Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
THE reason the Soviet Union feels confident of attaining its ultimate objectives in Afghanistan is indicated by Sir Isaac Newton's formula: the attraction of one body for another is in proportion to their mass and in inverse proportion to the square of the distance between them. The great landmass of the Soviet Union, frustratingly landlocked along all its southern borders, has a common frontier with Afghanistan 1,458 miles long; the United States, the competing magnet for Afghan friendship, lies on the other side of the world. There can be little doubt as to which pull is, by the laws of nature, stronger.
But the laws of nature can be qualified by human factors, in this case the foresight and calculated self-restraint of the Afghan leaders. Whether these come into play adequately and in time will depend largely on the methods used by the Soviets in pushing toward their ultimate goal. Thus our problem is not so much to identify the goal, which by our reckoning is plain, as to guess how Moscow is planning to attain it. For not only will this determine the attitude of the Afghan leaders toward the Communist and free worlds in the period while they still retain some freedom of choice; it will, in addition, carry tremendous weight with neighboring countries now hesitating whether to be neutral in fact or "neutral on the side of the Soviets."
Does the urgent Soviet interest in Afghanistan demonstrated by Khrushchev's and Bulganin's visit to Kabul last December and their grant of a credit of $100,000,000 portend an attempt to take over the country outright, rapidly and perhaps by force? Or is it the first stage in a more subtle plan to build up Afghanistan as a model showcase where the Soviet Union can exhibit its new propaganda wares? The temptation to do the first must be strong, since Afghanistan is militarily weak and isolated from Western centers of power. Afghanistan could then be used as a base to threaten India and Pakistan directly and blackmail them into "benevolent neutrality" or even partnership in a strong Soviet forward movement throughout the Middle East and Southeast Asia. But the showcase demonstration would be more in key with the present over-all Soviet strategy. Already many people in Asia, taking appearances for the fact, are speaking of the "New Russia." Afghanistan offers Stalin's successors a magnificent opportunity to demonstrate what "New Russia's" growing industrial power enables her to do in an unselfish spirit for her underdeveloped neighbors, ostensibly asking nothing in return for her economic and financial help but admiration and comradely friendship.
As of today, the Afghan Government undoubtedly would resist Soviet aggression with all its strength and would appeal for help to the United Nations, which might or might not find a way to help. But how it would halt an insidious process of infiltration which never at any given moment was plainly aggressive is another matter. Prime Minister Prince Mohammed Daud, a first cousin of the King, is a resolute man, and at present he has the whole apparatus of government in his hands. The extent of his power is perhaps his weakness. He is confident of being able to turn outside forces to his own purposes as completely as he handles the country's internal forces. He said to me recently in Kabul that he is quite impartial as between nations which might give his country economic help provided they did not try to attach strings to it. To a question whether the character, record and purposes of those nations should not enter into his appraisal, he replied: "That is not the point. What is essential is the Afghan determination not to be dominated. We are not afraid of anybody." It is a courageous position, but would the experience of, say, Czechoslovakia indicate that it is justified?
The tendency to self-deception is strong when the prizes offered are rich and the risks involved in accepting them are to be faced tomorrow, not today. Afghan statesmen are unwilling to admit concern over the extent to which their backward country with an annual budget of only something like $25,000,000 has become indebted to a powerful neighbor. But the big Soviet credit of last December was remarkable not simply because of Afghanistan's meagre capacities for repayment even on the generous terms offered (the credit is to run 30 years, interest is at 2 percent, the capital sum is to be repaid in 22 annual installments commencing 8 years hence). This was one of the largest Soviet credits so far to any country and it amounted to something like a quarter of all Soviet advances abroad (China excluded) as of that date. There had been Soviet loans and credits to Afghanistan before, and some help from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary, but these had been comparatively small change. Including them all, Afghan indebtedness to the Soviet bloc is now $121,800,000 (compound interest not included). Repayment is to be in goods, but the drain on Afghan resources will nevertheless be heavy. To this must be added at least an equal charge against the budget, over a period of years, to cover internal construction costs and maintenance--transportation, labor, domestic materials, etc. Thus the eventual cost of Soviet aid to the Afghan Government will be something like $240,000,000. There is also the Afghan indebtedness to the West to be considered. Loans from the Export-Import Bank for a vast development scheme in the Helmand Valley amount to $39,500,000; and a projected small grant and loan from the United States for aviation would, if made, raise the indebtedness to the West close to $50,000,000 (again not counting interest). This sum should also be doubled to cover internal costs.
