329. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Afghan King’s State Visit


  • The President
  • The King of Afghanistan
  • Mr. Zalmai Ghazi, Member of King’s Official Party
  • Mr. Edwin Wright, FSI Interpretor

The King: I am grateful for an opportunity of a private talk with the President. I shall speak frankly because we have confidence in your friendship and we wish to explore some points of genuine concern—and we would like equally frank comments in return.

The President: The United States of America would like nothing better than a large number of friendly and independent nations and it greatly jeopardizes this aim if there are difficulties among its friends. In this connection, our sincere wishes are for good relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The King: This question of Afghanistan-Pakistan relations is both important and difficult. It has grown up during the past seven or eight years into a clash of seeming principles. Behind it is some reality, much emotion and heated propaganda in which all are to blame—including the Government of Afghanistan. It has created hopes and aspirations in both countries which cannot be ignored because of internal sympathies aroused and a hardening of attitudes. We have inherited this legacy at a time that calls for something else—a series of reforms that call for the unity of all forces in order to bring them to a successful conclusion. Now the reforms are the basic issue. They will brook no further delay. Negative elements could seize the offensive and destroy any plan to use logic and reason. The administration is being transferred to new elements such as Dr. Zahir who was here last month. A successful development would not only benefit Afghanistan but have important influence in regions throughout Asia or Africa.

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The previous administration pushed the Pushtoonistan issue to the point of violence and twice our borders have been closed. What is of primary importance to the new administration is how it can best carry out internal reforms in a stable manner. In allowing more freedom of expression, an irresponsible opposition could pick up the foreign issue and by demagoguery inflame passion so as to destroy the new plans for reform. The government must retain the confidence of its people and cannot ignore popular attitudes that have been too long intensified. It is therefore the determination of this administration to live within the Tehran agreement, refer to events as merely reports (without comment) and hope that Pakistan will carry out a similar policy, so that in the matter of time, the issue can be left in silence. We would be quite satisfied if Pakistan would reciprocate with similar actions.

This raises a second question mentioned yesterday regarding the GOA agreement with the USSR concerning military arms and training. Mr. President you asked whether the USSR might not use the presence of technical advisers in Afghanistan and of military trainees in convenient countries to create a security issue by penetrating our military establishment. We were concerned with this issue after World War II when we made the arrangement and continue to be anxious.

(Here His Majesty went into a lengthy description of the inadequacy of the security forces in 1946—and the difficulties of any satisfactory solution.) The USSR-Afghan deal was—and is—a risky one and at the time when world tensions were high, it seemed justified. Afghanistan could trust America but could it trust countries armed by America to refrain from use of those arms against Afghanistan? But the world situation has changed. While military officers sent abroad are carefully chosen and watched, there have been instances where individuals seem to have shown immaturity and weakened before propaganda. Now it is recognized that Afghanistan’s army is too large and too expensive. Civil demands will increase so a military reorganization is in contemplation. The territory of Afghanistan is not at present threatened—so no more arms necessary. In a year there will be sufficient officers trained to use the Soviet arms—so the sending of officers can be discontinued. We have reviewed our decision and have decided it is time to disengage. In this we need help and advice. Perhaps we can rebuild and expand the Corps of Engineers for a dual purpose—buildup of roads, housing, etc. By identifying our officers in the army with civil and economic development, we could strengthen their pride and intensify their loyalty—which is now high but can be improved and redirected to a degree.

The President: I greatly appreciate this frank exposition of your views. It has been illuminating, more than reading many papers. We need to discuss this in more detail. Our own plans for the next year are in doubt but the matter is of such importance that it should be explored.

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The King: I am not making any formal statement here but simply exposing our problem and asking for a sincere and frank discussion.

At this point the President asked that Secretary Talbot and the Ambassador be brought in. He asked them if there would be further meetings between members of the delegation and US officers before the King left. Mr. Talbot replied that there would be a breakfast meeting on Saturday.

The President concluded the meeting as it was announced the helicopter was on the lawn to take him to Otis Air Force Base.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Afghanistan, Visit of King and Queen 9/63, 1/63-9/63. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Wright on September 12. According to the President’s Appointment Book, the meeting was held at the White House. (Ibid.) The King also met with Rusk on September 6, and discussed economic development programs in Afghanistan. A memorandum of this conversation is ibid., National Security Files, Countries Series, Afghanistan, Visit of King and Queen 9/63, 1/63-9/63.