The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


Emirate of Afghanistan (1823-1926)

The people of Afghanistan had for 800 years, as Lord Napier said, regarded the plains of Hindostan as their legitimate spoil, tempted with the plunder of India. The Saddozais and Barakzais are two branches of the Durani tribe, which was raised to dominant power by its chief, Ahmed Khan, the founder of an Afghan kingdom under the Saddozai dynasty towards the end of the 18th century. His descendants ruled, amid many vicissitudes, at Kabul, until in 1818 the assassination by the reigning Amir of his powerful minister, Fatteh Khan Barakzai, led to a revolt headed by the Barakzai family, which ended in the expulsion of the Saddozai Shah Shujah, and the Shilah and establishment at Kabul of Dost Mahommed. Shah Shujah took refuge ;n the Punjab. By this time the political situation of Afghanistan had become materially affected by the consolidation of a formidable military dominion on its eastern frontier in the Punjab, under Ranjit Singh and his Sikh army. Ranjit Singh took advantage of the distracted condition of Afghanistan to seize Kashmir, and in 1823 he defeated the Afghans in a battle which gave him the suzerainty of the Peshawar province on the right bank of the Indus, though an Afghan chief was left to administer it.

In spite of many vicissitudes of fortune, Dost Mohamed had by the year 1826 obtained undisputed possession of Kabul, and during the next eight years he ruled in comparative peace, of which he took the fullest advantage not only for strengthening his position but also for improving his own scanty education. Dost Mohamed, the son of a Kizilbash woman of low origin, gradually proved himself the strongest member of the family. As is almost invariably the case in Afghanistan, his brothers were his most bitter enemies, especially Sultan Mohamed, who, after failing to seize Kabul, held Peshawar as a province of the Sikh kingdom.

The form of government was a species of feudal monarchy, the sovereign, the Emir or "Shahi Devri-Devran," being generally kept in a state of virtual dependence by the Khauns, or chiefs of certain districts and tribes, to whom, in the case of the more numerous and powerful tribes, inferior chieftains are subordinate. And these Khauns themselves are subject to the control of a representative body, called "the Dshirga," and composed of the chieftains of their tribe, whom they were bound to assemble and consult ou all matters of importance. They could not act without its concurrence, excepting in cases of pressing emergency, or on insignificant occasions. Nay, more, the minor chieftains, too, were subject to the control of similar gatherings of the heads of families.

This country, also called "Kaboolistan," [or Kabulistan] and known to earlier writers by the name of "Kandahar" and "Eastern Persia," consisted of portions of the former dominions of Persia, as well as of Hindustan. The country was shut off from India by mountain-ranges guarded by warlike, plunder-loving tribes. Its designation as "Afghanistan" [or Affghaunistan] was of rather recent date. The name Afghanistan means the "Land of Afghans", which comes from the Sanskrit word "asvaka," which means "horsemen." So Afghanistan means "Land of the Horsemen." The term "Afghanistan" was mentioned by the sixteenth century Mughal Emperor Babur in his memoirs, referring to the territories south of Kabul that were inhabited by Pashtuns (called "Afghans" by Babur). The predominance of the Afghan in Afghanistan dates from the middle of the 18th century, when Ahmad Shah carved out Afghanistan from the previous conquests of Nadir Shah, and called it the Durani empire.

It stretches about eight degrees and a half from south to north, and about seventeen from east to west; and its neighbours are,Persia on the west, Turkestan on the north, China on the north-east, Hindustan on the east and south-east, and Beludshistan on the south. It is pre-eminently a mountainous country; for in the By Afghanistan was meant the northern division of the Korassan country. Its southern limits, from the river Indus, westward were along the line of the valleys of Sibi, Peshin, and Shorawak to the desert of Sistan, and that province itself. The country was divided into numerous districts, many of which retained ancient names, the origin and signification of which are subjects inviting investigation, while others were named after the tribes now occupying them.

But besides these, there were several large divisions of the territory which constitute distinct countries or provinces with marked differences between them. The principal of these are Roh and Kabul, Zabul and Sistan, Hari and Ghor, and Balkh and Badakhshan. The limits of none of them are very clearly defined, were used very loosely in ae coupled connexion. Thus Roh and Kabul were often spoken of as one and the same country, yet there were parts of Roh which were not Kabul, and there were parts of Kabul which were not Roh. And this, apart altogether from the political sense in which the name Kabul was used (from the fact of its being the recognized seat of government) to designate the entire territory of the kingdom or khanate. And so it is with Zabul [Kandahar] and Sistan, the latter being spoken of as Zabul, but all Zabul not being Sistan. In other words, Kabul and Zabul, or Kabulistan and Zabulistan, were two great divisions of country: one of which contains Roh and the other Sistan. It was to some extent the same with Hari and Ghor, and to a lesser extent also with the Balkh and Badakhshan provinces. The whole of the tract between the Kunar or Chitral river, and the Indus, being independent territory, was called Yaghistan or "unconquered country." Kafiristan, or the "Kafir country," the country of the Pagans or Infidelsit is altogether independent.

