My appointment to the Cabinet as President of the Independent Department of Tribal Affairs (IDTA) came as a complete surprise to me. I had every reason to believe that, when my boss was appointed to form the new government, he would choose me as his Minister of Information and Culture. With my educational background and years of experience, I saw no one more apt to fill the position. Here I was, sitting in direct talks with the Russian Ambassador on the terms of the next year’s cultural exchanges agreement between the two countries. My secretary interrupted us with the statement in Dari that I had a call from the Prime Minister. I picked up the phone, heard what he termed good news of my appointment in his Cabinet, was extremely surprised, but could only express my appreciation to him. During the rest of the day I finalized the program with the Russian Ambassador as if this was just routine work for me as the Deputy Minister of Information and Culture.
Later, I called on him and found out that he really had proposed me as head of our Ministry, but the King had asked him to give that post to someone else. His next choice was the Tribal Affairs Head, which the King had agreed to.
This Cabinet post was the last of several posts that were called Independent Departments instead of Ministries. Their heads reported directly to the Prime Minister and they were responsible for the welfare of their Departments and free to act within the guidelines approved by him. The Ministry of Information and Culture, the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Agriculture were all established first as Independent Departments.
IDTA dealt with various tribes living all along the Afghan border, especially
from southwest to northeast Afghanistan. The main reason for the creation of the Department was that many tribal groups living in the numerous enclaves of the largely mountainous southern and north-eastern region were split asunder from the rest of Afghanistan by an arbitrary boundary line. It was called the Durand Line. It was drawn by an Englishman by the name of Mortimer Durand in 1893. This arrangement was so arbitrary that even families’ homes and agricultural plots eventually fell on different sides of the so-called border. The territory separated from our country by coercion and threats during the reign of Ameer Abdurrahman Khan consisted of Chaman,Chagai, most of Waziri, Beland Khel, Kurram, Bajaur, Swat, Buner, Dir, Chilas and Chitral. The British termed it as the Independent Tribal Zone to distinguish it from other main Pukhtoon territory then known as the Northwest Frontier Province of India, also called the Administered Zone. The Northwest Frontier itself, home for millions of Afghan Pukhtoons, was occupied first by intrigue perpetrated with a former Afghan governer of Punjab, Ranjeet Singh, and then taken over and brought under British administration.
After the Afghan War of Independence with Britain, 1919, and the subsequent Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1921, upon insistence of the Afghan government, Britain sent a supplementary letter to Ameer Amanullah Khan which stated:
“…As the conditions of the frontier tribes of the two governments are of interest to the government of Afghanistan, I inform you that the British government entertains feelings of goodwill toward all the frontier tribes and has every intention of treating them generously, providing they abstain from outrages against the inhabitants of India….”
The letter, signed by Sir Henry Dobbs, clearly indicated that the tribal zone was not considered, even by the British themselves, as part and parcel of the British-controlled India in spite of the Durand Line.
In 1930’s again Britain was approached for an end to the Durand Line scheme and the return of the tribes to their original and traditional mode of life. Again, the Afghan government was given a cold shoulder.
Then in 1944, when partition of the subcontinent of India was being discussed, the Afghans again brought up the question of the fate of the Pukhtoons in the Northwest, including “the Independent Tribal Zone” and a consideration of the rights of the people living there before any final partition could take place. Once again the British paid no attention claiming that the Durand Line was the demarcation line between India and Afghanistan and the fate of the people living south of the Line would have to be handled by whoever that region falls to after the partition.
This unfortunate turn of events gave rise to a long period of rough relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The latter claimed that she inherited the territory from Britain. Pakistan refused to allow a free plebiscite and a determination by the inhabitants of the whole region (including Baluchistan) what they would want for their future: Remain as a part of Pakistan, choose freedom, or decide to rejoin Afghanistan from whom they were so unnaturally carved out almost half a century ago.
