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The Soviet Threat to Afghanistan and India 1938-1940

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The Soviet Threat to Afghanistan and India 1938-1940
Author(s): Milan Hauner
Source: Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2 (1981), pp. 287-309
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/312094
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Modern Asian Studies, 15, 2 (1981), pp. 287-309. Printed in Great Britain.

The Soviet Threat to Afghanistan

and India 19 3 8-1940

German Historical Institute, London

FROM an Asian angle Afghanistan could easily be select

the extra-European world. It lies at the crossroads o
geographic regions, the Middle East, Central Asia a

much as it borders on three different cultural zones,
the Hindu culture, and the Chinese influence. From

point, until the Second World War, Afghanistan ap

state par excellence, sandwiched between two Great Po
Empire protruding from the North-west of Central As
Empire guarding the Indian glacis in the South-east.
In the relatively brief interval between the two worl
intruder appeared on the Afghan scene which neither t

Russians at first took seriously: Germany. The exc

interest in Afghanistan was right from the start mot

strategic considerations. It dated from I9I5 when

CAB Cabinet Papers

COS Chiefs of Staff (Committee)
FO Foreign Office (archives in PRO)
Forminka Coded telegrams fro; m FO London to British Legation Kabul
IO India Office
IOR India Office Records

IPI Indian Political Intelligence (IO)
JPC COS Joint Planning (Sub)Committee
Katodon Coded telegrams from British Legation Kabul to FO London
MI2 Military Intelligence dealing with India (WO)
NWF(P) North-West Frontier (Province)

PRO Public Record Office (London)
WO War Office (archives in PRO)

This paper is based on my forthcoming book, India in Axis Strategy. Germany, Japan, and
Indian Nationalists in the Second World War (Klett Verlag, Stuttgart, I980).

oo26-749X/80/0404-030 I $02.00 ? 198 Cambridge University Press

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expedition, led by Werner Otto von Hentig a
mayer, reached Kabul with the intention of u

subversive activities against British India.1 The m
idea persisted. Thus, although Germany had lost
second-rate power, she preserved her interest in
the latter full diplomatic support and encourag
ible, sent several scientific expeditions to Centra

opened a German high school in Kabul to pre
for further education in German universities
Gradually, commercial contacts developed and

many became not only the most important promo
in Afghanistan but also the chief supplier of her
experts and advisers penetrated governmental of
bered all other colonies of Europeans in that coun
instance, ten times. One sector of unquestionably

tance the German modernizers monopolized w

namely the Afghan communication network: roa

ation and telecommunications. The German p

during the I920s and 1930s indeed offers the mo
the systematic Soviet infiltration of Afghanistan
culminated recently, in December I979, in the co
over of that country.
However, the purpose of this article is not to c
the German influence in Afghanistan before the
on the Soviet invasion forty years thereafter, but
Soviet threat to that country and to British India
during this period that the British began serious
the Kabul Government a guarantee of military as
a Soviet, or a combined Nazi-Soviet, invasion of A
the Soviet threat taken seriously, firstly by the A
secondly by the British side? Did the Soviet threa
Although it is relatively easy to follow the chr

1 Werner Otto von Hentig led in 1915-16 with Oskar vo
expedition to Kabul with the purpose of winning Amir
Powers. The ultimate aim of the Hentig/Niedermayer M

Afghanistan anti-British and Panislamic propaganda into In
and sedition among Indian troops. German strategists also
ment of Afghan tribes substantial numbers of British and In
on the NWF and thus prevented from reinforcing the Eu
v.Hentig, Mein Leben eine Dienstreise (Gottingen, I962), p
Im Weltkrieg vor Indiens Toren (Hamburg, 1942); R. Vogel, D
expedition Oskar Ritter v.Aiedermayers I9g5/I6 (Osnabriick 9
papers (Aufzeichnungen I934-69, 3 vols., Institut fir Zeitg

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activities within the rapidly changing pattern of international relations
from 1938 to I940, it is more difficult to penetrate the intricacies of
Anglo-Afghan relations, particularly because of the veil of oriental
secrecy behind which Afghan policy was traditionally hidden. As for the
Soviet sources pertinent to this subject, they remain simply inaccessible
with the exception of published texts of trade agreements between the

Soviet Union and Afghanistan.
One must also realize the complicated mechanism through which the
Afghan affairs were assessed in those days on the British side. Procrastination was inevitable since the British Government required weeks on
end to reach a decision. Not only was it necessary that the Foreign Office

in London should be kept informed by their Minister in Kabul, but
Whitehall could not reach a conclusion without knowing the opinion of
the Government of India which came via the India Office. Queries from
London had to be checked with Kabul and Delhi before the War

Cabinet could decide on a particular policy. In addition, the vi

civilian and military intelligence bodies had to be seriously taken
account. Moreover, the unpredictable behaviour of the Afghan aut
ties did not help to accelerate the decision-making process. As poli
and military developments during the period in question advan
an extremely fast pace, the Anglo-Afghan negotiations connected

the Mutual Assistance Agreement between the two countries l
hopelessly behind the optimal time schedule. However, what w

optimal time schedule? One might therefore argue that reluctance
either side to make the decisive step towards the Agreement did h
save Afghanistan from directly provoking Soviet suspicions and th
a dangerous escalation in Afghan-Soviet relations.

Before entering upon the subject, let us outline the often-q

platitudes marking the importance of India for British imperial de
Her strategic value lay precisely in the fact that she formed a bas
against at least two most active potential enemies of the Empire: J
in the Far East and Italy in the Mediterranean and North-East Afr
In the 1930s these zones of fighting overshadowed the Russian enem

Central Asia and were not yet eclipsed by the growing threat

German expansion in Europe. This is why for purely strategic rea

since Britain had to avoid the dreaded prospect of facing all

numerous foes at once-the policy of appeasement emerged as the
possible one under the circumstances. The Chiefs of Staff (COS) ca
the conclusion that, whereas on the European mainland British mi
potential could not prevent the German aggressor from carrying o

intentions, nor was there any immediate need to protect str

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communications vital for the maintenance and survival of the Empire,
with regard to Italy and Japan this was different.2

Hence Britain's central preoccupation during the inter-war years
with preserving her predominant position in the Mediterranean and
retaining control over the Suez Canal and the entire Indian Ocean by
commanding its naval gateways, Suez, Aden and Singapore, and by
preventing any other great power from establishing itself in that area.
With the growing significance of oil for supplying modern navies and
mechanized armies, control over Middle Eastern oilfields between the

shores of the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean became of vital

importance, second only to the defence of the British Isles, as Grea

Britain depended for her supplies of food and raw materials on the safety

of the principal sea lane of the Empire which ran to the East. Th

essential prerequisite for exercising such control was British sea power
But the British also relied, apart from air power which was indispensable, on the physical presence of their troops which could intervene on
land in the event of local disturbances or foreign invasion by a major
power. Nowhere in the entire area from the Mediterranean to the Far

East could the British protect their interests in a major emergency with
out calling upon the army in India which comprised the largest numbe
of regular troops the British Empire could assemble in peace time.

