Afghanistan Strategic Intelligence Records 1919-1970

ISBN: 978-1-85207-855-3   First published: 2002   
Extent: 4 volumes, 4,032 pages   Editor: A. Burdett  
Paper: Printed on acid free paper  
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish  
See sample pages: not available


Afghanistan Strategic Intelligence provides 4000 pages of primary research materials which reveal both the strategic significance and the characteristics - political, military and tribal - of Afghanistan 1919-1970. Many of these aspects will be seen to be unchanging and will provide an historical perspective likely to assist the understanding of recent events.
The collection begins with material describing the Third British-Afghan War of 1919, which led to the establishment of Afghan independence. There is coverage of coups and instability within the ruling family from 1919 to 1933; increased influence and sustained presence of the USSR; continuous evaluation by the British of the Russian threat posed for the integrity of Afghanistan and implications for the defence of India; relations between Afghanistan and neighbouring tribes including on the Northwest Frontier; the activities in Afghanistan of anti-imperialist agents and groups. The collection ends in 1970 with the end of the available documents but with the country moving towards the deposal of King Zahir Shah and the establishment of the republic in 1973.


From the Editor´s Introduction
 This collection of documents begins with the events of the Third Anglo-Afghan War of May-June 1919. Britain had paid a regular subsidy to the Amir of Afghanistan since 1880 and undertaken to defend Afghanistan from foreign aggression in return for directing its external relations. Therefore, Afghanistan was technically not independent. When, in 1919, the ruler Habibullah was assassinated his son and successor Amir Amanullah was not minded to follow the policy of his predecessors in maintaining friendly relations with the British. Under pressure from nationalist movements, he declared a jihad. This brief war was estimated by one British official to have cost the Government of India £16,500,000 and marked the end of Britain´s exclusive relations with Afghanistan. The subsequent peace treaty recognised Afghan independence, although continuation of the subsidy was not ruled out. Diplomatic negotiations were undertaken to redefine the relationship, and it is this new phase in Afghan history which is addressed in these documents.
The importance which Britain attached to its status in Afghanistan is evident in the elaborate inauguration of the diplomatic mission which arrived under Sir Henry Dobbs in December 1920, and this description is therefore included. Although during the years 1880-1919 Britain had "regarded the inviolability of Afghanistan as so essential to the security of India that we made it a cardinal feature in our world policy," British influence in Afghanistan now declined. Almost immediately, Afghan relations with the Bolsheviks were established, which came to be a constant source of concern for the British. British defence policy in the region during the period 1919-1947 sought the protection of India on two levels. First, to monitor and counteract the numerous dissident groups seeking an end to the British presence in India and fomenting tribal unrest on the North West Frontier; second, Britain was much exercised about a possible Russian strike at India through Afghanistan, and vigorously opposed any diplomatic concessions afforded to Russia.


This collection of documents presents, in a convenient format, selected material from reports (often scattered through numerous files) compiled by British military attachés posted at Kabul, combined with other intelligence material from centres at Peshawar, Meshed and Baluchistan. There is also a variety of special intelligence reports and assessments of military and subversive activity. Large maps showing communications and tribal/linguistic areas are included. Document lists and file references are provided to assist researchers.
The documents selected concern mainly the army, military aviation, tribal revolts and their suppression, and internal and external defence matters in a broad sense. Strategic intelligence for the purpose of this work indicates the reporting and appraising of troop movements, recruitment and training of the national armed forces, evaluation of insurgent activity, tribal unrest, shifts in allegiances and reconnaissance data. Political coverage per se is confined to significant and specific events, such as the negotiations leading to the 1921 treaty. Accounts are included of political intrigues by Axis agents and the involvement of the Special Operations Executive during World War Two. Political despatches, economic reports and general diplomatic correspondence are not included except where they bear on military intelligence.
A British Military Attaché was accredited to the Kabul legation from its inception in 1921. The appointee was intended to provide a conduit for an exchange of military information between the two governments, and was actually acting for the War Office. His tasks are outlined in full in a 1920 memorandum which is included in the collection. His weekly intelligence diaries were addressed to the head of the legation who forwarded them to the Foreign Office in London, from where they were circulated to the War Office, the Ministry of Aviation and the Government of India. Afghanistan was a special case for the Whitehall administration. From 1919 to 1947, because the Afghan Government was highly sensitive about reporting to the Government of India (perceived as implying dependency or colonial status), these reports were circulated from the Foreign Office to the India Office, as the Government of India was effectively responsible for Afghan affairs in their impact on border security. One consequence of such face-saving arrangements is that there is much duplication and parallel reporting in the records; for example, the close scrutiny of events on the North West Frontier resulted in similar accounts for the same week in three different regional intelligence reports. The Kabul intelligence diaries constitute the primary and most consistent source, supplemented occasionally by the Peshawar and Meshed summaries.


