9. Telegram From the Embassy in Afghanistan to the Department of State0

859. Believe Department should be fully aware possibility we approaching serious crisis in Pakistani-Afghan relations.

Pushtun problem goes back in history long before advent to power of any current leaders involved. It became more acute at time Indian partition when tribesmen in unadministered areas given choice of joining India or Pakistan. Seizing on opportunity presented by Abdul Ghaffar [Page 21]Khan’s opposition to referendum and his cooperation with Congress, RGA has since maintained that tribes should have been given additional choices of independence or joining Afghanistan. Upon coming into power in 1954, Daud made righting this “wrong” a foremost policy of his government. In 1955 issue reached stage of “flag incident” and closing of border by Pak and severe chilling Afghan relations with West. At this time, Soviets started major initiative to penetrate country economically, undermine neutrality and independence through foreign aid program and through aid and trade to tie Afghan economy to Communist bloc.

US has publicly recognized Durand Line1 and throughout has felt merits of issue largely on side Pakistan. US refrained from taking sides publicly in hope being effective bringing two sides together. Our efforts have been futile for many reasons among which are: 1. Deliberate vagueness of Afghan position which makes it difficult understand what they really want; and 2. Pakistan’s persistent efforts pretend no problem exists which makes serious discussion extremely difficult.

When Ayub came to power he apparently decided that handling RGA with kid gloves on this problem unwise. All evidence seems to indicate he has felt that blunt soldier-like approach was in best interests Pakistani.

He took lead in publicly calling Pushtunistan issue a “stunt” and otherwise showed condescending attitude towards Royal family and Afghan. He has justified his approach by saying he believed tough approach would drive Afghan to its knees and then it would come crawling to West. We have not agreed his approach but have been unable convince him otherwise.

Afghan position has correspondingly hardened, and preoccupation with this issue has become paramount over all others recently, including development, the other keystone to Daud’s policy. It led him into abortive attempt to retain influence in tribal areas of Pakistan last fall when he sent large group of tribesmen across Durand Line. These were slaughtered in ambush by Pakistanis, resulting in great loss of face for Daud and serious challenge to him personally to remain head of government. Pak followed up quickly to take advantage of situation and extend its control by stationing political agents and para-military personnel throughout area to bring it for first time under effective control by any government. Winter came and activities largely ceased due to inaccessibility.

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This consolidation of Pak control is direct challenge to RGA’s avowed Pushtunistan policy and recognized as such by the government. Our estimate is that Daud and Naim see no course other than to bow in defeat or take some action on their own to recoup their position. We believe they will choose latter, even though aware that it may lead to the end of Afghanistan as independent country and end of Royal family itself. While this may appear irrational and suicidal in American eyes, it is not entirely unprecedented reaction in Moslem Middle East. Daud’s present illness, if anything, may well encourage rather than retard this type of thinking.

For the present, Afghan agents are doing what they can to stir up trouble across border. The fact that the area [they are?] apparently as successful as they are leads us to conviction that there is considerable local resentment among tribes across border against Pakistanis for taking over area. Pakistanis have taken dramatic counter-measures including use of modern aircraft which would certainly seem to increase emotions and tensions. Our efforts to urge restraint upon part of Pakistanis not very effective as they take position we know little about tribal area and our advice therefore not very pertinent.

We believe the RGA will probably push situation to stage of guerrilla warfare as means of showing action on their part in support of tribes and in hopes of attracting enough attention to begin internationalization of dispute by introduction into UN. This is certainly highly dangerous as Pakistanis seem likely to react militarily, quickly and with vigor. Our view is that Daud probably no longer has strength to weather such a chain of events, at least as Prime Minister. Only apparent successors, Ali Mohammed and Naim, are probably not of sufficient strength to hold government together. Successors in Royal Family with capability are in much younger age bracket and without popular support. Opposition groups in process formation are as yet unequipped to take over government without apparent period of chaos. One can visualize segments of Pakistani opinion who would be gratified by downfall of Royal Family as worthwhile end in itself, but we can not share their sanguinity without some certainty as to what is to follow.

In event open armed conflict or other unmistakable crisis growing out of border troubles, it possible USSR would side with Afghanistan. In such case, we would seem to have no alternative but unstinting support Pakistan, while, if chaos in Afghanistan should result, Russians might seize opportunity to attempt installation pro-Soviet regime. However, it our guess Russians at this time would not want this issue to create a new crisis, one of East-West conflict, forcing them take sides either in UN or in field. They must feel they are doing well at present in Afghanistan and they have made a small but impressive beginning toward a more favorable position in Pakistan. We believe Soviets would prefer play long-term [Page 23]political game for assured route to sea rather than short quick showdown to absorb Afghanistan.

