The Decision to Accept Soviet Economic and Military Assistance

Afghanistan Table of Contents

Within this condition of fierce appearance and shallow control ,Prime Minister Muhammad Daud and King Zahir Shah attempted to transform the structure and purpose of Afghan government. The most fateful innovation was Daud's decision to accept Soviet military assistance. This move would immensely increase the government's coercive powers, but at the risk of losing control of some military officers to Marxist indoctrination.

As prime minister, Daud maintained the royal style of ruling as an autocrat over a rigidly centralized bureaucracy, but he saw that significant economic and technological development required the broadening of educational, professional, and entrepreneurial opportunities previously monopolized by the royal family and court aristocracy. He also recognized the political implications of a rapidly growing professional and technocratic elite. He was the first royal leader to give major cabinet posts to commoners, for example.

His cousin, King Zahir Shah, then gambled that reforms offering a major political role to entrepreneurs, technocrats, professionals and managers could be devolved gradually without destroying the monarchy. This gamble turned out to be as portentous as Daud's acceptance of Soviet aid. In both cases the purpose was compelling, but implementation brought disaster. The consequences of both moves have demonstrated how fragile was the political fabric that held Afghanistan together.

Great physical developments were achieved under Daud. Dominated by the Soviet Union, the government began large scale constructions projects in the mid-1950s, building hydroelectric power plants, long-distance highways, and major civil installations. Shortly thereafter the United States, Western European nations, Japan, and United Nations (UN) agencies became heavily involved in the development of mining, agriculture, education, civil administration, and health.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress