होम Modern Asian Studies The Soviet Threat to Afghanistan and India 1938–1940

The Soviet Threat to Afghanistan and India 1938–1940

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पत्रिका:
Modern Asian Studies
DOI:
10.1017/S0026749X00007083
Date:
April, 1981
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The Soviet Threat to Afghanistan and India
1938–1940
Milan Hauner
Modern Asian Studies / Volume 15 / Issue 02 / April 1981, pp 287 - 309
DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X00007083, Published online: 28 November 2008

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Milan Hauner (1981). The Soviet Threat to Afghanistan and India 1938–1940.
Modern Asian Studies, 15, pp 287-309 doi:10.1017/S0026749X00007083
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Modern Asian Studies, 15, 2 (1981), pp. 287-309. Printed in Great Britain.

The Soviet Threat to Afghanistan
and India 193 8-1940
MILAN HAUNER
German Historical Institute, London
FROM an Asian angle Afghanistan could easily be selected as the centre of
the extra-European world. It lies at the crossroads of three different
geographic regions, the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, as
much as it borders on three different cultural zones, the Islamic world,
the Hindu culture, and the Chinese influence. From a political standpoint, until the Second World War, Afghanistan appeared as buffer
state par excellence, sandwiched between two Great Powers, the Russian
Empire protruding from the North-west of Central Asia, and the British
Empire guarding the Indian glacis in the South-east.
In the relatively brief interval between the two world wars an unusual
intruder appeared on the Afghan scene which neither the British nor the
Russians at first took seriously: Germany. The exceptional German
interest in Afghanistan was right from the start motivated by wishful
strategic considerations. It dated from 1915 when an adventurous
Abbreviations
CAB
COS
FO
Forminka
IO
IOR
IPI
JPC
Katodon
MI2
NWF(P)
PRO
WO

Cabinet Papers
Chiefs of Staff (C; ommittee)
Foreign Office (archives in PRO)
Coded telegrams from FO London to British Legation Kabul
India Office
India Office Records
Indian Political Intelligence (IO)
COS Joint Planning (Sub)Committee
Coded telegrams from British Legation Kabul to FO London
Military Intelligence dealing with India (WO)
North-West Frontier (Province)
Public Record Office (London)
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, 1980).
0026-749X/80/0404-0301S02.00

© 1981 Cambridge University Press

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MILAN HAUNER

expedition, led by Werner Otto von Hentig and Oskar von Niedermayer, reached Kabul with the intention of using Afghanistan for
subversive activities against British India. 1 The mission failed but the
idea persisted. Thus, although Germany had lost the war and become a
second-rate power, she preserved her interest in Afghanistan. She gave
the latter full diplomatic support and encouragement whenever possible, sent several scientific expeditions to Central Asia via Afghanistan,
opened a German high school in Kabul to prepare Afghan students
for further education in German universities and technical colleges.
Gradually, commercial contacts developed and intensified until Germany became not only the most important promoter of industrialization
in Afghanistan but also the chief supplier of her armed forces. German
experts and advisers penetrated governmental offices and soon outnumbered all other colonies of Europeans in that country; the British, for
instance, ten times. One sector of unquestionably high strategic importance the German modernizers monopolized with unusual eagerness,
namely the Afghan communication network: roads, bridges, civil aviation and telecommunications. The German pattern of penetration
during the 1920s and 1930s indeed offers the most striking parallel with
the systematic Soviet infiltration of Afghanistan since the 1950s, which
culminated recently, in December 1979, in the complete military takeover of that country.
However, the purpose of this article is not to concentrate so much on
the German influence in Afghanistan before the Second World War, or
on the Soviet invasion forty years thereafter, but on the evaluation of the
Soviet threat to that country and to British India during 1938-40. It was
during this period that the British began seriously to consider offering
the Kabul Government a guarantee of military assistance in the event of
a Soviet, or a combined Nazi-Soviet, invasion of Afghanistan. How was
the Soviet threat taken seriously, firstly by the Afghans themselves, and
secondly by the British side? Did the Soviet threat really exist?
Although it is relatively easy to follow the chronology of diplomatic
1
Werner Otto von Hentig led in 1915-16 with Oskar von Niedermayer the famous
expedition to Kabul with the purpose of winning Amir Habibullah for the Central
Powers. The ultimate aim of the Hentig/Niedermayer Mission was to direct from
Afghanistan anti-British and Panislamic propaganda into India to help foment disorder
and sedition among Indian troops. German strategists also hoped that by the involvement of Afghan tribes substantial numbers of British and Indian troops could be tied up
on the NWF and thus prevented from reinforcing the European war theatre. W. O.
v.Hentig, Mein Leben eine Dienstreise (Gottingen, ig62), pp. 91-199; O. v.Niedermayer,
Im Weltkrieg vor Indiens Toren (Hamburg, 1942); R. Vogel, Die Persien- und Afghanistanexpedition Oskar Rilter v.jViedermayers igi§ji6 (Osnabriick 1976). See also Hentig's private
papers (Aufzeichnungen 1934-69, 3 vols., Institut fur Zeitgeschichte, Munich).