Until the emergence of the German threat in I939 the principa
problem of India's defence lay on her North-West Frontier against

possible Russian attack. The defence of the Frontier was always understood as the global defence of Afghanistan against Russian penetration.
The existence of a permanent Russian threat may also help to explai
why the British were notoriously so slow in solving the problem of arme
tribes on the Frontier. One of the main reasons why the British were no
all that keen to disarm the tribes lay perhaps in the speculation that thei

permanent armed presence on the Afghan border might have func
tioned in the last instance as a protective shield should the Russians
with or without Afghan collaboration, reach the Khyber Pass. Th
retention of the bulk of the Indian Army on the Frontier may hav

appeared to some military theoreticians like Liddell Hart as anachronistic in military terms,3 but it had its long-term significance. Some Britis
operational estimates even included the armed tribesmen in their calcu-

2 Compiled from: B. Prasad (ed.), Defence of India. Policy and Plans. Official History of the

Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War I939-I945 (Delhi I963); N. H. Gibbs, Gran
Strategy, vol. I: Rearmament Policy (London: HMSO, I976); M. Howard, The Continent

Commitment. The Dilemma of British Defence Policy in the Era of Two World Wars (London,


3 B. H. Liddel Hart, The Remaking of Modern Armies (London, 1927), pp. 31-2.

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lations as they constituted, with half-a-million men renowned for their
superb marksmanship, a formidable second line of defence, having to

their advantage the wild and barren topography of the terrain. It is
certainly no exaggeration to describe the Pathan tribes as the largest
known potential reservoir of guerrilla fighters in the world.4
There was, however, always a potential threat in a protracted military involvement resulting from a tribal uprising. In 1936, what might

have originally appeared as a 'trifling incident' in Waziristan, developed into a major British commitment lasting two years, involving
one-third of India's best seasoned troops and her entire air force.5 The
most notorious self-styled guerrilla leader in Waziristan in that period
was the charismatic Mirza Ali Khan, better known as the Faqir of Ipi.
Even British intelligence reports had to admit, notwithstanding irresponsible tribal hotheads in search of loot and adventure, that a large
number of those who had joined him did so out of genuine belief in his
claim to divine support. In I937 nearly 40,000 British and Indian troops
were reported in the field trying to curb the Faqir's activities but with
little success.6
But in 1938 the most extraordinary incident occurred in connection
with the appearance of Muhammed Saadi al-Keilani, otherwise known
as the Shami Pir-the holy man from Syria. For three months he toured
the Frontier, gathering Mahsud and Wazir tribesmen under his standard, until he decided to denounce the ruling king, Zahir Shah, as a
usurper and proclaimed the exiled monarch Amanullah the only lawful
king of Afghanistan.7 This proclamation caused a wave of fanatical
enthusiasm to run through South Waziristan with the effect that large
lashkars flocked to join the Pir who soon set out on his march to Kabul
across the border. Not even air bombing could stop the tribesmen and it
was only the offer of a handsome bribe to Shami Pir which did the trick

and saved the Afghan Government 'from a disaster of the first magnitude'.8 It was a remarkable incident and left many people, particularly
4 WO 208/24: M.I.2. Collation file on Afghanistan; further WO 208/773, IOR

5 CAB 84/10: COS(4o) 229 and WP(G) (40) 23; Prasad,
6 Compiled from: IOR L/P & S/ I2/3192-3, 3217-19,
WO 208/773; Peshawar Weekly Intelligence Summaries
Intelligence Summaries 1937-39. See my article 'One Man

Defence of India, p. 65.
3236-7, 3249; WO 106/5446,
1936-39, Baluchistan Weekly
Against the Empire', Journal

of Contemporary History, I ( 1981).

7 Fraser-Tytler: Afghanistan-Annual Report 1938, FO 371/23630; Diary of Mil.
Attache Kabul, FO 371/22248; IOR L/P & S/I2/3255-3258.
8 W. K. Fraser-Tytler, Afganistan. A Study of Political Developments in Central and Southern

Asia (Oxford, I953), pp. 266-7; see also L. W. Adamec, Afghanistan's Foreign Affairs to the
Mid-Twentieth Century. Relations with the USSR, Germany, and Britain (Tucson, 1974), pp.

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the Germans in Kabul, completely baffled as to the British scheme
behind the Shami Pir affair.9 Interestingly enough, it was also the last
chance of major tribal unrest before the outbreak of the war which the
Germans and their allies could have exploited to their advantage.
As far as the direct Russian threat to India was concerned this was

regarded traditionally as second to none. In geographical terms the
gateway for the Russian invasion of India was Afghanistan. Consequently, the defence of Afghanistan became inextricably linked with
that of India as a whole. As early as I907 the Committee of Imperial
Defence (CID) defined a Russian attack on Afghanistan as a casus belli to

be answered by a British declaration of war on Russia.10 After the
October Revolution the Bolsheviks adopted the German scenario of
1915 (viz. Hentig/Niedermayer expedition) 1 but apparently with little

success, despite the ostentatious revolutionary partnership between
Amanullah and Lenin, and further Soviet preparations to send arms
with instructors from Tashkent across Afghanistan to the Indian


The Defence of India Plan, drafted in the last year of Amanullah's
rule by the War Office in London, still contained the casus belli clause. It
envisaged a complete eviction of Russian forces from Afghan territory by

occupying Kabul and rapidly developing the Afghan capital as an
advanced ground forces and air base from which Soviet airfields, supply

depots and lines of communication might be attacked. This kind of
military operation was termed 'a forward offensive policy'. Under this
plan Afghan co-operation was still taken for granted.13 The War Office
remained convinced that Soviet Russia intended to strike a serious blow

at British interests in Central Asia as soon as her armed forces were fully
mechanized and equipped on modern lines. Afghanistan was believed to
be the first objective.

