Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Byroade) to the Under Secretary of State (Bruce)1



  • Soviet Démarche to Afghanistan.


About August 23 the Soviet Foreign Minister protested to the Afghan Ambassador against economic development in northern Afghanistan under UN auspices.

About August 272 the Soviet Chargé at Kabul delivered an aide-mémoire to the Afghan Government stating that the USSR would regard Afghanistan’s plans for oil drilling in the north with specialists from countries which are members of the Atlantic Pact as contrary to the Afghan-Soviet non-aggression treaty of 1926 [1931]. At the time of this démarche Afghanistan was on the verge of signing an oil drilling contract with a French firm as part of a UN project.

According to a recent Afghan press release, on September 9 the Afghan Government, in a written reply to the Soviet Embassy rejecting its démarche, said in effect, that economic development, whether in the north or any other part of the country, does not create danger for any neighboring country of Afghanistan. The exact texts of the démarche and the Afghan reply are not known to the Department.

On September 10 the Afghan Foreign Minister informed UN officials in Kabul of the foregoing developments and indicated that consideration of fresh UN activity in the north, including oil exploration, would be suspended. On the same day the First Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office gave our Embassy its first official notification of the exchange of notes between Afghanistan and USSR, and asked our Charge to impress upon the Department the “extreme gravity” with which the Afghan Government views the development. In commenting on this conversation our Chargé said that the Department is being asked for “moral support.”3 The Chargé has interpreted this to imply [Page 1459] greater economic assistance. The Department requested the Chargé at Kabul for clarification of the request for moral support,4 asking whether the Embassy believed that the Foreign Minister planned formally to apprise the US and UK of the situation and request their views.

Upon receipt of that telegram our Chargé called upon the Foreign Minister who said that he was seeking “joint advice and support of the UK and US.”5 In the course of this conversation the Foreign Minister said that he had had some after-dinner conversation about the démarche with the UK Ambassador before the latter’s departure on an extended field trip. The Department subsequently learned that the conversation with the British Ambassador was held on August 30, 10 days before Afghanistan’s reply to the démarche and 17 days before our Embassy finally learned that the Afghans wanted our advice and support. At no time during these conversations with our Charge has any Afghan official requested anything more.

To this date the Afghan Embassy in Washington has not discussed any aspect of the démarche with the Department. Moreover, it is of more than passing interest that as early as August 31 (again, 10 days before our Embassy in Kabul was officially informed) the Afghan Ambassador in Delhi6 called one of our Embassy’s officers to his residence for a two-hour conversation, part of which the Ambassador specifically described as that which he had been authorized to say. The burden of that part of the conversation was that since the economic and political life of Afghanistan is being “crushed” between the millstones of Pakistan and Soviet pressure, to which the Afghans would never yield, the time seemed ripe for an over-all rapprochement with Pakistan. He hoped that the US would help in getting the two countries together in talks to that end.

This was a completely new line from the Afghan Ambassador who heretofore had been the most vocal supporter of “Pushtoonistan,” an Afghan-proposed country of Pushtu-speaking peoples of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This issue has poisoned the relations between the two countries for the past five years.

Recommendations of our Chargé at Kabul:

The substance of our Chargés recommendation is that the US come forth with a “positive program of advice, coupled with additional means of economic assistance.” Suggested means of assistance include, among other things, dollar contribution to a north-south highway, a road and motor transport maintenance depot and an agricultural [Page 1460] development bank. (Total outlay to US for these projects: $61/2 million; NEA plans now to ask for $1½ million for the 1954 fiscal year TCA program.)

Our Chargé asserts that the Soviet démarche is aimed at a “total effort to block any economic progress in the north, leaving that area a ripe plum to be plucked at leisure.” He argues that if we do not come forth with positive advice and material support, we would encourage those elements both within and without the regime “who are already calculating the economic and other advantages of Soviet connection.”