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289

activities within the rapidly changing pattern of international relations
from 1938 to 1940, 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 views of
civilian and military intelligence bodies had to be seriously taken into
account. Moreover, the unpredictable behaviour of the Afghan authorities did not help to accelerate the decision-making process. As political
and military developments during the period in question advanced at
an extremely fast pace, the Anglo-Afghan negotiations connected with
the Mutual Assistance Agreement between the two countries lagged
hopelessly behind the optimal time schedule. However, what was the
optimal time schedule? One might therefore argue that reluctance on
either side to make the decisive step towards the Agreement did help to
save Afghanistan from directly provoking Soviet suspicions and thereby
a dangerous escalation in Afghan-Soviet relations.
Before entering upon the subject, let us outline the often-quoted
platitudes marking the importance of India for British imperial defence.
Her strategic value lay precisely in the fact that she formed a bastion
against at least two most active potential enemies of the Empire: Japan
in the Far East and Italy in the Mediterranean and North-East Africa.
In the 1930s these zones of fighting overshadowed the Russian enemy in
Central Asia and were not yet eclipsed by the growing threat from
German expansion in Europe. This is why for purely strategic reasons—
since Britain had to avoid the dreaded prospect of facing all these
numerous foes at once—the policy of appeasement emerged as the best
possible one under the circumstances. The Chiefs of Staff (COS) came to
the conclusion that, whereas on the European mainland British military
potential could not prevent the German aggressor from carrying out his
intentions, nor was there any immediate need to protect strategic

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MILAN HAUNER

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 Great
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. The
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 without calling upon the army in India which comprised the largest number
of regular troops the British Empire could assemble in peace time.
Until the emergence of the German threat in 1939 the principal
problem of India's defence lay on her North-West Frontier against a
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 explain
why the British were notoriously so slow in solving the problem of armed
tribes on the Frontier. One of the main reasons why the British were not
all that keen to disarm the tribes lay perhaps in the speculation that their
permanent armed presence on the Afghan border might have functioned in the last instance as a protective shield should the Russians,
with or without Afghan collaboration, reach the Khyber Pass. The
retention of the bulk of the Indian Army on the Frontier may have
appeared to some military theoreticians like Liddell Hart as anachronistic in military terms, 3 but it had its long-term significance. Some British
operational estimates even included the armed tribesmen in their calcu2

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

Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War 1939-1945 (Delhi 1963); N. H . Gibbs, Grand
Strategy, vol. 1: Rearmament Policy (London: H M S O , 1976); M . H o w a r d , The Continental
Commitment. The Dilemma of British Defence Policy in the Era of Two World Wars (London,

1974)3
B. H. Liddel Hart, The Remaking of Modern Armies (London, 1927), pp. 31-2.

