The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter III

From Jatland Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Go to Index of the Book
«« Go to Chapter II
Go to Chapter IV »»

The full text of this book has been converted into Wiki format by Laxman Burdak
The Races of Afghanistan

Being a brief account of the principal nations inhabiting that country.

By: H. W. Bellew, C.S.I.

Publisher: Thacker Spink And Co. Calcutta.1880.
Chapter III: History of the Afghans


AT the beginning of the last century Afghanistan, at that time known as Khurasan (a Persian word signifying the East or the Levant of the Persians) was divided pretty equally between the Mughal and the Persian Empires, that is to say, Kabul and Ghazni pertained to the former, and Herat and Kandahar to the latter. Both empires had for long striven for the possession of the other half, and Kandahar had repeatedly passed from the grasp of one to that of the other. Both Herat and Kandahar hated the Persian rule, as much on account of the existing differences of race, language, and religion, the one being Sunni and the other Shia, as on account of proximity and the dread of strict rule , whilst towards the Mughal Empire they looked with feelings of attachment, partly on account of race affinities partly on account of trade interests, and partly on account of religious unity, and to some extent also on account of distance and the hope of a mild and protective government.

Ghilzai rule

The glory of each empire, however, had long been on the wane ; the stability of each was undermined , and each went at its own pace rapid in the one case, and slower in the other to final destruction. At the time we commence from, the Ghilzais of Kandahar began to show some impatience of Persian rule, and successive armies were sent to bring them to obedience. The severity of the Persian general and his troops however, only exasperated the people to more combined resistance, and, in 1707, the Ghilzais rose in open revolt under their chief Mir Wais, who killed the Persian governor and drove his troops from Kandahar, and himself assumed the govern-


ment as an independent ruler. This act was the match that fired the long prepared train.

Saddozai rule

Within a short decade, the Afghans of Herat (there commonly called Abdali) followed the example of Kandahar, and rose in revolt under their chief Asadulla Khan, Saddozai, who ousted the Persian governor, and himself became independent ruler of the province.

And so matters stood in Western Afghanistan till the close of the first quarter of the century.

About this time there appeared on the scene, as General of the Persian army, Nadir, the celebrated Turkman freebooter, who very soon acquired a world-wide notoriety as the ruthless conqueror of both the Persian and Mughal Empires. He ejected the Ghilzais and Afghans, who had in the interim overrun Persia, recovered Herat, drove back the Russians, and then, deposing his sovereign, assumed the crown himself in 1732. Five years later, Nadir Shah took Kandahar after a protracted siege, razed the grand old city to the ground ploughed up its interior, and built a mean substitute, which he called Nadirabad, on a low swampy site on the plain a mile or so to the eastward. Whilst engaged in the siege of Kandahar, he enlisted a strong force of Ghilzais and Afghans, ravaged the country around, reduced the people to subjection, and finally, on the fall of the city, he advanced to the conquest of Kabul and Northern India. Ten years later again, 1747, the conqueror of the Panjab and the author of the massacre of Delhi was assassinated just as he reached the Persian border laden with untold spoil, renowned as the conqueror of the age, and execrated as the rival of those ruthless scourges Changhiz and Tymur.

And now we come to the role of the Afghan. On his march to India, Nadir had raised under his standard a strong contingent of Afghans. His plan was this. He ordered a census by households to be taken of every tribe in the country, and then ordered a certain percentage from each to join his standard


at appointed places, fully equipped for the field The enumeration then made is the only existing authority for the population of this country, and is still quoted by the people as the index of the strength of their several tribes.

Among the Afghan troops so raised was an Abdali noble, chief of the Saddozai tribe. His name was Ahmad Khan, and he joined the conqueror's standard with a contingent of 10,000 horse. On the return march from India, Ahmad Khan himself with a weak detachment of his men was in attendance in the royal camp, the bulk of his contingent being in rear in charge of the treasure convoy. As soon as he heard of the death of Nadir, and knowing the hatred in which the Persians held all Afghans, he at once fled the camp with his men and hastened to Kandahar On arrival there he came upon the treasure convoy which was in charge of the rest of his contingent, and at once seized it.