In contrast to the War Office in London, the Indian General Staff
believed neither in Afghan co-operation in the event of war against
Russia, nor in the friendliness of the Frontier tribes. In parallel to the
War Office's plan they worked out their own 'Blue', 'Pink' and 'Interim'
Plans. The Blue Plan of 1927 was a simple one centred on the traditional

British advance to Kabul from the two railheads on the Indo-Afghan

border. It was replaced in 193I by the Pink Plan, which was less
9 Katodon 23 of 16/3/I939, IOR L/P & S/I2/1758.
10 Cf. Gibbs, Grand Strategy, p. 825.

1 See note i above.

12 Cf. Prasad, Defence of India, p. 15. See also M. N. Roy, Memoirs (Bombay, 1964), pp.

13 Prasad, Defence of India, pp. 22-8.

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ambitious and recommended only a limited advance as far asJalalabad
and Kandahar if the Afghan ruler should go over to the Russian side.14
While the Defence of India Plan of I928 still included the casus belli
clause, this was dropped by the War Office in their subsequent draft
plans from 1930 onwards and replaced by much more cautious language
indicating a mere 'break of diplomatic and official commercial relations
with the Soviet Government'.15 As for the Indian General Staff the

changed international situation led to the substitution of the previous

schemes (Blue and Pink) by the 'Interim Plan of Operations (India)
1938', which remained in force when the war in Europe broke out.
Though somewhat restrained in the appreciation of the immediacy of a
Soviet attack, this plan nevertheless maintained the principal argument
of a Russian threat and anticipated Afghan hostility coupled with the
active support of the cis- and trans-Frontier tribes.16

The British declaration of war on Germany in September I939
seemed to overshadow the strategic importance which lay behind the
defence of India. However, the Nazi-Soviet Pact allowed the re-assertion of the Russian menace with its underlying assumption that a secret

agreement between Germany and Russia must have been concluded
whose main purpose was the liquidation of the British Empire. The basic
difference between Britain's European strategy on the one hand, and her

Asian strategy on the other, nevertheless, persisted. Afghanistan
remained the principal objective of British defence policy in Central
Asia which was naturally centred on Russia and not Germany, and
Britain could not possibly seriously contemplate declaring war on the
Soviet Union as well, though she had to anticipate an invasion from that

quarter. Nazi-Soviet co-operation made the possible invasion of Afghanistan a double threat to British India: firstly, in the form of direct

Soviet air and ground attacks and, secondly, as a suitable place for
gathering intelligence material and organizing internal disruptions in
India by pro-Axis fifth columnists-or as an aggregate of the two threats
in the plans to restore ex-king Amanullah to his lost throne with joint

Russian and German assistance.

For several years, at least from I932 onwards, the Afghan Government had sought a British guarantee against the threat of Russian
aggression, realizing that without external assistance they stood no
chance against a major power with a mechanized army and modern air
force. In 1937 the Afghan Prime Minister had gone to England expressly
14 Ibid., pp. 28-33.
15 Gibbs, Grand Strategy, p. 828.

16 Prasad, Defence of India, pp. 35-6.

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to try and arrange a clear understanding with

defence of his country, but he failed again. The Br

such a guarantee since they did not want to co
advance to a course of action which was beyon

control. 17

In the second half of 1938, however, prompted by the after-effects of

the Shami Pir affair and by the uncertain political developments in
Europe, the Afghan Government resumed their initiative with the
British. In October 1938 Sir Aubrey Metcalfe, Foreign Secretary to the
Government of India, assisted by Colonel G. B. Henderson of the Indian
General Staff, visited Kabul. This was the first visit by a foreign secretary from Delhi since I921. The discussion centred not only on tribal
matters and trade relations, but on the subject of the hypothetical Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan.18 The British side was indecisive, though the
Minister at Kabul, Sir Kerr Fraser-Tytler, suggested that perhaps some
sort of assistance in the form of supplying munitions and money as well

as technical advisers to the Afghan Army and Air Force should be
forthcoming. 19

In the spring of I939 the Afghans felt attracted by the British guaran-

tee to give military assistance to Poland and other possible victims of
foreign aggression. But when they learned that during the summer secret

negotiations between the British and Soviet military delegations were
going on in Moscow, they were overcome with fear that the doubtful
Soviet assistance to the Western Powers in Europe might be purchased

for the price of a free hand in Asia thereby bringing the spectre of
imminent Soviet aggression towards Afghanistan to the forefront.20
On 7July 1939 Fraser-Tytler received from the Afghan Prime Minister detailed proposals for a possible course ofjoint action in the event of

Soviet aggression towards Afghanistan. From his point of view the
integrity and independence of Afghanistan was at least as important to

Britain as that of Poland; if the British Government refused such a

guarantee the Afghans, while remaining outwardly neutral, might lend

an ear in time of trouble to subversive influences both in and outside the

country.21 However, Fraser-Tytler's urgent recommendation was
treated in Delhi and London with typical procrastination. The COS
17 E.g. Forminka 82 of I7/10/I932, FO 371/22257; Forminka 97 of I8/10/1937, FO
402/19; IOR L/P & S/12/1558.
18 Katodon 143 of 18/10/1938, FO 402/19; Katodon 151 of 16/11/1938, FO

19 Ibid.

20 Afganistan-Annual Report 1938, para. 5; Katodon 34 of 7/5/1938, FO 402/20.

21 Katodon 59of7/7/1939, IOR R/i2/I/113.

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feared the reaction of the Soviets with whom they were negotiating in

Moscow. They also argued that the Indian Army was at the time
undergoing reorganization and was not suitable to render effective aid

to Afghanistan. But at the same time the COS were aware that the
Afghan request must not be treated unsympathetically as this could be
playing into the hands of Germany, Italy orJapan. The conclusion in
London was, therefore, that the British must play for time, although
some assistance with training the Afghan Army through the good offices
of the Turkish Government was suggested.22
The subject was again discussed at a joint meeting of the Foreign and
India Offices on 15 August. The experts agreed that a bilateral agree-

ment of goodwill with the Afghan Government would be the appropriate answer so that, at the same time, they could avoid any definite
obligation to military assistance.23 This was conveyed to Kabul on 21
August.24 It arrived two days later before the ink on the Nazi-Soviet
Pact was even dry.