After the division of India into Pakistan and India – with the fate of the almost seven million Pukhtoons on the other side of the Line still unsettled — the situation went from bad to worse. A Loya Jarga (assembly of national elders from all walks of life) in July 1949 had been convened on the subject and it unanimously rejected the accursed Durand Line. A period of diverse activities, short of a total war, began in both countries in socio-political fields as well as propaganda. In Afghanistan, the traditional Directorate General of Tribal Affairs was promoted to the Independent Department of Tribal Affairs and was thus made a Cabinet level post with its head directly responsible to the Prime Minister. Afghanistan became the only country which refused membership of Pakistan to the United Nations. Pakistan started a propaganda blitz in its media against Afghanistan. She took strong measures to curb Afghanistan’s trade with the outside world. Afghan merchandise coming from overseas immediately faced being kept in open storage areas instead of being loaded on trains for Peshawar. Pilferage was freely allowed and huge demurrage charges began to be levied on Afghan goods placed exposed to elements. As a result huge sums were to be paid for Afghan goods in illegal storage and there was no telling if any of them ever arrived intact inside the Afghan borders. The nomadic people were suddenly faced with the inability to go south to their habitats of thousands of years for winter. Some leaders of the Pukhtoons in Peshawar and other areas faced torture and prison terms and even death just because they felt they were betrayed and their rights were not respected by either the British or Pakistan. Even the Independent Tribal Zone faced incursions into their territory by Pakistan.
Radio Afghanistan began a nightly Pukhtoonistan program of broadcasts for Pukhtoons south of the now-unrecognized border. Afghan Embassy in Karachi was closed. Afghanistan’s traditional trade with India and the outside world was badly affected. Pakistani Embassy in Kabul received the retaliation of the Kabul mobs. Pakistan reciprocated by burning the Afghan Flag and closing down the only Afghan political and trade Consulate in Peshawar. Later on with the mediation efforts of several world leaders, especially Saudi Arabia, the flags of both countries were raised in Kabul and Peshawar and a somewhat cool period of relations started again between the two countries.
The Department of Tribal Affairs undertook serious aid to the Pukhtoon tribes in the Tribal Zone. Food commodities, medical, and educational assistance began to go to the Pukhtoonistanis who increasingly relied on the news delivered by Radio Afghanistan and Afghan Pukhto language newspapers for developments in their territories. Leading Pukhtoonistani personalities began to visit Afghanistan and were warmly received and given fraternal reception by our Departmental offices in several provincial centers including Kabul.
It was in such an atmosphere of Afghan-Pakistan relations that I undertook to head the Department. My understanding was that there will eventually come a time when Pakistan would agree to a plebiscite in all of the areas where Pukhtoons resided – be they within the former administered sector (Northwest Frontier Province) or the Independent Tribal Zone. And I made a remark in my opening speech before the directors of the various sections and the Pukhtoonistani guests present at the time in Kabul, that the Government of Afghanistan would abide by any decision that the Pukhtoons finally make as to their future. I expressed hope that such an auspicious day would come when I was still in charge of the Department and what a wonderful day that would be. Later that day the Prime Minister advised me that my remarks were not politically timely. He suggested that I should keep that in mind when openly talking about the future of the Pukhtoons and Pukhtoonistan. I later found out that the government wanted, once again, to take the matter up with Pakistan and the United Kingdom and seek some kind of settlement in a peaceful way.
Meanwhile our relationship with the people of the Independent Tribal Zone continued like before. During hard times my department financially helped the distraught people of the region, through their elders and maleks.. Arrangements were made all along the provinces adjoining the ITZ to give treatment to the sick in Afghan hospitals and to receive immediate relatives of such patients in guest houses of the Department of Tribal Affairs during such treatments. Educational supplies were sent for the children and so on.