Thus Soviets might conclude their interests best served by adopting hands-off attitude in event outbreak border hostilities. By withholding support Afghanistan would be left isolated and it is doubtful if present RGA could long survive the stresses which conflict with Pakistan would entail. The Soviets could well decide that proximity plus the foothold already achieved would then enable them to exert a decisive influence in choice of any successor government which might emerge. In the meantime their refusal to back Afghanistan would have a highly favorable effect on government leaders and public opinion in Pakistan and greatly expand bridgeheads of neutralist sentiment which now seem evident there.

For the present, the Afghans are obviously trying involve US politically in dispute to maximum extent possible. This probably why Naim made his naive suggestion to me to go myself as observer across border or send someone from my staff. It also probably why they over-playing press [concerning] use of US equipment and US involvement in support of Pakistanis. Daud’s request to Harriman that US extend its “good offices”2 must also probably be looked upon at least partially in that light, although we should not deny that certain amount of honest desperation about current situation may also have been a motive.

The history of US efforts either with formal good offices or in more informal efforts at reconciliation has not been a happy one. Another effort would seem unlikely to succeed unless Afghan position could be more realistically defined and Ayub could be convinced honestly to try find some face-saving solution for RGA that did not prejudice Pakistan’s vital interest.

On the other hand it difficult to sit idly by and face prospect not only loss of our considerable investment here but of this issue becoming active additional trouble spot in world situation. One immediate thought for Department to consider is whether Ayub could be informally induced see Daud in Rome en route back from London. In view his [garble] past efforts am hesitant to recommend that US formally urge Ayub to such a course. I discussed such a possibility with Pakistanian Ambassador recently, making clear that I not recommending such a [Page 24]course either to him or to Washington. He seemed to feel that it might be a good idea.

Department should consider whether Harriman should not see Ayub if possible when he returns to London. Harriman could inform Ayub directly circumstances of visit with Daud so as to lay any false suspicions that may arise, and of course hear directly Ayub’s side of story. Occasion might arise for Harriman, in obvious personal manner and not under instructions of President, to query Ayub as to whether it would not be worthwhile for him to see Daud while enroute home in order try avert dangerous situation. Am encouraged in making this suggestion by fact that Bhutto in discussion with Rountree (Karachi telegram 216)3 did not rule out possibility of direct Ayub-Daud meeting. It admittedly hard to see what concession either party would or could make, although mutual cessation of propaganda and withdrawal military forces in and adjacent to sensitive areas immediately comes to mind.

Will continue study what US might usefully do and forward any new thoughts that come to us.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 689.90D/3-1461. Secret; Priority. Also sent Niact to Tehran for Harriman. Repeated to Moscow, Karachi, and London for Harriman. Harriman was en route from Europe to the Middle East at the time.
  2. The boundary line between British India and Afghanistan drawn up by a British mission under Sir Henry Durand and agreed to by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan on November 12, 1893. For the text of the agreement, see British and Foreign State Papers, vol. 95, 1901-1902, p. 1049.
  3. Harriman met with Daud in Rome on March 11. The discussion focused on Daud’s concern about the use of military equipment provided to Pakistan by the United States to maintain control over what Daud referred to as the “independent areas” of Pushtunistan. Harriman pointed to the dilemma that the Pushtunistan dispute posed for the United States in that it involved a seemingly intractable quarrel between two countries with which the United States had friendly relations. Daud suggested that it might prove useful for the United States to offer its good offices to try to facilitate a settlement to the dispute. (Telegram 3513 from Rome, March 11; Department of State, Central Files, 689.90D/3-1161)
  4. Telegram 1533 from Karachi, March 11, repeated to Kabul as telegram 216, reported on a March 10 discussion between Rountree and Acting Foreign Minister Bhutto concerning relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Acting under instructions from Washington, Rountree expressed concern about the use of equipment provided to Pakistan by the United States under the military assistance program. Bhutto justified the use by noting that Afghan agents were actively fomenting unrest in the Pathan tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan had to use what means it had for internal security purposes, but he assured Rountree that military equipment provided by the United States would not be used in connection with the dispute with Afghanistan except within Pakistan. Bhutto concluded that the dispute should be susceptible to solution by personal diplomacy by Ayub and Daud. (Ibid.)