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171. Memorandum of a Conversation, New York, September 23, 19601


  • Afghan Deputy Prime Minister’s Call on the President: Afghanistan’s Relations with Iran and Pakistan; the “Pushtunistan” Question


  • The President
  • The Secretary of State
  • Brig. Gen. A. J. Goodpaster
  • Mr. G. Lewis Jones (NEA)
  • His Royal Highness, Sardar Mohammad Naim, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan
  • H.E. Mohammed Hashim Maiwandwal, Ambassador of Afghanistan in Washington

Prince Naim and Ambassador Maiwandwal arrived about seven minutes late. The President met them at the door of the suite and took them into an adjoining room where photographers were assembled. [Page 356]After the picture-taking, the party adjourned to the sitting room where the President started by referring to the tall buildings of New York, and then asked how things were going in Afghanistan.

Naim replied that the Afghan Government’s efforts are only “pygmy” compared to the country’s needs, but they were moving ahead and in about eight months a Third Five-Year Plan of economic development would be announced.

The President said he recalled from his visit to Afghanistan that there were some difficulties between Afghanistan and the Iranian Government over water rights.

Naim replied that Prime Minister Daud had visited Tehran and that the RGA was looking forward to receiving the Prime Minister of Iran in Kabul. However, the election difficulties in Iran had intervened. The RGA still hoped that the new Iranian Prime Minister would come to Kabul to discuss water rights.

The President recalled that the King of Afghanistan had told him that the problem of the Helmand River was a relatively easy one to settle on a just basis. Naim agreed that a settlement should be easy and said that the RGA was always willing to work for a good settlement.

The President then inquired: “How about ‘Pushtunistan’?” Naim replied that this was a far more difficult problem than that of the Helmand River. Unfortunately he could report to the President no improvement—the problem was perhaps worse. Naim said that the Pakistan Government is continually encroaching on the tribes. In an effort to achieve a settlement he, himself, had visited President Ayub, but there had been no progress and the problem drags on. The President said that when he saw Ayub he was impressed with the fact that he was “a reasonable and well-educated fellow.” He thought he would be inclined to work out a settlement.

Naim replied that it was difficult to work out a settlement on purely intellectual grounds: in this issue emotions on both sides were heavily involved. The President said he fully appreciated the delicacy of the situation; it was not one in which outsiders should mix themselves. It was up to neighbors to adjust the difficulties between themselves so there could be peace and order in the world.

Naim reiterated that while he was hopeful of adjusting difficulties with Iran, he was less so with regard to difficulties with Pakistan. For example, the GOP had recently been conducting air operations close along the Afghan border which did not help. The RGA wanted stability in the area and did what it could, but the truth was that the RGA had no faith in the GOP. He agreed that if both countries were to make progress they must develop joint friendly relations in an atmosphere untroubled by contentious propaganda.

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The President said he would like to “have another look at this question.” He directed Secretary Herter to ask Ambassadors Rountree and Byroade to submit to him special reports covering the way their respective countries look at the problem. The President said that it went without saying that each would back the idea of his country of assignment but the President would like to read these reports and see what, if anything, he might usefully do.

Naim said that the GOP sticks by the colonial position—that which existed in the time of the British. The GOP rejects the RGA contention that the problem must be judged on historical and ethnic considerations.

The President then told the story of the many years of difficulty over fixing the boundary between the United States and Canada. The President said that, except for the French Canadians, the Canadian people come from exactly the same racial stock as the Americans, and yet there was an argument for nearly a hundred years as to where the border should be fixed. Finally the 49th Parallel was decided upon and we have lived with this ever since. The President said that in a matter like this “neither side can be completely right.”

Naim interjected that it was not a question of the location of a border; it was the ethnic considerations of tribal peoples. The President agreed that this made matters much more difficult. Naim then said that since the United States is a great friend of both parties it could be a useful element in a settlement. The President said that perhaps the United Nations could help with a settlement. Naim readily agreed and said that the best thing would be if a United Nations commission could go to the “Pushtunistan” area and see for themselves.

The President said that any people held down by force of arms are unhappy. He had not discussed this subject directly with President Ayub, but the latter was a reasonable and likeable fellow. Naim agreed that Ayub was reasonable and likeable but said that the nature of the reception which he had received at Rawalpindi was so “cooling” that Afghan-Pakistan relations had deteriorated since. Ambassador Maiwandwal explained that Prince Naim had gone to Rawalpindi hoping to achieve the beginning of a settlement but that the visit had been a “failure.”

Naim expressed the fear that the difficulties in the Free World, such as the Congo, would make a solution of the “Pushtunistan” problem even more difficult. The President said that there was a crying need for stability in the area of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Such stability could only come through better understanding. He said that even though he would not be much longer in office he would like to see what the reports from Kabul and Karachi had to say. After studying them he would then decide whether there were new suggestions [Page 358]which he might wish to make to both sides. He did not mean to attempt anything like mediation; any new ideas which occurred to him he would make known as a friend to both sides.

The conversation then turned to the nature of the Pushtun-speaking territory, its size, and the nomadic habits of its population.

The President cited the many problems which had arisen as a result of the partition of India. He pointed out that good will could solve these. Naim said that he realized that the “Pushtunistan” problem is only a local one compared to those of the world at large. He wanted the President to know that the Afghan Government and people, as well as the Free World, have the fullest confidence in the President personally.

The President reiterated it would be a fine thing if Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan could get together. Naim agreed, pointing out in many ways these three countries are complementary and have resources which they can share and, thus, raise the living standards of their people.

The President asked Naim to tell the King of Afghanistan that he was going to study the situation. If he had any suggestions they would be sent to the King in the “friendliest spirit” just as they would be sent to Pakistan. The President said that he did not want to “hot up” the problem. If he had no ideas, Secretary Herter would so inform Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Naim (rather formally) said that he could assure the President on behalf of the RGA that the RGA would be more than delighted to see the results of the President’s study. The President said that he might wish, after studying the situation, to suggest that the Secretary General of the United Nations play a role. However, “the United Nations is very busy these days.”

Naim said again that the RGA would welcome closer interest by the United States Government in this problem. The President said: “We don’t get anywhere by standing still.” Naim replied that the RGA is ready to try again and again, but the GOP must be prepared to talk seriously. The President’s visit to Kabul had made a great impression on the Afghan people; he hoped the United States would continue its policy of following the RGA problems. The President said: “I will take a look.”

At this point the President rose and escorted his Afghan visitors to the door.

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Note: On the way out Prince Naim commented to Mr. Jones that the visit had been “wonderful”: he seemed almost walking on air. NEA is drafting instructions to both Kabul and Karachi as directed by the President.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 789.11/10–660. Confidential; Limited Distribution. Drafted by Jones. The source text indicates that this conversation took place at the Waldorf Towers. A slightly different account of this conversation, drafted by Andrew J. Goodpaster, is in Eisenhower Library, Project Clean Up, Afghanistan. Dillon briefed Eisenhower for this meeting in a memorandum of September 23. (Ibid., Whitman File, DDE Diaries) The President was in New York for the Fifteenth Session of the U.N. General Assembly, which opened on September 20.
  2. Telegram 234 to Kabul, September 23 (sent to Karachi as telegram 542), summarized the President’s conversation with Naim and requested Ambassadors Byroade and Rountree to prepare and submit reports on the Pushtunistan problem for the President. (Department of State, Central Files, 689.90D/9–2360)