History of Afgan People

History

The Afghan chroniclers call their people Beni-Israil (Arab. for Children of Israel), and claim descent from King Saul (whom they call by the Mahommedan corruption Tālūt) through a son whom they ascribe to him, called Jeremiah, who again had a son called Afghana. The numerous stock of Afghana were removed by Nebuchadnezzar, and found their way to the mountains of Ghor and Feroza (east and north of Herat). Only nine years after Mahommed’s announcement of his mission they heard of the new prophet, and sent to Medina a deputation headed by a wise and holy man called Kais, to make inquiry. The deputation became zealous converts, and on their return converted their countrymen. From Kais and his three sons the whole of the genuine Muslim Afghans claim descent.

This story is repeated in great and varying detail in sundry books by Afghans, the oldest of which appears to be of the 16th century; nor do We know that any trace of the legend is found of older date. In the version given by Major Raverty (Introd. to Afghan Grammar), Afghanah is settled by King Solomon himself in the Sulimani mountains; there is nothing about Nebuchadnezzar or Ghor. The historian Ferishta says he had read that the Afghans were descended from Copts of the race of Pharaoh. And one of the Afghan histories, quoted by Mr Bellew, relates a current tradition “that, previous to the time of Kais, Bilo the father of the Biluchis, Uzbak (evidently the father of the Usbegs) and Afghana were considered as brethren. As Mahommed Usbeg Khan, the eponymus of the medley of Tatar tribes called Usbegs, reigned in the 14th century A.D., this gives some possible light on the value of these so-called traditions.

We have analogous stories in the literature of almost all nations that derive their religion or their civilization from a foreign source. To say nothing of the Book of Mormon, a considerable number of persons have been found to propagate the doctrine that the English people are descended from the tribes of Israel. But the Hebrew ancestry of the Afghans is more worthy at least of consideration, for a respectable number of intelligent officers, well acquainted with the Afghans, have been strong in their belief of it; and though the customs alleged in proof will not bear the stress laid on them, undoubtedly a prevailing type of the Afghan physiognomy has a character strongly Jewish. This characteristic is certainly a remarkable one; but it is shared, to a considerable extent, by the Kashmir is (a circumstance which led Bernier to speculate on the Kashmir is representing the lost tribes of Israel), and, we believe, by the Tajik people of Badakshan.

Relations with the Greeks.—In the time of Darius Hystaspes (500 B.C.) we find the region now called Afghanistan embraced in the Achaemenian satrapies, and various parts of it occupied by Sarangians (in Seistan), Arians (in Herat), Sattagydians (supposed in highlands of upper Helmund and the plateau of Ghazni), Dadicae (suggested to be Tajiks), Aparytae (mountaineers, perhaps of Safed Koh, where lay the Paryetae of Ptolemy), Gandarii (in Lower Kabul basin) and Paktyes, on or near the Indus. In the last name it has been plausibly suggested that we have the Pukhtun, as the eastern Afghans pronounce their name. Indeed, Pusht, Pasht or Pakht would seem to be the oldest name of the country of the Afghans in their traditions.

The Ariana of Strabo corresponds generally with the existing dominions of Kabul, but overpasses their limits on the west and south.

