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              1949: Afghanistan

Area and Population.

Afghanistan, a mountainous country in Asia of about 250,000 sq. mi., has only three outlets to the rest of the world: one through Iran, one through the Soviet Union, and one from its capital, Kabul, through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar in India. The 10 million Afghani people are almost all Mohammedans.

Modernization Program.

The government of Afghanistan adopted a five-year modernization program to include agricultural improvements, the expansion of industry, and the increase of fuel, power, and transportation facilities. Extensive operations were surveyed and undertaken by an American firm. The government undertook the plans, but it urged private investment, both domestic and foreign, to finance the projects. It was announced in 1949 that Afghanistan would approach the World Bank and the United States Export-Import Bank with requests for $30 million from each.


One third of the investment under the government program was to be for agricultural products, chiefly irrigation installations, new canals, improved implements, special inducements, seeds, and model farms. It was estimated that when these projects were completed and had begun to produce, the value of the new annual agricultural production would amount to about 87 cents for every dollar of the capital outlay. The yield per acre of cultivated land was still very low, but it could be tremendously increased. New developments based on the use of American cotton seed led to the belief that the cotton yield could be doubled within five years. Already the 10,000 acres devoted to cotton in the northern provinces supplied the new textile factory in Pul-i-Khumri. It had been shown that wheat and maize yields could be raised by 30 per cent. The government estimated that an additional 700,000 to 800,000 acres could be brought under cultivation within five years, utilizing the Helmand, Arghandab, and Amu Darya (Oxus) rivers. However, the approximately four million nomads, many of whom were accustomed annually to trek into Pakistan, were reluctant to settle and to farm. The government was considering an offer of property rights and tax privileges adapted to the patterns of their past life. It was believed that 20,000 farming families could be settled in the Helmand Valley development, and another 3,000 families in the Arghandab Valley. Already 100,000 acres near Girishk had been irrigated.


Less than one fourth of the total outlay of the government modernization program was to be spent on large fixed-assets projects such as telecommunications and hydroelectric installations. Even here the contribution to annual net production would be 15 cents for every dollar invested. New industrial projects were being considered, and a slight beginning was made to tap the tremendous potential of power sources in the waters rushing down from the Hindu Kush peaks. There were some factories and manufacturing shops, but the greater percentage of these still had to rely on primitive machinery.

Fuel and Power.

Wood had been so universally used for fuel that Afghanistan's forests were virtually gone. Less than one per cent of the nation's coal reserve was being worked. Oil-bearing formations and gas seeps were found in the north, and it seemed that a drilling program might be economical. It was estimated that a one-year outlay of $500,000 could establish the foundation of a four-year development program adequate to meet the country's needs. For water power, preliminary surveys by American, German, and English engineering firms prophesied high rewards from two large and a minimum of three small hydroelectric power stations. Contracts for building some of these were being negotiated in 1949, for which some $12 to $14 million were being sought.


Afghanistan needed roads to connect outlying provinces with one another and with the capital and to provide transport routes beyond the frontiers. Although there were about 2,300 mi. of all-year motor roads in 1949, they could not handle year-around truck and bus traffic. In July 1949, the government finished construction of 75 mi. of the important link with Pakistan via Chaman in Baluchistan.


Maintaining the value of the national currency was a necessary concern. Wartime scarcities, drought, and ineffective rationing raised prices 300 and 400 per cent over prewar levels. Only during 1949 did prices begin to be stable or actually to drop, while scarcities and some inflationary pressures persisted. The regular budget, with its main divisions of national defense, public works, and education, had balanced from 1947 to 1949 at about 400 million afghanis (the afghani was about equivalent to 7 cents, U.S.). One third of the government's revenue came from ad valorem taxes, one third from land and livestock taxes, and the rest from miscellaneous fees, excise taxes, income from investments, and commercial transactions.


Among the significant plans for national development, much of which was under the direction of Public Works Minister, Mohammad Kabir Khan Ludin (a Cornell graduate), was also an advance in the field of education. For Afghanistan's 10 million population, there were a university and four colleges in Kabul. The university was run by foreign-trained Afghans. Habibia College in 1948 acquired its first foreign director, Dr. Paul Bushnell of Wooster, Ohio. In 1949 the government commissioned Professor Richard Soderberg of Los Angeles to organize and equip a technical school. There were 400 schools scattered throughout the country. Education is free and nominally compulsory. The government planned schools of business and public administration along the lines of the new technical school, and had brought to the country teachers from France and the United States.

