13. Telegram 2407 From the Embassy in Afghanistan to the Department of State, April 22 1974.1 2




  • STATE 68545


Department of State

KABUL 2407

April 22, 1974


KABUL 2407


We have carefully read cited FAA provisions as well as much of material related to hearings and committee reports. In country such as Afghanistan, which has culture and history so unlike that of West, there are severe definitional problems in attempting to relate Afghan performance to sense of Congress about personal freedom and development for people. It is our reading that Congress is concerned with host government’s commitment to improving welfare, economic and social, of their people. And in Congress’ view holding of “political prisoners” is taken as one indicator that government is not oriented toward its people as well as being an evil unto itself.
Our best judgment is that this government (relative to its predecessors) is generally above average in its commitment to reform and improve lot of its people. At same time, it is not an efficient government; it believes that certain actions are good for people which we might question; it is government with limited power to implement change it desires because of its shaky tenure in office, etc. Thus, although judgment is that intentions are relatively good, nine months since coup is too short to permit observation of much implementation of intentions. Current regime scores well (again relative to its predecessors) regarding intentions to serve its people. At same time there is not and never has been “due process” of law in western sense. Rule is of men more than of law.
Moreover, among politically active, allegiance to family and to clan may be more important than allegiance to nation. Political stability under these conditions necessarily cannot be maintained by appeals to loyalty to maintenance of system, since loyalty cannot be presumed to be present. Traditionally GOA hierarchy has believed it necessary to imprison certain powerful leaders for reasons of state security. Although in our way of looking, such state security prisoners are “political prisoners” in sense of Congress, from another view GOA is responding to what is probably a very real need to maintain degree of stability to enable it to implement any changes it desires. It is in light of this background that following specific response to reftel should be read.
Present government of Afghanistan seized power in relatively bloodless coup on July 17, 1973 and shortly thereafter abrogated the 1964 constitution. While that constitution did contain rights of freedom of thought and expression, right to speedy trial, and guarantees against torture and arbitrary arrest and detention, these principles were never established as traditions of this culture. It was not uncommon under monarchy for those too strident in their criticism of king or government to be arbitrarily imprisoned. Nor was it uncommon for persons accused of common crimes to remain in prison for years before trial despite constitutional guarantees. This is Afghan tradition. New constitution is under consideration, but we have no information concerning its ultimate contents.
New republican government left in effect those laws (unspecified) that “do not contravene republican regime and republican decrees.” Code of criminal procedures contains poorly implemented rudimentary due process mechanisms and consistent appellate procedures. It is generally rumored that decree embodying habeas corpus - an unfamiliar concept in Afghanistan - will soon be published aimed at solving court congestion and problem of prolonged imprisonment before trial. Government has been very sensitive to these problems and earlier sent teams from Ministries of Justice and Interior to provinces with the result that great numbers of prisoners long-awaiting trial have been released and number of pending cases have been resolved.
Reflecting need for stability, resolution published September 22, 1973, stated civil procedures do not apply to those government considers as “indulging in disturbing or disrupting internal or external security of Republic of Afghanistan.” Such persons “whether… military or civilian, shall be tried by military tribunal.” There are no appeal procedures. Whether such people are “political prisoners” as described in reftel is question best prefaced by short review of GOA actions since it assumed power.
At time of coup a number of Afghans were arrested, or detained, the most prominent being former Prime Minister Shafiq, Commander Central Corps ABDUL WALI, and his father [name illegible - Ebaj?] Wali, who are, we believe, still under detention. We have no reliable figures on total numbers of arrests, though we believe great majority have since been released.
In September 1973, government moved against alleged Maiwandwal counter-coup group. GOA announced that Maiwandwal committed suicide in prison. Other major figures were tried by military tribunal, a few were released, 15 to 20 given prison sentences, and five were executed. Minor figures - rumors put total number originally detained in the hundreds - were presumably freed.
In December, some mullahs (conservative religious figures) were arrested after anti-secular demonstration in Khanabad. Of 24 tried by military tribunal, 13 were sentenced and 11 exonerated.
As indicated above, major concern of present government is maintenance of its power. It has arrested and imprisoned those persons perceived as threats to regime’s continued survival and tried them by military tribunal. GOA does not view such people as “political prisoners” but as “state security prisoners” whose special treatment is justified on grounds of national security; hence, there is no official policy on “political prisoners” as such.
By western standards, however, such practices might be taken to constitute arbitrary imprisonment for political reasons. It is well to remember Afghan history and to realize that such treatment is not a departure from traditional Afghan practice and is consistent with a culture where disputes are often settled in blood; and where torture and taking of hostages is not uncommon.
Given depth of such traditions, conservative nature of this culture, and sensitivity, bordering on paranoia, of government to internal or external threat, we do not believe there is any kind of U.S. action or representation that might significantly change the government’s treatment of those it perceives as threats to national security. On the contrary, denial of economic assistance on basis of Section 32, would most probably be seen as an unwarranted attempt to meddle in the country’s internal affairs and give credence to report, such as flourished at time of Maiwandwal group arrest, that United States is actively in league with those plotting overthrow of republican government. Consequently, we recommend that no action be taken by USG within this framework with regard to our assistance programs.
AID and DAO concur.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 84, Kabul Embassy Files: Lot 77 F 53, POL 1, AFG Government (General) 1974. Confidential. It was drafted by Lee Coldron (POL) and Frank Denton (AID); cleared in draft by W. A. Helseth (ADCM); cleared by DAO and POL; and approved by Eliot. “Summary: Yes, but never mind” was written above section 1 by David McGaffey, the Embassy Economic officer.
  2. The Embassy commented on human rights observance in Afghanistan and recommended against linking development assistance to strict standards on issues such as the treatment of political prisoners.