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29 I

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 1937 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
lashkarsflockedto 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, I O R
R/ia/I/575
CAB 84/10: COS(4O) 229 and WP(G) (40) 23; Prasad, Defence of India, p. 65.
6
Compiled from: IOR L/P & S/12/3192-3, 3217-19, 3236-7, 3249; WO 106/5446,
WO 208/773; Peshawar Weekly Intelligence Summaries 1936-39, Baluchistan Weekly
Intelligence Summaries 1937-39. See my article'One Man Against the Empire', Journal
of Contemporary History, 1 (1981).
7
Fraser-Tytler: Afghanistan-Annual Report 1938, FO 371/23630; Diary of Mil.
Attache Kabul, FO 371/22248; IOR L/P & S/12/3255-3258.
8
W. K. Fraser-Tytler, Afganistan. A Study of Political Developments in Central and Southern
Asia (Oxford, 1953), pp. 266-7; s e e a ' s o L. W. Adamec, Afghanistan's Foreign Affairs to the
Mid-Twentieth Century. Relations with the USSR, Germany, and Britain (Tucson, 1974), pp.
227-32.

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MILAN HAUNER

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 1907 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) 11 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
border. 12
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 1931 by the Pink Plan, which was less
9

Katodon 23 of 16/3/1939, IOR L/P & S/12/1758.
Cf. Gibbs, Grand Strategy, p. 825.
1
' See note 1 above.
12
Cf. Prasad, Defence of India, p. 15. See also M. N. Roy, Memoirs (Bombay, 1964), pp.
320.
13
Prasad, Defence of India, pp. 22-8.
10

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ambitious and recommended only a limited advance as far as Jalalabad
and Kandahar if the Afghan ruler should go over to the Russian side. 14
While the Defence of India Plan of 1928 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 1939
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 1932 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.
Gibbs, Grand Strategy, p. 828.
16
Prasad, Defence of India, pp. 35-6.

15

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MILAN HAUNER

to try and arrange a clear understanding with Britain for the joint
defence of his country, but he failed again. The British hesitated to offer
such a guarantee since they did not want to commit themselves in
advance to a course of action which was beyond their immediate
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 1921. 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 1939 the Afghans felt attracted by the British guarantee 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 7 July 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 17/10/1932, FO 371/22257; Forminka 97 of 18/10/1937, FO
402/19; IOR L/P & S/12/1558.
18
Katodon 143 of 18/10/1938, FO 402/ig; Katodon 151 of 16/11/1938, FO
371/22257.
19
Ibid.
20
Afganistan-Annual Report 1938, para. 5; Katodon 34 of 7/5/1938, FO 402/20.
21
Katodon 59 of 7/7/1939, IOR R/12/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 or Japan. 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 agreement 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, Sir John
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
23
24
25

Ibid., G O I to I O , N o . 1086 of 6/8/1939.
F O 371/23631.
Forminka 72 of 21/8/1939, I O R R/12/I/1 13.
Weekly Letter M I 2 , N o . 44 of 6/9/1939, to A r m y H Q I n d i a , I O R L / W S / I / 6 9 .

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MILAN HAUNER

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 1939 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 1930s. 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
27

N. 4740, 29/8/1939, FO 371/23631.
CAB6 7 : WP(G)(39)4.

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loan of £250,000 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 i 7
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 offdiplomatic 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) 12; Forminka 96 of 14/9/1939 in reply to Katodon 83 of

8/9/1939, I O R R / I Q / I / I 13.
29
30
31
32

K a t o d o n 106 of 24/9/1939, ibid.
K a t o d o n 127 of 17/10/1939, F O 371/23631.
K a b u l Economic Report for the q u a r t e r e n d i n g 30/9/1939, F O 371/23630.
K a t o d o n 104 of 17/11/1939, I O R R / 1 2 / I / 1 1 3 .

