We can state with conviction: by 1940 Afghanistan became an object of special attention on the part of Germany as a potential bridgehead on the approaches to British India, Chinese Turkestan and Soviet Middle Asia. But joint activity of the Soviet and British intelligence services prevented Hitler’s plans from coming true.
Ten years prior to the start of the Great Patriotic War, on June 24, 1931, the U.S.S.R. and Afghanistan concluded a treaty on neutrality and mutual non-aggression that obliged the sides to ban the existence on its territory of groups hostile to the other side. Relative quiet established on the Soviet-Afghan border. A relative quiet, as Nadir-shah’s successor on the Afghan throne was his son Mohammad Zahir Shah, who had no resources to overcome the traditional Afghan social and political atomism. This also entailed the probability of using Afghanistan’s territory for subversive activities against neighboring countries – first of all the U.S.S.R. and British India.
By 1940 Afghanistan became an object of special attention on the part of Germany as a potential bridgehead on the approaches to British India, Chinese Turkestan and Soviet Middle Asia.
German special services attached great significance to the religious factor: there were plans to allocate a considerable part of “troop mullahs” trained in Germany under the leadership of Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini for work with the local population in Afghanistan and India.
Although the key thing in the Axis countries’ Afghan policy was the British direction, London agreed with Stalin’s proposal to conclude between the Soviet and British intelligence services an agreement on cooperation against Germany “in all parts of the world.”
The Soviet foreign intelligence had to join efforts with the Intelligence Service to carry out a long-term operation to eliminate Abwehr’s agents.
Back in 1938, Rome started supplying with weapons rebels on the territory of the Northwest Frontier Province of British India. In the same year, an armed march of Pashtoon tribes in regions adjacent to Afghanistan started which was aimed against Britain.
The first successful operation of Germany’s Abwehr in the zone of “independent” tribes of British India was a 1938 provocation on the Afghan-Indian border, nicknamed Shami Pir’s adventure. This operation showed that eastern Pashtoons can easily be used both against Kabul and against Britain. The key figure of the German agent network in Afghanistan was representative of the Sufi Order, Al-Qadiriya Mohammad Seyid Geylani, known as Shami Pir. He was a distant relative to Afghan emir Amanullo-khan deposed in 1929.
In June 1938, Geylani called on the tribes of the northwestern part of Pakistan to make a march on Kabul to restore the power of emir Amanullo-khan. The situation in Afghanistan’s south was threatening. The British offered Geylani a reward of 25,000 pounds sterling, and he agreed and surrendered June 30 to the British authorities, after which they delivered him to Baghdad. British secret services had no proof testifying to Geylani’s cooperation with fascists, although they suspected Germany stood behind him.
The British intelligence put Geylani under surveillance, and in spring 1939, the British registered his close contacts with an Abwehr resident.
For the Soviet Union, the actions of the Axis countries in Afghanistan also presented a large threat. Large forces of Middle Asia natives hostile toward Soviet power, were on the territory of Afghanistan. The first to start work among Middle Asia emigrants was Japan that craved to unite the forces of Afghan Basmach resistance with the Pan-Turkist movement in Chinese Xinjiang hostile to the U.S.S.R. On a request from the Japanese side in 1936, German agents, under the personal leadership of envoy to Kabul Kurt Zimke, delivered a large batch of arms to Xinjiang.
In 1935, Tokyo proposed to the Afghan leadership to conclude a secret agreement against the U.S.S.R., in line with which the Afghan side would undertake commitments to contribute to Japanese in carrying out spy and subversive activities from their territory against the Soviet Union, and Japan promised Afghanistan “patronage” and military aid in case the U.S.S.R. attacked.
Soviet spies in Kabul were able to obtain information on Japan asking Afghanistan to deploy the maximum possible number of troops on the border with the U.S.S.R. to distract the Red Army forces from the Far Eastern border. This action uncovered by the Soviet intelligence caused a big diplomatic scandal, and Germany had to withdraw its envoy from Kabul.
Japanese intelligence actively drafted Uzbek emigrants near Khanabad, established contacts with ex-emir Seyid Alim-khan and the key leaders of the Basmach resistance – Turkmen – Kyzyl Ayak, Uzbek – Makhmud-bek, Kurshir-mat and others.
In 1938, Soviet envoy Konstantin Mikhailov reached an agreement with Afghan Prime Minister Khashim-khan, in line with which the Afghan government committed itself to prevent Japanese nationals from entering northern provinces. Besides, a borderline 30-km zone was established, and all foreigners were banned from entering it. Foreign airlines were not allowed to open airlines in North Afghanistan or cross the zone. The 1938 agreements played an important role in frustrating the plans of the Axis countries to use Afghan territory as a bridgehead for activity aimed against the U.S.S.R.
Germany’s attack on the U.S.S.R. sharply changed the moods of the Afghan elite. A group of military led by Prince Mohammad Daud even worked out a plan of a military expedition to the Soviet territory: it was presumed that most units of the Red Army from Middle Asia would be transferred to the Western Front, which would simplify the task of “liberating” Bukhara, Fergana and entire Turkestan.
Basmach raids from Afghanistan’s territory to Soviet Middle Asia resumed. German residents tried, first of all, to organize relations with leaders of the Turkmen Basmach resistance, the most numerous, well-armed and bellicose. In August 1941, Kizil-Ayak sent to Khashim-khan a letter in which he asked to take Bukhara under Afghanistan’s patronage and reported the readiness to deploy 40,000 armed Turkmen for its “liberation.” In reality he had at his disposal no more than 10,000 people.
In November 1941, Basmach leaders invited to Kabul because Loya Jirga promised to Premier Khashim-khan to deploy 200,000 fighters in case Afghan troops entered the U.S.S.R. And he gave an order to hand out weapons to part of emigrant formations near the Soviet-Afghan border.
At the same time, the intelligence services of Germany and Japan were engaged in active work to restore agent connections among Middle Asian emigration. In September 1941, Uzbek Basmach leader Makhmud-bek started the formation of Abwehr’s strongholds in Baglan and a bit later in Kunduz to transfer subversive groups to the Soviet territory. By spring 1942, he created an organization called by Abwehr “Union”, whose aim was to return the Bukhara throne to Seyid Alim-khan. But the former emir himself took an expectant and cautious position.
In 1942, Makhmud-bek was arrested by Afghan police on demand from the British Embassy. This disorganized emigrant circles for a short period, but in summer a new organization, “Faal”, was created. The ex-emir and his son Umar-khan started cooperating with it. Preparations for a march to Bukhara planned for summer 1943 started. From the German side, at a base near Wroclaw in Poland, training of Turkestan Legion detachments was underway. The legion was made up of traitors and Red Army prisoners of war of Middle Asian origin, who were to be deployed to Soviet Middle Asia.
But this large-scale activity was constantly controlled by the Soviet and British intelligence services. Moreover, by that time, Soviet special services managed to arrange “contacts” with ex-emir Seyid Alim-khan, who started receiving large monetary awards from the Soviet side for his passiveness.
After a powerful demarche of two embassies, the Afghan government was forced to fulfill the demands of Britain and the U.S.S.R. In April-June 1943, the Kabul police arrested emigrants from Middle Asia, and the activity of pro-German groupings gradually faded away. In this way the attempts by the Axis countries to turn Afghanistan into a bridgehead for an invasion of the U.S.S.R. fell flat.