Afghanistan and the Second World War
Afghanistan.ru - 19.11.2008
Georgy Ezhov (Photo: afghanistan.ru)
Georgy Ezhov – An expert on Afghan economy who worked in Kabul in the 50s and 60s, lecturer at Moscow State University and senior lecturer at the economic and economical geography faculty of the Institute of Asian and African Countries
In November 1941, Afghans held Loya Jirga in Kabul involving one thousand most influential Afghans, Moslem theologians, the heads of tribes, the representatives of merchants, officers, ministers and the deputies of the People’s Council and Senate. Loya Jirga or Grand Council is called in emergency situations to discuss urgent issues of internal and foreign policy of the country.
The only topic on the agenda was to determine the place of Afghanistan in the Second World War. After the discussion the Loya Jirga approved a resolution that said: “We, the representatives of people of Afghanistan state that the political course pursued by His Majesty meets our desire and is absolutely correct… None of the foreign states will be allowed occupying or using our loving country or a part of the Afghan territory in any form to carry out military operations on the ground or in its air space or getting any privileges during the war”.
The Afghan leaders had to cover a long and tedious path to make this decision. Years before the war Afghanistan was getting more involved in world politics. The Growing strain between the leading capitalist countries affected Afghanistan too. The Afghan government had no desire or could not use the advantages of cooperation with the Soviet Union in its foreign policy, although this factor had helped Afghanistan to strengthen its national sovereignty in the previous years.
The Afghan leaders tried to pursue a policy of manoeuvring between the capitalist countries resorting to the use of differences between them. By agreeing to promote relations with the Axis Powers, Germany, Italy and Japan, Afghan leaders made attempts to maintain a balance between political and economical positions of rival states and not to give any country to dominate. At the same time the Afghan leaders hoped that the differences between Britain and Axis Powers create favourable conditions for maintaining the existing regime, improving foreign trade, receiving foreign aid and so forth.
Notably, there was well-known basis for such a trend. As the war approaches Germany had persistently tried to strengthen its position in Afghanistan that occupies a strategic position in Central Asia between the Soviet Union and the British colony of India. Even some members of the royal family supported Germany. To strengthen Germany’s position in Afghanistan it made concessions: offered loans to purchase consumer goods, military materials and industrial installations, sent German specialists to help building factories and installing equipment and German airline Lufthansa started flights to Kabul. Many graduates from the high school Nadzhet where all subjects were taught in German won scholarships to continue studies in Germany and Afghan officers followed courses at German military schools, including the academies of the General Staff. Germany planned to set up a pro-German stratum among Afghan intellectuals. At the same time subversive acts were carried out, especially in southern Afghanistan and North-western provinces of India where German agents used the hostility between Britons and Pushtu tribes and supplied them with money and weapons and engaged in propaganda. Militant groups were set up in Afghanistan with the assistance of Germans.
At the same time Germany started exerting more political pressure on Afghanistan too. Germans made attempts to convince the Afghan government to organize a rebellion against British authorities in the North-West of India. Consequently, Britain should have been sent some troops to India from the European front, and this would have been eased the task of the German forces. Germany promised Afghanistan to expand its territory significantly by including it Belujistan, Sind Western Punjab and Kashmir if Kabul supported the rebellion. Although the Afghan government rejected the proposal, its policy of manoeuvering offered Germans a wide field for engaging in subversive activity aimed first and foremost against the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union had more than once called on the Afghan authorities to draw the attention on the activity of German residents aimed at undermining the Soviet- Afghan relations. To display that the Afghan government pursues genuine policy of neutrality the Zahir Shah government decided to sack about 200 Germans and Italians who were not diplomats and said that the move was taken to prove once again that the friendship of Afghanistan with its neighbours, especially with the Soviet Union had been genuine. German diplomatic mission functioned in Kabul up to August 1945 when on the insistence of the allied forces the diplomats were handed over to the Soviet Union.
The policy of neutrality declared by the Afghan leaders at that time was continued in the next years, especially during the Cold War times when Afghanistan was a scene of rivalry between the Soviet Union and the US, and played skillfully on those contradictions.