Daoud as Prime Minister, 1953-63

Daoud as Prime Minister, 1953-63

In the wake of the failed political reforms of the 1949-52 period came amajor shake-up in the royal family. By mid-1953, the younger members of theroyal family, which may have included the king himself, challenged domination bythe king's uncles. The rift became public in September 1953 when the king'scousin and brother-in-law, Mohammad Daoud, became prime minister. Daoud was thefirst of the young, Western-educated generation of the royal family to wieldpower in Kabul. If opponents of the liberal experiment hoped he would movetoward a more open political system, however, they were soon disappointed.

Despite Daoud's concern with correcting what he perceived as previousgovernments' pro-Western bias, his keen interest in modernization manifesteditself in continued support of the Helmand Valley Project. Daoud also proceededcautiously on the question of the emancipation of women. At the fortiethcelebration of national independence in 1959, the wives of his ministersappeared unveiled in public at his behest. When religious leaders protested, hechallenged them to cite a single verse of the Quran specifically mandatingveiling. When they continued to resist, he jailed them for a week.

Daoud's social and economic policies were cautiously reformist and relativelysuccessful. Although fruitful in some respects, his foreign policy caused severeeconomic dislocation, and, ultimately, his own political eclipse. Daoud'sforeign policy was guided by two principles: balancing what he saw aspro-Western orientation on the part of previous governments by improvingrelations with the Soviet Union (without sacrificing U.S. economic aid), andpursuing the Pashtunistan issue by every possible means. To some extent the twogoals were mutually reinforcing when hostile relations with Pakistan caused theKabul government to fall back on the Soviet Union and its trade and transit linkwith the rest of the world. Daoud believed that the rivalry between the twosuperpowers for local allies created a condition whereby he could play oneagainst the other in his search for aid and development assistance.

Daoud's desire for improved bilateral relations with the Soviet Union steppedup a notch to a necessity when the Pakistan-Afghan border was closed for fivemonths in 1955. When the Iranian and United States governments declared thatthey were unable to create an alternate trade access route through Afghanistan,the Afghans had no choice but to request a renewal of their 1950 transitagreement with the Soviet Union. Ratified in June 1955, it was followed by a newbilateral barter agreement. After the Soviet leaders Nikolay Bulganin and NikitaKhrushchev visited Kabul in 1955, they announced a US$100 million developmentloan for projects to be mutually agreed upon.

Despite the Cold War climate between the two superpowers, the Daoud regimealso sought to strengthen its ties with the United States, whose interest inAfghanistan had grown as a result of United States efforts to forge an allianceamong the countries in the "Northern Tier": Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq,Pakistan, and Turkey. Maintaining its nonaligned position, Afghanistan refusedto join the United States-sponsored Baghdad Pact. This rebuff did not stop theUnited States from continuing its low-level aid program, but it was reluctant toprovide Afghanistan with military assistance, so Daoud turned to the SovietUnion and its allies for military aid, and in 1955 he received approximatelyUS$25 million of military matériel. In addition, the Soviet bloc also beganconstruction of military airfields in Bagram, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Shindand.

In the face of Daoud's virtual obsession with the Pashtunistan issue, allother foreign policy issues faded in importance. In 1953 and 1954, Daoud appliedmore of his time-honored techniques to press the Pashunistan issue, such aspayments to tribesmen on both sides of the border to subvert the Pakistanigovernment as well as dissemination of hostile propaganda. In 1955, however, thesituation became more critical from Daoud's point of view when internal politicsforced Pakistan to abolish the four provincial governments of West Pakistan andform one provincial unit (the One Unit Plan). The Afghan government protestedthe abolition of the North-West Frontier Province (excluding the TribalAgencies). The Pakistan border closure in the spring and fall of 1955 againhighlighted the need for good relations with the Soviets in order to keeptransit routes open for Afghan trade.

Although the Afghans remained unresigned to accepting the status quo on thePashtunistan issue, the conflict remained dormant for several years (in whichtime relations improved slightly between the two nations). The 1958 coup thatbrought General Mohammad Ayub Khan to power in Pakistan also failed to bring onany immediate change in the situation. In 1960 Daoud sent troops across theborder into Bajaur in a foolhardy, unsuccessful attempt to manipulate events inthat area and to press the Pashtunistan issue, but Afghan military forces wererouted by the Pakistan military. During this period the propaganda war, carriedon by radio, was relentless.

Afghanistan and Pakistan severed relations on September 6, 1961. Trafficbetween the two countries came to a halt, just as two of Afghanistan's majorexport crops, grapes and pomegranates, were ready to be shipped to India. In avaluable public relations gesture, the Soviet Union offered to buy the crops andairlift them from Afghanistan. What the Soviets did not ship, Ariana AfghanAirlines flew to India in 1961 and 1962. At the same time, the United Statesattempted to mediate the dispute, although its ties with Pakistan were astumbling block.

In addition, much of the equipment and material provided by foreign aidprograms and needed for development projects was held up in Pakistan. Anotheroutgrowth of the dispute was Pakistan's decision to close the border to nomads(members of the Ghilzai, variously known as Powindahs or Suleiman Khel), who hadlong been spending winters in Pakistan and India and summers in Afghanistan. ThePakistani government statement denying the decision was related to the impassewith Afghanistan appeared disingenuous, and the issue added to the brewingconflict between the two countries. Afghanistan's economic situation continuedto deteriorate. The government was heavily dependent upon customs revenues,which fell dramatically; trade suffered; and foreign exchange reserves wereseriously depleted.

By 1963 it became clear that neither Daoud of Afghanistan nor Ayub Khan ofPakistan would yield; to settle the issue one of them would have to be removedfrom power. Despite growing criticism of Ayub among some of his countrymen, hisposition was generally strong, whereas Afghanistan's economy was suffering. InMarch 1963, with the backing of the royal family, King Zahir Shah sought Daoud'sresignation on the basis that the country's economy was deteriorating as aresult of his Pashtunistan policy. Because he controlled the armed forces, Daoudalmost certainly had the power to resist the king's request, yet he resigned,and Muhammad Yousuf, a non-Pashtun, German-educated technocrat who had beenminister of mines and industries became prime minister.


Country Studies main page | Afghanistan Country Studies main page