Thus the total indebtedness and domestic costs which the Afghan Government must eventually meet by payments in goods or in money will be something like $340,000,000, plus interest on the capital sums involved. This seems a staggering sum for a country with a present budget of about $25,000,000. Nor is there much flexibility in that budget; tax returns are more or less fixed by the low standard of living, and customs revenues will not be augmented by the increased trade with Russia since materials brought in under the Soviet credit will of course be exempt from duty. I have been told that the Afghan Government carries loans on the credit side of its ledger. It will take more than a device of this sort to enable it to survive the squeeze which its chief creditor will be able to impose at a chosen moment. And Moscow could avoid foreign criticism for exerting undue pressure by simply offering to assume costs of maintaining expanded facilities which the Afghan Government had found itself quite unable to support.
More is involved, of course, than the prospective interference of a creditor in the financial affairs of a weak debtor. If the United States sent engineers, technical experts and administrative advisers halfway around the world to help the Afghan Government, no conceivable harm could be done to Afghan independence or security; even if the United States wished, it could never "take Afghanistan over" by that or any other means. But if Moscow sends in a flock of Soviet experts containing the usual proportion of propagandists, spies and saboteurs, the result for Afghanistan could be fatal. Actually, in the past six months the number of Soviet technicians has increased from about 100 to about 500; and it must grow as plans for spending the Soviet credit are put into practice.[i] This was the sort of menace that Jugoslavia confronted in 1948; Tito's revolt against Moscow came just in the nick of time. Would Afghanistan be able to react with equal success after Soviet infiltration had gone so far?
With such benefits in view the Soviets can hardly fail to choose the second of the courses open to them in Afghanistan. They will establish a Communist showcase for the edification of neighboring Asian peoples. They will infiltrate agents in the guise of technicians into widely scattered development schemes throughout the country and in the guise of advisers into government departments. And they will be ready to move in on the mortgagee, in the nicest way possible, when his undertakings plainly exceed his capacities. The policy harmonizes with the current emphasis on peaceful coexistence; it has the further advantage of being hard for Western nations to criticize and oppose effectively. Nor is anything of immediate military importance being sacrificed. The outright acquisition of Afghanistan would not in fact improve the Soviet operational position markedly. Soviet planes already are capable of penetrating to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea from bases on Soviet territory. To establish forward bases on Afghan territory would involve shipping in great reserves of oil and providing storage facilities; if some of them were located south of the towering Hindu Kush the undertaking would be formidable. Why make the effort when Soviet air power is already in a position to dominate at will India, Pakistan and their neighbors? The realities of the military situation are recognized in India, as can be read between the lines of Prime Minister Nehru's speeches. But intimidation is not the card which the Soviet leaders are playing at present. They hold it in reserve, meanwhile seeking to convince the uncommitted countries that if they will coöperate with Moscow their independence will not be infringed. They carry this message to the masses, and, as Khrushchev and Bulganin demonstrated, with great effect. For their aim is not simply to keep governments from throwing their weight onto the side of the free world on specific issues; their pacifist propaganda aims to build up such popular pressures in the countries concerned that governments will be permanently incapacitated from ever reverting to independent courses of action.
The Soviet leaders are playing the opening moves of their game in Afghanistan intelligently and quietly, profiting by the mistakes or lack of interest of competing nations and the complacency of the ruling circles in Kabul. But we are watching only the opening gambit; various obstacles may impede the achievement of all that the Soviet strategists hope. The first obstacle is the traditional suspicion that Afghans feel for everyone and everything coming from the wild plains beyond the Oxus, the invasion route of the destroying hosts of Jenghiz Khan, Tamerlane and successive conquerors. The second is the resistance of the Moslems to all external influences as such but more especially to those of a country where mosques have been destroyed and centers of Moslem instruction closed. A third is the considerable if vague goodwill felt for the United States.
