HISTORY teaches us that the safety of India always has depended to a large extent on the political development and status of the territory north of the Kyber Pass. When Alexander the Great was preparing the most remarkable of his military achievements, the conquest of India, he thoroughly understood that Afghanistan must serve as a base for his army and be the starting point of his campaign. It took him nearly two years to take and fortify the passes of the Hindu Kush Mountains, and to build on their southern side another Alexandria. From there, in 325 B.C., he began his famous march towards Kabul and the range of mountains which separates the Afghan territory from India. The remains of Alexander's Walls, towering to this day over Kabul, are a symbol of the military genius of that ruler and of the care with which he prepared a strong outpost for launching further invasions.

Another example of the role of Afghanistan in Indian history can be found by turning to the period of the Mogul Dynasty. Babar, the First of the Moguls, grandfather of the great Akbar and himself grandson of Tamerlane, came from the distant plains of Samarkand. But he, too, found that the way to his objective led through Afghan territory, which was deemed by him as well as his successors to be "the bastion of the Indian Empire."

It therefore is not surprising that ever since the conquest of Turkestan by Russia, and the extension of the Russian frontiers up to the Oxus River and across the Pamirs almost to Tibet, the Afghan problem has been the most important and often the most acute of all the factors in Russo-British relations. The activity of Russia in this sphere was surprising for a country itself comparatively undeveloped. Railways were built to the very Afghan border and plans were made by General Annenkoff, the famous Russian engineer, to connect Europe with the Indian frontier by rail via Herat and Kandahar. Great Britain was able to thwart the realization of these plans, however, as she enjoyed a dominant political influence in Afghanistan after the reign of Abdur Rahman. Her supremacy lasted through the first years of the World War. It was only about 1917 that domestic opposition to the policies of Ameer Habibullah began to develop actively. Simultaneously, foreign influences hostile to British interests made themselves felt, despite the enormous difficulty of access to the Afghan frontier, whether across revolutionized Turkestan or through the strip of Chinese territory near the Pamir Mountains.

Things came to a head at the beginning of 1919, when Habibullah was killed in his residence at Jalalabad by the hand of an unknown assassin. His son Amanullah, the present king, lost no time in taking the power into his hands. Having the full support of the army, he had no difficulty in maintaining order. His first action was momentous. He declared publicly that he would not rest until his country was completely independent, thus repudiating the British protectorate which had been accepted by his father and grandfather. A short campaign ensued, but the British soon perceived that the young ruler meant very seriously what he had proclaimed and that it would probably be better to have an independent neighbor than a hostile vassal. After some months of hostilities an armistice was signed at Raval Pindi, and by the year 1921 the political independence of Afghanistan was recognized and confirmed by regular treaties with Great Britain and Russia. These were followed by political treaties with the two countries whose tendencies and aspirations are most similar to those of Afghanistan, i.e., with Persia and Turkey. The first two treaties were formal acts made necessary by the restitution of complete freedom to Afghanistan during the closing phase of the World War. But the other two, with Persia and Turkey, indicated that a new line of foreign policy had been inaugurated, aiming on the one hand toward bringing the country out of its erstwhile compulsory isolation, and on the other hand toward strengthening its position by the establishment of closer relations with the outside Mohammedan world.

Amanullah's action was at once simple and logical. He developed it steadily by concluding a number of additional foreign treaties, as an outcome of which diplomatic relations were established between Afghanistan and the more important European countries. At the present time the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Turkey and Persia are permanently represented at Kabul; while other countries, such as Belgium and Poland, although without permanent legations, nevertheless maintain regular diplomatic relations and possess treaties of amity with Afghanistan. It is safe to say that the present international significance of that country is such that the raising of its political prestige abroad and the establishment of diplomatic relations with European Powers are among the least of the king's worries. Surely he is well aware of the interest taken in his country by all those concerned in the progress of the contest waged between the power which is centered at Moscow and that represented by the British Empire.