About 310 B.C. Seleucus is said by Strabo to have given to the Indian Sandrocottus (Chandragupta), in consequence of a marriage-contract, some part of the country west of the Indus occupied by an Indian population, and no doubt embracing a part of the Kabul basin. Some sixty years later occurred the establishment of an independent Greek dynasty in Bactria. (See Bactria, Media, Eucratides, Menander of India, Euthydemus, and Persia, Ancient History.) Of the details of their history and extent of their dominion in different reigns we know almost nothing, and conjecture is often dependent on such vague data as are afforded by the collation of the localities in which the coins of independent princes have been found. But their power extended certainly over the Kabul basin, and probably, at times, over the whole of Afghanistan. The ancient architecture of Kashmir, the tope of Manikyala in the Punjab, and many sculptures found in the Peshawar valley, show unmistakable Greek influence. Demetrius (c. 190 B.C.) is supposed to have reigned in Arachosia after being expelled from Bactria, much as, at a later date, Baber reigned in Kabul after his expulsion from Samarkand. Eucratides (181 B.C.) is alleged by Tustin to have warred in India. With his coins, found abundantly in the Kabul basin, commences the use of an Arianian inscription, in addition to the Greek, supposed to imply the transfer of rule to the south of the mountains, over a people whom the Greek dynasty sought to conciliate. Under Heliocles (147 B.C.?), the Parthia’s, who had already encroached on Ariana, pressed their conquests into India. Menander (126 B.C.) invaded India at least to the Jumna, and perhaps also to the Indus delta. The coinage of a succeeding king, Hermaeus, indicates a barbaric irruption. There is a general correspondence between classical and Chinese accounts of the time when Bactria was overrun by Scythian invaders. The chief nation among these, called by the Chinese Yue-Chi, about 126 B.C. established themselves in Sogdiana and on the Oxus in five hordes. Near the Christian era the chief of one of these, which was called Kushan, subdued the rest, and extended his conquests over the countries south of the Hindu Kush, including Sind as well as Afghanistan, thus establishing a great dominion, of which we hear from Greek writers as Indo-Scythia. (Yue-Chi.)

Buddhism had already acquired influence over the people of the Kabul basin, and some of the barbaric invaders adopted that system. Its traces are extensive, especially in the plains of Jalalabad and Peshawar, but also in the vicinity of Kabul.

Various barbaric dynasties succeeded each other. A notable monarch was Kanishka (India, History) or Kanerkes, whose date is variously fixed at from 58 B.C. to A.D. 125, and whose power extended over the upper Oxus basin, Kabul, Peshawar, Kashmir and probably far into India. His name and legends still filled the land, or at least the Buddhist portion of it, 600 years later, when the Chinese pilgrim, Hsüan Tsang, travelled in India; they had even reached the great Mahommedan philosopher, traveller and geographer, Abu-r-Raihan Muhammad al-Biruni ( Bīrūnī), in the 11th century; and they are still celebrated in the Mongol versions of Buddhist ecclesiastical story.

Turkoman Dynasties—In the time of Hsüan Tsang (A.D. 650–645) there were both Indian and Turk princes in the Kabul valley, and in the succeeding centuries both these races seem to have predominated in succession. The first Mahommedan attempts at the conquest of Kabul were unsuccessful, though Seistan and Arachosia were permanently held from an early date. It was not till the end of the 10th century that a Hindu prince ceased to reign in Kabul, and it fell into the hands of the Turk Sabuktagin, who had established his capital at Ghazni. There, too, reigned his famous son Mahmud, and a series of descendants, till the middle of the 12th century, rendering the city one of the most splendid in Asia. We then have a powerful dynasty, commonly believed to have been of Afghan race; and if so, the first. But the historians give them a legendary descent from Zohak, which is no Afghan genealogy. The founder of the dynasty was Alauddin, chief of Ghor, whose vengeance for the cruel death of his brother at the hands of Bahram the Ghaznevide was wreaked in devastating the great city. His nephew, Shahabuddin Mahommed, repeatedly invaded India, conquering as far as Benares. His empire in India indeed ruled—by his freedmen who after his death became independent—may be regarded as the origin of that great Mahommedan monarchy which endured nominally till 1857. For a brief period the Afghan countries were subject to the king of Khwarizm, and it was here chiefly that occurred the gallant attempts of Jalaluddin of Khwarizm to withstand the progress of Jenghiz Khan.

A passage in Ferishta seems to imply that the Afghans in the Sulimani mountains were already known by that name in the first century of the Hegira, but it is uncertain how far this may be built on. The name Afghans is very distinctly mentioned in ’Utbi’s History of Sultan Mahmud, written about A.D. 1030, coupled with that of the Khiljis. It also appears frequently in connexion with the history of India in the 13th and 14th centuries. The successive dynasties of Delhi are generally called Pathan, but were really so only in part. Of the Khiljis (1288–1321) we have already spoken. The Tughlaks (1321–1421) were originally Tatars of the Karauna tribe. The Lodis (1450–1526) were pure Pathans. For a century and more after the Mongol invasion the whole of the Afghan countries were under Mongol rule; but in the middle of the 14th century a native dynasty sprang up in western Afghanistan, that of the Kurts, which extended its rule over Ghor, Herat and Kandahar. The history of the Afghan countries under the Mongols is obscure; but that régime must have left its mark upon the country, if we judge from the occurrence of frequent Mongol names of places, and even of Mongol expressions adopted into familiar language.