There were some incidents when some elders would seek financial assistance from the Afghan side for reconstruction of their own old or damaged homes. The Department would seek permission from the Prime Minister that a number of trees from our evergreen forests in Paktia and Kunar Provinces be allotted them. This timber would then be floated to a point on the Kabul/Kunar river, or loaded on camels and hauled into Pakistan via Parachinar, where the elders would sell some of it in the markets there and redirect the rest to their region by various means for reconstruction work. I remember one incident when I sought permission for one elder, and almost immediately got word from another elder that this person had actually a newly built home in the region. The real reason of the plea for help was to take such timber into Pakistan for sale at great profit and personal enrichment. I immediately informed the Governors of the two provinces through which the logs would be floated to block their passing down the river to Pakistan. The man later called me from the Nangarhar directorate of Tribal Affairs and when I told him that his request was denied because it was false, he shamefully admitted that he wanted the money from the sale of the precious timber for other embellishments to his home. The Department was there to help when there was a legitimate basic need by the Pukhtoons in the ITZ and not for luxury matters.
Another abuse of the Afghan government’s assistance to the Pukhtoons in the ITZ was in the form of financial aid to Pukhtoon families through some of their maleks (local elders). This usually began under conditions of dire legitimate need, but gradually developed into a ruse of personal gain by some elders who merely pocketed such assistance. During my service as head of the Tribal Affairs Department, I put a stop to such practice after due discussion with the Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, the Department itself seemed to have a stained record of abuse of its budget, through the local Directorates of Tribal Affairs and some Provincial Governors. I pursued one case with a degree of success and another where I failed completely. In regard to the failed attempt, finally the Prime Minister advised me to seal the file for a later date. I was able to stop incursions into the Department’s budget by some (and I must emphasize, not all) Provincial Governors. An example was something like this:
One Provincial Governor wrote to the Department: “ A sum of thirty thousand Afghanis was awarded to a certain person, whose identity is known to the Governor. The money would be used for a special purpose only known to the Governor.” Upon contact with the provincial Directorate of Tribal Affairs, it was discovered that the money was given towards buying a motorcycle for a certain person in Afghanistan who was not a Pukhtoonistani guest. I secured a government ruling that, henceforth, any sums beyond Afs.25,000 required direct knowledge and permission of the Department in Kabul, and, through its President, the oral or written confirmation of the Prime Minister. Expenses below that figure required full knowledge and joint accord of the Governor and provincial Director of Tribal Affairs.
The Department, received some Pukhtoon leaders from areas south of the ITZ. These were such internationally known personalities as Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Ajmal Khan Khatak and others. They would visit Afghanistan as official guests of the Government, meet with the Prime Minister and, on occasion, be received in audience with the King to discuss their goals and aspirations for the future of the Pukhtoon people in Pakistan. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was of the opinion that as a first step, Pakistan should be made to recognize the existence of a homeland for the Pukhtoons within Pakistan. After all, if Punjab was the recognized abode of the Punjabis; Sindh, the home of the Sindhis; Baluchistan, the home of the Baluchis; then why shouldn’t Pukhtoonistan (and not the Northwest Frontier Province) be recognized as the home of the Pukhtoons? Perhaps he hoped for a later acceptance of Pukhtoonistan as a free country much as the Bengalis created Bangladesh from what was East Pakistan soon after the establishment of Pakistan.
There also were those who would like to see a general plebiscite held throughout ITZ, Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan so that all the people could decide on a future for the entire region.
Pakistan saw in this a further breakdown of the country and vehemently opposed it. She also opposed Afghanistan, fearing if such a thing did take place, the next step may very well be reunification of the entire region with the motherland, Afghanistan, due to their cultural and historic affiliations of long duration.
The war of words in the media continued between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would flare up at times such as when Dawood became the Prime Minister. It would be semi-dormant as after the new constitution of Afghanistan was implemented. The Independent Department of Tribal Affairs, got its new title as the Ministry of Borders Affairs and the welfare of the Pukhtoons and Baluchis continued to be of interest to the Afghan governments that followed.
Unfortunately, Mr. Maiwandwal found it necessary to resign for ill health and his Cabinet was automatically dissolved. I was not reappointed to head the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Only six months later, I was invited to go back to the Ministry of Information and Culture as Deputy Minister.