Great Britain's desire had always been to maintain Afghanistan as a buffer state, under its sole influence and in the greatest possible degree of inaccessibility. A necessary part of this policy was to supply the Ameer's government with such military and technical equipment as would enable him successfully to counteract any hostile moves on the part of his northern neighbors. Of course, Britain's role would have been played equally well by Russia had she been able to place her candidate at the head of the country and keep him there, but this was practically impossible, owing to Kabul's proximity to the Indian frontier and to British regular troops. In a totally wild country, where the population lacked cohesion and were imbued with purely local patriotism, the Ameers in recent years maintained their power and prestige thanks principally to foreign material and technical support.

Amanullah conceived and undertook to carry out the bold idea of transforming the whole status of Afghanistan. He determined to draw from inside the country itself the strength and resources necessary to develop and defend it. His internal reforms thus constitute the most important as well as the most difficult part of his activity.

In the province of military preparedness, Amanullah's principal efforts are being given towards training native Afghans in European military academies. In addition, there exists in Kabul a military school with a teaching staff partly composed of foreign officers. In general, one gets the impression that in a few years Afghanistan will possess an initial complement of officers sufficiently trained to organize a regular army in the European sense of the word. The present transition period, however, offers some ground for misgivings, mainly because the foreign military assistance appears to be too one-sided. It is very striking, for instance, that the army air force -- a relatively small yet extremely important branch, on account of the almost total absence of even such basic means of communication as roads -- is centered wholly in the hands of Soviet officers. Moreover, it is reported that Soviet Russia is at present organizing commercial air lines which will connect Kabul with Tashkent and with European Russia. This activity is significant.

In other branches of state administration the government is busy introducing certain reforms which, while tending to foster the economic development of the country, will at the same time avoid arousing discontent among the people. The highly developed religious conscience of the inhabitants, often bordering on fanaticism, abhors innovations. The attitude of the people in this respect is well illustrated by the fact that when I was in Kabul in 1927, the Djirga, as the national assembly is called, speculated as to whether or not the functions of a bank of issue conflicted with the principles of the Koran. Upon the decision then taken hung the fate of an important reform; so far as I know, the plan, though settled in principle affirmatively, has not yet been put into execution.

Amanullah's desire to re-mould his country along European lines is again evidenced in the work now going forward for the erection of a new capital near primitive, picturesque Kabul. The plans were drafted by M. Godard, a Frenchman who was for some time a member of a French archaeological mission in Afghanistan, but the task of carrying them out has been entrusted to German engineers. The roads leading to the new city, called Darel-Aman, are partly finished and a certain number of smaller villas are ready for occupancy or nearing completion. The larger buildings, although in a fairly advanced stage, still require some little time before being habitable. The execution of these contracts obviously meets with unusual difficulties, as there are no means of communication other than camels and, on rare occasions, motor cars. The various supplies are either imported from Germany direct or are purchased through the intermediary of a small German-Afghan trading company located at Kabul. But apart from these special activities the country for the time being has neither sufficient funds nor adequate means of communication to be attractive commercially.

In speaking of the reforms instituted by Amanullah we must not overlook the great efforts that are being given toward the development of education. Thanks to the schools established by the Ameer in Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar, in each of which there is a small foreign teaching staff, principally French and German, a generation of different Afghans will soon be growing up. Though perhaps less picturesque than the present mountain folk, they will certainly be more fit to help along the development of their country on the lines foreseen by the small group of patriots headed by Amanullah.

We would seem justified in inferring, then, that under its present leadership Afghanistan is well on the way towards attaining its ancient historical importance and towards complete political and social regeneration. However, the road still to be traveled is far from smooth. For a hundred years the contest waged by Great Britain and Russia across Afghanistan has known no quarter and has shown little consideration for the inhabitants of the intervening territories. In former times these Powers were brought into collision solely by tendencies of imperial development, and these in turn were conditioned and often neutralized by the necessity for cooperation in matters of European policy. Today, on the other hand, the two Powers are in a state of unconditional conflict in Afghanistan, and neither is deterred by other considerations from bringing its full force to bear in the effort to annihilate its opponent.

The attitude of Britain on the whole is one of defense. She stands on guard on her Indian frontier. She has consented to accept the loss of her role as a protector of Afghanistan, and desires only that the country remain independent and continue to act as a sort of barricade against northern influences.

