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Bilateral Relations


Bilateral Relations

Diplomatic relations between Italy and Afghanistan were officially established on June 3, 1921 when the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Count Carlo Sforza, and the Afghan Extraordinary Ambassador, Mohammed Wali Khan, signed in Rome “The Agreement between Italy and Afghanistan for the exchange of permanent diplomatic missions” (In addition to it, an “Agreement between Italy and Afghanistan to send a Trade mission and the signing of a Treaty of Commerce” was signed simultaneously): after the so-called “Third Anglo-Afghan war” and the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi in August 8, 1919 when the British Protectorate on Afghanistan was officially abolished, Italy was the first western country to recognize the Afghan independence.

Establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries was requested by the Afghan delegation sent to Europe by Prince Amanullah to break the international isolation imposed by London’s government on Afghanistan. On the Italian level, Minister Sforza, who was watching closely political developments in the Orient, welcomed willingly this opportunity to try and liberate Italy from the traditional imperialistic schemes, presenting the country as a friendly nation to the peoples of Asia and a supporter of the self-determination movements.

Gaetano Paternò di Manchi di Bilici was the first Plenipotentiary Minister in Kabul. The Legation proved essential to provide information on a region that was little known in Italy in those days, although it was playing a key role in the Asian geopolitical equilibrium.

With the successors of Sforza, and above all with the emergence of the fascist regime, the interest for Afghanistan cooled down: Rome had adopted a pro-British policy and did not want to jeopardize its relations with London that was still considering Afghanistan to be under its exclusive sphere of influence. At the end of the Twenties, after a real civil war burst out in Afghanistan (meanwhile the emirate became a monarchy) originating from a revolt movement against the reforms wanted by Amanullah, the latter decided to abdicate and go into exile in Italy, a country that impressed him positively during his visit in January 1928. Amanullah arrived in Rome in June 1929 and resided there permanently almost to his death, benefiting from state subsidies (in the form of “private donation“ granted by the King of Italy). With time, the presence of Amanullah in Rome created periodic friction between Italy, Afghanistan and Great Britain. The former sovereign continued, at least until 1948, to nourish the hope of getting back on the throne, causing considerable concerns to the governments of Kabul and London who feared that his return would potentially destabilize the Durrani reign and the central-Asian equilibrium.

In the mid-Thirties, the relations between Italy and Afghanistan deteriorated because of the war Italy declared on Ethiopia in 1935: Kabul saw the Italian expansion in Africa as a dangerous precedent that could encourage Great Britain or the Soviet Union to take a similar initiative against Afghanistan. On the other hand, and during the same period, Kabul became a sort of “estrangement post” for the Italian diplomats who were not particularly appreciative of the fascist regime. Among those, the Plenipotentiary Minister Pietro Qaroni who headed the mission in Kabul from 1936 to the spring of 1944.

In the decades following the end of Second World War, the relations between Italy and Afghanistan were conditioned by the geopolitical dynamics of the Cold War and the confrontation between the western and the communist blocks (during that period, the Italian Embassy was temporarily closed in 1979 and in 1989 during periods that coincided with the beginning and the end of the Soviet occupation).

Even Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan’s history, lived in exile in Rome: in fact, on July 17, 1973, and while Zahir was in Italy, his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan (Prime Minister from 1953 to 1963) staged a bloodless coup, abolishing the monarchy and proclaiming the Republic. Zahir Shah stayed in Italy till 2002 when he returned to Kabul to preside the Loya Jirga and be given the title of “Father of the Nation” in the new Constitution of 2004.

The Italian Embassy in Kabul was closed in 1993 with the intensification of the civil war between the Mujaheddin, and it reopened at the end of 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime: since then, Italy is actively involved in the international reconstruction of the country and the support to the Afghan government, including through its participation to the NATO mission under a UN mandate, a mission that was called first “International Security Assistance” (ISAF) and then, as of 2015, “Resolute Support” (RS).


Additional Reference

  • L. Monzali, "Un re afghano in esilio a Roma", Le Lettere, 2012 (pdf extract)
  • L. Monzali, "La politica estera italiana e l'occupazione sovietica dell'Afghanistan" da "Europa e Medio Oriente (1973-1993)", Cacucci, 2017 (pdf extract)




Federico Romoli