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Meanwhile in London the civilian and military authorities continued
to draft plans under the spectre of dual hostility with Germany and
Russia. It was the prospect of air warfare which haunted the British
strategists also as far as India was concerned. On 21 September the
Secretary of State for India prepared a memorandum entitled 'Russian
Threat to India' for the War Cabinet in which he argued that India was
entirely defenceless against an air attack by a 'first class power' like
Russia. 'There is in the whole country', he went on, 'no more than one
solitary anti-aircraft battery consisting of eight three-inch guns, there
are no fighter aeroplanes at all'. The knowledge of this appalling
weakness in India's air defences, Lord Zetland maintained, was bound
to have 'a most damaging effect on our prestige not only in India but
throughout the Near and Middle East'. He immediately proposed to
strengthen Indian Intelligence outposts against Soviet Turkestan with
the object of obtaining further information about Soviet military preparations. 33
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 MI2 was responsible for India. The
J P C recommended that more advanced intelligence bureaux should be
speedily established on Afghan territory, preferably in Kabul, Mazar-iSharif and 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
34

CAB 66: WP(39)55; CAB 84/7: JP( 39 ) 3 8.
CAB84/8: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 assistance 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. 37
This cautious War Cabinet decision clashed with another memorandum 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 secondary 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 the Japanese 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
36
37
38

Notes by M I 2 . , 29/9/1939, W O 106/5189.
CAB 66: W P ( 3 9 ) 5 9 .
CAB 65: W M ( 3 9 ) 3 4 .
CAB 84: C O S ( 3 9 ) 6 6 J P .

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MILAN HAUNER

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 1938 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 Afghanistan 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, IORL/WS/I/117.
40
Ibid., Katodon 128 of 20/10/1939.
41
C. S. Samra, India and Anglo-Soviet Relations igiy-ig4y (Bombay, 1959), pp. 138-143.
42
E.g. The New York Times of 31/12/1939; L. F. Rushbrook-Williams, 'Russia and
India—Fancies and Facts', in: Great Britain and the East 54(1940), p. 14; CAB68:VVP(R)
(40)28.
43
N.71 18, FO 371/23631.
44
Maclean's journey to Afganistan via Soviet Central Asia in: FO 371/22257 and
23629. Reprinted verbatim in: F. Maclean, Eastern Approaches (London, 1949), Pt one,
ch.xi.

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30 I

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 Assistance Agreement. At that stage this was mainly because of fear of
arousing the ever-present Soviet suspicions. The Afghan Government
feared that the Soviet Ambassador, A. K. Mikhailov, who was due to
return to Kabul any day, might be the bearer of an ominous demand
from Moscow requesting territorial concessions in Northern Afghanistan. 46 During the first half of November the Afghans seemed to have
relaxed again since their own intelligence reports from the North indicated, despite active German propaganda claiming the contrary, a
complete absence of aggressive preparations on the Soviet side. 47
The Kabul Government with its ruling Yahya Khel clan was very
much isolated from its own people and its position remained weak, as
Fraser-Tytler never ceased to emphasize. He regarded the regular
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 British
assistance was available. But at the same time Fraser-Tytler stressed the
point that the Afghans looked on themselves as a sort of outpost of India.
They would do all they could, he believed, to delay and harass any
attack on their territory which might actually be designed against India,
in the expectation that the British would assist them, if not with troops,
then at any rate from the air and with munitions and other technical
assistance:
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
46
47
48

FO371/23631: Maclean's comments on N.7118, 27/11/1939.
Katodon 130 of 23/10/1939, F O 371/24766; see also I O R L/P & S/12/1762.
Katodon 185 o f 3 i / i 2 / i 9 3 9 , I O R L / P & / i 2 / 3 2 4 9 ; see also CAB 68:VVP(R) (39)85.
No. i325(E) of 17/11/1939, I O R R/12/I/114.

