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1940: Afghanistan

Afghanistan spent the year 1940 in comparative quiet, despite rumors of war threats along its Russian border. Beginning with a dispatch in Italian newspapers on Dec. 21, 1939, declaring that Afghanistan's Cabinet had ordered general mobilization of all armed forces "to provide strictest military vigilance" on the Soviet-Afghan border, reports of an imminent invasion from Russia spread widely. Finally, on March 27, 1940, the semi-official Kabul newspaper Islah forcefully denied the "baseless rumors," which had begun to create local unrest; Afghanistan, the account stressed, maintained friendly relations with all neighboring states and did not fear attack from any quarter. In July the Government concluded an extensive trade agreement with the Soviet Union. The pact, signed at Kabul, provided for the exchange of Russian salt, sugar, kerosene, textiles, and agricultural machinery for Afghan wool, karakul, hides and medical herbs. (See also IRAN.)

Owing to Afghanistan's strategic importance controlling the military approaches to India, Britain has long tried to prevent Soviet penetration of the country. British anxieties were aroused in July over reports from Cairo that powerful German interests in Kabul were encouraging a coup d'état to dethrone King Mohammed Zahir Shah and place his pro-Nazi uncle, Sirdar Ahmed Shah Kahn, at the head of a new Afghan government. To deal with any threat to the country's security, King Zahir kept the army in readiness throughout the year. It consists of about 150,000 troops — raised by conscripting, for two years' service, 12 per cent of the male population between the ages of 20 and 50. Afghanistan, moreover, has a small but efficient air force, well-trained by British and Italian officers.

Early in December the semi-official press reported that the Afghan Ministry of National Economy had prepared a five-year plan for developing the country's road system, agriculture, and industry, and that a new department of Agriculture and Transport had been created to spur this activity. Before the year was over, construction had been started on a new Kabul-Peshawar highway, a project which will require about $1,500,000 and three years to build.

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