Afghanistan: The Victim of Imperialism



Afghanistan is a country which has been targeted by Great Powers since the 19th century. But no empire or country till date was able to conquer and rule over the country. 

European Influence in Afghanistan

The story begins from the 1830s when the British and Russian Empires were growing and just had Afghanistan as a buffer state between their possessions in Asia (Russia and British India). The only reason British wanted control of Afghanistan was that India lay to the East and Russia lay to the North. The British were nervous about the Russians attacking British India so in order to learn more about the Afghan politics, in 1839 they sent a spy named Alexander Burnes without any protection to Afghanistan. He produced one of the first detailed reports on Afghan politics, and when he returned to Britain after a year he was made a celebrity. He wrote a book on his travel and when it was translated and became a best seller in Moscow, the Russians realised that it was time for them to counter. Then began The Great Game which was a time of British and Russian spies getting in and out of Afghanistan. Now the British were even more nervous that Russia will use Afghanistan as a strategic base to attack British India.

First Anglo-Afghan War


The decision was to invade Afghanistan and topple the Emir Dost Mohammad with their own man Shah Shujah. The British Indian soldiers were very confident and won the war. Soon the Afghans realised that Shah Shujah was very corrupt and the worst ruler Afghans had seen. Afghans resented the British presence and completely lost it when they saw British wives started living and British children were born. 

Afghans revolted against the British and the revolt was so serious that the British retreated and only one man reached the British possession of Jalalabad. The British reacted by an agreement with Dost Mohammed by giving him his throne back but Dost Mohammad protected the British interests in Afghanistan. This agreement was successful until the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Also, the Afghans were ready to fight British in Indian Rebellion of 1857 but Dost Mohammad refused because of the agreement.

Second Anglo-Afghan War


In the 1870s the British discovered that the Russians again sent a set of spies into Afghanistan. The British Intelligence again decided to invade Afghanistan and this time with a regular force of 40,000 British Indian soldiers. The British captured it again and this time the British Envoy, Sir Louis Cavagnari decided to stay in a fortified citadel in the old city of Kabul, the Bala Hissar. He learnt many lessons from his predecessor Alexander Burnes but the Afghans were offended because the Bala Hissar once a palace of Afghan kings. The Afghan tribes soon mutinied on the streets of Kabul and killed Cavagnari. Afghans won the Battle of Maiwand and wiped out the British from Helmond Province. There is a story about a girl called Malalai who unveiled herself in Maiwand and shouted,”If you are a real Pashtun then go fight for your honour against the British”. She died in the battle but gave immense motivation to the Afghans. However, the British did not keep quite and sent a large part of the army consisting of Indian Sepoys and Gurkhas led by their British counterparts, winning decisively in Kandahar. But the British thought to leave by giving a message that ‘Afghans did not defeat the British militarily.’

Again the British struck a deal with the most powerful Afghan leader, Abdur Rahman Khan and brought him to power. There was a mutual understanding. Now Afghanistan became a British Protectorate. British no more interfered in internal affairs of Afghanistan while British got control of Afghan Foreign Policy. Also, Abdur Rahman Khan did not let Russians come into Afghanistan.

Third Anglo-Afghan War


Unlike the other wars in which Afghans defended and resisted, this time the Afghans were the aggressors. They invaded British India which was repelled and after some weeks, the leaders decided to solve the conflict diplomatically. The battle was a major diplomatic victory for Afghanistan and the Treaty of Rawalpindi was signed in 1919, which granted full sovereignty to the Afghans. The Durand Line was reaffirmed and a new Afghanistan was born.

The Dream of Modernization


Amanullah Khan


Afghans got their new king, Amanullah Khan in 1919 who built a European-style palace on the outskirts of Kabul with a dream of modernization. He introduced many reforms which would help its backwards country grow. He had dreams of a progressive constitution, democratic elections and education for women. In 1927, Amanullah went for a European tour from where he brought many ideas to his country of technology and military but, soon he realised the streets of Kabul were filled with rumours about him drinking wine, eating pork and conversion to Christianity. Soon the people were enraged and were thirsty for his blood. He had to exile to Italy. The later rulers did not pay much attentions to his reforms.


A destroyed Afghan village


Afghanistan was later invaded by two major Superpowers in 20th and 21st century which destroyed Afghanistan even more than before.

Anubhav Mishra

Instagram: _._.anubhav._._

To read about the Kashmir dispute, click here


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