The fear of Russia is general but does not easily find voice against the official policy of coöperation. Recently, too, it has been diminished by the eye-catching conveniences being supplied in Kabul with Russian aid--a grain elevator and bakery and a gasoline-storage tank surmounted with gleaming colored lights on a hillside above the city, besides, of course, the much-advertised paved streets which now ring unaccustomedly under the hoofs of the tonga ponies. As a final gesture of friendship at the end of his visit, Khrushchev announced, without warning, the gift of a 100-bed hospital to Kabul (to the confusion, incidentally, of medical authorities who were anti-Communist but greatly in need of new hospital facilities). In spite of everything, suspicion of Russia persists. One can hardly speak of a national sentiment in a country of numerous tribes speaking different languages, only 3 percent of them literate, many of them nomad, divided by mountains and deserts and with the ruling tribes, the Pushtuns, a minority in the country as a whole (though the largest single element). There are no political parties, there is no free press and Parliament is a cipher. Under these conditions no one represents a national viewpoint except the King and his cousins who control the government. Nevertheless, there are individuals and groups that are reputed not to be content with the present policy of playing the Soviet Union and the United States off against each other. These include several of the elder members of the royal family who remember Russia's traditional territorial ambitions and her disregard of treaty agreements in the not-sodistant past, as for instance the guarantee of the independence of Bokhara and Khiva in the Soviet-Afghan treaty of 1921. They may feel that in tying itself so closely to Moscow the present government is abandoning the foreign policy practised effectively by great Afghans like Abdur Rahman and Nadir Shah, who never took more from one side than could be balanced from the other. Others who may be restless include the chiefs of certain tribes outside the dominant Pushtun group; some army officers, represented perhaps by the former Minister of Defense, dismissed last year (some say) because he acknowledged more direct allegiance to the King than to the Prime Minister; and a rather small but still not unimportant group of intellectuals who have studied or visited in Western Europe or the United States. None of these critics seems to be influential today but they might become so in a different situation.
Afghanistan being solidly Moslem, the attitude of the clerical authorities towards the contest between Communist and Western influences can be particularly important. Islam, from Morocco to Central Asia, is in a revolutionary ferment. Many influential Ulema are reported to be far in advance, both theologically and socially, of traditional Moslem usage. A considerable number are said to favor a gradual process of secularization and the modernization of the shariah, the sacred law, in accord with the wide latitude for evolution authorized (they claim) in the Koran. The "liberal" tendency--reformist yet nationalist--is marked in Egypt, where the famous university of Al Azhar has survived for a thousand years by adapting itself to changing conditions, as also in Iran and Iraq; and it is not absent in Afghanistan. It has wide support among the younger generation, including especially the growing number of young women who hate polygamy and want to be free of the veil.
On its face, a movement toward religious and social reform would seem to favor the West, but this is not necessarily the case. American statesmen have tended to assume that Islam is conservative and therefore an effective barrier to the spread of Communism. Their statements in that vein have had the effect of identifying our policy with reaction and thus turning at least a part of the modernizing leadership of Islam instinctively towards Russia, not out of any liking for Communism but because the present Soviet strategy is to support similar tendencies among Soviet Moslems and encourage them to offer coöperation to progressive Moslem leaders abroad. We seem to be in danger of being left eventually with the most old-fashioned and dogmatic local mullahs as our allies.