Although the Nazi-Soviet Pact must have shocked the Afghan
Government there were also speculations that it might have been
received with relief. For as long as a European war did not break out the
Afghans were believed to be in an enviable position to play off Russia
and Britain against one another. In the event of an Anglo-German war,
however, the British Government would have had their hands tied and

neutral Russia would be able to attack Northern Afghanistan or attempt

to sovietize the interior. They feared that after the end of the war
Communism would spread not only in Europe, but also in Asia.25
Hardly a week after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact Germany attacked Poland, and Britain in turn declared war on Germany.
The only practical outcome of the rapprochement between Delhi and
Kabul at the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact was a secret meeting of the
Director of the Intelligence Bureau of the Government of India, SirJohn

M. Ewart, and the Air Officer Commanding India, Air Marshall Sir
Philip B. Joubert de la Ferte, with the Afghan Prime Minister in Kabul
at the end of August. The Government of India were concerned by the
presence of the large German community in Afghanistan which could,

in the event of war, be effectively used to bring about a change of
government in Kabul and play a key role in inciting the border tribes.
However, no specific agreement on the exchange of intelligence infor22 Ibid., GOI to IO, No. io86 of 6/8/i939.
23 FO 371/23631.
24 Forminka 72 of 2 1/8/ 939, IOR R/I 2/I 1 3.
25 Weekly Letter M12, No. 44 of 6/9/1939, to Army HQIndia, IOR L/WS/I/69.

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mation was reached between the two sides.26 Whatever happened in
this matter between the Afghans and the British during the war
remained confined to private meetings between Hashim Khan and the
British Minister in Kabul.

After the outbreak of the war in Europe London continued to discuss
the necessity of defending Afghanistan in the event of Russian invasion.
In a joint memorandum dated 7 September I939 the two Secretaries of
State for Foreign Affairs and India pleaded strongly for the conclusion of
the Mutual Assistance Agreement between Britain and Afghanistan,27

on the basis of the reaffirmation of the casus belli clause, abandoned
during the I930s. They argued that 'the preservation of the independence and integrity of Afghanistan as a buffer state between Russia and
India must be regarded as essential to the defence of India and the
Empire'. Three main reasons were given as to why the British Government must try to have Afghanistan on their side in the present war:
firstly, because of the danger that German, and probably also Italian
agents might attempt to use Afghanistan as a base for hostile activities

against India, doing everything in their power to inflame the feelings of
the Frontier tribes against the British. Secondly, the Frontier tribes must

be pacified, which could not be achieved without close co-operation

with the Afghan authorities. Hence the third reason, to strengthen the

position of the Afghan Prime Minister, Muhammed Hashim Khan,
vis-a-vis his own Government and people, particularly as his position
seemed to have been seriously threatened by the strong possibility of

ex-King Amanullah's restitution to power by German and Russian

manipulation. However, the memorandum also pointed out the obvious
British weakness which ruled out any definite obligation towards the
Afghan Government: 'the Army in India is not in a position to defend

Afghanistan against Russia without the support of Imperial forces,
which are unlikely to be available in view of numerous other commitments . . .'.

As the Afghan Government at that moment neither suggested nor
welcomed the presence of British troops from India on their territory,
the War Cabinet found it easier to reach a decision four days later which
practically endorsed the recommendations of this joint memorandum:
to give oral assurances of immediate British willingness to despatch a
military mission to Kabul to advise the Afghans on their plans, to train
their officers and air force and to offer technical advisers together with a
26 N. 4740, 29/8/i939, FO 371/2363I.
27 CAB 67: WP(G) (39) 4.

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loan of 25o,000 to purchase arms and munitions in Britain, provided of
course that these were available.28 (As it happened, they were not.)
The fear of imminent Soviet invasion increased drastically after 17
September when the Red Army joined the Wehrmacht in the liquidation

of the Polish State. The Kabul Government were seized with panic.
Fraser-Tytler was repeatedly asked whether Britain was to declare war
on Russia-a perfectly logical question by virtue of the terms Chamberlain had given to Poland-which would, in turn, provoke an immediate
Russian invasion of India via Afghanistan. Although Fraser-Tytler tried
to argue that it was unlikely that the British Government would declare
war on the Soviet Union as well, Hashim Khan was not convinced and
desired to hear more: he wished for British troops to enter Afghanistan to
help in the defence against the Russians.29

As far as Afghan-German relations were concerned, the British
Government did not expect Kabul to break off diplomatic relations with
Germany immediately, as this was considered unrealistic. On the one
hand, the British Minister in Kabul tried to convey the impression that

public opinion in Afghanistan was preponderantly on the side of the
Western Powers, on the other he had to admit that there was at the same

time a strong undercurrent of pro-German feeling. German propaganda
was taking full advantage of the military situation in Europe to spread
rumours that in the event of victory German allies and friends would

receive portions of the British Empire as a reward. In the case of
Afghanistan this would include large parts of North-West India along
the river Indus and the port of Karachi.30 However, as far as AfghanGerman trade relations were concerned it is important to realize that

these came to a standstill owing to the British declaration of war on
Germany and the subsequent closure of Indian ports to all German
goods. Another important factor was that during the first months of the
war practically all trade between Afghanistan and Russia ceased.31 This

led to secret approaches by the Kabul Government to the British to
replace Germany as the leading economic partner. Although the importance of this initiative was fully grasped by Fraser-Tytler, the authorities

in London and Delhi again failed to include in their general strategic
considerations the economic component which was so important to
Afghanistan's political stability.32
28 CAB 65: WM(39) I2; Forminka 96 of 14/9/1939 in reply to Katodon 83 of

8/9/1939, IOR R/I2/I/I I 3.
29 Katodon 06 of 24/9/1939, ibid.
30 Katodon 127 of I7/10/1939, FO 371/23631.
31 Kabul Economic Report for the quarter ending 30/9/1939, FO 37I/23630.
32Katodon I04 of 17/I 1/939, IOR R/12/I/i 13.

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Meanwhile in London the civilian and mili
to draft plans under the spectre of dual
Russia. It was the prospect of air warfare
strategists also as far as India was conce
Secretary of State for India prepared a mem
Threat to India' for the War Cabinet in wh
entirely defenceless against an air attack
Russia. 'There is in the whole country', he
solitary anti-aircraft battery consisting of
are no fighter aeroplanes at all'. The kn
weakness in India's air defences, Lord Zet
to have 'a most damaging effect on our pre
throughout the Near and Middle East'. H
strengthen Indian Intelligence outposts ag

the object of obtaining further information

Zetland's proposals went to the COS Joint Planning Sub-Committee
JPC) for further comments and to the Military Intelligence Department of the War Office, where the M12 was responsible for India. The
JPC recommended that more advanced intelligence bureaux should be
speedily established on Afghan territory, preferably in Kabul, Mazar-iSharifand Herat.34 But the MI2 regarded Zetland's memorandum as
unnecessarily alarming. Although they agreed that the Soviet Union
could probably overrun the Northern Province of Afghanistan at any
moment she chose, to overrun the whole country and then proceed
against India would be a major operation that would require two to
three years to execute, mainly because of the great Hindu Kush massif,
which lies 100 to 150 miles south of the Soviet border and reaches an
average maximum altitude of 5,000 metres and which at the time was
crossed by only one road which traversed such difficult gorges that it was

