Libmonster ID: U.S.-1517
Author(s) of the publication: Milan HAUNER, Yu. L. KUZNETS

Moscow: OLMA-PRESS, 2003, 383 p.


There are at least three reasons why a book on Afghanistan during the last World War would today attract large audiences. As the book title suggests one reason could be that the fast expending genre of World War II literature on spies, agents, conspiracies, and cipher wars has finally reached Afghanistan and offered to combine unknown suspense with exotics. The second reason is more sober, namely the sensitivity of Russian readership to the subject of Afghanistan, where less than twenty years ago a vicious Soviet-Afghan War was fought. The third reason is unique. It deals with the fascinating episode of escape

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through Afghanistan of the most important Indian revolutionary of the period, Subhas Chandra Bose. He was also the only Asian revolutionary who, after escaping from India, pursued his aims in both Europe and Asia. First he came to Europe by land via the Soviet Union during the Nazi- Soviet Pact to collaborate with Germany. When he found Hitler unwilling to support India's independence struggle from the British rule, he returned in 1943 to Asia by submarine to seek Japan's support. Within the same year Bose proclaimed in Singapore the Azad Hind (Free India) government and himself as a quasi-Fuehrer (Netaji).

Although Bose spent less than two months in Afghanistan between January and March 1941, his escort from India Bhagat Ram, alias Rahmat Khan, became after Bose's departure to Berlin the chief conduit between Axis agents in Kabul and Indian underground for the preparation of a large-scale uprising against the British Raj. As a result of this unique function Bhagat Ram turned into a multiple agent collaborating with practically all intelligence services available in Kabul during the war. His exploits no doubt would make a wonderful script for a Hollywood spy movie. In his memoirs published after the war Bhagat Ram only fully admitted that he was working for the Axis Powers, made some allusions that he also had unspecified contacts with the Soviets, but he never disclosed that he was working for the British after the Soviet Union had been attacked by Nazi Germany. Anglo-Soviet wartime cooperation in Afghanistan to a great extent consisted in briefing, debriefing and manipulating Bhagat Ram so that he could supply credible information to Axis legations in Kabul about imaginary anti-British activities in India. The British were also assisting the Soviets with intelligence to keep at bay any potential anti- Soviet movement among the former Basmachi who found refuge in Afghanistan. After the Anglo-Soviet occupation of Iran both powers increased their pressure on the government of Afghanistan resulting in the expulsion of Axis nationals including most of the diplomatic personnel. The skeleton staffs, which were allowed to remain at the Italian and German legations, were too weak to permit any ambitious intelligence work and subversion to continue.

It is important to bear in mind the larger picture of the war, which the book often does not tell. The activation of the German schemes for a tribal uprising had to do with preparations before the spring of 1942 for a pincer operation in Southern Russia and Northern Africa, with the aim of crossing the Caucasus and the Suez Canal and meeting at the head of the Persian Gulf. The nest stage would have been a follow-up operation through Iran and Afghanistan to reach the border passes of Khyber and Bolan guarding the gates to British India. This kind of ambitious operation had been already discussed in early 1941 by the German High Command (OKW) as part of the so-called "post-Barbarossa" planning, but the operation failed to take any specific form because of the failure of the German Blitzkrieg in Russia.