The Mogul Dynasty—All these countries were included in Timur’s conquests, and Kabul at least had remained in the possession of one of his descendants till 1501, only three years before it fell into the hands of another and more illustrious one, Sultan Baber. It was not till 1522 that Baber succeeded in permanently wresting Kandahar from the Arghuns, a family of Mongol descent, who had long held it. From the time of his conquest of Hindustan (victory at Panipat, April 21, 1526), Kabul and Kandahar may be regarded as part of the empire of Delhi under the (so-called) Mogul dynasty which Baber founded. Kabul so continued till the invasion of Nadir Shah (1738). Kandahar often changed hands between the Moguls and the rising Safavis (or Sufis) of Persia. Under the latter it had remained from 1642 till 1708, when in the reign of Husain, the last of them, the Ghilzais, provoked by the oppressive Persian governor Shahnawaz Khan (a Georgian prince of the Bagratid house), revolted under Mir Wais, and expelled the Persians. Mir Wais was acknowledged sovereign of Kandahar, and eventually defeated the Persian armies sent against him, but did not long survive (d. 1715).

Mahmud, the son of Mir Wais, a man of great courage and energy, carried out a project of his father’s, the conquest of Persia itself. After a long siege, Shah Husain came forth from Ispahan with all his court, and surrendered the sword and diadem of the Sufis into the hands of the Ghilzai (October 1722). Two years later Mahmud died mad, and a few years saw the end of Ghilzai rule in Persia.

The Durani Dynasty—In 1737–38 Nadir Shah both recovered Kandahar and took Kabul. But he gained the goodwill of the Afghans, and enrolled many in his army. Among these was a noble young soldier, Ahmad Khan, of the Saddozai family of the Abdali clan, who after the assassination of Nadir (1747) was chosen by the Afghan chiefs at Kandahar to be their leader, and assumed kingly authority over the eastern part of Nadir’s empire, with the style of Dur-i-Durân, “Pearl of the Age,” bestowing that of Durani upon his clan, the Abdalis. With Ahmad Shah, Afghanistan, as such, first took a place among the kingdoms of the earth, and the Durani dynasty, which he founded, still occupies its throne. During the twenty-six years of his reign he carried his warlike expeditions far and wide. Westward they extended nearly to the shores of the Caspian; eastward he repeatedly entered India as a conqueror. At his great battle of Panipat (January 6, 1761), with vastly inferior numbers, he inflicted on the Mahrattas, then at the zenith of their power, a tremendous defeat, almost annihilating their vast army; but the success had for him no important result. Having long suffered from a terrible disease, he died in 1773, bequeathing to his son Timur a dominion which embraced not only Afghanistan to its utmost limits, but the Punjab, Kashmir and Turkestan to the Oxus, with Sind, Baluchistan and Khorasan as tributary governments.

Timur transferred his residence from Kandahar to Kabul, and continued during a reign of twenty years to stave off the anarchy which followed close on his death. He left twenty three sons, of whom the fifth, Zaman Mirza, by help of Payindah Khan, head of the Barakzai family of the Abdalis, succeeded in grasping the royal power. For many years barbarous wars raged between the brothers, during which Zaman Shah, Shuja-ul-Mulk and Mahmud successively held the throne. The last owed success to Payindah’s son, Fatteh Khan (known as the “Afghan Warwick”), a man of masterly ability in war and politics, the eldest of twenty-one brothers, a family of notable intelligence and force of character, and many of these he placed over the provinces. Fatteh Khan, however, excited the king’s jealously by his powerful position, and provoked the malignity of the king’s son, Kamran, by a gross outrage on the Saddozai family. He was accordingly seized, blinded and afterwards murdered with prolonged torture, the brutal Kamran striking the first blow.

