Would the Soviets have invaded Pakistan?

This is my first OP, so please be kind.

I frequently hear the claim that if we hadn’t interfered in Afganistan, the Soviets would have secured control of the country and then marched into Pakistan. I’ve always been skeptical of that claim. Here’s my reasoning:

  1. The Soviet invasion was in response to the excessive behavior of a home-grown Communist government in Afghanistan. Their goal with the invasion was not a headlong march to the sea, but rather to install a communist government that was less antagonistic to the Afghans as well as more compliant to Soviet wishes.

  2. Given Pakistan’s historical relationship with the US and China at the time, such a subsequent invasion of Pakistan would simply not have been in the cards. There would have been too much risk of a Chinese and US response to such a move.

  3. India likely would have objected to a Soviet invasion of Pakistan. Since India and the Soviets had friendly relations, India’s objections would likely have been taken into account in the Kremlin. India would have objected for the following reasons:

a) India views itself as the hegemonic power on the subcontinent. They wouldn’t have been keen on the idea of another power coming in to what they view as their sphere of influence.

b) An invasion by the Soviets would have cause a mass influx of refugees into India.

c) No country wants mass chaos on its border, which a Soviet invasion of Pakistan would have caused.

d) India has a schizophrenic relationship with Pakistan. Although the relationship is antagonistic, there are serious intellectual circles in India that want reunification with Pakistan. Furthermore, at the point of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, neither the Khalistan nor the Kashmir insurgencies had really started. India and Pakistan were still operating under the framework of the Simla agreement, and there were serious attempts at normalization. All of this would have been undone by a Soviet invasion.

e) There is a fierce anti-colonial streak which runs through Indian politics. A Soviet invasion of Pakistan would have been seen as a colonial power grab which India would have fiercely objected to.

So, my question is: would the Soviets have plunged into Pakistan if they had been able to secure Afghanistan? Please note, I’m not trying to debate the merits of US involvement in Afghanistan in the 80s. I think there are other reasons which justify the involvement. I just want to examine this specific reason. Thanks.

Nah. Afghanistan was the USSR’s Vietnam and Pakistan would’ve been just as bad as Afghanistan with regards to insurgencies. Its like feeling that if the US had beaten Vietnam after a decade of fighting off grass roots insurgents that we would’ve declared war on Laos immediately afterwards and dealt with the same problem all over again. There wouldn’t be much in it for the USSR.

There was some musing at the time of the invasion that the USSR long-term strategy might have been to obtain a warm-water port in Baluchistan. Is that what you’re thinking of?

Yes, the provision of Stinger missiles to the mujahedeen helped them substantially, but the war against the Soviet conscripts was still on the ground, and the locals had the numbers and the motivation, by far. The USSR might have been able to gain control of a few local areas by concentrating their forces there, but only with extensive fortification.

Yes. I was just wondering if there were any serious arguments in support of this theory, since I hear it crop up from time to time.

Of course, once Doctor Manhattan left Earth, all bets were off.

I thought the invasion of Afghanistan was triggered by some militant muslim types beheading a bunch of Soviet citizens. I certainly think the Soviets cracked down in Afghanistan because they were worried about the rise of militant Islam…and also to install yet another vassel state on their borders. I seriously doubt they would have launched another adventure into Pakistan though reguardless of how well their Afghan adventure went.

From memory giving the mujahedeen stingers was more than helpful or substantial, it was THE decisive weapon for them in the mid to late stages of the war as it stopped the Soviets pretty cold in using what had been a winning tactic, the use of their helicopters. The Soviets were actually on the verge of winning in Afghanistan (well, maybe not THAT far, but they were on the verge of at least securing large areas of the country) when we sent the stingers in. This forced the Soviets to stop using their helicopters for close support and tactical movement and pretty much finished them off.


My guess it wouldn’t have been an overt invasion. In addition to all the reasons you mentioned, an invasion of Pakistan would have destroyed Soviet influence in the rest of the Muslim world. And India which feels it has claims to some Pakistani territory wouldn’t want to see the Soviets occupying “their” land. So the Soviets would end up facing united opposition from the US, NATO, the other Western allies, India, China, and the Muslim countries.