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MILAN HAUNER

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 of the joint 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

K a t o d o n 166 of 5/12/1939.
N.6237, F O 371/23630; Katodon 113 of 22/12/1939; G. N. Molesworth, Curfew on
Olympus (London, 1965), p. 149.
51
N.2066, F O 371/24769.
52
K a t o d o n 113 of 22/12/1939, Forminka of 30/12/1939, in: F O 371/24769 and I O R
R/12/I/114.
50

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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 1940 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
prestige.
During the first three months of 1940 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 London-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
1940 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 indisputable 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

54
Ibid., Katodon 24 of 4/2/1940.
Ibid., FO comments, 6/2/1940.
E.g. Correspondence between GOI, IO, and Kabul from January to March 1940:
FO 371/24766, 24767, 24768, IOR L/VVS/I/i 14.
55

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MILAN HAUNER

Afghanistan's northern border. As an afterthought and without considering the consequences of such a proposition, the Foreign Office suggested raising tribal levies on the Indian side of the Frontier for service in
Afghanistan. 56 Fraser-Tytler was in favour of raising tribal levies since
he believed that, in the event of a full-scale Soviet invasion, the Afghan
Government would declare Jehad,51 and so did Sir George Cunningham, the Governor of NWFP, who expected the 'British' tribes to enter a
war with the godless Russians 'with a bang'. 58 However, the Viceroy did
not wish to mobilize the tribes as he feared that a coup d'etat in Afghanistan was more imminent than a Russian invasion. He already visualized
the tribal levies marching on Kabul, not in support of, but against the
present government and in favour of Amanullah. 59
The acceptance of the FO memorandum by the War Cabinet gave a
further impetus to the Indian General Staff to resume the interrupted
talks with the Afghan authorities on more advanced forms of military
co-operation. But this was not to last for long. When in May the
Government of India offered a small consignment of 5,000 rifles with
ammunition, together with a promise of further financial help, the
Afghans were reluctant to accept it as they were flooded with continuous
reports from Europe about the spectacular German successes against
Norway and Holland. 60 Fraser-Tytler, bombarded by despatches from
London urging him to push the Afghans towards an acceptance of
British assistance, could only confirm the deterioration of British prestige in Afghanistan, accentuated by a sharp increase in German propaganda. 61 Despite the verbal assurance of British support in the event of
Russian aggression which he conveyed to the Prime Minister on 1 May,
the Afghan Government declined to receive Brigadier Molesworth who
was to visit Kabul again to arrange for the reception of a strong military
mission from India with a nucleus of technical personnel to train the
Afghan Army. Now it was the turn of the Afghan Government to play
for time. Afraid to receive a British military mission under the watchful
eyes of Germans and Soviets in Kabul they suggested sending their own
man to Simla to discuss plans with the Indian General Staff.62 But
56
VVP(G) (40)94. Approved by the W a r Cabinet on 5/4 and communicated to New
Delhi on 10/4/1940 (see FO 371/24768, I O R L/WS/I/530).
57
K a b u l to Delhi, No. 444 of 26/4/1940, I O R R/12/I/114.
58
C u n n i n g h a m to Caroe, 24/4/1940, ibid.
59
Linlithgow to Amery, No. 2156 of 22/6/1940, ibid.
60
K a t o d o n 115 of 22/5/1940, F O 371/24769.
61
Ibid., Forminka 98 of 19/5/1940.
62
Ibid., K a t o d o n 119, I 2 i a n d 140 of 26, 31/5 and 15/5/1940. See also CAB 68:WP(R)
(40). ' 3 7 , ' 3 8 -

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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
eventuality. 63
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

G O I to I O , No. 2369 of 4/7/1940 and reply N.5216 of 11/7/1940, F O 371/24766.
C A B 6 6 : W P ( 4 o ) 9 i , 0 0 8 ( 4 0 ) 2 5 2 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, 1969), p p . 115-29.
64