The Barakzai brothers united to avenge Fatteh Khan. The Saddozais were driven from Kabul, Ghazni and Kandahar, and with difficulty reached Herat (1818). Herat remained thus till Kamran’s death (1842), and after that was held by his able and wicked minister Yar Mahommed. The rest of the country was divided among the Barakzais—Dost Mahommed, the ablest, getting Kabul. Peshawar and the right bank of the Indus fell to the Sikhs after their victory at Nowshera in 1823. The last Afghan hold of the Punjab had been lost long before—Kashmir in 1819; Sind had cast off all allegiance since 1808; the Turkestan provinces had been practically independent since the death of Timur Shah.

The First Afghan War, 1838–42.—In 1809, in consequence of the intrigues of Napoleon in Persia, the Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone had been sent as envoy to Shah Shuja, then in power, and had been well received by him at Peshawar. This was the first time the Afghans made any acquaintance with Englishmen. Lieut. Alex. Burnes (afterwards Sir Alex. Burnes) visited Kabul on his way to Bokhara in 1832. In 1837 the Persian siege of Herat and the proceedings of Russia created uneasiness, and Burnes was sent by the governor-general as resident to the amir’s court at Kabul. But the terms which the Dost sought were not conceded by the government, and the rash resolution was taken of re-establishing Shah Shuja, long a refugee in British territory. Ranjit Singh, king of the Punjab, bound himself to co-operate, but eventually declined to let the expedition cross his territories.

The war began in March 1838, when the “Army of the Indus,” amounting to 21,000 men, assembled in Upper Sind and advanced through the Bolan Pass under the command of Sir John Keane. There was hardship, but scarcely any opposition. Kohandil Khan of Kandahar fled to Persia. That city was occupied in April 1839, and Shah Shuja was crowned in his grandfather’s mosque. Ghazni was reached 21st July; a gate of the city was blown open by the engineers (the match was fired by Lieut., afterwards Sir Henry, Durand), and the place was taken by storm. Dost Mahommed, finding his troops deserting, passed the Hindu Kush, and Shah Shuja entered the capital (August 7). The war was thought at an end, and Sir John Keane (made a peer) returned to India with a considerable part of the force, leaving behind 8000 men, besides the Shah’s force, with Sir W. Macnaghten as envoy, and Sir A. Burnes as his colleague.

During the two following years Shah Shuja and his allies remained in possession of Kabul and Kandahar. The British outposts extended to Saighan, in the Oxus basin, and to Mullah Khan, in the plain of Seistan. Dost Mahommed surrendered (November 3, 1840) and was sent to India, where he was honourably treated. From the beginning, insurrection against the new government had been rife. The political authorities were over-confident, and neglected warnings. On the 2nd of November 1841 the revolt broke out violently at Kabul, with the massacre of Burnes and other officers. The position of the British camp, its communications with the citadel and the location of the stores were the worst possible; and the general (Elphinstone) was shattered in constitution. Disaster after disaster occurred, not without misconduct. At a conference (December 23) with the Dost’s son, Akbar Khan, who had taken the lead of the Afghans, Sir W. Macnaghten was murdered by that chief’s own hand. On the 6th of January 1842, after a convention to evacuate the country had been signed, the British garrison, still numbering 4500 soldiers (of whom 690 were Europeans), with some 12,000 followers, marched out of the camp. The winter was severe, the troops demoralised, the march a mass of confusion and massacre, and the force was finally overwhelmed in the Jagdalak pass between Kabul and Jalalabad.

On the 13th the last survivors mustered at Gandamak only twenty muskets. Of those who left Kabul, only Dr Brydon reached Jalalabad, wounded and half dead. Ninety-five prisoners were afterwards recovered. The garrison of Ghazni had already been forced to surrender (December 10). But General Nott held Kandahar with a stern hand, and General Sale, who had reached Jalalabad from Kabul at the beginning of the outbreak, maintained that important point gallantly. To avenge these disasters and recover the prisoners preparations were made in India on a fitting scale; but it was the 16th of April 1842 before General Pollock could relieve Jalalabad, after forcing the Khyber Pass. After a long halt there he advanced (August 20), and gaining rapid successes, occupied Kabul (September 15), where Nott, after retaking and dismantling Ghazni, joined him two days later. The prisoners were happily recovered from Bamian. The citadel and central bazaar of Kabul were destroyed, and the army finally evacuated Afghanistan, December 1842.

