327. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • The President
  • Ass’t Secretary Phillips Talbot, NEA
  • Ambassador John M. Steeves
  • Angier Biddle Duke, Chief of Protocol
  • William S. Gaud, Ass’t Administrator for NESA, AID
  • Edwin Wright, Interpreter
  • His Majesty Mohammed Zaher, King of Afghanistan
  • His Excellency Ali Mohammed, Court Minister and Chief of the Royal Secretariat
  • His Excellency Abdullah Malikyar, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
  • His Excellency Dr. Abdul Majid, Ambassador of Afghanistan
  • His Excellency Sayyid Kasem Rishtiya, Minister of Press and Information
  • The Honorable Zalmai Mahmud Ghazi, Director, International and UN Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

After an exchange of greetings the President asked His Majesty if he would like to comment on the relations between his country and the USSR and Pakistan.

His Majesty replied that Afghanistan’s geographical position necessarily exerted a strong influence on its security and on its relations with the two countries in question.

As for the U.S.S.R., Afghanistan had achieved its independence at about the time the revolution was going on in Russia. The new Soviet regime had been one of the first nations to recognize Afghanistan. This action laid the basis for the friendly relations between the two countries which have continued to the present time.

Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan have always been difficult and will probably continue so for some time. Prince Naim, said His Majesty, had undoubtedly explained to the President last year that Afghan-Pakistan relations did not have a purely political basis, but were influenced by other factors. The Durand Line must be viewed not merely as a line on a map, but in human and ethnic terms. His Majesty expressed gratitude for the keen interest the President had taken in Afghanistan’s difficulties with Pakistan, and declared that the messages and letters he had received from the President on this subject had been helpful and gratifying.

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Afghanistan’s most recent difficulty with Pakistan had resulted from Pakistan’s decision to bring economic pressure to bear on Afghanistan. Pakistan had closed Afghanistan’s Consulates in Pakistan. This made it impossible for Afghanistan to use its customary routes to the sea. Afghanistan accordingly decided it was no longer useful to maintain diplomatic relations with Pakistan. There followed the long period of no relations and a closed border.

At the Tehran Conference this Spring, agreement was reached to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen the Consulates. An Afghanistan Ambassador is now in Karachi and a Pakistani Ambassador is expected to arrive soon in Kabul. But this does not mean that the basic problem has been solved. The attitude of the Pakistani Government toward the tribal areas remains a vexing problem.

In these areas Pakistan has been threatening a status quo which has existed since the days of British India. The Durand Line divides peoples of the same ethnic strain—even of the same family. When Pakistan takes or threatens action on one side of that line, the results are felt equally on both sides of the line. Emotions are strong. Tribal representatives in Afghanistan turn to the Government of Afghanistan, which feels obliged to state the facts on its radio. This is not, said His Majesty, a question of territorial claims or expansionist policy, but a matter of giving moral support to a people to whom the Afghans are attached by both tradition and blood.

His Majesty declared that there had been no particular difficulties in the tribal areas since Tehran. The Pakistanis had done nothing to cause a deterioration of relations and his own Government was carefully watching the tone of its broadcasts—not resorting to propaganda but limiting itself to factual reports of occurrences. In reply to the President’s comment that the manner in which events are reported can be significant, His Majesty replied that his Government was doing its best to preserve an atmosphere of goodwill and that he knew of no complaints from Pakistan in recent months.

The President then reverted to the subject of Afghan-Soviet relations. He described U.S. relations with the USSR as variable—better now than previously, but subject to change in the future, although he hoped they would not change for the worse.

His Majesty said that prior to the signing of the border agreement in 1948 there had been numerous difficulties along the Afghan-Soviet border. There were disputes over some of the islands in the Oxus River, and incidents had arisen as the result of individuals and animals straying across the border. Since 1948 no such problems had arisen. Indeed, there was now no issue on which there was a divergence of views between the two countries and no points of friction between them.