It will be asked why Moslem leaders in the Near and Middle East are not more swayed by accounts of the ill-treatment given their co-religionists in the Soviet Union. The answer seems to be that the accounts are only partly believed, but more that the closing of mosques and Moslem centers of instruction took place some time back and that today the stress is on freedom of religion instead of the old anti-religious slogans. The news bulletin of the Soviet Embassy in Kabul recently printed the statement that in Tashkent 30 large mosques are now open and being used freely, besides many neighborhood mosques. Doubtless this represents the same decrease in Moslem facilities as occurred in Orthodox places of worship in Moscow, where instead of the 500 or more churches existing before the Revolution there are today only about 50. Nevertheless, the Soviet authorities pretend that the Moslem faith is now adequately served in the Soviet Union and are able to make many Moslems abroad believe it. One of their devices is to select carefully which mosques and institutions shall be closed and which shall be allowed to remain open. By continuing those administered by "liberals," that is, reformists who emphasize the evolutionary aspect of Mohammedanism and advocate secularization, they profit doubly. They make sure that the future Moslem leadership in Soviet Central Asia is to be as much in tune with the social concepts of the régime as possible; and by cultivating contacts between their progressives at home and similar elements abroad they create a new Moslem community transcending national boundaries.[ii]
This policy is likely to pay off for the Soviets this summer when King Saud, custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, comes to Kabul on a protracted visit. His retinue as usual will be very numerous. Among them will be Moslem leaders who have already made contact with representatives of the true faith in the Soviet Union, Chinese Turkestan and other Communist-controlled areas where there is a vast reservoir of potential pilgrims to the Holy Places (the Soviet Union and Communist China are estimated to contain between them something over 50,000,000 Moslems). It will be a golden opportunity for the Soviets to strengthen collaboration with Moslem progressives abroad and, as a douceur to Ibn Saud, to arrange for the intensification of the pilgrim traffic which is so lucrative for his country.
In this situation one is rather at a loss to estimate how the Moslem character of Afghanistan will affect Moscow's ability to achieve its aims there. At present it is surely an obstacle, but we should not assume that this will continue to be the case automatically and indefinitely in Afghanistan or any Moslem country.
If a reservoir of goodwill toward America does indeed persist in Afghanistan it is in spite of the fact that the country is engaged in a bitter territorial dispute with Pakistan and that Pakistan is receiving military aid from the United States. The best one can do in discussing this situation with Afghans is to say that few Americans have ever heard of the "Pushtunistan question," the crux of the Afghan-Pakistan controversy, and that it never occurred even to those few that there might be an important connection between it and the plan to build up Pakistan's military strength against the Soviet Union. Indians have the same difficulty in understanding that when we decided to help Pakistan we did not have the Kashmir question in the front of our minds. In fact, in both countries there is a tendency to imply that the United States actually created the "Pushtunistan question" and the "Kashmir question."
What is meant, of course, is that without intending it we have strengthened Pakistan's hand in dealing with both questions, which in fact existed long before our military aid became a factor. It may be admitted that to the extent that Washington failed to take adequate account of possible side-effects of building up Pakistan's strength against the Soviet Union, the Afghans and Indians have a justified grievance. It is never comforting to be told that one was simply forgotten. There seem to have been serious enough miscalculations in the State Department; but apparently the most influential consideration was the Pentagon's insistent disregard of political factors in its pursuit of assumed military advantages. Explanations of this sort are not of much help to Secretary Dulles when he visits New Delhi or to members of our Embassy in Kabul when they try to explain that we are entirely neutral in the Pushtunistan dispute. Moreover, even when Indians or Afghans can be convinced that we decided to help Pakistan with Soviet aggression solely in view, they will not admit that our action was sound. As Foreign Minister Prince Naim asked me pointedly in Kabul, did I think that by arming the Pakistan army we would enable it to stand up against a Soviet attack? If not, what advantages were there in the undertaking to offset the disadvantages of upsetting the military balance in the area? In New Delhi, Prime Minister Nehru revealed similar apprehensions about the increased risk of conflict between Pakistan and India and Pakistan and Afghanistan. One may ask in return, as I did, whether even if the danger from Pakistan is real it is as great as that from the north. But one gets no agreement. Kashmir and Pushtunistan are too close, too immediate. To the criticism that the Baghdad Pact is a political liability to the West and a dubious military asset I had no sure answer.
Just what is the Pushtunistan question which so excites Afghan feelings that in March 1955 a mob attacked the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul and Pakistan in retaliation imposed a blockade on Afghanistan, cutting completely that country's usual trade routes with the outside world for five months and creating a situation very close to war?
