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When Margaret Thatcher Invaded Afghanistan

U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (center) and Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq visit the Afghan border in October 1981.

U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (center) and Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq visit the Afghan border in October 1981.

In 1981, less than two years after the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher crossed the Pakistani border into the country she described as a "strategically crucial area."

Thatcher was on a visit to Pakistan in October 1981 and, after visiting some of the many hundreds of thousands of Afghans gathered in refugee camps there, had been taken by Pakistani leader General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq through the Khyber Pass to see the Afghan border.

While there, the leaders approached a border crossing and reportedly shook hands with the surprised guards on the Afghan side.

"We had better leave while they're friendly," Thatcher was quoted as saying.

WATCH: Margaret Thatcher and Zia-ul-Haq visit the Afghan-Pakistani border.

As noted in the TV report above (at about the 2:30 mark), Thatcher probably wandered a few meters inside Soviet Afghanistan territory.

The Kremlin responded to the whole incident by blasting Thatcher's "provocation aimed at stirring up anti-Soviet hysteria."

But in hindsight, the episode can be seen in the light of what Ishaan Tharoor at "Time" magazine describes as Thatcher's foreign policy falling on the "wrong side of history":

Lost in a Cold War fog, Thatcher, along with the U.S., supported the military government of General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan, helping prop up a South Asian generalissimo now seen as one of the chief architects of the Islamist radicalization of his country. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Zia became the point person for the Anglo-American fightback; under his watch, the Afghan mujahedin bloomed and the seeds of a new era of terrorist militancy were planted. During a 1981 visit to Pakistan, Thatcher delivered a speech hailing Islamabad’s efforts. The full transcript can be found here -- in it, Thatcher doesn’t even pay lip service to the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people.

Or as the "Montreal Gazette" report notes, in its reporting of Thatcher's visit to Pakistan, the Soviet TASS news agency "repeated accusations that the United States and other Western countries are arming the Afghan rebels."

-- Dan Wisniewski

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