With the wealth thus fortuitously acquired he bought over all the principal chiefs of both Afghanistan and Balochistan, and by their unanimous consent was crowned king at Kandahar, on an eminence overlooking the plain on which the present city stands. He immediately dismantled Nadirabad, and founded the modern city, which he named Ahmad Shahr, or Ahmad Shahi, and made his capital and royal residence. It is more generally known by the name of the original capital Kandahar, and is said to occupy the very spot on which the adventurous Afghan seized the treasure convoy the accidental means of his elevation to royalty. It is a better town than the wretched production of Nadir, and stands on the high road across an open plain, about two miles to the north of it. At best it is but a poor collection of mud-built houses crowded together within fortified walls, and contains but a single building of any architectural merit namely, the mausoleum of its founder himself.

AHMAD KHAN was crowned king in 1747 as Ahmad Shah, Durri Durran, or " Pearl of Pearls," and the title is said to


have been adopted from the distinctive custom of the Abdali tribe of wearing a small pearl studded ring in the right ear.

In the following year he took Kabul from the Persian Governor, who had been left in it by Nadir, and thus established his authority in the home country. The lest of his prosperous reign of twenty-six years was occupied in an unceasing course of conquest and plunder. He repeatedly replenished his leaky coffers by successive invasions of India, raised the name of his nation to a high pitch of renown, opened a career for the ambition and greed of his hungry and luxurious nobles by foreign conquests, and, at his death, left an empire extending from the Sutlej and the Indus on the east to the Persian desert on the west , from the Oxus on the north to the Arabian sea on the south. He had gained as wife for Tymur, his son and heir-apparent, the daughter of the Delhi Emperor, and with her as dowry Lahore and all Panjab, Ahmad Shah's career was one of conquest and plunder throughout. Born and bred a soldier, he lived and died a soldier. He provided his restless and lawless people with congenial employment, and opened to his fickle and ambitious nobles rich fields for the gratification of their desires. But he did nothing for the substantial benefit of his country. His code of laws and regulations for the government of the home country was an ideal more than a real one. His people and country remained much the same as they were before, with the difference only that the wealth and pageantry of a newly-created court attracted many from a pastoral and wandering life to one of court etiquette and more settled habits. But as a whole, the people and country in their respective conditions were hardly affected by the new state of things. The one continued to be the lawless, restless, and ambitious people, greedy for wealth without the labour of honestly earning it, which they had always been noted to be this last quality being a trait in the character of the nation which received a very powerful impetus by the enormous riches they


acquired under the successful and repeated expeditions of their king. And the other remained undeveloped, without loads, and without security for the traveller.

AHMAD SHAH died in 1773, and was succeeded by the heir of his choice, his second son Tymur The first act of the now king was to put down the opposition of his elder brother, Suleman, by putting out his eyes. He then gave himself up to pleasure and the pageantry of court life, and left the government of tho country to his ministers and provincial administrators. He changed the capital from Kandahar to Kabul, and generally spent the winter at Peshawar, which became a sort of second capital. The reign of Tymur was a complete contrast to that of his father. The repeated military expeditions and hauls of treasure, the restless activity and constant annexations of territoiy, which characterized the former, now gave way to luxury and pageantry at home, to minstrels and bayaderes, to pigeon-fancy and cock-fighting. Province after province of the conquered states cut adrift and fell away from the newly-raised empire. Finally the treasury, failing to be replenished as heretofore from abroad, ran dry, discontent became rife, and the first signs of the coming storm began to show themselves. Tymur personally was despised as an effeminate voluptuary, but he was tolerated as the son of his father ; and this fact, more than any other, shows the high estimation in which Ahmad Shah was held by his people, for he is now hardly known except by name, the commotions and usurpations of succeeding years having fixed the minds of the people to more recent heroes, though of meaner calibre.

Indeed the events of the 'short decade of Nadir Shah's rule over this country are better known than those of the full quarter-century of the Durrani sovereigns' reign. The one was a conqueror who destroyed and subjugated, who planted Persian governors of a comparatively civilized stamp, and who ruled as an autocrat. The other was the leader of a banditti, who ravaged and plundered, and was subservient to the will


of his supporters and followers. The deeds of the one are remembered of the other forgotten.