The following are a few--but they can be only a few--of the relevant facts. There are Pushtun (or Pathan) tribes on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border (some four millions to the north, some five to the south). Those to the south inhabit what were in British times the North West Frontier Province and the so-called Tribal Territory, the latter never completely subdued or organized. The Afghan Government opposes the Pakistan program for consolidating the tribes south of the border into the present unified Pakistan state and demands that instead they be given independence or autonomy. For good measure it adds Baluchistan down to the seacoast, though that area is not inhabited by Pushtuns. To justify intervening in what would seem Pakistan's domestic affairs it argues that several million of the tribesmen are nomad, migrating in spring and autumn between the mountains and plains without regard for any political frontier. Indeed, when the tribes are on the move the mountain passes are dense with their camels and donkeys, bearing their children, fowl and household gear, while their black tents stud the hillsides along the way; and none of them carries a passport. Finally, the Afghan Government claims that when the present frontier was drawn in 1893 the Afghan Government of that day accepted it only under British pressure; and it says that it has lapsed with the departure of the British.
Pakistan replies that as one of the successor states to British India it has inherited its rights. It asserts that it will organize its territories in any way it sees fit. It says that Afghanistan's attempt to organize "free governments" among the tribes south of the border is a hostile act. And it points out that the "Durand Line" (named after the chief British negotiator in 1893), far from being temporary, was accepted subsequently by Afghanistan--in 1921, when the Anglo-Afghan Treaty recognized it as the boundary, and again in 1930, when Nadir Shah, father of the present King, exchanged letters with the Government of India reaffirming the validity of that treaty. The dispute has many additional aspects both historical and legal,[iii] but they need not be amplified here beyond saying as to the former that certain parts of the tribal areas now in Pakistan were in earlier times under the rule of Kabul, and that even before the British withdrawal Afghanistan had been asking, though without obtaining satisfaction, for some special status for them; and as to the latter that most international law authorities would feel that Pakistan's claim to be the legal successor to British rights is justified. As of the present moment, neither government completely controls even the tribes on its own side of the frontier.
In the circumstances there is no need for an outside government like ours to accept the contention of either side fully. Our interest is merely to see whether there do not exist some common interests which might be invoked to draw the two countries together despite their present violent antipathies.
This has in fact been the general policy of the United States, though one senses that it was not pushed with much imagination or vigor until after the recent changes in our diplomatic representation in Kabul. President Mirza of Pakistan is scheduled to visit King Zahir soon and perhaps they may then discover grounds for conciliating the present rivalry between their two countries, though recently their representatives have been talking both publicly and privately in a very obdurate way. The only promising approach for a friend of both parties would be to offer help in minimizing some of the physical results of the present stalemate. Pakistan's blockade of Afghan trade has ended, but a slowdown in the movement of goods between Afghanistan and the sea at Karachi continues and can hardly be anything but deliberate. As a result, the Afghans have begun routing as much of their foreign trade as possible through Soviet Russia. The Russians have of course hastened to make this change-over as workable and economical as possible in the hope that it will become permanent. For instance, you can now travel by air from Kabul to Berlin by the Soviet Aeroflot for about $170 while the tourist fare from Karachi to Frankfurt by one of the Western airlines is exactly twice as much. The Soviets have also been speeding up through rail connections from Europe to the Afghan border and are constructing new facilities for unloading freight at ports on the Oxus River. The trip thence by road over the Hindu Kush to Kabul and other centers in the south is long and over incredibly bad roads, very hard on machinery and similar heavy goods. However, the sea route via Karachi is, under present conditions, still worse. There are interminable delays in unloading and securing clearance in Karachi, then a rail journey to Peshawar, where new delays are encountered, and finally transport by road over the Khyber Pass; and while freight waits on docks or sidings machinery rusts and more fragile goods rot, so that often the value of a shipment is cut by half. In such circumstances, the most useful service the United States could undertake would be to work out a modus vivendi under which the two antagonists could exist side by side with less friction even though there had been no settlement of their central dispute.
