11 US Relations with Afghanistan Name Institution Course Professor Date For years,


US Relations with Afghanistan






For years, the United States’ policy on international was shaped by historical considerations and geographical matters. On the international stage, social and political systems and military and economic powers determine nations’ positions and relations with others. In the early 20th century, the United States had a policy of isolation and corporation, which changed towards the end of the Second World War. The United States did not have strong economic and political relations with Afghanistan for years. The United Kingdom had positioned itself as a custodian of Afghanistan affairs; hence the United States chose to keep a distance. Notably, the United States and Afghanistan gained independence in the same era and chose to limit their interactions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The cold war era significantly defined geopolitics for the latter half of the 20th century. Afghanistan was among the countries caught up in the indirect conflicts between the Soviets and the western countries. In this paper, I will argue that the current situation in Afghanistan has to be understood as part of a long history that began during the cold war.

The United States was reluctant to establish diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in the pre- cold war era primarily because of political reasons. In a state department letter written in 1933, the US expressed its reservations about a diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan. In the letter, the US outlined its conservative approach to international relations, especially if it could result in an international conflict. The US noted that it had been “naturally conservative on establishing relations with Afghanistan owing to the primitive conditions.” When King Ahir Shah came to power in 1933, he sought economic assistance from President Roosevelt. In his letter, King Shah expressed the desire of Afghanistan to establish long-lasting relations with the US. He highlighted that such a bilateral relationship would serve both countries equally. When replying to this letter, President Roosevelt declared that the United States would be friendly to Afghanistan and highlighted the plans for the US to establish long-lasting diplomatic ties. When the cold war began, with the west forming NATO on one side and the Soviet Union emerging on the other, the relationship between the US and Afghanistan took a new twist.

The soviets and the west ushered in a cold war era in 1947. The United States wanted to limit the influence of the soviets, especially in Asia which was an easy target because of its physical border with the Soviet Union. Each side limited its opponents’ influence and strategically formed alliances to threaten its enemies. While the Soviets were courting Cuba, the United States tuned to Afghanistan. The United States recognized the state of Afghanistan in 1934. The two countries did not establish diplomatic ties immediately, but it occurred in 1942 when the Second World had already picked up. The United States was dedicated to advancing its affairs on the international stage, especially in the Middle East. While the United States did not cherish Afghanistan’s efforts to establish a relationship for a long time, such as friendship became a crucial tool for countering the growing influence of the soviets in Asia.

Early into the cold war, the US enticed Afghanistan with economic aid. The US offered economic assistance in Afghanistan and sent some engineers to Kabul to construct irrigation systems in the 1950s. The US wanted Afghanistan to turn to opium for medicinal purposes only. Opium was among the plants grown in Afghanistan, and American drug lords had suppliers from Kabul. Afghanistan was willing to corporate with the US in its policy against the use of drugs. Consequently, Afghanistan banned the production of opium. Afghanistan welcomed the US as an ideal replacement for the UK, as the US had established itself as the custodian of world peace and democracy. Prime minister Shah Khan expressed his gratitude for the continued support from the US In return; the state department noted that Afghanistan was “strategically important for the United States” in advancing its foreign policy and interests in the Middle East. The United States had found an ally crucial for the Middle East’s geopolitics.

Before the Second World War, Afghanistan had outlined its neutral position. Afghanistan was reluctant to turn to either side in the early days of the Cold War. However, the diplomatic ties between the United States and Afghanistan marked the beginning of the US’s influence in the Middle East. Afghanistan was seeking friendship with the US after their relationship with the soviets, and the United Kingdom took a nose dive after cooperating immensely with the Germans, especially after World War Two. The Afghanistan government enticed American investors with concessions to explore natural resources in the Middle East. The soviets had worked against the relationship between the US and Afghanistan because of the territorial positioning of Afghanistan. The Soviets were uncomfortable with the US’s increasing influence in the Middle East. Consequently, the US and the soviets were giving economic aid to Afghanistan in equal measure.

When the cold war intensified in the late 1950s, Afghanistan became a strategic ally of the United States. The United States and the soviets had emerged as the two main actors, leading their respective allies into the conflict. Afghanistan bordered countries aligned with the Soviet Union; hence it became a matter of interest to the two sides of the divide. The US continued to offer economic assistance and refrained from actively involving Afghanistan in the cold war. The US feared the Soviets would expand and increase their influence in Afghanistan and advance their agenda to the south of the Middle East. The US increasingly cooperated with Afghanistan with caution as it was reluctant to arm the Middle East nation. On several occasions, Kabul had expressed interest in getting military aid from the US Afghanistan was afraid of the growing aggression of the soviets, with which they had strained relations, following Afghanistan’s move of turning to the west. In 1949, Afghanistan was disappointed with the move by the United States, and its official openly said, “Unless the US gave Afghanistan more assistance, Afghanistan might turn to USSR.” While Afghanistan had remained neutral in the Second World War, it was aware of the dangers, especially when it bordered Soviet Union countries.