This ill-planned and hazardous enterprise was fraught with the elements of inevitable failure. A ruler imposed upon a free people by foreign arms is always unpopular; he is unable to stand alone; and his foreign auxiliaries soon find themselves obliged to choose between remaining to uphold his power, or retiring with the probability that it will fall after their departure. The leading chiefs of Afghanistan perceived that the maintenance of Shah Shuja’s rule by British troops would soon be fatal to their own power and position in the country, and probably to their national independence. They were insatiable in their demands for office and emolument, and when they discovered that the shah, acting by the advice of the British envoy, was levying from among their tribesmen regiments to be directly under his control, they took care that the plan should fail. Without a regular revenue no effective administration could be organized; but the attempt to raise taxes showed that it might raise the people, so that for both men and money the shah’s government was still obliged to rely principally upon British aid. All these circumstances combined to render the new régime weak and unpopular, since there was no force at the ruler’s command except foreign troops to put down disorder or to protect those who submitted, while the discontented nobles fomented disaffection and the inbred hatred of strangers in race and religion among the general Afghan population.

British and Russian Relations—It has been said that the declared object of this policy had been to maintain the independence and integrity of Afghanistan, to secure the friendly alliance of its ruler, and thus to interpose a great barrier of mountainous country between the expanding power of Russia in Central Asia and the British dominion in India. After 1849, when the annexation of the Punjab had carried the Indian north-western frontier up to the skirts of the Afghan highlands, the corresponding advance of the Russians south-eastward along the Oxus river became of closer interest to the British, particularly when, in 1856, the Persians again attempted to take possession of Herat. Dost Mahommed now became the British ally, but on his death in 1863 the kingdom fell back into civil war, until his son, Shere Ali, had won his way to undisputed ruler ship in 1868. In the same year Bokhara became a dependency of Russia. To the British government an attitude of non-intervention in Afghan affairs appeared in this situation to be no longer possible. The meeting between the amir Shere Ali and the viceroy of India (Lord Mayo) at Umballa in 1869 drew nearer the relations between the two governments; the amir consolidated and began to centralize his power; and the establishment of a strong, friendly and united Afghanistan became again the keynote of British policy beyond the north-western frontier of India.

When, therefore, the conquest of Khiva in 1873 by the Russians, and their gradual approach towards the amir’s northern border, had seriously alarmed Shere Ali, he applied for support to the British; and his disappointment at his failure to obtain distinct pledges of material assistance, and at Great Britain’s refusal to endorse all his claims in a dispute with Persia over Seistan, so far estranged him from the British Connexion that he began to entertain amicable overtures from the Russian authorities at Tashkend. In 1869 the Russian government had assured Lord Clarendon that they regarded Afghanistan as completely outside the sphere of their influence; and in 1872 the boundary line of Afghanistan on the north-west had been settled between England and Russia so far eastward as Lake Victoria.

Nevertheless the correspondence between Kabul and Tashkend continued, and as the Russians were now extending their dominion over all the region beyond Afghanistan on the north-west, the British government determined, in 1876, once more to undertake active measures for securing their political ascendancy in that country. But the amir, whose feelings of resentment had by no means abated, was now leaning toward Russia, though he mainly desired to hold the balance between two equally formidable rivals. The result of overtures made to him from India was that in 1877, when Lord Lytton, acting under direct instructions from Her Majesty’s ministry, proposed to Shere Ali a treaty of alliance, Shere Ali showed himself very little disposed to welcome the offer; and upon his refusal to admit a British agent into Afghanistan the negotiations finally broke down.