TYMUR died in 1793, after a reign of twenty years, and left a score or so of sons, and a larger number of daughters Of his sons, Zaman was governor of Kabul, Abbas of Peshawar, Kuhndil of Kashmir, Humayun of Kandahar, and Mahmud of Herat. And this was all that remained of the Durrani Empire of Ahmad Shah at the death of his successor. It was merely the native or Pukhtun country, with Kashmir added.

ZAMAN SHAH succeeded to the throne through the support of Payanda Khan, the prime minister of his father. This able and astute minister was the son of the celebrated Haji Jamal, Barakzai, who had been the most active partisan and supporter of Ahmad Shah when he was first made king ; and his object in now taking Zaman in hand was to use him as a puppet whilst he matured his own ambitious designs Zaman, however, had no sooner ascended the throne than his light was contested by Humayun at Kandahar, and by Mahmud at Herat. He immediately marched against Kandahar and reduced the former, and then proceeded to Herat, where he was forced to a compromise owing to rebellion at Kabul. In the midst of these troubles, Agha Muhammad Khan, the founder of the present Cajar dynasty, came to the throne of Persia, and, having seized Khurasan, demanded the cession of Balkh, which still nominally pertained to the Kabul Government.

Zaman, unable to resist, ceded the province in the hope of making a friend of the Persian for the furtherance of his own ulterior designs on India , for it seems to have become clear to him that the Durrani Empire, founded on the plunder of India, could not be kept a-going without periodical supplies from that inexhaustible source. With the alienation of Balkh came the revolt of the Panjab, which was an appanage of the Empire as dower of Tymur's wife, and Zaman was content to appoint Ranjit Sing as his ruler at Lahore.

At this juncture Payanda Khan, the prime minister,


finding the moment opportune for dethroning the puppet whom he found less flexible than he had reckoned, entered into a league with Shuja-ul-Mulk (the brother of Zaman) to set him on the throne. The plot, however, was discovered to Zaman who forthwith executed Payanda Khan and his fellow conspirators. On this Fath Khan ; the son of Payanda, went over to the side of Mahmud, and, with aid derived from Persia, seized upon Kandahar and installed Mahmud there. Zaman, forsaken by his supporters, sent an army for the recovery of Kandahar, but it deserted to Mahmud, who, thus strengthened, marched against Kabul, defeated and captured Zaman, and put out his eyes. The blind monarch ultimately proceeded to Ludhiana, and there became a pensioner of the British Government.

Having established himself at Kabul, Mahmud next seized Peshawar from Shuja-ul-Mulk, who fled at his approach dreading the vengeance of Fath Khan. This occurred at the commencement of the present century, and was followed immediately by a rising of the Ghilzais to contest the government with Mahmud. They were defeated by Fath Khan, but revolted again in the following year, and suffering a second defeat subsided into quiet. Meanwhile Mahmud had returned to Kabul, and he had no sooner turned his back on Peshawar, than Shuja, collecting his supporters and a considerable force, marched against him, and in 1803 the year the East India Company took Delhi captured Kabul and imprisoned Mahmud. Whilst this was enacting at Kabul, the Cajar King of Persia made an attempt to seize on Herat, but his governor of Khurasan, who led the expedition, was defeated. Following this, the Government of India, apprehensive of the meditated invasion of India by Napoleon in co-operation with Alexander of Russia, decided on opening relations with Shah Shujd-ul-Mulk, and despatched Elphinstone's Mission to Peshawar, where the British envoy met the Durrani Sovereign and concluded a treaty, This


occurred in 1809, and marks the first dealings of the British with the Afghans.

It is curious to note the difference in the opinion then formed of this people, and that which is now held of them after an acquaintance of just seventy years The fine, hospitable, courteous, and chivalrous Afghan of that day, is to-day the proud, fickle, blustering, and treacherous intriguer in whom there is no faith, and to rely on whose word is to court disaster. Truly the latter proved by dear-bought experience on more than one occasion is not short of the mark.

Following this memorable transaction at Peshawar, Fath Khan, deserting his allegiance to Shuja and pursuing the ambition of his father, plotted the restoration of Mahmud. He effected his escape from prison and junction with himself at Kandahar, and then, as Wazir, marched with his protege against Kabul. Shuja was defeated and forced to fly the country, and, after many hardships and perilous adventures, finally joined his brother Zaman at Ludhiana, where he also became a pensioner of the Indian Government of the East India Company.