Elements in such a modus vivendi might be the creation of a free port for Afghan commerce at Karachi, an increase in rolling stock on the Karachi-Peshawar railroad, an extension of the present Khyber Pass rail spur directly into Afghan territory and an improvement in trucking facilities from that point forward throughout Afghanistan. In all these undertakings the United States might help financially. Neither side would be asked to abandon its position in the tribal controversy but would tacitly sidestep it as being impossible of solution now except by war, which, presumably, neither cares to face. The United States is in a position to press a modus vivendi. It is supplying Pakistan with military supplies which the Pakistan authorities would not like to see delayed. Prince Daud, on his side, always expresses himself as anxious to demonstrate that he holds and will maintain a middle position between Soviet Russia and the West; he knows that this is a sine qua non for final American approval of certain forms of assistance recently under consideration in Washington.
One such proposal is that we might help Afghanistan develop a network of internal aviation services, utilizing some of the airfields which are to be constructed by means of the Soviet loan, and also to provide four-engine planes to establish an Afghan international air service hooking up Kandahar, the best Afghan airport, with, say, Beirut and Jiddah on the west and Bombay to the south. There is also need for a fresh survey of the vast Helmand Valley reclamation and resettlement project, the carrying costs of which now eat up something like a third of the Afghan Government's annual income. This project was financed by loans from the Export-Import Bank and is being carried forward in the face of formidable difficulties by Morrison-Knudsen, a private American engineering concern. The Afghan Government seems not to have appreciated the magnitude of the task when it requested the loan and invited in Morrison-Knudsen; and it was too inexperienced to foresee the social readjustments which would become necessary as the work progressed. The Bank seems also to have looked at the undertaking in too narrow terms. The United States Government is not directly involved but American prestige certainly is, not only in Afghanistan but all through Asia. The time has come when the project must be restudied in all respects, including not merely the physical problems connected with the creation of new arable land, power resources, flood controls and so forth but also the long-term social impact on Afghan life as a whole. The United States should offer to help arrange for an authoritative and comprehensive survey as well as to provide a part of necessary refinancing. The Afghan Government would be right in thinking that such help would be more likely to be forthcoming if its present conflict with Pakistan were in a less acute stage.
Any effort to bring the two countries together in even a limited way will of course encounter strenuous Soviet opposition. Bulganin showed the Soviet hand by announcing in Kabul: "We think Afghanistan's demands to give the population of bordering 'Pushtunistan' an opportunity of freely expressing their will is justified." The Soviets will try to stiffen the Afghan position by making competitive offers of help and perhaps concealed threats. The American answer to the competitive offers should be, I think, that we do not oppose assistance to backward countries from any source, the Soviet Union included, provided it does not abridge the receiving country's freedom of political action or saddle it with a mortgage which, realistically considered, it can never repay.
As to Soviet threats (if any are made), we should say only that if they are resisted, as the present Afghan leadership insists they would be, we shall, as a member of the United Nations, be actively on the side of the menaced country against the aggressor. When Secretary Dulles visited New Delhi just after the SEATO conference in Karachi he made a statement at a press conference which circulated throughout India and went far to offset the disagreeable impression created there by references to the Kashmir and Pushtunistan questions in the final SEATO communiqué. He assured the Indian Government and people that although we want to improve Pakistan's military defenses against possible Soviet aggression, this does not mean we would support Pakistan right or wrong. If ever Pakistan used its new strength to threaten or attack India, he said, "under the principles of the United Nations Charter, the United States would be supporting India." In March the Afghan Government formally protested to the SEATO Powers against interfering in its dispute with Pakistan, and has circulated copies of the protest to all United Nations members; but it has not asked the United Nations to take any action, indicating that it does not wish to force the Pushtunistan issue to a crisis. If it really fears a Pakistan attack it might perhaps ask for a reassurance from the United States similar to that given by Secretary Dulles to India.