Earlier, I have mentioned that I was instrumental in the purchase of an American flatbed press capable of printing an eight-page newspaper. It was paid for through the Royal Afghan Embassy in Washington D. C. The press arrived and was set up by the technician who came to install it and run a proof of it soon afterward. But we could not use it as it needed linotype setting of all eight pages and first we did not have more than one or two Multilanguage linotype machines and no trained type setters for a dozen or so more linotypes to do the job on a day-to-day basis. So orders went out for more linotypes and people were trained to use them. The process took several years while the press sat in the Government Press as its white elephant. Finally, again I appealed to the U. S. government through their embassy in Kabul to help send us an expert to begin using this press for our two daily newspapers in Kabul.
Our appeal received positive attention and it was fortunate for the government of President Sardar Mohammad Dawood to present Jamhooriat as the first eight-page daily newspaper in Afghanistan. Alas, I was unable to enjoy the coming into action of the new press that I had worked on for several years, beyond the first few issues in July 1973. It began working when Islah (the morning daily) and Anis (the afternoon paper), unified as Islah-Anis a short time before, were abolished in favor of Jamhooriat.
Sardar Mohammad Dawood’s Coup D’Etat in 1973 ended my service just two weeks after his takeover by issuing a writ retiring me on July 30, 1973, after only twenty years of service. That was the end of my service for the Afghan Government.
I am proud of the opportunity to have served my country under His Majesty King Mohammad Zahir for over twenty years. I have described what measures I took in the various posts that I held to improve situations I confronted, to the best of my knowledge and ability. I believe I did what was in my power, with material that I had available to me. Maybe, I could and would have done even more in the years that I thought I had ahead of me. It was common during the reign of the King for high-cadre officials in various fields of endeavor, to serve for at least thirty years before retirement.
Sardar Mohammad Dawood took over the Cabinet Posts of Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister. He appointed Dr. M. Hassan Sharq as his Deputy Prime Minister. I called him from home and asked to see him. He easily agreed. I went the next day and was received by him. When I asked him the reason behind my untimely retirement, he said there must be some misunderstanding and that I must wait a few days until things become clearer. “Just stay at home and we will get in touch with you.” I waited several weeks. Nothing happened. There was a vacancy announced for the position of Director of Information with the United Nations Office in Kabul. I called the head of the UN and went to see him. He expressed happiness to my wish for the position. I wrote an application and he assured me that the job was mine. Two days later I called to be informed by him that the Foreign Ministry had asked him not to give me the job.
Some time later the Agriculture Ministry announced the opening of a liaison officer in connection with an agreement with some American firm to furnish agricultural supplies such as chemical fertilizers for the Ministry. The Ministry had expressed a desire to test some Afghans with good command of the English language.
I went to the Ministry, took a test and awaited a result. I was informed again that some other person had been given the job.
The same thing happened when the Japanese embassy advertised for an English interpreter. The Embassy told me that they would consider me favorably for the job. Again the Foreign Ministry refused to permit me to work there. I went to see the Minister of Agriculture again for I had two brothers of his in the Ministry of Information and Culture as my employees and thought he may contact the Sardar on my behalf. He said he was sure Baba (meaning Sardar Dawood) had made some decisions that were not appropriate. He had gone to him about someone else and had been told that he was aware of some mistakes, but he was unable to change his mind.
I waited more than a year under what I thought was house arrest. Then I joined a course of learning French, run by a French organization called Maison Francais. I faced no objection by the authorities. Several months later, I was employed by an Afghan import/export company to work as their director of procurement of supplies from abroad. The owner of the company treated me with respect and I organized his papers and records and ran all his communication with foreign suppliers. I was there for three years.
I was no longer within the government circles and did not really keep myself informed about the day-to-day events. My only source of information was the local radio and a rare visit by some former government associates. This went on to 1978 when the communists suddenly took matters in their hands, conducted a successful Coup d’Etat by killing Sardar Mohammad Dawood and most of his family and government ministers, thereby, literally handing the country over to the agents of the Soviet Union.
It is sad that Sardar Mohammad Dawood was also not allowed to realize many of his dreams for Afghanistan when he was so rudely killed only six years after establishing the first Republic of Afghanistan.
Those who followed and what transpired over the next ten years requires more time to search and study and put together to my readers of these pages from a life of exile so far from Afghans and Afghanistan.