The advance overland toward India should have been preceded by airlifts to drop small arms and ammunition in Waziristan by German aircraft. One must be, however, cautious not to take mere schemes for real action. Although the Luftwaffe had succeeded in dropping very small groups of paratroopers into Iran and Russian Turkestan, no such action had ever taken place on the North West Frontier. To bring about an airlift between nearest German airfields in Northern Caucasus and Waziristan to supply the tribesmen with small arms and ammunition would have been a major logistic operation. An airlift to support the "Operation Tiger" could not have taken place in the winter of 1942/43 since all available air transport would be required for Stalingrad to extricate the besieged 6 th Army. Although Abwehr estimated over the capability of the tribal lashkars, to be led by the legendary Faqir of Ipi, a half saint and half guerrilla leader, were usually vastly overrated, one could never exclude a nasty surprise whenever tribal uprisings hit the North West Frontier. A number of factors seemed to favor anti-British forces if they could act together in the second half of 1942, when German troops were advancing towards the Caucasus and the Suez Canal, and British India suffered from the "Quit India" Rebellion, the largest anti-colonial uprising since the Great Mutiny of 1857. If the Japanese navy could have been persuaded to attack the British in the Indian Ocean at the same time, the Allies might have been confronted with a military disaster of the first magnitude with incalculable consequences for the outcome of the war in Asia.

This is the seemingly bizarre Axis conspiracy to incite the tribes on the North Western Frontier mattered. In this context Tikhonov's book performs a very useful function. He fills in the gap between popular and academic literature. While his facts are scrupulously based on documents in several languages, his style is very direct and free of footnotes. Apart from the various schemes developed by the Abwehr for the subversion of the tribes between India and Afghanistan, Tikhonov also mentions the Amanullah Plan, which was actually not developed by the Abwehr, but by the Foreign Ministry itself. The main idea behind the plan was to install in Kabul with Soviet help the ex-King Amanullah and his exiled supporters. His arrival in Afghanistan was supposed to be combined with a large-scale tribal uprising on the North

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West Frontier which was supposed to revolutionize British India. However, before any details could have been negotiated with the Soviet government the Amanullah Plan was cancelled by Hitler himself.

Two-fifths of the book consist of appendices, such as twelve documents from British, German and Soviet sources. The last appendix is very useful survey of six biographies of Soviet agents of the Razveduprav and NKVD, serving in Central Asia. The book also contains interesting photographs of Soviet personnel in Afghanistan and two maps of the North Western Frontier Province.

The most interesting document is a Russian translation of a British document of March 1943, summarizing a meeting of three intelligence services in Oxford on masterminding jointly with the Soviets the Bhagat Ram network. The main point of discussion was the recent information (presumably obtained through ULTRA: decoding German naval radio communications) that S.C. Bose was on board of a German submarine on his way to Asia. The British knew in advance the date and location of the rendezvous with a Japanese submarine off the coast of Madagascar. The intelligence officials assumed at the time that the plan developed by the British Admiralty to capture Bose at the rendezvous point should be carried out. Why this secret plan was not carried out is open to speculation. My personal view is that the British did not want to risk the disclosure of ULTRA - in contrast to the Americans who risked to give away their ability to read Japanese radio communication (MAGIC) when they ordered the killing of Admiral Yamamoto one month later.

I have reached the end of my book report. I cannot, however, quit without returning to Subhas Chandra Bose, who appears to be, after all, the central figure of Tikhonov's book. Even after Japan's surrender in August 1945 Bose wished to continue the struggle against the British, this time with Soviet help. However, four day after the Japanese unconditional surrender, he died in an air crash when his aircraft took off from Taiwan in the direction of Manchuria. Since then many Indians have asked the same questions: if his plane had not crushed and Bose reached Manchuria, how would the Soviets have received him? Would they have arrested him and handed over to the British? Or would they have interned him and told the world that he died because of an accident? Would they have used him as a potential leader to challenge independent India under Jawaharlal Nehru? I am sure the answer will be found in Mr. Tikhonov's next book, provided he will be given access to the relevant files in his own country.

(c) 2004 Yu. L. KUZNETS

The history of international relations in Central Asia before and during the Second World War is the subject of close attention of Russian and foreign researchers. Historians are very interested in questions related to the acute struggle of the great Powers to strengthen their positions in Afghanistan. Recently, a new stage has begun in our country in studying the activities of the special services of the Rome - Berlin-Tokyo axis countries and the anti-Hitler coalition in the Middle East.