The visitor to the underdeveloped countries of the Near East and Asia must return home with the sad conviction that the good intentions of our foreign aid program and the large sums of money we have spent on it have not brought us the hoped-for results. At best, the relation of grand almoner and beneficiary is difficult and ungrateful. One is liable to be damned if one does help and damned if one doesn't. An example occurred after the recent overturn of a pro-Western régime in Ceylon. Washington hastened to announce that this would not prevent us from carrying through a projected grant of $5,000,000 in economic aid to that country. A leading Indian newspaper thereupon printed a cartoon showing the new Ceylonese Prime Minister being garlanded by Secretary Dulles, with a noose half-concealed in the flowers. One can imagine what savage comments there would have been if, on the contrary, the United States had withdrawn its offer of modest economic assistance because a less-friendly régime had come to power. That would have been taken as proof positive that we are willing to help only subservient régimes, in the expectation that they will make us some unpatriotic return.
We should clarify and unify our program for foreign economic aid (how often writers have repeated that plea in recent years!), and our policy in Afghanistan, the particular subject of these remarks, should accord with the established principles.
A first rule should be not to give aid in excess of the recipient's capacity to absorb it to advantage. The saturation point should be figured not on the basis of our prospective aid alone but of the total foreign aid received or promised from all sources. In deciding what is the safe limit we should not look only at the financial ledger but take account also of the recipient's degree of industrial, social and educational development; for example, we should calculate whether there are going to be sufficient foreign experts available not only to administer the program but to train local replacements and whether local educational and social factors will cripple them in the latter task. We should not compete openly with the Soviet Union or anyone else for the privilege of giving economic aid. We should offer it for specific purposes, within our capacity to give and the beneficiary's capacity to receive.
With these two qualifications in mind we should set the most generous terms possible. When they have been set and an offer made we should not modify the terms in order to outbid an offer from another source. Instead, we should say to the prospective beneficiary: "If you find the financial terms of another offer better, by all means accept it. We are not anxious to give away money except for legitimate needs of general benefit that cannot be otherwise supplied. We hope you will keep in mind other factors besides the purely material ones involved; for instance, do look carefully whether there are not differences between the assumed aims of the United States and the other government. We hope you will not put yourselves at the mercy of some government which will later take advantage of its position as mortgagee to squeeze you politically or militarily. We hope you will not make it impossible for other countries to continue trading with you. But it is you who will suffer most directly if this happens, and we shall not attempt to dissuade you from what might be a perilous course by other than intellectual arguments." We should add that acceptance of economic aid from some other country will not of itself lessen our friendship and our desire to be helpful, nor, up to the saturation point, our willingness to continue extending aid for additional purposes. But when the saturation point has been reached, or when the terms on which assistance from some other country has been accepted make it difficult or impossible for us to continue giving help and to see that it is used economically and effectively, then no assumed political, propaganda or strategic advantages should persuade us to continue according aid. The advantages would be quickly found to be illusory, whether in the country concerned or in the world at large. What is interpreted as undignified competition with the Soviet Union for the privilege of giving Egypt the means to build the Aswan High Dam set people throughout the whole Middle East figuring, between chuckles, how to play us off to similar advantage. Our self-imposed limits on aid should not apply, perhaps, to continuing small sums to follow through a program already established or to perform relatively small services. But, with such exceptions, the general principles should rule; and the sooner they are formulated and advertised to the world the better.
Incidentally, if we stuck to our refusal to enter into direct competitive bids the underdeveloped countries might discover fairly soon that the Soviet Union is not really quite as anxious to take over a major share of the burden of helping them as Soviet propaganda pretends. In addition, Soviet motives in extending aid might be scrutinized anew. Egyptians were chagrined recently to discover the cotton which they had bartered for arms with the Czechs turning up on the Brussels market at less than world prices. A further side-advantage of Soviet participation in foreign aid programs is that the Soviet reputation for being a wise counsellor and helper, now widespread in Asia, might take some hard knocks. A dispatch from Rangoon printed in The New York Times of May 9 described how endless bags of cement from the Soviet Union were piling up on Rangoon docks, not only choking off the unloading of needed consumer goods but threatening to turn into solid blocks in the coming monsoon rains. The Russians seem to have sent the cement along without bothering to suggest to an unwary Burmese purchasing mission that structural steel and other building materials would be needed in order to put it to use. Since this unfortunate experience with bartering their surplus rice in Russia the inexperienced Burmese are less sure of their need for further Soviet collaboration in developing their economy. We cannot help taking a certain malicious pleasure in stories of this sort which duplicate talk about our own mismanagement, often all too accurate, in extending help in unfamiliar environments far from home.
