The king of Greater Afghanistan

A German dispatch from 1940 shows Zahir Shah's true colours 
Tariq Ali
Friday November 30, 2001
The Guardian,1284,609460,00.html

The Pandora's box of the American empire is still
open, releasing its monsters and fears on a world
still not fully under its control. The Northern
Alliance is a confederation of monsters. Attaching
dissidents to the chains of a tank and crushing them,
executing defenceless prisoners, raping men and women,
these are all in a day's work for the guardians of the
heroin trade. Blemishes of yesteryear? No such luck.
We've been spared pictures of many of these
atrocities, but Arab TV viewers knew what was going on
long before the massacre of Mazar-i-Sharif. The Geneva
convention is being violated every single day. 
The facts are these: the situation in Afghanistan is
inherently unstable. Turf wars have already begun in
"liberated" Kabul, though open clashes have been
avoided: the west is watching and money has been
promised. But the dam will burst sooner rather than
later. Once the marines depart, with or without the
head of Bin Laden, the alliance will discover that
there is no money for anything except waging war.
Schools and hospitals and homes are not going to be
sprouting next spring or the one after in Afghanistan
or Kosovo. And if the 87-year-old King Zahir Shah is
wheeled over from Rome, what then? 

Nothing much, thinks the west, except to convince the
Pashtuns that their interests are being safeguarded.
But judging from past form, Zahir Shah might not be
satisfied with the status quo. 

A document from the German Foreign Office, dated
October 3 1940, makes fascinating reading. It is from
State Secretary Weizsacker to the German legation in
Kabul and is worth quoting in some detail: "The Afghan
minister called on me on September 30 and conveyed
greetings from his minister president, as well as
their good wishes for a favourable outcome of the war.
He inquired whether German aims in Asia coincided with
Afghan hopes; he alluded to the oppression of Arab
countries and referred to the 15m Afghans [Pashtuns,
mainly in the North West Frontier province] who were
forced to suffer on Indian territory. 

"My statement that Germany's goal was the liberation
of the peoples of the region referred to, who were
under the British yoke... was received with
satisfaction by the Afghan minister. He stated that
justice for Afghanistan would be created only when the
country's frontier had been extended to the Indus;
this would also apply if India should secede from
Britain... The Afghan remarked that Afghanistan had
given proof of her loyal attitude by vigorously
resisting English pressure to break off relations with

The king who had dispatched the minister to Berlin was
the 26-year-old Zahir Shah. The minister-president was
his uncle Sardar Muhammad Hashim Khan. 

What is interesting in the German dispatch is not so
much the evidence of the Afghan king's sympathy for
the Nazi regime. It is the desire for a Greater
Afghanistan via the incorporation of what is now
Pakistan's North West Frontier province and its
capital Peshawar. Zahir Shah's return is being
strongly resisted by Pakistan. They know that the king
never accepted the Durand Line, dividing Afghanistan
and Pakistan, not even as a temporary border. They are
concerned that he might encourage Pashtun nationalism.

Islamabad's decision to hurl the Taliban into battle
and take Kabul in 1996 was partially designed to solve
the Pashtun question. Religion might transcend ethnic
nationalism. Instead the two combined. A proto-Taliban
group, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-i-Shariah-e-Mohammed (TNSM)
seized a large chunk of the Pakistan tourist resort of
Swat during Benazir Bhutto's government and imposed
"Islamic punishments", including amputations. She was
helpless to act, but last week Musharraf imprisoned
the TNSM leader, Soofi Mohammed Saeed. 

Not all the repercussions of this crude war of revenge
are yet to the fore, but the surface calm in Pakistan
is deceptive. With armed fundamentalists of the
Lashkar-e-Taiba threatening to take on the government
if attempts are made to disarm them, the question of
how much support they enjoy within the military
establishment becomes critical. The inflow of US aid
and the lifting of sanctions has persuaded Musharraf's
opponents within the army to leave him in place, but
for how long? 

Add to that the appalling situation in Kashmir with a
monthly casualty rate higher than Palestine, where
Indian soldiers and Pakistani-infiltrated jihadis
confront each other over the corpses of Kashmiri
innocents. If Delhi were to use the "war against
terrorism" as a precedent, the subcontinent could

 Tariq Ali's book, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, will
be published by Verso in March 


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