Second Afghan War, 1878–80—In the course of the following year (1878) the Russian government, to counteract the interference of England with their advance upon Constantinople, sent an envoy to Kabul empowered to make a treaty with the amir. It was immediately notified to him from India that a British mission would be deputed to his capital, but he demurred to receiving it; and when the British envoy was turned back on the Afghan frontier hostilities were proclaimed by the Viceroy in November 1878, and the second Afghan War began. Sir Donald Stewart’s force, marching up through Baluchistan by the Bolan Pass, entered Kandahar with little or no resistance; while another army passed through the Khyber Pass and took up positions at Ialalabad and other places on the direct road to Kabul. Another force under Sir Frederick Roberts marched up to the high passes leading out of Kurram into the interior of Afghanistan, defeated the amir’s troops at the Peiwar Kotal, and seized the Shutargardan Pass which commands a direct route to Kabul through the Logar valley. The amir Shere Ali fled from his capital into the northern province, where he died at Mazar-i-Sharif in February 1879. In the course of the next six months there was much desultory skirmishing between the tribes and the British troops, who defeated various attempts to dislodge them from the positions that had been taken up; but the sphere of British military operations was not materially extended. It was seen that the farther they advanced the more difficult would become their eventual retirement; and the problem was to find a successor to Shere Ali who could and would make terms with the British government.

In the meantime Yakub Khan, one of Shere Ali’s sons, had announced to Major Cavagnari, the political agent at the headquarters of the British army, that he had succeeded his father at Kabul. The negotiations that followed ended in the conclusion of the treaty of Gandamak in May 1879, by which Yakub Khan was recognized as amir; certain outlying tracts of Afghanistan were transferred to the British government; the amir placed in its hands the entire control of his foreign relations, receiving in return a guarantee against foreign aggression; and the establishment of a British envoy at Kabul was at last conceded. By this convention the complete success of the British political and military operations seemed to have been attained; for whereas Shere Ali had made a treaty of alliance with, and had received an embassy from Russia, his son had now made an exclusive treaty with the British government, and had agreed that a British envoy should reside permanently at his court. Yet it was just this final concession, the chief and original object of British policy, that proved speedily fatal to the whole settlement. For in September the envoy, Sir Louis Cavagnari, with his staff and escort, was massacred at Kabul, and the entire fabric of a friendly alliance went to pieces. A fresh expedition was instantly despatched across the Shutargardan Pass under Sir Frederick Roberts, who defeated the Afghans at Charasia near Kabul, and entered the city in October. Yakub Khan, who had surrendered, was sent to India; and the British army remained in military occupation of the district round Kabul until in December (1879) its communications with India were interrupted, and its position at the capital placed in serious jeopardy, by a general rising of the tribes. After they had been repulsed and put down, not without some hard fighting, Sir Donald Stewart, who had not quitted Kandahar, brought a force up by Ghazni to Kabul, overcoming some resistance on his way, and assumed the supreme command. Nevertheless the political situation was still embarrassing, for as the whole country beyond the range of British effective military control was master less, it was undesirable to withdraw the troops before a government could be reconstructed which could stand without foreign support, and with which diplomatic relations of some kind might be arranged. The general position and prospect of political affairs in Afghanistan bore, indeed, an instructive resemblance to the situation just forty years earlier, in 1840, with the important differences that the Punjab and Sind had since become British, and that communications between Kabul and India were this time secure.

Reign of Abdur Rahman.—Abdur Rahman, the son of the late amir Shere Ali’s elder brother, had fought against Shere Ali in the war for succession to Dost Mahommed, had been driven beyond the Oxus, and had lived for ten years in exile with the Russians. In March 1880 he came back across the river, and began to establish himself in the northern province of Afghanistan. The viceroy of India, Lord Lytton, on hearing of his reappearance, instructed the political authorities at Kabul to communicate with him. By skilful negotiations a meeting was arranged, and after pressing in vain for a treaty he was induced to assume charge of the country upon his recognition by the British as amir, with the understanding that he should have no relations with other foreign powers, and with a formal assurance from the viceroy of protection from foreign aggression, so long as he should unreservedly follow the advice of the British government in regard to his external affairs. The province of Kandahar was severed from the Kabul dominion; and the sirdar Shere Ali Khan, a member of the Barakzai family, was installed by the British representative as its independent ruler.

