The Kingdom of Afghanistan and the United States: 1828-1973

By Adamec, Ludwig W. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1996 | Go to article overview

The Kingdom of Afghanistan and the United States: 1828-1973


Adamec, Ludwig W., The Middle East Journal


The Kingdom of Afghanistan and the United States: 1828-1973, by Leon B. Poullada and Leila D.J. Poullada. Lincoln and Omaha, NE: Dageford Publishing and the University of Nebraska, 1995. xx + 189 pages. Photos to p. 204. Appends. to p. 235. Bibl. to p. 244. Index to p. 258. n.p.

Reviewed by Ludwig W. Adamec

Afghanistan's l9th- and 20th-century relations with the United States have lacked the drama of Afghan relations with the Soviet Union and Britain, or the conspiratorial element of relations with Germany. The relationship is a story of disappointed Afghan hopes and neglected American opportunities. The authors accuse American policy makers of having had a "blind-spot in their eyes" when it came to dealing with Afghanistan. They assign the American government partial responsibility for Afghanistan's turn to the Soviet Union.

This volume, posthumously completed by Leon Poullada's wife, Leila Poullada, endeavors "to lay out the record based on solid evidence" (p. 5). In 11 concise chapters the authors outline early contacts, the American reluctance to establish diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, wartime relations, the Pashtunistan conflict, and US military and economic assistance.

The authors trace early American contacts to Josiah Harlan in 1828. In 1910 there was a second visitor, a Mrs. Olney, followed by a trickle of globetrotters, journalists, and entrepreneurs. Cornelius Van Engert was the first American diplomat to visit Kabul, unofficially, in 1922.

Two chapters outline the arduous process leading to American recognition of Afghanistan after the country gained its independence in 1919. Wallace S. Murray, chief of the State Department's division of Near Eastern affairs, discouraged businessmen from traveling to Kabul, claiming that "Afghanistan is doubtless the most fanatic, hostile country in the world" (p. 41), where foreigners did not enjoy any protection, no banks existed, and treasure caravans were plundered. Diplomatic relations were finally established, but it was not until 1942 that an American legation was opened in Kabul. American interest in a rail link with the Soviet Union through western Afghanistan was responsible for this move.

Relations between the two countries during World War II were good, but deteriorated over the "Pashtunistan question" after 1945. …

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