With the re-estabhshment of Mahmud at Kabul with Fath Khan as his prime minister, the affairs of the government underwent a remarkable change. The minister was king, and the king was a pampered debauchee Fath Khan now had the game he had been playing for in his own hands. He knew the character of his people well, and took care to make himself popular with them by open-handed liberality and the forms of hospitality common to the country. Meanwhile he was not neglectful of his own interests, and the necessity of strengthening his position ; and these ends he secured by distributing the most important of the local and provincial governments amongst his own sons and adherents. The popularity and power now acquired by Fath Khan did not escape the notice of Mahmud, and he became jealous of his Wazir. The time, however, was not opportune for an open


rupture with so powerful a servant, and the mistrustful king bided his time. The Persians had for some time been meddling and intriguing in the affairs of Herat, and, in 1816, had got possession of the place Fath Khan was sent to clear them out, which, with his usual good fortune, he did very promptly and effectually. His success, however, only increased the enmity of Mahmud, and roused the jealousy of his son Kamran.

Durrani dynasty rule under Barakzai

In 1818, on some trivial pretence, he was made a prisoner by Mahmud and handed over to Kamran, who, to prevent further chance of the more than suspected schemes of the Wazir growing to maturity, deprived him of sight by thrusting a red-hot pin into his eyes an act of barbarity, winch, it is said, the savage young prince committed with his own hands. On this, all the Barakzai chiefs brothers and sons of Fath Khan rose in revolt, and Mahmud was driven from Kabul by Dost Muhammad Khan. The fugitive made a stand at Ghazni, but unable to resist the impetuosity of his pursuer, continued his flight to Herat ; but, before doing so, Mahmud and Kamran vented their hatred of the helpless prisoner in their hands by putting him to death with the most horrible tortures. The murder of Fath Khan raised a storm of vengeance, which sealed the doom of the Saddozai Fath Khan sacrificed his life in the game he played for, but it was not lost, his family took it up, and with the sympathy of the whole nation won it. The Barakzai came into power under Dost Muhammad, who, in 1826, established himself at Kabul, whilst his brother Sherdil held Kandahar.

And thus ended the Durrani Empire. It rose up by accident, and went down by misrule, after enduring just three score and ten years. The vigorous reign of its founder, Ahmad Shah, was a period of ambition, conquest, and plunder. The feeble reign of his successor was one of pleasure, paralysis, and decline. And the unstable reigns of the succeeding competitors, Zaman, Shuja, and Mahmud, were a


period of anarchy and discord, of treachery and torture, of convulsions and death. With such a career no empire could be expected to endure. The Afghan, who, with mushroom growth, rose into the position of the ruling race, possessed none of the qualities requisite to the situation. But recently reclaimed from a wild nomadic life, still illiterate and unpolished, he failed to attach to his interests the copartners in the soil, to conciliate his compatriots, and to secure their loyalty and support. He stood alone amid the various races which composed the nation over which he had acquired the dominion ; and he fought out his quarrels amongst his own people. His relations with his neighbours were vicarious and unreliable, and he had neither the countenance nor the support of either the Paramount Power of the East or of that of the West.

And so it was that the Durrani Empire sunk and disappeared, but not so the Durrani rule. This merely passed from one family of the race to another from the Saddozai to the Barakzai. With this transfer of rule, however, there came a complete change over the status of the country. The empire had passed away and was replaced by the principality. The Shah gave way to the Amir the Emperor to the Prince.

But besides this, there was a change of a more noteworthy and important character. The home kingdom which was all that remained of the empire, no longer continued an integral whole acknowledging the central authority at Kabul. On the contrary, it became split up into the independent chief- ships of Herat under Kamran the last representative of the Saddozai family ; Kandahar under Sherdil and his brothers joint partners in the government Kuhndil and Rahmdil ; and Kabul under Dost Muhammad. Peshawar still remained in the hands of Sultan Muhammad, but he held the place only as governor under Ranjit Sing, who, during the confusion following on the murder of Fath Khan, seized Kashmir in 1819 and this place four years later.


