689.90D/1–2450: Telegram

The Director of the Office of South Asian Affairs (Mathews) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (McGhee)2


Subject: Afghan-Pakistan Dispute over Tribal Areas: Suggested Remarks to be Made at Informal Meeting with the Afghan Ambassador.


To take steps to check current deterioration in Afghan-Pakistan relations and to develop means of solving basic differences between the two countries.


The Afghan-Pakistan dispute over the status of the tribal areas has in recent weeks assumed dangerous proportions. It is my belief that the GOP, in spite of the Afghans’ provocative press and radio campaign, has shown considerable restraint in its attitude toward the dispute. However, following the announcement in Kabul of the establishment of an “independent Pushtoon State”, the GOP has announced it is contemplating stationing regular troops in the tribal areas, and using scout units to watch the Afghan border. Our Embassy in Karachi believes the Pakistan Government’s purpose may be twofold—to assure the tribesmen of protection in the event of an Afghan attack, arid to warn the Afghans that it will not tolerate interference in its tribal areas.

The explosive nature of the situation is emphasized by the fact that the tribesmen east of the Durand Line are reported to be increasingly [Page 1447] impatient over the failure of the UN to settle the Kashmir Dispute. Should substantial numbers of tribesmen decide to invade Kashmir again, the GOP might conceivably use regular troops in the tribal areas to prevent such a movement, but such action would be so unpopular in Pakistan that it seems unlikely that the Government would make any effort to keep the tribes out of Kashmir.

Plans to move regular troops into the tribal areas are therefore probably, as stated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan,3 a direct result of Afghan agitation for “independence” for the Pathans. If troops are actually moved into garrisons in the tribal areas, the Afghans will probably point to this as proof that the tribes are restless and unhappy in their relations with Pakistan. We have no evidence, however, that any such feeling exists. On the contrary it is our understanding that most, if not all, of the tribes east of the Durand Line have signed agreements with the GOP similar to those concluded with the British prior to the partition of India.

Embassy, Kabul reported January 19 that no gasoline had been imported from Pakistan since January 1. While Pakistan authorities state the embargo is the result of the Afghans’ failure to comply with certain safety measures governing operation of their tank trucks, it may be assumed that this action is another means of telling the Afghans the Pakistan Government is getting tired of Afghan efforts to interfere in the affairs of the Pakistan tribal areas. If the Afghans persist in their anti-Pakistan propaganda and activity, it is only logical to assume that the Pakistan authorities will eventually take steps to block Afghanistan’s transit trade. This would not only cripple MKA operations in Afghanistan, but would probably cause the Afghans, in martyr-like fashion, to turn to the Russians for economic and military assistance.

In view of the fact that Abdul Majid Khan4 has on two recent occasions made rather extreme statements to the Ambassador in Kabul,5 and the fact that Prince Naim6 in his talk with you on January 67 reiterated at length the current Afghan line, it should be made clear to the Afghan Government that we still find it difficult to understand the logic of their approach, and believe that the persistence in their present attitude may have dangerous consequences.

The Afghans who are calling the tune in the propaganda campaign against Pakistan appear to have reached such a high emotional pitch that it is doubtful whether any proposal involving bilateral negotiations [Page 1448] will succeed. The Afghan Government has already turned down an offer by the Pakistan Government to discuss the controversy. Placing the case before the UN would give the USSR an opportunity to interfere openly, and would probably only lead to further mutual vituperation. Mediation by other Muslim states might offer a means of initiating discussions, but it is a question whether these countries would have enough prestige to put their decisions into effect. The International Court of Justice might hear the case, but it is doubtful whether the Afghans could present really effective legal arguments, and if they lost, they would be more bitter than ever.

At the moment I believe the most we can do is to continue our efforts to appeal to reason—despite the fact that the Afghan attitude appears highly unreasonable. Through the Export-Import loan8 we have shown our confidence in Afghanistan’s ability to help itself. We are now in a position to tell our Afghan friends that we are puzzled by their suggestion that they may “turn to Russia” at a time when we are giving them material assistance.

I believe we should make it clear that we are displeased by their efforts to gain our support in their campaign against Pakistan through threats to place themselves under Soviet auspices. It is difficult to believe that there are not some Afghans in responsible positions who recognize the folly of the anti-Pakistan drive. It is conceivable that if we take a firm line, such Afghans may be encouraged to urge restraint on their hot-headed countrymen.

[Here follows a detailed presentation of 10 points that Mathews suggested McGhee cover with Prince Naim in the near future.]

  1. Memorandum prepared by Thomas E. Weil, Assistant Chief of the Office of; South Asian Affairs.
  2. Liaquat Ali Khan.
  3. Afghanistan Minister of National Economy.
  4. U.S. Ambassador Louis G. Dreyfus, Jr.
  5. Mohammad Naim, Afghan Ambassador in the United States.
  6. Memorandum of this informal conversation not printed.
  7. Recent loan to Afghanistan of $21 million.