considered practically impregnable. Thus, the MI2 did not believe in
the present threat but warned that Russia could cause some diversion of
the main British war effort in Europe by stirring up trouble both in
Afghanistan and among the Frontier tribes which might bring about
complete anarchy. On the other hand, they fully accepted the threat of a
Soviet air attack from Turkestan since the more important cities in the
Punjab lay within the radius of action of the Red Air Force, which could
assemble about 400 aircraft, of which 280 could be modern bombers, at

aerodromes close to the Afghan border. Reinforcements from Germany
33 CAB 66: WP(39)55; CAB 84/7:JP(39)38.
34 CAB 84/8: JP(39)45.

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by the Luftwaffe were also considered possible. The MI2 estimated that
Afghan defence consisted of 40 anti-aircraft guns-thus superior to that
of British India! However, they admitted that in the absence of trained
personnel their defensive value could not be rated as very high.35
On balance, the COS Committee then came to the conclusion that

although Russia perhaps had the capacity to employ her bombers to
threaten India, it was doubtful whether the Soviets would attack objectives beyond the NWF. So, despite the full admittance that India's air
defences were absolutely inadequate and that the northern provinces of
Afghanistan were indefensible, the COS nevertheless advised that assist-

ance to the Afghan Government by troops from India should not be
given even if it were desirable. Since the British could afford only
diplomatic and economic help, lest they should provoke the Russians,
the COS believed that improvement of roads in Afghanistan must take

precedence.36 On 2 October the War Cabinet approved the COS

recommendations.3 7

This cautious War Cabinet decision clashed with another memoran-

dum produced shortly thereafter by the COS entitled 'Appreciation of
the Situation created by the Russo-German Agreement', in which the
emphasis was put on the alarming prospect of Nazi Germany and Soviet
Russia joining forces to spread world revolution. The COS rightly saw
that Russia did not necessarily need to be involved in a war with the
Allies, but could nevertheless help the Germans in a number of ways.
She could, for instance, permit them to use her naval and air bases, she
could also assist Germany indirectly by locking Allied forces in second-

ary theatres of war, such as the Baltic, Finland, the Balkans and the
Caucasus whence Turkey and the oilfields of Iran and Iraq would be
threatened. Last but not least, she could invade Afghanistan, thereby
creating unrest in India which would put extraordinary strain on
internal security-something which India was to experience three years
later during theJapanese advance from the East. The consequence of all
this, the COS believed, might well be that India as a source of reserves
for the whole Empire would dry up.38

Despite the War Cabinet decision not to send troops from India to
Afghanistan, British military and intelligence agencies continued to
draft schemes envisaging guerrilla warfare in Soviet Central Asia and

35 Notes by MI2., 29/9/1939, WO 106/5189.

36 CAB 66: WP(39)59.
37CAB 65: WM(39)34.

38CAB 84: COS(39)66JP.

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extensive sabotage activities against the Soviet rail network.39 However, when the Afghan Premier was approached by Fraser-Tytler for
permission to place agents from India in Northern Afghanistan to watch
Soviet movements, he turned it down believing it to be too risky in the
face of Russian suspicions. He nevertheless promised to pass on to the
Government of India any relevant information which might reach him
from his own agents.40

Axis propaganda had of course every reason to exaggerate the Russian threat to India despite the official denials by the Soviet diplomats.41
On the other hand, British propaganda, understandably, tried to deny
that such a threat existed.42 The newly-created Ministry of Information, for instance, pieced together all those military arguments pointing
against the probability of a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was sent
to Kabul for public consumption in order to comfort those Afghans who

were unduly worried by the Russian menace.43 The note was sharply
criticized by Fitzroy Maclean, at that time serving in ajunior position at
the Foreign Office, and until the previous year at the British Embassy in

Moscow, whence in September I938 he undertook what must by any
standards have been regarded as an adventurous journey through
Soviet Central Asia to Afghanistan. His successful crossing of the Oxus

(Amu Darya) from the Soviet shore, armed only with his diplomatic
passport and a considerable degree of Scottish audacity, made him into
something of an expert on the Soviet-Afghan military balance.44 Maclean pointed out the enormous disparity between the military resources

of the two countries and that no very elaborate or prolonged preparations would in fact be necessary for the Red Army and Air Force to

strike. He emphasized the proximity of the railheads at Termez and
Kushka and argued sensibly that it would not be necessary for the
Russians to cross the Hindu Kush during the winter as they would be
fully satisfied with the domination of Northern and Western Afghanis-

tan as a first step. As regards the Red Air Force, Maclean produced a
figure of 1,700 bombers and fighters which the Soviet Union could have
39 MI(R): Report of the Possibilities of Para-Military Action in Russian Central Asia,
28/9/1939, IOR L/WS/I/I I7.
40 Ibid., Katodon I28 of 20/1/1939.
41 C. S. Samra, India andAnglo-Soviet Relations I917-I947 (Bombay, 1959), pp. 138-143.

42 E.g. The New York Times of 31/12/I939; L. F. Rushbrook-Williams, 'Russia and
India-Fancies and Facts', in: Great Britain and the East 54(1940), p. I4; CAB 68:WP(R)

43 N.7I I8, FO 371/2363I.
44Maclean's journey to Afganistan via Soviet Central Asia in: FO 371/22257 and
23629. Reprinted verbatim in: F. Maclean, Eastern Approaches (London, I949), Pt one,


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made available for use outside her own territory without seriously
depleting her air defence proper. He warned that if the proposed note
was to be sent to the Afghans they 'will come to the conclusion that we
are either deceiving ourselves or trying to deceive them'.45