For the second time in the course of this war a conclusive settlement of Afghan affairs seemed now to have been attained; and again, as in 1879, it was immediately dissolved. In July 1880, a few days after the proclamation of Abdur Rahman as amir at Kabul, came news that Ayub Khan, Shere Ali’s younger son, who had been holding Herat since his father’s death, had marched upon Kandahar, had utterly defeated at Maiwand a British force that went out from Kandahar to oppose him, and was besieging that city. Sir Frederick Roberts at once set out from Kabul with 10,000 men to its relief, reached Kandahar after a rapid march of 313 miles, attacked and routed Ayub Khan’s army on the 1st of September, and restored British authority in southern Afghanistan. As the British ministry had resolved to evacuate Kandahar, the sirdar Shere Ali Khan, who saw that he could not stand alone, resigned and withdrew to India, and the amir Abdur Rahman was invited to take possession of the province. But when Ayub Khan, who had meanwhile retreated to Herat, heard that the British forces had retired, early in 1881, to India, he mustered a fresh army and again approached Kandahar. In June the-fort of Girishk, on the Helmund, was seized by his adherents; the amir’s troops were defeated some days later in an engagement, and Ayub Khan took possession of Kandahar at the end of July. The amir Abdur Rahman, whose movements had hitherto been slow and uncertain, now acted with vigour and decision. He marched rapidly from Kabul at the head of a force, with which he encountered Ayub Khan under the walls of Kandahar, and routed his army on 22nd September, taking all his guns and equipage. Ayub Khan fled toward Herat, but as the place had meanwhile been occupied by one of the amir’s generals he took refuge in Persia. By this victory Abdur Rahman’s ruler ship was established.

In 1884 it was determined to resume the demarcation, by a joint commission of British and Russian officers, of the northern boundary of Afghanistan. The work went on with much difficulty and contention, until in March 1885, when the amir was at Rawalpindi for a conference with the viceroy of India, Lord Dufferin, the news came that at Panjdeh, a disputed place on the boundary held by the Afghans, the Russians had attacked and driven out with some loss the amir’s troops. For the moment the consequences seemed likely to be serious; but the affair was arranged diplomatically, and the demarcation proceeded up to a point near the Oxus river, beyond which the commission were unable to settle an agreement.

During the ten years following his accession in 1880 Abdur Rahman employed himself in extending and consolidating his dominion over the whole country. Some local revolts among the tribes were rigorously suppressed; and two attempts to upset his rulership—the first by Ayub Khan, who entered Afghanistan from Persia, the second and more dangerous one by Ishak Khan, the amir’s cousin, who rebelled against him in Afghan Turkestan—were defeated. By 1891 the amir had enforced his supreme authority throughout Afghanistan more completely than any of his predecessors. In 1895 the amir’s troops entered Kafiristan, a wild mountainous tract on the north-east, inhabited by a peculiar race that had hitherto defied all efforts to subjugate them, but were now gradually reduced to submission. Meanwhile the delimitation of the northern frontier, up to the point where it meets Chinese territory on the east, was completed and fixed by arrangements between the governments of Russia and Great Britain; and the eastern border of the Afghan territory, towards India, was also mapped out and partially laid down, in accordance with a convention between the two governments. The amir not only received a large annual subsidy of money from the British government, but he also obtained considerable supplies of war material; and he, moreover, availed himself very freely of facilities that were given him for the importation at his own cost of arms through India. With these resources, and with the advantage of an assurance from the British government that he would be aided against foreign aggression, he was able to establish an absolute military despotism inside his kingdom, by breaking down the power of the warlike tribes which held in check, up to his time, the personal autocracy of the Kabul rulers, and by organizing a regular army well furnished with European rifles and artillery. Taxation of all kinds was heavily increased, and systematically collected. The result was that whereas in former times the forces of an Afghan ruler consisted mainly of a militia, furnished by the chiefs of tribes who held land on condition of military service, and who stoutly resisted any attempt to commute this service for money payment, the amir had at his command a large standing army, and disposed of a substantial revenue paid direct to his treasury. Abdur Rahman executed or exiled all those whose political influence he saw reason to fear, or of whose disaffection he had the slightest suspicion; his administration was severe and his punishments were cruel; but undoubtedly he put down disorder, stopped the petty tyranny of local chiefs and brought violent crime under some effective control in the districts. Travelling by the high roads during his reign was comparatively safe; although it must be added that the excessive exactions of dues and customs very seriously damaged the external trade. In short, Abdur Rahman’s reign produced an important political revolution, or reformation, in Afghanistan, which rose from the condition of a country distracted by chronic civil wars, under rulers whose authority depended upon their power to hold down or conciliate fierce and semi-independent tribes in the outlying parts of the dominion, to the rank of a formidable military state governed autocratically. He established, for the first time in the history of the Afghan kingdom, a powerfully centralized administration strong enough to maintain order and to enforce obedience over all the country which he had united under his dominion, supported by a force sufficiently armed and disciplined to put down attempts at resistance or revolt. His policy, consistently maintained, was to permit no kind of foreign interference, on any pretext, with the interior concerns or the economical conditions of his country. From the British government he accepted supplies of arms and subsidies of money; but he would make no concessions in return, and all projects of a strategical or commercial nature, such as railways and telegraphs, proposed either for the defence or the development of his possessions, seem to have been regarded by the amir with extreme distrust, as methods of what has been called pacific penetration—so that on these points he was immovable. It was probably due to the strength and solidity of the executive administration organized, during his lifetime, by Abdur Rahman that, for the first time in the records of the dynasty founded by Ahmad Shah in the latter part of the 18th century, his death was not followed by disputes over the succession or by civil war.