He goes on to say that “with a lamentably weak government torn into opposing factions, the chances that power may fall into the hands of those who will weigh honeyed Soviet promises of aid with the relatively negligible assistance received to date from UN and ourselves should not be underestimated. An early showdown, stimulated by economic distress and Soviet instigation, may be sufficient to topple present regime. In short, Afghanistan seems to be facing an imminent crisis which will determine for all time whether it leans towards the west or becomes a Soviet satellite.”7

The Department’s position:

The Department has no evidence to support the extreme position of our Chargé on the danger of Afghanistan’s falling into the Soviet camp. There is no Communist party in Afghanistan, and in the Department’s knowledge there are no organizations or leaders who are presently capable or desirous of delivering the country to the Soviet Union. The elements referred to by our Charge who are already calculating the advantages of Soviet connection are: 1) one or two leading Royal family personalities who are at present inactive politically; 2) some so-called liberal opposition leaders who are at present in jail and who were never organized; and 3) certain ethnic minority north Afghans who, because of their cultural affinity to their neighbors in Russia, are said to be potentially exploitable and who are usually at odds with the central government largely because of maladministration in the area. The Embassy has furnished no evidence that any one of these groups constitutes any more than a potentially long-range danger to the internal stability of the country.

The usefulness of increased economic assistance of the character suggested by our Chargé is acknowledged, but a suddenly stepped-up aid program, a substantial part of which would go to the north, would not appear to be the solution to Afghan-USSR political relations when foreign aid is the very point of sensitivity in those relations. Furthermore, it would be virtually impossible to obtain funds from present appropriated [Page 1461] moneys for economic assistance along the lines suggested by our Chargé.

We do not believe that the Afghan Government intends to permit the Soviet démarche to stop economic development in north Afghanistan. Activity in that area has proceeded for some years with and without UN auspices, and there are several fields of development which could be pursued with demonstrable advantage to the inhabitants and which should not be provocative to the USSR.

The Afghan Government plans within a few weeks to submit a loan application to the Export-Import Bank for $20 million.8 The Department expects to lend sympathetic support and the Exim Bank is favorably disposed toward an internal development loan. Should the loan be made, the proceeds from that source together with the 1954 fiscal year TCA aid program will furnish all the funds which the Afghan Government can usefully employ for development for some time to come.

In view of the Afghans’ previous complaints about insufficient aid we cannot help but think that aside from the desire for friendly advice from the US and UK, the Afghan Government may well be capitalizing on the démarche in an attempt to achieve (1) increased economic assistance, (2) military assistance, and (3) US—UK pressure on the Pakistan Government to negotiate the Pushtoonistan issue with Afghanistan.

All the officials to whom our Chargé has talked subsequent to the démarche have said that a rapprochement with Pakistan would be desirable. Yet, though Pakistan has sent an Ambassador to Afghanistan,9 the latter has not reciprocated. The Afghans’ desire to settle the Pushtoonistan question would be demonstrable by sending an envoy to Karachi and by toning down anti-Pakistan propaganda. Both steps should have an immediate salutary effect on Afghan–Pakistan relations and provide a basis for the settlement of outstanding issues.


It is recommended that you sign the attached telegram to Kabul,10 confirming the Department’s instructions to our Chargé and explaining further the reasoning behind the Department’s decision.

[Page 1462]

The following concur in substance: E, TCA, and Export-Import Bank.

  1. Memorandum drafted in SOA.
  2. See footnote 4, p. 1447.
  3. See telegram 126 from Kabul, Sept. 9, p. 1449.
  4. See telegram 82 to Kabul, Sept. 12, p. 1450.
  5. See telegram 137 from Kabul, Sept. 16, p. 1451.
  6. Najibullah Khan.
  7. All the quotations in this and the preceding paragraph are from telegram 146 from Kabul, Sept. 23, not printed, but see footnote 2, p. 1455.
  8. On Nov. 23, 1949, the Export-Import Bank had authorized a credit to the Royal Government of Afghanistan of $21,000,000 for U.S. equipment, materials, and service for the construction of a dam and canal in the Helmand River Valley. The principal U.S. contractor for this project was the construction firm, Morrison-Knudsen Afghanistan (MKA).
  9. Col. A. S. B. Shah.
  10. Infra.