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             1950: Afghanistan

Area and Population.

Afghanistan is a completely land-locked country of about 250,000 sq. mi. and some 7 to 12 million inhabitants, mostly Mohammedans.

Foreign Relations.


At the start of 1950, because of its border dispute with Pakistan, Afghanistan found its outlets to the rest of the world almost entirely closed on the east and south; alternate routes through Iran and the Soviet Union were all but impracticable for regular transport. In the border dispute, Afghanistan claimed that the border tribes between Pakistan and Afghanistan should have the right to establish an independent government (as Pushtunistan or Pathanistan), while Pakistan maintained that no movement for independence existed among the tribes; that they were incited by the leaders and people of Afghanistan; and that, moreover, this entire area had been included decades before in that part of India legally known, since 1947, as Pakistan. As a result of these differences, Pakistan in 1949 had discontinued the 50 per cent rebate on freight charges for Afghan goods in transit through Pakistan. The Afghans complained, moreover, that their imports were held up for unreasonably long periods and that exports of fruit and other perishable goods were ruined because of delay.

Although there was some talk in February of setting up a resistance accord among Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the relationship between the latter two countries seemed only to worsen during 1950, with continued charges and countercharges passing between them. In April neutral observers were said to believe that settlement of the border problem required diplomatic intervention by friendly powers. During the summer the Shah of Iran was reported as offering to mediate the dispute, asking the two countries to cease their hostile propaganda for an initial period of three months. In October Pakistan charged that Afghanistan had invaded the country but had fallen back when regular armed forces of Pakistan came to the aid of the civil forces. Afghanistan denied the charges. After further charges against the Afghans by Pakistan on November 21, it was announced on December 1 that Pakistan had received a communication from the United States Government urging that country to seek a peaceful solution of its border dispute with Afghanistan. A similar United States note was believed to have been sent to the Afghanistan government.

United States.

In the postwar years the United States has held a leading position in Afghanistan's export trade, purchasing most of the country's output of karakul skins. Afghanistan has also benefited for some time from the services of United States technical and economic experts and from a $17 million public-works program which is being carried on by an American firm. Of this amount, $7 million is being expended for roads and irrigation, and over $3.5 million for heavy American-built equipment. In July 1950 the Soviet press charged that United States specialists were building military roads in Afghanistan. The United States Government, in denying the charge, pointed to the fact that the company engaged in the public-works program had constructed a road some 80 mi. long entirely as part of its irrigation project.

Despite American assistance, however, considerable resentment exists in Afghanistan over the failure of the Western Powers to support the Afghans in their dispute with Pakistan, and the government is reported as feeling that United States co-operation with Great Britain in world affairs eliminated America as a nation that could understand and sympathize with Afghanistan's border predicament. Even a credit of $21 million, received late in 1949 from the United States Export-Import Bank, was a disappointment, since the money was allocated for public works, as a condition of the loan, and Afghanistan had wanted military aid. It was announced in June 1950 that, following the visit of an exploratory commission from the United States, a team of experts in the fields of economics, soil development, livestock, raw materials, oil, and public administration would be sent to Afghanistan to stay for several months.

Soviet Union.

There was some indication during 1950 that Afghanistan was turning toward a closer relationship with the Soviet Union, reversing its old anti-Russian policy, possibly as a result of the Western attitude concerning the Afghan-Pakistan border question. In January it was reported that Afghanistan had recently employed Soviet technicians and that the first official Russian trade mission in the history of the two countries was in the capital, Kabul. In July an Afghan trade mission to Moscow concluded a four-year trade treaty with the Soviet Union.


Early in 1950 Mohammed Zahir Shah, King of Afghanistan, paid state visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. In September an agreement was reached between Afghanistan and Iran to send a neutral commission to the two countries to seek a mutually satisfactory method for the distribution of the waters of the Helmand River.

United Nations.

In July, communicating with the United States in reply to the United Nations' request for aid in the Korean War, Afghanistan reaffirmed its opposition to aggression but asked to be excused, because of border troubles, from giving any help in South Korea. In the same month the U.N. International Children's Emergency Fund announced the signing of an agreement with Afghanistan for the operation of a $100,000 medical-aid program, designed to lower infant mortality and to train more child-health personnel in that country.

Currency Position.

During 1949, because of its border dispute, Afghanistan suffered seriously from a shortage of foreign exchange, and its currency position was definitely weakened. When the pound sterling was devalued, the afghani was also devalued, and thus the nation entered 1950 in a condition of domestic and foreign turmoil. The continuing lack of foreign trade throughout the year resulted in a further burden being imposed on the economy of Afghanistan.