Meanwhile, the state of near panic which had befallen the Afghan
Government during the second half of September, seemed to have
receded. Four weeks later it became obvious that Hashim Khan had

decided not to proceed further with the Anglo-Afghan Mutual Assist

ance Agreement. At that stage this was mainly because of fear
arousing the ever-present Soviet suspicions. The Afghan Governm
feared that the Soviet Ambassador, A. K. Mikhailov, who was due
return to Kabul any day, might be the bearer of an ominous dema
from Moscow requesting territorial concessions in Northern Afghani
tan.46 During the first half of November the Afghans seemed to hav
relaxed again since their own intelligence reports from the North ind
cated, despite active German propaganda claiming the contrary,
complete absence of aggressive preparations on the Soviet side.47
The Kabul Government with its ruling Yahya Khel clan was ver
much isolated from its own people and its position remained weak, as
Fraser-Tytler never ceased to emphasize. He regarded the regula
Afghan Army as totally inadequate for the task of opposing a Russian
advance for more than a few days, even if a certain amount of Britis
assistance was available. But at the same time Fraser-Tytler stressed t

point that the Afghans looked on themselves as a sort of outpost of Ind

They would do all they could, he believed, to delay and harass a

attack on their territory which might actually be designed against Ind
in the expectation that the British would assist them, if not with troo
then at any rate from the air and with munitions and other technica

It may sound a rather profitless and academic business when viewed from
Delhi, but in Kabul the Russians are uncomfortably close, and there seems no
doubt that if they were to come the Afghans would fight. If they could only be
persuaded to adopt guerrilla warfare and keep their army in the background as

much as possible they might harass the line of communication of such an

advance with some effect.48

However, the Russian invasion of Finland on 30 November renewed
the old Afghan anxieties as to the future intentions of the Soviet Govern45 F0371/2363 : Maclean's comments on N.7I 8, 27/I I1/1939.
46 Katodon I30 of 23/1 0/ 939, FO 371/24766; see also IOR L/P & S/1 2/1762.

47Katodon I85 of 3I/I2/I939, IOR L/P & /I2/3249; see also CAB 68:WP(R) (39)85.

48 No. 1325(E) of 17/ I I /939, IOR R/ I 2/I/I 4.

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ment;49 but in the short run, as long as Russian military involvement
remained confined to Europe, it permitted the Kabul Government to

engage in military conversation with the Indian General Staff. Two
senior officers were sent from Delhi as 'private guests' so as not to arouse

Soviet suspicion: Brigadier G. N. Molesworth, Director of Military
Operations and Intelligence, and Major A. S. Lancaster, until a short
time before Military Attache at the Kabul Legation.50 The talks which
lasted three days proved inconclusive. For as soon as Molesworth asked
for details ofthejoint military action that was contemplated between the
Afghan and British forces, it began to emerge that the Afghan Government really had no contingency plans to deal with Soviet aggression,
either military or political, and that there was no basis upon which any

sound military assistance could be given. Their 'war plan', as Molesworth suspected, had been manufactured overnight on the strength of

the discussions of the previous day. The only military answer the
Afghans had to an eventual large-scale invasion of their country was to
raise some additional tribal forces in a national emergency. Nevertheless, the Afghans were quick to supplement this wholly inadequate war
plan of theirs by what Molesworth called 'a stupendous and fantastic list
of war material' to the tune of several million pounds to an army whose
training and organization made it quite incapable of making good use of
the equipment and weapons already in its possession.51 Realizing that
the British were not prepared to sign a blank cheque for the supply of
military materials in an almost unlimited quantity, and even less to send
their troops to the river Oxus, the Afghans pulled back as they did not
want to provoke Soviet hostility.
This sudden volte-face by the Afghans puzzled many observers on the
British side who tried to interpret it. Perhaps they just wanted to see
whether the British meant business, speculated Fraser-Tytler, and then
would come back and seek to revive negotiations for the Mutual Assistance Agreement.52
Thus, the close of 1939 left the Afghan Government hesitant to take
the bold step towards such a pact, and the Indian Government reflecting with undisguised amazement over the lengthy list of Afghan military
requirements, which they could never fulfil as it exceeded their own

current demands for military equipment and weapons from Britain.
49 Katodon I66 of 5/I2/I939.
50 N.6237, FO 371/23630; Katodon I 13 of 22/12/I939; G. N. Molesworth, Curfew on
Olympus (London, I965), p. I49.
51 N.2o66, FO 371/24769.
52 Katodon I 13 of 22/12/I939, Forminka of 30/12/1939, in: FO 371/24769 and IOR
R/I2/I/I 4.

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Had the fear of Soviet invasion not dominated the minds of the Afghans

so much, their country might have joined in the chain of advanced
British defence against the aggressor states of Europe. The acceptance of
British military assistance would have placed Afghanistan as the farthermost eastern link of a defence belt stretching from Scandinavia, admittedly with the recent deep dent cause by the defeat of Poland, across

Romania, Greece and Turkey. However, discussions on the question
were to continue during the first half of I940 and presumably would
have resulted in the acceptance by Afghanistan of the more specific
British offer of military assitance, had a series of military disasters in
Northern and Western Europe, suddenly transforming the 'phony' war
into a full-scale blitzkrieg, not resulted in a shattering decline in British
During the first three months of I940 the Afghan Government persisted in their extravagant demand for arms and munitions, while the

British Minister in Kabul was at pains to emphasize that training and
organization must come first if they did not want to put 'the cart before
the horse'.53 However, what mattered most to the Afghan Government
was a clear definition of the British attitude and action in the event of a

Soviet attack on their country. The general opinion in Kabul was that in

the event of such an attack Britain would go to the assistance of
Afghanistan. Fraser-Tytler was anxious .to stress that if she failed to do

so, the effect would be disastrous not only for Afghanistan, but might
seriously prejudice the British position with the Muslims in the Middle

East and India in general.54
After a lengthy exchange of arguments between the triangle of Lon-

don-Delhi-Kabul over how to break the deadlock in Anglo-Afghan
relations regarding the military agreement, the casus-belli provision yet
again came to the fore.55 The Foreign Office memorandum of 3 April
I940 declared Afghanistan an essential part of British imperial defences
whose territorial integrity demanded that 'support must be given. .. by
all means in our power'. This British guarantee was to be accompanied
by a secret assurance to the Afghan Government in the case of indis-

putable aggression by Soviet forces which the British Government
would regard as a casus belli. Compared with the September offer the
Foreign Office this time went further in suggesting that 'some measure of
assistance by land forces from India, in addition to air support' should
be given. However, this obligation was to exclude the military defence of
53 Ibid., Katodon 24 of 4/2/9I40. 54Ibid., FO comments, 6/2/1940.
55 E.g. Correspondence between GOI, IO, and Kabul fromJanuary to March I940:
FO 371/24766, 24767, 24768, IOR L/WS/I/I I4.