Relations with Pakistan.

In March 1949, the long-standing concern of Afghanistan for the Pathan border tribes situated between them and Pakistan was given sharp prominence. The Governor-General of Pakistan, Khwaja Nazimuddin, referred to the tribal area and the North West Frontier Province as "an integral part of Pakistan." A bitter Afghan radio and press campaign was directed against the Pakistan government. The Kabul radio accused Pakistan of "indiscriminate bombing" of the Waziristan tribal area. On April 2, the Afghan chargé d'affaires was recalled. On June 4, Afghanistan imposed restrictions on transports across the Pakistan border. On June 12, Pakistan aircraft dropped five bombs on Moghalakai and killed 15 persons. This last incident was proved to be an accident, and the Pakistani government agreed to pay damage to Afghanistan; but the tension between the two countries did not abate in the least.

Afghanistan declared in the summer that it would seek British aid in its dispute with Pakistan over the future of the seven million Pathans in the North West Frontier Province and that Afghanistan would never accept Pakistan's claim to the tribal area. In reply, the Pakistan High Commissioner in London said that such a statement amounted to an unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan. In July the Pakistan Foreign Minister offered to discuss economic co-operation with Afghanistan but rejected the latter's claim to tribal territory. On July 26, an Afghan National Assembly resolution to repudiate treaties with Great Britain regarding tribal territories resulted in a warning from Pakistan that such a course was "very dangerous" and "invites claims upon Afghan territory by Iran and the Soviet Union." In December, Afghanistan's ambassador to India alleged that his country's principal trade routes through Pakistan had been severed by a deliberate economic blockade. He asserted that Pakistan had revoked a long-standing agreement for a 50-per-cent rebate of railway freight charges on goods destined for Afghanistan and had embargoed the movement of vital petroleum supplies. He said Pakistan had also banned Afghanistan purchases of spare parts for motor vehicles. It was reported that shipments consigned to Afghanistan were piling up on the docks at Karachi, Pakistan's capital. Afghanistan insisted that it did not seek to incorporate the tribal area with itself but wished it to be free and separate, a sort of "free Pushtunistan." If the routes from Afghanistan to Pakistan were closed or made difficult, Afghanistan would have to move goods through the Russian railhead at Kushk on the Herat frontier, at Termez on the Oxus bank of the Balk Province, and at Imam Nazar facing Andkhui Province, or through the long and difficult route to Iran. Such a prospect was not welcomed by the United States representative in Kabul.

Foreign Trade.

Available statistics showed a slightly favorable balance for Afghanistan. The luxury or semiluxury nature of much of the country's exports to the west made the country dependent on very slight fluctuations of foreign purchases. Karakul and other skins, wool, cotton, dried and fresh fruits, nuts, and medicinal herbs made up 88 per cent of Afghanistan's exports in 1947, out of a total valued at 759 million afghanis. Except for 1941-1942, Afghanistan maintained a surplus of exports over imports from 1939 through 1948, although this declined steadily in the last four years and totaled only $2 million in 1948. India and Pakistan provided 75 per cent of all imports other than capital goods, including chemicals, dying materials, cotton and silk piece goods, instruments, drugs, tea, sugar, and building materials. The development of Afghan-American trade from 1942 to 1948 showed a steady surplus of exports to the United States, except for 1947, when there was a drop because of the interruption of shipping brought about by the Indian partition disturbances. In 1948, Afghanistan exported goods to the United States to the value of $34,508,000 and imported to the value of $4,307,000. Its exports to the United States were chiefly karakul, pistachio nuts, and wool. Its imports from the United States were rayon cloth, cotton and wool piece goods, glassware, cutlery, large quantities of machinery, mill work, and instruments.

Archaeological Discoveries.

In July, a three-man team comprising the first American archaeological expedition to Afghanistan left New York for a six-month expedition sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. The expedition was searching for evidence of the first meeting of the eastern and western civilizations in that part of the world. Walter A. Fairservis, Jr., led the expedition. In October, on the return of the expedition to America, it was reported that the members had discovered a lost city 30 sq. mi. in area, whose population was estimated at between 50,000 and 100,000 at the time of the Crusades. Also, it was reported that there had been discovered evidence that a Neolithic or Stone Age culture existed in the country 5,000 years ago.