What would adoption of the general foreign aid policy outlined above imply specifically in Afghanistan? There seems to be some difference of opinion inside our government as to how important it is to us that Afghanistan shall not drift into the Soviet orbit. Some military men hold that landlocked and remote countries are just so much "real estate" and that we should spend little effort and no money to help them preserve their independence. This is not because we do not favor their independence, they hasten to say, or would ever infringe it ourselves, but simply that we must not allow ourselves to be diverted by sentimental considerations or old-fashioned strategic concepts from getting ready to carry out really vital tasks in critical strategic areas. They assume that a new world war would not be fought in or near Afghanistan and that physical barriers like the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas are hardly of even secondary importance in the new air and atomic age. The argument is that as our capacities for giving do have a limit, we must spend everything available on deterring aggression in the principal theatres of war and on getting ready to defeat it there if necessary.
In rebuttal, others point out that military problems cannot be considered apart from political problems; that in the over-all world picture the stability and independence of countries like India and Pakistan are factors of incalculable strategic importance; and that if these see the United States turn its back on Afghanistan without an attempt to help her India will tend more and more to try to ride what will seem to her to be the wave of the future and Pakistan will try belatedly to save herself by dropping out of the Baghdad Pact and coming to the best possible terms with the invincible Soviet power.
The latter argument is probably more strongly supported in Washington today than at any time in the recent past. It would seem to indicate the right position for us to take, realistically and morally as well, but only in the conditions and up to the point already indicated. The conditions are that the Afghans, who sincerely want to protect themselves from domination from any quarter, shall be as intelligent and farsighted in their steps to avoid danger as they would be courageous in meeting it in a moment of crisis. As to the point beyond which we could not go, it is the saturation point when Soviet help would have become so massive, so absorbing, that Moscow had succeeded in making it impossible for Afghanistan to wiggle out of its net. Already that point is dangerously near. How long will the Soviets allow us to continue aid that detracts from their aid or trade that competes with their trade? That is Prince Daud's approaching dilemma. When Afghanistan is paying in kind all that she is able to pay as interest on the Soviet credit--in caracul skins (the chief market for which is now New York) and in cotton and wool--what will be left to carry on trade with us or any other country outside the Soviet group? Will she not be bound to the Communist world as tightly as the Danubian states were bound to the Nazi world by Germany's monopoly of their trade?
The omens, then, are not propitious. But the Afghans are a tough and resilient lot and it is possible that even the subtle program on which the Soviet Union seems to be embarked for disarming them economically and financially will fail. Nothing that we can do can guarantee that result. But we can encourage the Afghan leaders to feel that they are not alone; we can continue our aid in moderate amounts, giving them time to get their bearings; we can perhaps be of service to them politically; and we can warn against further steps which will end almost automatically in delivering their country into foreign hands even if, seeing that result as imminent, they belatedly revolt against it.
[i] Tentative allocations have been made for the following purposes: roads and bridges, $30,000,000; education, $5,000,000; health, $8,000,000; police, $12,000,000; industrial equipment and technical services, $25,000,000; arms, $15,000,000; miscellaneous, $5,000,000.
[ii] The Chinese Communists are attempting the same manœuvre in connection with current celebrations of the 2,500th anniversary of the death of Buddha. Modifying their previous anti-religious attitude, they emphasize that in Buddhism they are united with other Asian peoples.
[iii] For a brief description of the circumstances in which a referendum was held in the area in 1947, see "Afghanistan, Independent and Encircled," by Donald N. Wilber, Foreign Affairs, April 1953.