When Dost Muhammad took up the reins of government at Kabul the recognized capital of the country he assumed the leadership of the divided nation, and adopted the title of Amir the first Amir of Afghanistan. The word is an Arabic one, and means "Commander" It was first introduced as a military title by the Khalifs under the form Amirul-Muminin, or " Commander of the Faithful" and was bestowed upon provincial governors who were subordinate to the Khilafat, or Caliphate, as most Europeans write the word. Subsequently it became adopted as a princely title by independent rulers of the minor states which looked to the head of the Faith as their paramount power. And latterly it came to carry with it a sense of subordination in the ranks of sovereignty.

With the assumption of this title Dost Muhammad acquired nothing more than an acknowledged pre-eminence among the local chiefs of the country of which he held the capital. He acquired no extra power or territorial dominion with it, for, as a matter of fact, his authority was limited to Ghazni on one side of his capital, and Jalalabad on the other.

Whilst Afghanistan was being thus partitioned between the sons of Fath Khan, the course of affairs between Herat and Persia did not run smoothly ; and in 1834 a Persian army under Abbas Mirza, the son and heir-apparent of Fath Ali Shah, the reigning Cajar Sovereign, marched against Herat, but was withdrawn on a compromise with the isolated Kamran. About this time Shuja, the refugee at Ludhiana, seeing the dismembered and disorganized state of the country, set out with a large army to recover his lost kingdom, and marched against Kandahar. Here Kuhndil, holding out, summoned the aid of Dost Muhammad from Kabul, and on his arrival, Shuja, being defeated with the loss of most of his army, was forced to fly to Herat. His nephew Kamran, however, closed the gates against him, and the disappointed Saddozai had to turn back and find his way across the Sistan


desert to Calat or Kelat, where Nasir Khan gave him asylum, and sent him on to Ludhiana.

This victory at Kandahar established the authority of the Barakzai, whilst the conduct of Kamran reduced the cause of the Saddozai to a hopeless condition, and raised the hopes of the Persian king in his ultimate views regarding Herat. While these events were enacting in Afghanistan, Fath Ali Shah was succeeded as king of Persia by his grandson Muhammad Shah And he, instigated by General Simonich, the Russian Minister at Tehran, marched against Herat and laid siege to the fortress. It was gallantly defended by the garrison under the guidance and encouragement of Lieut Eldred Pottinger, who happened to be there at the time.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Dost Muhammad sent an army against the Sikhs at Peshawar to recover the Indus provinces which they had taken from the Kabul Government with the consent of Shuja. The Afghan army defeated the Sikhs at Jamrud near the mouth of the Khybar, but as Dost Muhammad suspected that his success might rouse the jealousy of the Government of Lord Auckland, he endeavoured to strengthen himself by commumcating with the Government of Russia, without, at, the same time, ceasing his correspondence with the Government of India.

These two important events the Persian siege of Herat and the Afghan defeat of the Sikhs, both at opposite ends of the kingdom of the Durrani caused the British Government some anxiety and, in 1837, Sir Alexander Burnes was sent to Kabul as British Envoy to settle affairs between Dost Muhammad and Ranjit Sing. This was the first instance of a British Envoy being installed at Kabul. He had not been there long when there arrived, towards the close of the same year, a Russian agent named Vitcovich. He was a mysterious individual, and acted in a mysterious way. He travelled by Herat and Kandahar, and in the latter place made a treaty with the ruler, Kuhndil Khan, to defend Herat


in the Persian interest. At Kabul he was so successful in his intrigues that he diverted the Amir from his contemplated alliance with the British, and, estranging Dost Muhammad from Burnes, persuaded him to break off negotiations with the British Envoy.

In the meantime, the siege of Herat, which had continued for three or four months without much success, was abandoned by the Persians in consequence of the action of the British fleet in the Persian Gulf, and, Dost Muhammad proving obdurate, the British Government took up the cause of Shuja- ul-Mulk, the refugee at Ludhiana, as the rightful sovereign of Afghanistan, and decided on restoring him to his usurped throne in the hope of his proving a loyal ally and effective buffer against the Persiaus and Russians, As a first step towards this proceedmg, the famous Tripartite Treaty was concluded. Shuja, on his own part, made a treaty with Ranjit Sing, ceding to him all the Indus provinces which the Sikhs had taken from the Afghans , and Ranit, on his part, agreed to assist the British advance on Kabul to set Shuja in the place of Dost Muhammad.

End of Chapter III
«« Go to Chapter II
Go to Chapter IV »»

Back to Index of the Book