Succession of Habibullah—The amir Abdur Rahman died on the 1st of October 1901; and two days later his eldest son, Habibullah, formally announced his accession to the rulership. He was recognized with acclamation by the army, by the religious bodies, by the principal tribal chiefs and by all classes of the people as their lawful sovereign; while a deputation of Indian Mahommedans was dispatched to Kabul from India to convey the condolences and congratulations of the viceroy. The amir’s first measures were designed to enhance his popularity and to improve his internal administration, particularly with regard to the relations of his government with the tribes, and to the system introduced by the late amir of compulsory military service, whereby each tribe was required to supply a proportionate number of recruits. With this object a council of state for tribal affairs was established; and it was arranged that a representative of each tribe should be associated with the provincial governors for the adjudication of tribal cases.

In the important matter of foreign relations Habibullah showed a determination to adopt the policy of his father, to whom the British government had given an assurance of aid to repel foreign aggression, on the condition that the amir should follow the advice of that government in regard to external affairs. This condition was loyally observed by the new amir, who referred to India all communications of an official kind received from the Russian authorities in the provinces bordering on Afghanistan. But toward the various questions left pending between the governments of India and Afghanistan the new amir maintained also his father’s attitude. He gave no indications of a disposition to continue the discussion of them, or to entertain proposals for extending or altering his relations with the Indian government. An invitation from the Viceroy to meet him in India, with the hope that these points might be settled in conference, was put aside by dilatory excuses, until at last the project was abandoned, and finally the amir agreed to receive at Kabul a diplomatic mission. The mission, whose chief was Sir Louis Dane, foreign secretary to the Indian government, reached Kabul early in December 1904, and remained there four months in negotiation with the amir personally and with his representatives. It was found impossible, after many interviews, to obtain from Habibullah his consent to any addition to or variation of the terms of the assurance given by the British government in 1880, with which he professed himself entirely satisfied, so that the treaty finally settled in March 1905 went no further than a formal confirmation of all engagements previously concluded with the amir’s predecessor. It was felt in British circles at the time that a very considerable concession to Habibullah’s independence of attitude was displayed in the fact that he was styled in the treaty “His Majesty”; but, in the circumstances, it seems to have been thought diplomatic to accede to the amir’s determination to insist on this matter of style. But the rebuff showed that it was desirable in the interests both of the British government and of Afghanistan that an opportunity should be made for enabling the amir to have personal acquaintance with the highest Indian authorities. A further step, calculated to strengthen the relations of amity between the two governments, was taken when it was arranged that the amir should pay a visit to the viceroy, Lord Minto, in India, in January 1907; and this visit took place with great cordiality and success.

The Anglo-Russian Convention, signed on the 31st of August 1907, contained the following important declarations with regard to Afghanistan. Great Britain disclaimed any intention of altering the political status or (subject to the observance of the treaty of 1905) of interfering in the administration or annexing any territory of Afghanistan, and engaged to use her influence there in no manner threatening to Russia. Russia, on her part, recognized Afghanistan as outside her sphere of influence.


SOURCE: 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1

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