The US government was willing to sell weapons to Afghanistan following its Kabul embassy recommendation. At the time, the threat of soviet influence was more real, and the US bowed to pressure from Afghanistan. For a long time, the US misjudged the importance of Afghanistan and focused on Pakistan’s strategic positioning. The US thought Afghanistan was a small and developing country and of little importance to the soviets. In its assessment, the US argued that the soviets could easily take Afghanistan; hence it was not served much political significance. The main worry for the United States arose from the Pushtunistan situation, in which Afghanistan called for an independent Pathan state. Pakistan was strategically positioned to pressure Afghanistan, which is landlocked. Afghanistan depended on Pakistan routes and ports to connect the world, especially for bulk trade.

The US moved swiftly and offered to help solve the Pak-Afghan border issue to lock out the soviets. In 1951, George McGhee, who served as an assistant secretary of state for south Asian affairs, said that the US was committed to solving the problem and would offer military help. The US was afraid involving the United Nations in addressing the issue would drag the soviets into the conflict, as the Soviets had proved to take advantage of power vacuums in Europe and Asia. The US was aware that if they got immensely involved, it would spark the interest of the soviets too. The US was reluctant to have Afghanistan suffer as a victim of a proxy war in case the soviets jumped joined the conflict. Notably, the soviets were monitoring the activities of the US in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Following the outbreak of the Korean and the ensuing response of the soviets, the US became more anxious about the situation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the time, the soviets were increasing their grip on Afghanistan and had offered to engage in oil exploration.

When Foster Dulles became secretary of state in 1953, the US got more concerned with the growing influence of the soviets. The US adopted a policy of actively limiting the growing soviet ideologies in south Asia. In 1954, the US began equipping Pakistan with military aid, and Afghanistan was uncomfortable considering frequent afghan-Pakistan border conflicts. The weapons would result in a power imbalance in the regions, and Afghanistan also wanted to be armed. When the Afghan prime minister visited Washington, he was concerned with the growing Soviet influence in the region and the threat it posed to Afghanistan. Also, the prime minister said that Pakistan would be interested in joining the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO). The US was reluctant to the request and was concerned with Pakistan’s response and the interest of the soviets. Moreover, the US declined Afghanistan’s efforts to join the Baghdad pack. Pakistan became a member of these organizations under the guidance of the United States.

The US and the Soviets were actively involved in the conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 1955, Pakistan eliminated western provinces and created a ‘one unity’ which agitated Afghanistan. As a response, Afghanistan invaded the Pakistan embassy and consulate in Kabul and further escalated the conflict. When Pakistan placed an embargo on Afghanistan goods, the US was worried that Afghanistan would turn to the soviets for economic and military help. In response to the ongoing conflict, the soviets offered $100 million in assistance to Afghanistan. However, the US was dedicated to checking the growing soviet influence in Afghanistan and requested Pakistan to mend its relationship with Afghanistan. While the soviets were better positioned to offer economic aid, Afghanistan welcomed President Eisenhower’s efforts to renew their friendship in 1956. Afghanistan was willing to restore its relationship with the US while maintaining neutrality during the cold war.

Afghanistan benefitted from the Americans and the Soviets in equal measure. The neutral approach to international politics enabled Pakistan to get military help from both sides of the cold war. During the cold war, Afghanistan received over $1 billion in the economy, and the soviets and Americans built roads in Afghanistan. The soviets offered military training to the Afghanistan soldiers while thousands of other security personnel attended US military colleges. In most cases, the US was acting to contain the growing influence of the soviets in Afghanistan. In 1959, President Eisenhower stopped in Afghanistan on a trip to south Asia. At the time, the US was willing to offer economic but discouraged Afghanistan’s efforts to get military aid, primarily because of the Pakistan issue.

In the 1970s, the Soviets and the west were committed to reducing tension. They adopted a détente policy, and the US reduced its financial aid to Afghanistan and the Middle East. The US moved to its pre-1955 approach to geopolitics, and was assessed in a report by the US ambassador based in Afghanistan in 1972. In the report, Neuman noted that” for the United States, Afghanistan has at present a limited direct interest; it is not an important trade partner. There are no treaty ties or defence commitment.” The importance of Afghanistan to the US at the time was pure because of its location close to the Soviets.

The Soviets significantly influence the change of governance in Afghanistan. The change of Afghanistan from a monarch to a republic shaped the country’s approach to geopolitics. Towards the end of the 1960s, the Soviets increased their financial aid to Afghanistan, and from 1955-65, they gave Afghanistan $ 552 million. Within the same period, the US offered $350 million. Also, between 1965 and 1973, the US did not offer any aid to Afghanistan, and Afghans became more inclined toward communist ideas. The pro-soviet wing formed the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in 1965. In 1973, PDPA ousted Zahir Shah, and Daoud took over and abolished the monarchy. At the time, while the US was reluctant to interfere with Afghanistan’s internal affairs, it gave Pakistan the green light to train anti-Daoud forces. President Nixon wanted to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan and cool any tensions with Pakistan, specifically through the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT 1). The SALT 1 talks were to discourage the development of nuclear weapons in the region.