The number of Affghauns who devoted themselves to agriculture or industrial pursuits was very limited. The greater proportion of them led a wandering life, and are nomadic in their customs and manners: they lived under tents of felt, black cloth, or a finer material, according to the means which each tribe or family can command. In the mountainous districts, however, they hollowed themselves out a sort of cabin on the declivities the back and sides being of stone or earth, and the front forming the doorway, but the "Duranees" live in houses of clay and brick. In both instances, the dwelling did not, in general, contain more than a single room. The population in the towns, on the other hand, luxuriate in houses, many of them several stories in height, with courts, gardens, wells, and other appurtenances, and the rooms furnished with cushioned benches or broad sofas, as well as carpets, on which the inmates sit cross-legged.

In the middle of the 19th century the population of Affghaunistan was estimated at about ten millions, among whom, independently of natives, were found Beludshes, Usbegs, Eimaks, Tadshiks, Hindus, Kisilbashes or Turcomans, Arabians, and other Asiatic peoples, as well as Abyssinian slaves. The Affghauns held the ascendancy: their numbers were said to amount to four millions, split into an incalculable variety of tribes. The tradition prevalent among them as to their remotest ancestry, is legendary enough; for they hold Saul, King of the Jews, to have been their first father, and adduce in proof of this belief, the circumstance of one tribe among them being called "Kyber," a name which the Hebrews received from the Asiatics of former times. The Afghans claim to be Bcn-i-Israclt and insist on their descent from the tribes who were carried away captive from Palestine to Media by Nebuchadnezzar. Yet they claim to bo Pukhtun (or Pathan) in common with all other Pushto-speaking tribes, whom they do not admit to be Afghan.

In the later part of the 19th century the three great cities of Afghanistan formed a great triangle, of which Kandahar was the apex. Though there was a road between Herat and Kabul it was hardly passable. By Kandahar all military and commercial communication must go. It is possible to isolate Kabul or Herat. The former capital, with its wild and fanatical Pathan population north and east, and south as far as Ghazni, formed a country by itself, and has generally been so constituted. Herat, with its Khorassani population, its rich valleys, and its extensive trade, was likewise a separate center. It was not till 1856 that Dost Mahomed conquered Kandahar.

The people of Afghanistan are not a single, homogeneous race. Fifty different tribes inhabited that country, most of them hostile to each other, differing in habits, in feelings, in antecedents, and even in religion. They had been planted there much as was the case with Turkey in Europe, by the different waves of invasion that had swept over Afghanistan. It is only in the early 19th Century the Amir of Kabul conquered and united Herat and Kandahar under his ascendancy, and bitterly those cities suffered under the rule of the ferocious fanatics of Kabul. They had been ground down, plundered, and oppressed by a people they detest.

In the autumn of 1878 a Russian envoy arrived at Cabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and was kindly received by the ameer. Soon after a British embassy arrived to inquire the purpose of such a step and was not allowed to enter the country. By order of the home government armed forces were sent from India, one division going by the Khyber pass. The ameer, Shere Ali, fled from the country, and died soon after, leaving affairs in the hands of his son, Yakoob Khan, who succeeded him as ameer. By the terms of the treaty that was then made a British agent was allowed to reside at Cabul. Foreign affairs were to be conducted under British advice; Great Britain was to defend the ameer against foreign invasion, and to pay him an annual subsidy of $300,000. The Khyber and Mincee mountain-passes were to be under British control. Owing to the treachery or inefficiency of the ameer the treaty was not observed. British forces again invaded the country and placed it under a military governor. The Ameer, becoming unpopular, was obliged to abdicate and was succeeded by Abdurrahman in 1880.

Affairs in Afghanistan remained in an unsettled state for some time. The northern boundary-line of Afghanistan, separating it from the Turkestan provinces of Russia, had not been well defined and was often differently interpreted and understood by the two great powers. This led to movements which were watched by England with jealous care, for Russia was known to have a desire to extend her possessions and her influence southward toward India. The boundary-line difficulty was finally settled by diplomacy in London. The Penjdeh district was ceded to Russia; while the Zulfikar pass, leading through the mountains on the west toward the Persian frontier, was retained by the Afghans.

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 themand they have since been gradually reduced to submission. Up to Abdurrahman's reign the strength of the Afghan nation lay in its warlike character, in the readiness of the tribes to combine for opposing and harassing an invader, and in the local independence of powerful clans or chiefs. The power of the chiefs had been levelled down, and the fighting strength of the tribal groups had been dislocated.

Join the mailing list

Page last modified: 08-10-2012 19:53:09 ZULU