For Soviet Russia in one way or another to reach to India, and to establish contact with her, would indeed be a triumph. Moscow therefore dreams of further uprisings in the northern provinces of India, which (for example the Punjab) are precisely the ones that even without Russian sympathy and help have created no little trouble for the Indian Government ever since the war. Armed efforts to hasten such revolts would probably prove too expensive for Moscow and would almost certainly result in failure. But there are other less open means. It is well to bear in mind that to the north of Oxus River are located the autonomous Uzbek and Turkmen Soviet Republics, inhabited by eastern tribes akin to those in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. It is no secret that the role of the natives in the present governments at Poltorask and Samarkand is rather theoretical, and that their political policy is dictated from Moscow.

The work of "educating" the Uzbek and Turkmen nations and reducing their various dialects to one homogeneous language is being carried on by Soviet Russia with exceptional energy and with appreciable results. Obviously it aims to attract towards the two Soviet republics the racially affiliated element inhabiting the frontier Afghan provinces situated between the Hindu Kush Mountains and the Oxus River. Though still in an early stage of development, this activity carries a significance which certainly is not lost on a ruler who is making such great efforts to unify his various provinces. The visit paid by Amanullah for the first time in 1927 to the northern parts of his country, to the cities of Masar-i-Sharif and Herat, probably had the double object of strengthening the work of unification and of counteracting the propaganda being carried on under cover of frontier trade among the Turkmen, Uzbek and Tajik tribes.

It will be seen that Afghanistan is beset with perils. So soon as the country reaches a fair level of development, its naturally strong borders and the valor and patriotism of its population will be a safe shield against aggressive neighbors. Thus the matter resolves itself into a struggle of endurance. This is well recognized by King Amanullah, and accounts for his energy and activity. He tours his distant provinces, introduces important reforms, and even for the first time leaves his country for a period of over half a year to visit the countries of the west. His grandfather, Abdur Rahman, did not deem it advisable to take this radical step; it is easier to leave the country, he said, than to return to it. But Abdur Rahman, besides being an astute and cunning ruler, was also a cruel despot, while the present king during the past decade has shown himself to possess not only a capable governing mind but also a desire to develop his country and improve the lot of his people. Recent despatches from Afghanistan show that the closing stage of his journey was as successful as its earlier periods. He reached the Afghan frontier from Teheran via Meshed, and was received (the telegraphic messages relate) with great enthusiasm by representatives of his government and people.

There can be no doubt that the initiative which King Amanullah -- more as a result of native intuition than experience -- has already shown in the development of his country will be much strengthened by his recent European impressions. Probably special attention will be paid to education in economics, and above all to the development of communications, without which no real progress can be made. The energetic way in which he utilized his European tour to inspect economic conditions and study developments in the sphere of military defence was remarkable.

The King, it must be understood, is first of all a patriot. But he is profoundly eastern by instinct and the tradition of former times can only have taught him to distrust western civilization. He therefore cannot have a natural liking for it or wish to see it transplanted to his country. His desire is rather to adopt only what he considers absolutely necessary for the reconstruction of Afghanistan on the lines briefly set forth in the first part of this article. His desire for contact with Western European countries is therefore of a utilitarian nature and is limited by the instincts of his race. His effort in the field of politics is directed towards gaining as much immunity as possible from his two formidable neighbors, and substituting for their economic or other help the cooperation of specialists and perhaps capital from countries not directly interested in the politics of Afghanistan. His true political sympathy goes towards the peoples with whom he is bound by affinity of race and religion -- Persia and Turkey. He is sure to work for a further rapprochement with those countries and for the formation of a strong "bloc" of eastern states in which the religious principles of Islam (up till lately rather a reason for discord than for agreement between them) would give way to principles of national regeneration and political solidarity in the face of non-Asiatic powers.

Do dangers for European civilization and troubles for European politics lurk in these developments? Not necessarily. The transformation in the Middle East has been largely engendered, it is true, by a desire for defense against European imperialism and intrigue. But a generous and broad-minded policy on the part of Europe and America towards Asiatic problems will tend to efface the memory of the past and will help to find in the economic factor a real basis of good understanding. The development of trade and of financial and technical cooperation, divorced from political aims and from European or any other rivalries, will be the best means of showing to the great nations of Asia that they cannot live and advance, or even retain the wonderful products of their age-long culture, without contact with western civilization and without its friendly help.

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