World spotlight swings back to Afghanistan
In the coming weeks the world spotlight will be moving back to "the great game" -- the term Victorian Britons used to refer to containing the Russian threat to the Khyber Pass.
For Leonid Brezhnev, the Russian running today's soviet empire, the shifting spotlight will councide with being in the dock once again at the United Nations. A motion condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 is on the agenda for the 1981 session of the United Natios General Assembly, opening in New York next week.
For President Reagan, the spotlight will be on the congressional debate on his proposed $3 billion military and economic aid package to Pakistan. It is aimed at containing the Soviet threat from the Khyber Pass to Gulf oil fields.
His aid to Pakistan is almost as controversial in some US quarters as another part of Mr. Reagan's blueprint for Gulf security: the intended sale of five sophisticated AWACS (airborne warning and control system) planes to Saudi Arabia.
US Undersecretary of state for security assistance James Buckley, closely involved in the proposed Pakistani deal from the start, is in Pakistan this week for talks there.
M. Peter McPherson, head of the US Agency for International Development, was in Pakistan at the end of August, presumably discussing the proposed US economic aid. Jeane Kirkpatrick, US ambassador to the UN, was also in Pakistan for a one-day visit at the end of August, as part of a six-nation Asian tour that included a stop in India.
Significantly, there have been simultaneous Soviet and Afghan high-level visits to Pakistan and India. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai P. Firyubin visited the capitals of both Pakistan and India. ANd Afghan Foreign Minister Shah Muhammad Dost has been in New Delhi this week.
The aim of both Mr. Firyubin and Mr. Dost is to cultivate a friendlier atmosphere toward both the Soviet Union and its puppet regime in Afghanistan than that prevailing in earlier UN debates on the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan -- which the General Assembly has already roundly condemned twice.
both men have tried to interest their hosts in new proposals put forward last month by Babrak Karmal, head of the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan, for ending the fighting in Afghanistan and normalizing relation s with its neighbors , particularly Iran and Pakistan. The Pakistani government does not recognize the Karmal regime, has 2 million Afghan refugees on its territory, and is suspected by Afghanistan of at least acquiescing in Afghan guerrilla supply routes across Pakistan.
The Karmal proposals were broadcast over Kabul Radio, and the Pakistani government had still not reveived a text of them when Mr. Firyubin arrived in Islamabad 24 hours later.
Without the text of Karmal's proposals, Pakistani officials could do no more than listen courteously to their Soviet visitor and explain that any formal Pakistani reaction would have to await official receipt of the text of what Mr. Karmal had said.
Now another message has been delivered to Pakistani in a different way. On Sept. 5 Soviet-built MIG fighters with Afghan markings strafed a Pakistani border village. Two days later, Afghan ground troops crossed the weapons in a house-to-house search before with drawing.
The Afghan incursion on the ground this week coincides with reports from Afghanistan suggesting a stepping-up of the Soviet-Afghan government drive against the guerrillas, who have been giving the Russians no peace since they first moved in.
One can only speculate about the motives for the Afghan border crossing in Baluchistan and the escalation of military activity within Afghanistan. It may be to remind Pakistan that the Soviet-Afghan tandem is capable of applying sticks to Pakistan if Pakistan does not accept proffered carrots.
Where does India fit into all this? And what were Firyubin and Dost doing in New Delhi? Because of the longstanding hostility between India and Pakistan and because India has turned to the Soviet Union for superpower support, it is understandable that Moscow and Kabul should look to India for a sympathetic hearing of their complaints against both Pakistan and the US.
They are doing this at a time when Indian-US relatios are in yet another period of strain because of the American military aid program for Pakistan, the Reagan administration's plan to strengthen the US military position in the Indian Ocean, and the current spat over the acceptability of diplomatic appointees in each other's capitals.
Yet Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi -- for all her outwardly sympathetic words toward the USSR and Afghanistan, so irritating to Washington -- stops short of outright support of the position of those countries' governments.
At the same time, those two governments probably feel that the Indian attitude still offers openings to exploit Indian distaste or fears about the US and Pakistan. And any exacerbation of US-Indian relations serves the interests of both Moscow and Kabul.