151. Memorandum of a Conversation, Kabul, December 9, 1959, 11 a.m.1



  • United States
    • The President
    • Ambassador Byroade
    • Ambassador Murphy
    • Major John Eisenhower
    • Mr. James Hagerty
    • Brig. General Goodpaster
    • Mr. Rossow, Embassy
    • Mr. Cleo Shook, Interpreter
  • Afghanistan
    • His Majesty Mohammed Zahir Shah, King of Afghanistan
    • Prince Daud, Prime Minister of Afghanistan
    • Ali Mohammed, First Deputy Prime Minister
    • Prince Naim, Foreign Minister
    • Ambassador Maiwandwal, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Washington
    • Nur Ahmed Etemadi, Director General Political Affairs, Royal Afghan Foreign Ministry


  • Afghan Relations with Neighboring Countries; Helmand Waters

The King stated that he was very pleased and grateful for the President’s visit. He suggested that the enthusiastic reception that he had witnessed demonstrated that Afghan-American friendship had no bounds, not only as governments but as peoples. He said further that in a wider context the Government of Afghanistan was pleased with the entire trip that the President was making as a contribution to peace and understanding in international affairs. He said that his good-will [Page 322] was always with the President in his endeavors for peace; that all peoples gave him moral support; his blessings and prayers were with him.

The President explained his long desire to become acquainted with the countries to the east of Athens and that the purpose of his trip was to persuade the peoples of that area to understand that they have a community of interests. All of the nations of that area are based on civilizations built on a faith in God; they are threatened today and we want them to stand together in friendship, developing where necessary, and living together in peace and friendship. The President then asked the King if he had anything special he wished to bring up.

The King replied that there was mutual understanding on all of the points that the President mentioned; that with regard to them we have the same values and ideas. The preservation of our independence and our traditional and historical heritage will always be the foremost objective in our minds. These things we share. However, he added, the policy of his Government was one of neutrality, which had been explained many times by his Foreign Minister here and by his Ambassador in Washington.

The President replied that he agreed with the soundness of that policy, but that the only question was the difficulty in maintaining such a policy with a strong aggressive country on one border, and to the south, as he understood it, relations which were not good. He continued that he had indicated to the President of Pakistan that he understood relations between the two countries were not entirely happy and that he hoped something could be done. He said that any policy of neutrality in a situation such as that of Afghanistan must be assured by the support of friends, Pakistan, Iran, United States and, he hoped, India. He stressed that Afghanistan needed those friends in order to make its policy work but that he agreed the policy was correct.

The King replied that friendship with the United States, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan was indeed the great factor in insuring a policy of neutrality. His Government had tried to promote good relations all around its borders but it was true problems did exist with Pakistan and they had not been able to come to agreement on them.

The President reiterated that a country cannot maintain a policy of neutrality unless it has friends all the way around its borders. He said he was not urging Afghanistan to be an enemy of the USSR but that it needed friendship with all its neighbors. He understood that the Afghans found the Pakistanis unreasonable from time to time but stressed that they could not maintain a policy of neutrality, being friendly on one side and unfriendly on the other. He said that he did [Page 323] not advocate friendship at the cost of principle, but a strong effort must be made in negotiations to establish friendship between the two nations; the important thing is to make a start.

The King replied that his Government understood its policy of neutrality in the same context and did want closer relations with Pakistan. He then asked Foreign Minister Naim to explain further.

The President interjected that in Ankara and in Karachi he had said exactly the same thing, that in both places great interest and concern had been expressed regarding relations with Afghanistan. He said President Bayar2 had asked that he convey good wishes and hopes for ever stronger friendship. Also, everything President Ayub had told him gave the impression of an honest and strong concern to increase standards of living, to improve relations with India, which he hoped would join with him against the menace that seemed to be threatening from the north. He felt that all of these countries have common problems.

Foreign Minister Naim reiterated the Afghan Government’s policy of peace and the solution of differences through negotiation and understanding but said that they had serious differences with Iran and Pakistan.

