890H.00/241: Telegram

The Minister in Afghanistan (Engert) to the Secretary of State

144. Having recently completed a year’s sojourn in Kabul I should like to submit some general impressions in addition to those already voiced in previous reports.

A year ago most Afghans were convinced that the Axis would reach the Caucasus and invade Persia, that Egypt would be overrun and India attacked by Japan and it looked as if the Afghan Government, yielding to the strong Germanophile sentiments of the younger generation, might be tempted to fall in with Hitler’s schemes for a new order in the Middle East.
All we could try to do was to tell them that the fortunes of war would gradually but inevitably turn against the Axis and that not one of the United Nations believed in the invincibility of German arms; that it was of vital concern to Afghanistan whether the Allies or the Axis won quite apart from the fact that aggression and ruthlessness were bound to bring their own retribution; that the Nazis who had destroyed the independence of so many small Christian countries were [Page 26] not likely to accord Moslem countries any better treatment; that Hitler had shown little consideration for those whom he had used as his instruments once they had served Nazi purposes; that the Atlantic Charter10 on the other hand was designed to benefit small independent countries and that the future existence of Afghanistan therefore depended on an Allied victory.
Little response was forthcoming to these arguments. Even among Afghans who are not pro-German there are few who take a broad view of the situation. Lack of education seems to prevent any real understanding of policies and issues beyond a vague hope that the war will be kept as remote from Afghanistan as possible and that it will not be necessary for Afghanistan to deviate from her jealously guarded neutrality. Our idealistic war aims leave them fairly cold and for 3 years the Government has merely been playing for time and avoiding definite commitments to either the Allies or the Axis until it could see clear signs that one or the other was winning.
This point is now fast approaching. Public opinion in Afghanistan, at the best of times never stable or much influenced by sentiment or loyalty, has shown a mercurial sensitiveness to changes on the battle front. Just as every Allied military setback immediately gave a fresh impetus to anti-British and anti-Soviet sentiment so have recent Allied victories inclined them more and more in our favor. If Afghan opinion is only affected by tangible military results, world events of the past 6 months must have given them a great deal to think about.
As stated in my telegram 129, November 28, 194211 the Germans had been lavish with cash and presents and thus secured a large following among the Afghans especially the minor officials and young intelligentsia who constituted a definite pro-German element both in and outside the Government. The Nazis very cleverly took advantage of the many weak points in the Afghan national character, with the result that even today there remains a considerable body of opinion—e. g. in pro-Amanullah12 and military circles—who are actually disappointed over Axis failures and who are sufficiently gullible to continue to swallow German propaganda in large doses.
However that is no longer true of most of the higher official and semi-official circles and the older members of the ruling family and it is of course difficult for any foreigner to claim to know what goes on behind the scenes because of the attitude of mystery and reserve and the extreme reluctance to express any opinions maintained by practically all Afghan officials. But I am personally convinced that the [Page 27] Prime Minister,13 the Minister for Foreign Affairs14 and the War Minister15 have during the past year been making an honest effort to be as friendly toward the Allies and especially the U. S. and Great Britain as the internal political situation permitted. See my telegram 87, September 29, 1942.16
There will always be plenty of people in Afghanistan ready to revile the British and the Russians but there is now little room for doubt left in the minds of the majority of thinking Afghans that the Axis is losing the war. The Prime Minister has told me so himself only today. Even in normally Germanophile circles the hope is now being expressed for a speedy victory of the Allies, if only because they fear Afghanistan’s economic difficulties will become unbearable should the war last much longer. The Afghan Government probably realizes that it may soon be faced with important decisions on matters of external policy which are bound to have repercussions on her internal problems. And in order to ensure Afghanistan’s place in the future scheme of things it may not be unwilling from now on to further Allied interests a little more openly.
  1. Joint statement by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, August 14, 1941, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Amanullah, Amir of Afghanistan, 1919–26; King of Afghanistan, 1926–29; deposed early in 1929 and was succeeded, after a disturbed period, by Mohammed Nadir Shah in October.
  4. Mohamed Hashim Khan.
  5. Ali Mohamed Khan.
  6. Sardar Shah Mahmud Khan.
  7. Not printed.