themselves and maintain proper distance from the United States -- with the lesson of the Shah's demise clearly in mind. But closing ranks with Pakistan has the effect of setting the Gulf nations firmly against the Soviet Union over Afghanistan. Aid to the Afghan resistance already is believed flowing, if modestly, from most Islamic states in the region.
Over Afghanistan, the policy of Gulf nations coincides with US policy.But Gulf newspapers frequently run articles warning against falling into, as the Bahrain daily Akhbar al Khaleej put it this week, "the labyrinth of new US tactics and policies in the Middle East."
The upshot then is nonalignment, but de facto closeness to the United States. The US military presence in the Indian Ocean appears to be valued by Gulf nations as a deterrent against any future Afghanistan-like action of the Soviets , as well as in preventing the spread of the Iraq-Iran war. It would not, therefore, be expected that these nations would endorse the Brezhnev plan.
But insofar as US aims and Gulf-state aims diverge after Afghanistan and Gulf security, the current level of US presence appears to be all that the Gulf nations can tolerate.