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Afghanistan's northern border. As an afterthoug
dering the consequences of such a proposition, th
gested raising tribal levies on the Indian side of the
Afghanistan.56 Fraser-Tytler was in favour of ra
he believed that, in the event of a full-scale Sovie

Government would declare Jehad,57 and so did

ham, the Governor ofNWFP, who expected the 'Br
war with the godless Russians 'with a bang'.58 Ho
not wish to mobilize the tribes as he feared that a
tan was more imminent than a Russian invasion.
the tribal levies marching on Kabul, not in suppo
present government and in favour of Amanullah.

The acceptance of the FO memorandum by th

further impetus to the Indian General Staff to r
talks with the Afghan authorities on more advan

co-operation. But this was not to last for lon

Government of India offered a small consignmen

ammunition, together with a promise of furth

Afghans were reluctant to accept it as they were f

reports from Europe about the spectacular Ger

Norway and Holland.60 Fraser-Tytler, bombarded

London urging him to push the Afghans tow

British assistance, could only confirm the deterio
tige in Afghanistan, accentuated by a sharp incre
ganda.61 Despite the verbal assurance of British s
Russian aggression which he conveyed to the Prim
the Afghan Government declined to receive Briga

was to visit Kabul again to arrange for the recepti
mission from India with a nucleus of technical pe
Afghan Army. Now it was the turn of the Afgha
for time. Afraid to receive a British military miss
eyes of Germans and Soviets in Kabul they sugge

man to Simla to discuss plans with the Indian

56 WP(G) (40)94. Approved by the War Cabinet on 5/4 a
Delhi on 10/4/1940 (see FO 371/24768, IOR L/WS/I/530).
57 Kabul to Delhi, No. 444 of 26/4/1940, IOR R/I2/I/I 14
58 Cunningham to Caroe, 24/4/1940, ibid.
59 Linlithgow to Amery, No. 2156 of 22/6/1940, ibid.

60 Katodon I 5 of 22/5/1940, FO 371/24769.

61 Ibid., Forminka 98 of 19/5/1940.

62Ibid., Katodon I I9, I2 and I40 of26, 31/5 and 15/5/19
(40), 137, 138.

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owing to the relentless advance of German armies in Western Europe
and the fading threat of an imminent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan this
visit never materialized. Although the much likelier prospect of a coup

d'etat in Afghanistan, organized from within by German, Italian or
Soviet agents, persisted, the Government of India maintained, despite
the disagreement from the India Office, that the British guarantee to

offer Afghanistan military assistance would not extend to such an
Could the British Government go so far as to guarantee Afghanistan's

territorial integrity and thus commit themselves, as was the case in
Poland, to restore that country to its present boundaries, if it was plain to

everybody that Northern Afganistan was indefensible? Would such a
British commitment involve launching a military campaign against
Soviet Russia to paralyse her nerve centres, in particular the oil-fields
and lines of communications? Such questions were asked at the time and
however exaggerated they might seem today, the COS believed during
the early stages of the war that the most effective form of defence against

any Russian advance was to bomb the Caucasian oil-fields.
For several months now the COS had been examining the implications of further Soviet expansion in areas such as the Balkans, the Middle
East and Central Asia. Shortly before the surrender of Finland the COS
reported to the War Cabinet that 'Germany and the Soviet Union have
for the moment common interests in achieving the disruption of the

British Empire' and that its 'important parts can be attacked from

Russia and once hostilities commenced the Germans would doubtless

encourage the Russians to force dispersion of effort upon the Allies'.64
The COS were convinced that Germany would offer Russia such military aid as she would be willing to accept. This might initially have
taken the form of military missions; later, German air force units could
have been sent in and even the despatch of complete German formations
to operate with Russian forces was considered possible. In searching for
a retaliatory target within the reach of the Allies, the COS suggested

Baku as 'a focal point of Russian communications southwards to Iran
and eastwards to India'. They estimated that 80 per cent of Russia's oil
production and 90 per cent of her refining capacity was centred in the
Caucasus. 'Once hostilities between the Allies and Russia had begun, it
is unlikely that the Soviet Government would lose any time in taking
63 GOI to IO, No. 2369 of 4/7/1940 and reply N.5216 of I I/7/1940, FO 371/24766.
64 CAB 66:WP(4o)9I, COS(40)252 of 8/3/1940. Nazi-Soviet co-operation in arranging exchange of military technical missions described in: S. Bialer (ed.), Stalin and His
Generals. Soviet Military Memoirs of World War II (New York, I969), pp. I I5-29.

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action against India and Afghanistan', the memor
would be clearly in the Russian and the German
India and on her frontiers the maximum diversio

Although it was realized that, after the relativ

Northern Afghanistan, a land advance by Soviet t
be undertaken only as a long-term project, if at
recommended that the Government of India shou
the question of sending troops into Afghanistan;
anti-aircraft units would, however, not be availabl
being.65 If such direct help was not forthcoming
would have most unfortunate results on our relat
Government and most undesirable repercussions o
Moslem world in general'.66 Thus, it was particul
the COS against the reluctant wait-and-see attitud

of India and its General Staff which brought

discussion on despatching direct military assistan
described earlier.

The fall of France was received in Afghanistan with amazement. The

Afghans listened with astonishment to the news as 'the countries of

Western Europe were falling like nine pins before the German
advance'.67 By the end ofJune they were forced to realize that the war
had reached their very doorstep. For the first time since the outbreak of
the war in Europe they were compelled to envisage the possibility that

the British Empire, on which the Afghan Government in power had
relied for so long as their ultimate support in times of crisis, might
disintegrate. For the moment the Soviet threat faded into the background, replaced by the much more immediate German menace, intensified by the revived Nazi propaganda in Afghanistan and a further
influx of Germans. Despite this tremendous pressure the Prime Minister
apparently prevailed upon his pro-German colleagues, and in mid-June

he informed Fraser-Tytler that the Afghan Government had decided
not to depart from their policy of friendship with Britain. However, the

temptation to jump on the band wagon of the Axis camp was quite
strong for a weak and ill-informed government. It was a public secret

that had the Afghan Government openly supported Germany and,
without much inconvenience to themselves, stirred up trouble for India
65 Ibid. India's air defence consisted at the time of one single anti-aircraft battery and
two bomber squadrons which were supplied with fighter conversion sets.

66 As in n. 64 above. See also CAB 65:WM(4o)66.

67 Afghanistan-Political Review of 1940, in FO 371/27032; see also Fraser-Tytler's
unofficial letter No. 5 of 1/7/I940, FO 371/24766.