The more likely scenario would have been the quieter one. Using Afghanistan as a base, the Soviets would have supported groups in Pakistan to destabilize the government and country with the hope that eventually either a friendly pro-Soviet government would take over or the situation would degenrate to the point that the Soviets could justify moving in “to restore order”.

Little Nemo, that’s a more subtle way of viewing the argument than I’ve thought of before. It certainly seems possible that the USSR might have viewed Pakistan as part of some generalized plan for Soviet domination in the region, rathern than the USSR planning a direct assualt on Pakistan immediately after controlling Afghanistan.

Which I guess would shift my question a bit. What exactly were the Soviet’s long-term strategic goals with regards to Pakistan?

I don’t think anyone in India, except perhaps the extreme right, is even contemplating reunification with Pakistan. Do you have a cite for this claim?

I don’t think so - it was more paranoid mutterings by folks unfamiliar with the area and issues far as I can tell. Afghanistan was a sleepy backwater with a “friendly” government. Even putting aside some of the issues you mention, Pakistan was neither of those things and far more formidable of a potential opponent to boot ( not to mention a vastly worse potential insurgent nightmare - ~40% larger with ~5x the population ).

A warm water port on the Indian Ocean wouldn’t have been all that vastly useful for the USSR anyway. They were capable ( at the time ) of using friendly stations such as in southern Yemen and lacked the naval resources to effectively project much more than that required even if they had wanted too. It might have been the wet dream of an admiral or two, but I seriously doubt such an idea was ever given much credence by the Kremlin. They could be stubbornly unrealistic, but I doubt they were quite that clueless.

  • Tamerlane

I am quite sure that the United States viewed the India-Pakistan struggle as a smaller stage in the larger Cold War struggle. The U.S. (Nixon, Kissinger, Reagan) believed that “the Soviet Client State” India wanted to destroy Pakistan.

They , at least in the 1970’s, were willing to use force to prevent this proxy Soviet gain.

My guess then, is that they were largely right – at least about Soviet big picture designs— that the Soviet aim for Pakistan was that India would destroy and subsume it and not that the USSR was going to directly take it out itself.

Also, remember that Pakistan , through SEATO and its relationship with the U.S. and China had positioned itself well for the Soviet threat - Pakistan wasn’t going to fight the USSR alone-- and the Soviets knew that.

Bottom-line: I think if you had truth serumed up & asked a Soviet Politburo Member in '79 what the long term plans were for Pakistan, it would be rolled into Cold War-U.S.-China talk. I bet he would allow that there were no specific “designs” but that they would support India in an Indian-Pakistani War and if it looked like India would lose (and the Soviets had secured Afghanistan) they would have done what was necessary to prevent a shift of power in the area

Reunification may not be the best choice of words. What I’m thinking of could also be thought of as a desire for greater integration/peaceful relations. My intent was to point out that India-Pakistan relations aren’t uniformly hostile, they way they tend to be characterized in Western media.

As an example, there is a whole genre of Hindi films which have as their theme the idea that Indians and Pakistanis are the same, should live in peace and harmony forever, etc. (I think the genre is called “integration films” in Indian Film Theory circles, but I’m not sure). For example, movies like Veer Zaara clearly are advocating some type of integration.

Another example would be India’s attempts to transform SAARC into a unified political and economic organization rather than the forum for diplomatic exchanges that it currently is.

It seems logical to put it this way, but then I wonder why the USSR negotiated an end to hostilities in the 1967 Indo-Pakistani war? My impression is that the Indians had pushed pretty far into Pakistani territory by the time of the cease-fire and likely would have won the war.

  1. It was actually pretty well stalemated, but India had considerably more strength to spend yet. However that assessment was made clear only post-war - at the time a failure of Indian intelligence meant that they didn’t think they could quickly break the stalemate considering the heavy losses they had suffered. So at the time India was just as interested in having a ceasefire signed.
  • Tamerlane

Thanks, Tamerlane. And thanks for that link, jimmmy. That’s some interesting reading.