The volumes have been organised to focus on key historical events and periods:

Volume 1: 1919-1928. From Independence to the Civil War
Volume 2: 1928-1939. From the end of the Civil War to the Declaration of Neutrality in World War II
Volume 3: 1939-1947. From the outbreak of World War II to the partition of India
Volume 4: 1947-1970. The Post-War Years


The various periods of intense upheaval in Afghanistan are described in detail by British Military Attachés.  
Volume 1 in particular covers a time of extensive changes, with attempts at founding an air force, trained by the Russians, enforced westernisation by the Amir Amanullah leading to open rebellion started by the Mullahs of Khost, and resulting in his enforced abdication in 1928. The turbulence of such events caused the temporary withdrawal of the British legation twice, once in 1923-1924 and again in 1929.
 Volume 2 relays numerous developments: the temporary ruler Habibullah Kalikani was assassinated after less than a year, his successor Muhammed Nadir Khan was assassinated in November 1933, followed by the accession of the young Amir Zahir. The expansion of the national army, road building, improved communications and a stable regime led to relative calm in the mid-1930s, although there were continuous pockets of tribal unrest in the south and east, and threatened Soviet incursions from the north.
 Volume 3 concentrates on the period of the Second World War, when Afghanistan was officially neutral (as in the First World War). However, the presence of Axis personnel made Kabul in particular into a hotbed of secret agents from both sides, and the focus of at least one secret operation.
 Volume 4 Following the independence of India in 1947, British relations with Afghanistan became less influential with the further decline of the former imperial power. The archives of the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office now provide the main source of material for the period 1948-1970. Aside from assiduous monitoring of Afghanistan´s support for an independent Pathunistan (or Pushtoonistan), British activities become more confined to offering armaments and military training. The change in the nature of reporting was also affected by a War Office decision in 1949 to suspend the regular submission of intelligence diaries and to report on an ad hoc basis; thus the documentation in Volume 4 is different from earlier volumes in its scope and structure.


Events covered in the key documents include:
 The Third Afghan War, selected actions, including assault on fortress of Spin Baldak
1919: Attempts by Amir of Bokhara to enlarge war into uprising against British in India
1928: Overthrow of King Amanullah in attempted westernisation of country
1929: Accession of Nadir Khan,
1931: British "Plan of operations in event of war with Afghanistan" predicts Afghan government will proclaim a jihad
1933: King Nadir Khan assassinated; accession of Zahir Shah
1934: Bolsheviks sponsor subversive agents, e.g. plan to murder Afghan minister
1936: Note on the Mullahs
1939: Fitzroy Maclean´s account of his journey to Kabul via Mazar-i-Sharif
1939: Afghan-Russian border "completely indefensible"; Russian plan to partition Afghanistan
1940: Assessment of Afghan fitness for war, "the Afghan soldiery have valuable qualities for one type of fighting, namely individual mountain riflery..."
1941-1945: British Special Operations Executive activities; espionage in Kabul
1945: Appreciation of Russian military disposition on border
1953: Evaluation of Afghan armed forces, including strength and routes; British view of Afghanistan as a potential ally, noting: "in the event of tribes joining in a jehad, successful guerilla tactics might well pin down 2 Russian divisions..."
1958: Monitoring and interpretation of Soviet arms supplies to Afghanistan
1965: Secret formation of Afghan Communist Party; first nationwide elections under new (1963) constitution
1970: Report of tour in Hazara region
Towards 1973, the government of King Zahir Shah

1. Communications in Afghanistan. Revised to March 1941.
2. Ethnographical Map of Afghanistan. From a General Staff India map, 1940.