The book under review provides readers with a panorama of the anti-British struggle of the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan and British India. Based on a large amount of factual material, the author convincingly showed that Afghanistan during the two world wars interested Germany and its allies only as a springboard for intelligence and sabotage activities against India and Russian Turkestan. The thesis that in the 1930s - 1940s in Afghanistan and the border areas there were favorable conditions for conducting large-scale subversive actions against Great Britain and the USSR was proved with good arguments.

Yu. N. Tikhonov successfully solved a number of interrelated tasks in his work: he highlighted the Pashtun insurgency; revealed the reasons for the rapprochement of the Afghan government headed by Hashimkhan with Great Britain; reviewed the activities of the Axis intelligence services in Afghanistan; and studied the cooperation of Soviet and British intelligence services in this country in 1941-1944. I would like to note that these problems have been studied so thoroughly and comprehensively in Russian historiography for the first time. This was made possible thanks to the rich documentary base used by the author during the work on the book. For the first time, numerous materials from the Russian Foreign Policy Archive (memos of Soviet diplomats in Kabul, reports of military attaches, recordings of conversations between employees of the Soviet embassy in Afghanistan, etc.), as well as correspondence between V. M. Molotov and British Ambassador A. Kerr on joint measures to curb German adventures in Northern Afghanistan and the conflict zone were introduced into scientific circulation.-

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Tun tribes. Valuable sources allowed Yu. N. Tikhonov to cover many little-known facts from the history of Soviet-Afghan relations in the 1930s and 1940s.

Special attention is paid to the activities of Soviet intelligence in Afghanistan during the Great Patriotic War. The author reflects the main stages of the confrontation between the Kabul station of Soviet foreign intelligence and the Abwehr. From the content of the book, it can be seen that the author paid the main attention to the "Pashtun direction", since it was against British India that the main activity of the special services of the Axis countries was directed. To cover the intrigues of nazi Germany in Afghanistan and British India, for the first time in such a significant number, the reports of the Soviet resident in Kabul, M. A. Allahverdov ("Zaman"), as well as other primary sources from the Archive of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation were used.

Russian specialists are particularly interested in the chapter "The Tiger Trap", which describes the events related to the final elimination of fascist agents in Afghanistan. Thanks to a scientific analysis of the documents of the USSR Embassy in Kabul and foreign intelligence materials, the author was able to reveal the mechanism of interaction between Soviet and British intelligence officers in the Afghan capital. At the same time, he does not ignore the fact that cooperation between the special services of the Soviet Union and Great Britain was extremely slow to establish due to their rivalry in Afghanistan, and that many actions of the Intelligence Service in this country complicated the activities of Soviet intelligence.

The strong point of Yu. N. Tikhonov's work is a detailed coverage of the political situation in Afghanistan during the Second World War. It is convincingly proved that the Afghan leadership was in favor of rapprochement with Germany and joining the war against the USSR and Great Britain. For the first time, unknown facts about the activities of the prominent Afghan politician Prince M. Daoud during the Second World War are presented.

The book is written in a good literary language and is well illustrated with maps and photographs of Afghan figures, as well as Soviet diplomats and intelligence officers. It was significantly enriched by documentary appendices, which for the first time published valuable trophy documents of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and materials from the Archive of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation.

The book "The Afghan War of the Third Reich" is a successful example of publishing a monographic study in a commercial project of the well-known publishing house "OLMA-PRESS". It will be interesting not only for historians of special services and orientalists, but also for a wide range of readers. I would like to wish the publishers and the author not to be afraid that a more extensive scientific apparatus will reduce the mass buyer's interest in the results of their cooperation.


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Milan HAUNER, Yu. L. KUZNETS, Criticism and bibliography. Reviews by Yu. N. TIKHONOV. THE AFGHAN WAR OF THE THIRD REICH. NKVD VS ABWEHR // New-York: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 25.06.2024. URL: (date of access: 24.07.2024).

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