890H.00/246: Telegram

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

217. In continuation of the last paragraph of my telegraph number 144, July 20, 3 p.m., I am now able to present further Afghan reactions to war developments.

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The fall of Mussolini and Italy’s surrender23 have had a profound effect in responsible quarters where the view prevails that Afghanistan must shape her policy according to the progress of the war. Despite the very strict secrecy maintained apprehension is disclosed regarding the future of Afghanistan in general and the dynasty in particular.
I believe the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and a few other leading personalities are genuinely pleased to hear of Allied and especially American successes and that they have acquired a healthy respect for Allied military power and endurance. Most Afghans even former pro-Nazi propagandists now believe that Germany and Japan are doomed and consider it prudent not to be too much identified with the losing side. Fate of Italy has shown them how dangerous Germany’s friendship can be.
Afghan Government—while realizing that the outcome of the present international struggle is no longer in doubt—seems to find it difficult to make any bold or long range plans. Germany’s theory Afghanistan only wants to be left alone, to have good relations with her immediate neighbors and to pursue the peaceful development of her natural resources. But in practice the governing classes are aware that Afghanistan needs help both diplomatically and economically although they would like to remain free to accept or refuse such help according to the dictates of a policy of enlightened self-interest. World events since 1938 have no doubt tended to increase the value of independence in Afghan eyes.
A careful study of the fundamental facts of the situation reveals that in the past the main lines of Afghan foreign policy have always been governed by apprehension of possible aggression from Russia or Great Britain. Owing to Afghanistan’s geographical position as a buffer between Russia and India she had like Persia for years tried to play off one power against the other. This continued during the first part of the present war but when in 1941 British and Russian interests became identical the Afghans feared that this would reduce the importance of their country of [to] the new Allies. This made them hope vaguely for an Axis victory in the belief that they would then have nothing to fear from Soviet aggression after the war.
In order to improve their international position and yet keep out of the war at all costs the Afghans adopted a cautious policy of “insuring” against a victory of either side. They calculated that should the Axis win and the Afghan Government be unable to show that it had rendered some kind of assistance the dynasty was almost certain to be swept away by puppets of the Axis. They therefore took great care to avoid offending the Axis while paying Great Britain the unintentional compliment of taking it for granted that her good [Page 32] nature and generosity would continue to support the present Government even if the Allies won and would overlook little lapses from imperiling [strict neutrality] during the first years of the war!
Alarmed by the rapid and successful Russian military operations and convinced by the results of the recent Moscow Conference that Russia will not conclude a separate peace with Germany, the older and more experienced members of the royal family are now anxious to “insure” against an overwhelmingly Soviet victory and possible post war Soviet aggression by ingratiating themselves as much as possible with Great Britain and the United States. They may even duplicate hope that establishing closer relations with these countries might revive old Russian suspicions and enable them once more to play off not only Britain but also the United States against the Soviet. This new Afghan tendency to cultivate Anglo-American friendship will therefore require careful handling.
From the Afghan point of view the U. S. would be the ideal powerful friend to whom to cling especially as pro-British elements are still afraid to give public expression to their feelings. But they realize that in return for the diplomatic support and financial assistance they require they have comparatively little to offer and they are too cautious and proud to make definite requests or proposals unless they feel sure that these will not involve them in any political difficulties with Britain or the Soviets. They are quite prepared to make major readjustments or modifications in their foreign policy but they feel they have to play their cards very carefully if they are to find their true place in the Middle East. Having no share in the rivalries of Europe—Afghanistan is ready to exercise a stabilizing influence in Central Asia and on the northwest frontier of India provided only she can be reasonably certain that she will not be ground between the upper and nether millstones of rival powers striving for supremacy.
  1. For correspondence on the overthrow of the Fascist regime and the Italian surrender, see vol. ii, pp. 314 ff.