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Released papers reveal plan for Afghan partition

by Gavin Cordon

BRITISH diplomats in the 1950s secretly discussed dividing up Afghanistan between the neighbouring powers of Russia and Pakistan, according to official files made public for the first time yesterday.

Amid concerns that the country might slide into chaos and anarchy, one senior Foreign Office official suggested that its "ultimate disappearance" would be "no great tragedy".

However, papers released to the Public Record Office show the British ambassador in Kabul, John Gardener, cautioned against military intervention, warning that an invading army could be tied down for years fighting a guerrilla war.

With Cold War tensions mounting, British diplomats in the early 1950s were becoming increasingly concerned that a weakened Afghanistan could no longer provide an effective "buffer" between an expansionist Soviet Union and the Indian sub-continent. Foreign Office officials began floating the idea that the best solution was to divide the country between Russia and Pakistan along the line of the Hindu Kush.

In June 1951, one senior diplomat, RH Scott, wrote to Gardener pointing out that the French were already suggesting that the "obvious solution" to the problems of the region was to "engineer" a partition.

"If there is to be an upheaval sometime, as looks not unlikely, the ultimate disappearance of Afghanistan (as we now know it) might be no tragedy. In modern conditions Afghan viability may in the long run be doubtful," he wrote.

While he acknowledged there were, in theory, advantages to partition, he warned that such a strategy was "fraught with danger" for both Pakistan and for the Western powers.

"The Afghan army could offer no effective resistance to modern forces bent on occupation. The subsequent resistance of some of the inhabitants would, however, cause headaches to the occupying forces," he said.

"These people, jealous of their independence, stubborn and brave fighters of the guerrilla type on their own terrain, would make the life of an occupying force a misery."

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