In the late 1970s, the US misjudged the influence of the Soviets in Afghanistan. The US was less concerned when Daoud was killed in a coup on April 27, 1978. The communists took over with Muhammad Taraki as the new president. A month early, on March 26, the US claimed that the Afghanistan government was firmly under Daoud’s control. In its statement, the US noted to have assessed the situation and concluded that Daoud did not have a serious threat. Following the humiliating defeat in Vietnam, the US responded quickly to the situation in Kabul and termed it a change in administration without linking it to the soviets. In 1979, the US suspended any help to Afghanistan after anti-government forces abducted Ambassador Dubs Adolph. Dubs died while the police tried to rescue him from the kidnappers. While the Ambassador was meeting the anti-government forces willingly, the US government was unsatisfied with the methods of the Afghanistan police.

The United States and the soviets turned Afghanistan into a battleground for their proxy war in the 1980s. After the soviets invaded Afghanistan on December 27th, 1979, and killed Amin, they installed Babrak Karmal. It was too late for the US to intervene and condemn the incident. The Invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets destabilized Afghanistan for decades. The aid from the US to Pakistan found its way into the Afghanistan rebel troops fighting the communist regime in Kabul. The Mujahideens were backed by Islamic groups based in Pakistan. Seven groups of rebels backed by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the US emerged; the cause of the rebels seemed justified as it directly confronted the communist regime. The US avoided confrontation with the Soviets and chose a covert aid policy. While the US continued arming the Mujahideens, it continued to allege that the rebels were using weapons captured from the soviets.

The issue in Afghanistan dragged on throughout the 1980s, and Americans and the Soviets made efforts to find a solution. Liberal groups, notably the Mujahideen, emerged and opposed the Afghanistan government. In 1987, President Reagan met President Gorbachev and attempted to solve the Afghanistan conflict without success. In 1988, the US and the soviets agreed on a positive symmetry. They agreed that the US would continue to help the Mujahideen if the soviets continued to arm Afghanistan government. The soviets agreed to withdraw from Afghanistan but urged that his troops would return to the battlefield if attacked while withdrawing.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Taliban emerged as a potentially stable government. The US thought the Taliban was best positioned to bring stability to Afghanistan. The US wanted to develop an oil pipeline through central Asia but abandoned the plans when the Taliban disagreed with the terms. Also, the US accused the Taliban of harbouring terrorists, specifically Osama bin Laden, who was linked with bombings in the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The US started bombing east Afghanistan in what was suspected to be Osama’s hiding zones. The US imposed sanctions on the Taliban and accused them of human rights violations. On September 2001, there were terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, which claimed over 3000 lives. In response, the US renewed its war on terrorism and targeted Afghanistan after liking Osama with the bombings. The US began a military operation in Afghanistan in July 2001 and destroyed structures linked to the Taliban. The operations in Afghanistan continued for over a decade, and Osama was killed on May 2, 2011. The US is now more determined with the welfare and peace in the region.

The US and Afghanistan have worked to mend their strained relationship in the 2010s. In 2012, Afghanistan and the US settled on a Strategic Partnership Agreement to improve the situation of the Afghan people while strengthening their bilateral talks. Within the last decade, the US has been cooperating with Afghanistan on economic and political matters on the international stage. In 2016, the US welcomed Afghanistan into the World Trade Organization. On February 2020, the US and Afghanistan signed the Doha agreement, and on August 30, 2021, the US began withdrawing its troops from the Afghanistan territory. Within a month after the US withdrawal, the Taliban took over the government by force. The US government is yet to recognize the Taliban or other forms of government in Afghanistan.


Anwar, Raja. The Tragedy of Afghanistan: A First hand Account. London: Verso (1988).

Emadi, Hafizullah. State, Revolution and Super Powers in Afghanistan. Karachi: Royal Book Company (1997).

Gregorian, Vatran. The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reforms and Modernization. Palo Tolo: Stanford University Press (1969).

Hammond, Thomas T. Red Flag Over Afghanistan: The Communist Coup, the Soviet Invasion and the Consequences. Colo: Westview (1984).

Kux, Dennis. American Changing Outlook on Afghanistan. Pakistan Journal of American Studies (1996, Spring and Fall)

Ma’aroof, Muhammad Khalid. Afghanistan and Super Powers. New Delhi: Common Wealth Publishers (1990).

Ruggie, John Geread. The Past as Prologue. International security, (1997, Spring) Vol. 21 (4).

Thomas, Clayton. “Afghanistan: background and US Policy.” Congressional research service 10 (2018).

US department of State, US relations with Afghanistan https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-afghanistan/#:~:text=TheUnitedStatesestablisheddiplomatic,livesoftheAfghanpeople. (Accessed on 11th December 2022)