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MILAN HAUNER

action against India and Afghanistan', the memorandum stressed, 'as it
would be clearly in the Russian and the German interest to create in
India and on her frontiers the maximum diversion of Allied strength'.
Although it was realized that, after the relatively easy occupation of
Northern Afghanistan, a land advance by Soviet troops on India could
be undertaken only as a long-term project, if at all, the COS strongly
recommended that the Government of India should urgently examine
the question of sending troops into Afghanistan; fighter aircraft and
anti-aircraft units would, however, not be available to India for the time
being. 6S If such direct help was not forthcoming, the COS warned, 'it
would have most unfortunate results on our relations with the Afghan
Government and most undesirable repercussions on our prestige in the
Moslem world in general'. 66 Thus, it was particularly the initiative of
the COS against the reluctant wait-and-see attitude of the Government
of India and its General Staff which brought about the subsequent
discussion on despatching direct military assistance to Afghanistan as
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-Tytier's
unofficial letter No. 5 of 1/7/1940, 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 Japan—
with 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 of July, 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 1940 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

69
Ibid.
Fraser-Tytier's unofficial letter No. 5 of 1/7/1940.
Katodon 140 and Forminka 141, 2/7/1940, I O R R/12/I/114.
71
For the text of the Soviet-Afghan T r a d e Agreement of 23/7/1940 see: L. B.
Teplinsky,50 let sovetsko-afganskikh otnosheniy (Moscow, 1971), p. 105; see also CAB 68/7:
W P ( R ) (40)181, 186.
72
See n. 1 above. Further detailed references to G e r m a n sources in my book cited
73
p. 287.
N. 4285, 9/9/1939, F O 371 /23631.
70

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from Russia or elsewhere and that he might at that very moment be in
Moscow. 74 The IPI kept, naturally, a close eye on the movements of the
Amanullahists throughout Europe. 75 They established that the ex-king
travelled several times from Italy to Switzerland during the latter part of
1939 to meet Ghulam Siddiq Khan, his ex-foreign minister and brotherin-law, who lived in Berlin and was a very trusted informant of the
German Foreign Office. The latter was given full powers to negotiate on
the ex-king's behalf with the German and Soviet Governments. The
British knew that the plotters envisaged a revolt in Afghanistan with
Soviet aid which would ripen in about March or April of the following
year. It was also assumed that in return for the Soviet guarantee of
Afghan annexation of the NWFP, Afghan Turkestan would be ceded to
the Soviets. 76
Despite the piece-meal nature of the data which fell into the hands of
the British, the IPI's reading of the German scenario behind the
Amanullah Plan was astonishingly accurate. 77 Although it was not
quite clear to what extent German forces were to be involved in the
operation, the British surmised that the necessary permission to pass
through Russia towards Afghanistan and the facilities for the passage of
German arms and munitions through Russian territory for the use of the
rebels had been accorded. It was further believed that the German High
Command (OKW) was anxious to proceed with the Plan as quickly as
possible in order that the overthrow of the present Afghan regime be
accomplished by the early spring, thereby immobilizing large concentrations of British troops on the Frontier and preventing the dispatch of
reinforcements overseas.78 Sir Olaf Caroe, the new Secretary of the
External Affairs Department of the Government of India, summed up
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
74

G O I to I O , No. 1616 of 23/9/1939, and Nos 550 and 971 of 24 and 28/9/1939, I O R
L/P & S/12/1695. See also the Baluchistan Weekly Intelligence Summary, No. 3 of
>9/'/'94O75
T h e highly secretive I O department, Indian Political Intelligence (IPI), was set u p
shortly after the First World W a r to watch over political malcontents and other
subversive elements who presented a potential threat to the Raj.
76
I P I , Afghan Affairs, No. 77 of 4/11/1939, I O R L/P & S/12/1656.
77
Ibid., No. 79 of 30/12/1939.
78
Ibid. See also D D M I (India) to M I 2 ( W O ) , N o . 42162 of 18/1/1940, I O R
L/WS/I/.94.

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SOVIET THREAT TO AFGHANISTAN/lNDIA I 9 3 8 - 4 O

3O9

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
Government.79
But fortunately for the British and unknown to them, all these fears
about ajoint 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 1938 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 ajoint 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. 1 above and in my book cited p. 287. H . G. Seraphim(ed.), Daspolitische
Tagebuch Alfred Rosenbergs (Miinchen, 1964), pp. 155, 163, 195.

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