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On a broader level, His Majesty went on, he believed that the future of Soviet-Afghan relations depended on events which could not now be foreseen, including the whole trend of events in Asia.

In reply to the President’s question as to Soviet policy objectives toward Afghanistan, His Majesty replied that if one took the long view it was impossible to ignore the Soviet ideological outlook and that Afghanistan was always conscious of the problem created by the Soviet’s broad policy objectives.

The President said that it was his impression that the Soviets had not pushed their ideological views on Afghanistan, and that he had always been curious as to why they had not tried to obtain more control over that country. Did His Majesty feel that the Soviets were interested only in being friends with Afghanistan or did they hope ultimately to control Afghanistan?

His Majesty declared that to date the Soviets had made no effort to infiltrate Afghanistan. This was due, he believed, to the Soviet’s desire to show other Asian countries that the USSR had no ulterior designs on Afghanistan and, inferentially, on other countries in Asia. Should the Soviets make an effort to infiltrate or penetrate Afghanistan, he continued, Afghanistan would react with every means within its power. This was a situation which Afghanistan kept constantly under study in order to be prepared for any eventuality.

The President noted that a number of reforms and changes had taken place in Afghanistan in recent months and asked His Majesty if he would care to comment on internal economic and social conditions in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s first Five-Year Plan, His Majesty replied, had run into many difficulties but at the same time had been fairly successful. He had more hope of accomplishing the objectives of the second Five-Year Plan because Afghanistan had now had more experience in development and more trained personnel. Economic development is of course a relative matter but in his opinion Afghanistan is making substantial headway.

Economic development in Afghanistan is proceeding hand in hand with social development, His Majesty added. He then asked Minister Rishtiya to describe some of the changes that are taking place.

The Minister said that Afghanistan’s first preoccupation after obtaining independence was the security of the country. Now, with a new generation on the scene, there is an opportunity to move forward on the social front. His Majesty had separated the Government from the throne and for the first time given Afghanistan a government of commoners. A new constitution is being prepared, new electoral and press laws are being drafted and Afghanistan is to be given a more up-to-date democratic government in which the people will have a greater share in public affairs. This transition is being accomplished quietly and [Page 660] smoothly after many years of preparation. In this effort Afghanistan needs the encouragement and cooperation of its friends.

His Majesty remarked that his people desired greater freedom, and that their desire for independence is particularly strong. Afghanistan has always had a democratic tradition. The new reforms are based on a recognition of the nation’s traditions and capabilities.

The President commented that the key is equilibrium—that it is extremely difficult to maintain stability in a free society. President Ayub, he remarked with a smile, had had some trouble on this score.

His Majesty remarked that in his country as in others change was inevitable. In Asian countries in particular there existed a real danger that leftist tendencies would take over if the inevitability of change was not recognized by those in authority. He asked the President which was better: to make changes on a calculated basis or to wait until they are brought about by other factors.

The President replied that it is always hazardous for a single group to retain all power, and particularly so if this group holds its power by inheritance. In his opinion, His Majesty had acted wisely. It is particularly important to keep in mind the religion, geography, tribal traditions and basic philosophies of a people when effecting social changes. This His Majesty seemed to have done. Consequently, his program was more likely to succeed than the program in, say, Morocco.

His Majesty stated that he himself was very hopeful of the outcome in Afghanistan. The cooperation of the Afghan people had been most encouraging. Their readiness for change is illustrated by the fact that whereas he had expected it to take three years to emancipate women, this had been accomplished in six months. In his judgment the basic character of the Afghan people is such that the reform program will be successfully and peacefully realized.

The meeting broke up after the President’s expression of pleasure that he and His Majesty would have further opportunities to discuss these and other matters in which they were both interested.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Afghanistan, Visit of King and Queen 9/63, 1/63-9/63. Confidential. Drafted by Gaud on September 6 and cleared by Talbot and Komer. The King and Queen of Afghanistan made a State visit to the United States September 4-16. They visited Washington September 5-7.