Regarding Pakistan, Foreign Minister Naim said that before the new Pakistani regime came to power considerable progress had been made in improving the atmosphere and establishing greater understanding between the two countries. When the new regime came in, however, everything went wrong and thereafter they heard no expression of any desire to discuss the problems between them. This was the situation when he was last in Washington, but since then it has changed somewhat. The Pakistanis have indicated they were willing to discuss the differences and the Afghans had agreed. Prime Minister Daud had suggested that Foreign Minister Naim accept an invitation extended by Pakistani Foreign Minister Qadir to go to Karachi on his return from his recent trip to arrange for a higher level meeting. Unfortunately nothing further was heard from the Pakistanis and no arrangements had been made upon his return. Since then, however, an invitation had been extended to him and he had accepted it in adherence to their principle of being always ready to discuss problems and to seek thus the solution of their differences. Unfortunately even after the invitation was received the Pakistani press was distorting the alleged basis of the prospective discussions and was creating an unfriendly atmosphere that would not help the discussions. He said, however, there was no other way for Pakistan and Afghanistan to solve their differences for they had so much in common and could not afford to be apart.

[Page 324]

Foreign Minister Naim then turned to relations with Iran stating that their only problem was purely technical and not political and that it had to do with the Helmand waters. He said that the Afghan attitude and the technical aspects of this problem were well known to the United States, that exhaustive technical studies had been carried out under the auspices of the State Department (he was here referring to the Neutral Commission). He said that the Government of Afghanistan based its position on the recommendations set forth in the report drafted on the basis of these studies. All these matters were discussed with the Iranians in Washington some years ago but they had broken off the talks. He said that there was later an exchange of messages between the Shah of Iran and the King of Afghanistan in one of which about a year ago the King had offered even more water than was allotted to Iran on the basis of right, purely as a gesture of good will, but it was not accepted or appreciated by the Iranians. He said the Iranians had later sent an emissary to discuss the matter further but that when he had arrived he changed the agreed basis of discussion and wanted to talk on subjects not pertinent to the issue. When he himself had seen the Shah recently he had pointed out again that the King of Afghanistan had gone beyond the Neutral Commission’s recommendation and had offered even more water but again he said the matter was not appreciated. He stressed that they wanted to solve this problem but they expected others to take the same attitude; no solution could be found unilaterally and it required good will on the other side as well.

He then returned to the question of relations with Pakistan, saying that these were more serious. For one thing they had deep roots in history and in the mentality and emotions of the people; anything that went wrong in Pushtun Pakistan reacted strongly here, causing bitterness, tenseness and difficulties in their relations. His Government wanted to avoid such difficulties and wanted to make contact to discuss and to create an atmosphere conducive to a solution.

The President then asked: (1) If there were any objection to his telling the Pakistanis and the Shah of Iran what the Afghan attitude was as based on the present talks, and (2) whether World Bank with all its technical facilities might not be helpful in solving the technical and engineering problems connected with the Waters dispute as in the case of the Canal Waters dispute between India and Pakistan.

The King replied that American efforts to improve Afghan-Pakistani relations were not new; they were very much appreciated, and any effort that could be made would be welcome. Regarding the President’s second question, he felt it was more difficult to answer and asked Naim to comment.

[Page 325]

Naim explained that the situation between India and Pakistan over the canal waters was quite different from that between Iran and Afghanistan regarding the Helmand Waters. He said that in the former case the problem was one of building new facilities and developing new sources of water and that the World Bank had been helpful in providing financial support for these ventures. In the case of the Helmand Waters, however, there was no question of building new canals or finding new sources for financial aid. The question was rather one of traditional water rights and these had been thoroughly studied. The panel set up by the State Department (i.e., the Neutral Commission) had gone into the matter thoroughly and its report was crystal clear. There was no question and no problem of new financing on either side. Naim mentioned also that he had told the Shah in Tehran it was expected that when the development of the Helmand Valley was complete there would be more control and more reserves of water and he had promised to give Iran more from these supplies, again as a matter of good will, but he said they did not appreciate even this offer. The King also interjected to mention the hardship suffered by two and a half million people who, in the Lower Helmand area, do not have adequate water with which to farm, as result of floods, etc. He said it was very important that these waters be put to beneficial human uses. He said, however, he wanted to reiterate again the good will of Afghanistan and its desire to solve its problems with justice and good will.

The President replied that nothing was easy these days and that he was not a mediator but that he would certainly do what he could.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1521. Secret; Limited Distribution. Drafted by Robert Rossow, Jr. The source text indicates that the conversation took place at Chilstoon Palace. Documentation on the planning for Eisenhower’s trip to Kabul is ibid., Central File 711.11–EI.
  2. President Celâl Bayar of Turkey.
  3. Regarding the President’s impressions of Afghanistan, see Document 153.