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on the Frontier, they would have been rewarded by a large slice of
North-West India, including the port of Karachi. The German Minister
in Kabul was reported to have announced with absolute confidence that

by the middle of August Hitler would be in London.68 Hashim Khan
realized that if the British Empire went, Afghanistan with its present
political system would go with it.69 In any case, as a strong leader of his
country interested in preserving its established order and Islamic values,
he was conscious of the uncertain future if the British were overthrown:

there would be fight over the carcass between Germany and Japanwith the Soviets as tertius gaudens.

Having postponed for the time being further conversation on military
matters with the Government of India,70 the Afghan Government felt
more reassured about the diminishing importance of the Russian threat
as, during the last week ofJuly, they had secured Russia's signature of a
bilateral trade agreement.71 Although the shadow of Russia continued
to hang heavily over Northern Afghanistan, the immediate threat of an
invasion receded during the second half of I940 as Russia was expected

to be drawn more into European affairs. Her bargaining position
vis-a-vis Germany had been declining since the elimination of France as
a military power in Europe.

Perhaps a few words should be added about the Amanullah Plan
which was hatched in Berlin immediately after the British declaration of

war on Germany. The Plan, which had the support of the Abwehr,
originated in the German Foreign Office under the inspiration of
Werner Otto von Hentig.72 It represented a double threat to British
India since the restoration of the ex-king had been conceived as a joint

Nazi-Soviet venture coupled with a political coup inside Afghanistan
which would have removed the allegedly pro-British government then
in power. Had this scheme been tried in the autumn of 1939 in combination with an attempt to stir up the tribes on the Frontier, it is difficult to

see how the British could have prevented it. This is why Fraser-Tytler so
strongly urged that an early demonstration of support by the British and

Indian Governments in both political and economic matters should
have been made.73 Widespread rumours were reported to be circulating

on the NWF of Amanullah's imminent return to Afghanistan by air
68 Ibid. 69 Fraser-Tytler's unofficial letter No. 5 of I/7/ I940.
70 Katodon 140 and Forminka 141, 2/7/1940, IOR R/I2/I/I 14.
71 For the text of the Soviet-Afghan Trade Agreement of 23/7/1940 see: L. B.
Teplinsky, 5o let sovetsko-afganskikh otnosheniy (Moscow, 1971 ), p. o05; see also CAB 68/7:

WP(R) (40)18I, i86.
72 See n. I above. Further detailed references to German sources in my book cited

p. 287. 73 N. 4285, 9/9/1939, FO 371/23631.

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from Russia or elsewhere and that he might at th
Moscow.74 The IPI kept, naturally, a close eye on t
Amanullahists throughout Europe.75 They establish
travelled several times from Italy to Switzerland du
1939 to meet Ghulam Siddiq Khan, his ex-foreign

in-law, who lived in Berlin and was a very trus

German Foreign Office. The latter was given full p

the ex-king's behalf with the German and Sovi

British knew that the plotters envisaged a revolt i
Soviet aid which would ripen in about March or A

year. It was also assumed that in return for th

Afghan annexation of the NWFP, Afghan Turkest
the Soviets.76
Despite the piece-meal nature of the data which

the British, the IPI's reading of the German s
Amanullah Plan was astonishingly accurate.77
quite clear to what extent German forces were
operation, the British surmised that the necessa

through Russia towards Afghanistan and the facili
German arms and munitions through Russian territ

rebels had been accorded. It was further believed t

Command (OKW) was anxious to proceed with t

possible in order that the overthrow of the presen
accomplished by the early spring, thereby immob
trations of British troops on the Frontier and prev

reinforcements overseas.78 Sir Olaf Caroe, the n

External Affairs Department of the Government o

his views as follows:

. . . there can be little doubt that the Germans will seize any opportunity that
may present itself of upsetting the present regime in Afghanistan. There is,
moreover, much to be said for the view that the Middle East, and particularly
Afghanistan, is probably the field on which German and Russian interests at
the present time most nearly coincide. And in spite of the preoccupation in
74GOI to 0O, No. I616 of 23/9/1939, and Nos 550 and 971 of 24 and 28/9/1939, IOR
L/P & S/I2/1695. See also the Baluchistan Weekly Intelligence Summary, No. 3 of

75 The highly secretive IO department, Indian Political Intelligence (IPI), was set up

shortly after the First World War to watch over political malcontents and other
subversive elements who presented a potential threat to the Raj.
76 IPI, Afghan Affairs, No. 77 of 4/1I 1/1939, IOR L/P & S/ 2/ 656.
77 Ibid., No. 79 of 30/12/1939.

78 Ibid. See also DDMI (India) to MI2 (WO), No. 42162 of I8/I/I940, IOR


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Finland and elsewhere, we think it would not be difficult to stage a Russian
coup in Afghan Turkestan under cover of an Amanist Pretender or a puppet

But fortunately for the British and unknown to them, all these fears
about a joint Nazi-Soviet undertaking in restoring Amanullah to power

proved unsubstantiated since Hitler himself had already decided to
cancel the Amanullah Plan in the last days of I939.80

The Afghan diplomatic initiative in the autumn of I938 to solicit
British military assistance in the event of a Soviet invasion marked a new

beginning to the interesting and little-known phase in Afghan-British
relations which was to last, counting frequent interruptions, well into

1940, until German blitz victories in Europe and a series of Soviet
aggressions on neighbouring countries, coupled with Britain's defeats
and military inability to provide such assistance as was required, forced
the Afghan Government to retreat. Afghan overtures to Britain, which
will perhaps be seen today as a mere episode in diplomatic history, must
in fact be viewed within the wider, and more often than not extremely
confused, effort of British diplomacy to forestall the aggressive states of
Europe, by offering guarantees of military assistance to small countries
stretching from Scandinavia, across Poland and the Balkans, to Turkey.
The furthermost link in this defensive and patchy network, had the
Nazi-Soviet friendship also produced a joint anti-British Strategy, could
well have been Afghanistan.
This is why the parallel case of Afghanistan has to be considered on its
own merits. The comparison between Poland or Finland and Afghanistan, though it may at first glance look geographically absurd, has one
additional meaning in the context of the war crisis of 1939: it could well

have been the test case for demonstrating the seriousness of British
guarantees. For Afghanistan had a common frontier with British India

and had been regarded as an integral part of India's defence. There
could, therefore, be no excuse for failing to come to her aid for reasons of

geography-as the British often pleaded in the case of Czechoslovakia
and Poland.
79 Ibid.

80 As in n. i above and in my book cited p. 287. H. G. Seraphim(ed.), Das politische
Tagebuch Alfred Rosenbergs (Miinchen, 1964), pp. I55, 163, 195.

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