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Afghanistan
(Part 20)



(20) Afghanistan - History

HISTORY. – The Afghan chroniclers call their people Bani-Israil (Arab. For Children of Israel), and claim descent from King Saul (whom they call by the Mahommedan corruption Talut) 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 Ghur and Feroza (east and north of Herat. Only nine years after Mahommend’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 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 gives by Mayor Raverty (Introd. To Afghan Grammar), Afghana is settled by King Solomon himself in the Sulimani mountains; there is nothing about Nebuchadnezzar or Ghur. The historian Firishta says he had read that the Afghans were descended from Copts of the race of Pharoah. 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 Uzbegs), and Afghana were considered as brethren. As Mahommed Uzbeg Khan, the eponymus of the medley of Tartar tribes called Uzbegs, 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 farce of the Book of Mormon, there is in our own age and our own country a considerable number of persons who seriously hold and propagate the doctrine that the English people are descended from the tribes of Israel, and the literature of this whimsical theory would fill a much larger shelf than the Afghan histories. 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 characteristics is certainly a remarkable one; but it is shared, to a considerable extent, by the Kashmiris (a circumstance which led Bernier to speculate on the Kashmiris representing the lost tribes of Israel), and, we believe, by the Tajik people of Badakhshan.

In the time of Darius Hystaspes (B.C. 500) we find the regions now called Afghanistan embraced in the Achaemenian satrapies, and various parts of it occupied by Sarangians (in Seistan), Arian (in Herat), Sattagydians (supposed in highlands of upper Helmand and the plateau of Ghazni), Dadicoe (suggested to be Tajiks), Aparytoe (mountaineers, perhaps of Safed Koh, where lay the Paryetoe 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.

Alexander’s march led him to Artacoana (Haart?), the capital of Aria, and thence to the country of the Zarangoe (Seistan), to that of the Euergetoe, upon the Etymander (Helmand river), to Arachasis, thence to the Indians dwelling among snows in a barren country probably the highlands between Ghazni and Kabul. Thence be marched to the foot of Caucasus, and spent the winter among the paropamisadoe, founding a city, Alexandria, supposed to be Hupian, near Charikar. On this return from Bactria he prosecuted his march to India by the north side of the Kabul river.

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 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 60 years later occurred the establishment of an independent Greek dynasty in Bactria. 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 Panjab, and many sculptures found in the Peshawar valley, show unmistakable Greek influence. Demetrius (circa B.C. 190) 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 Justin to have warred in India. With his coins, found abundantly in the Kabul basin, commences the use of an 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 Parthians, who had a already encroached on Araina, pressed their conquests into India. Menader (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 eruption. 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 Yuechi, about 126 B.C. established themselves in Sogdiana and on the Oxus in five hirdes. 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 Hindu Kush, including Sind as well as Afghanistan, thus establishing a great dominion, of which we hear from Greek writers as Indo-Scythia.

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, among which a notable monarch was Kanishka or Kanerkes, who reigned and conquered apparently about the time of Our Lord, 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 Hwen Thsang traveled in India; they had even reached the great Mahommedan philosopher, traveler, and geographer, Abu Rihan Al-Biruni, in the 11th century; and they are still celebrated in the Mongol versions of Buddhist ecclesiastical story.





In the time of Hwen Thsang (630 A.D.) 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 Sabaktegin, who has established his capital at Chazni. 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 Ghur, 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 repeatly 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 Kharizm, and it was here chiefly that occurred the gallant attempts of Jalaluddin of Kharizm to withstand the progress of Chinghiz Khan.

A passage in Firishta 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 connection with the history of India in the 13th and 14th centuries. The successive dynasties of the Dehli 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 tartars of the Karauna tribe. The Lodis (1450-15260 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 Ghur, Herat, and Kandahar. The history of the Afghan countries under the Mongols is obscure; but that regime 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.

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) Moghul dynasty which Baber founded. Kabul so continued till the invasion of Nadir (1738). Kandahar often changed hands between the Moghuls and the rising Safavis (or Sofis) 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 Sofis into the hands of the Ghilzai (Oct. 1722). Two years later Mahmud died mad, and a few years saw the end of Ghilzai rule in Persia.

Nadir Shah (1737-38) 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, Ahmed 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-Durran, "Pearl of the Age," bestowing that of Durrani upon his clan, the Abdalis. With Ahmed Shah, Afghanistan, as such, first took a place among the kingdoms of the earth. 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 (jan. 6, 1761), with vastly inferior numbers he gave the Mahrattas, then at the zenith of 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 Panjab, Kashmir, and Turkestan to the Oxus, with Sind, Biluchistan, 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 Fatteh Khan, son of Payindah, 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. The malignity of Kamran, the worthless son of Mahmud, succeeded in making the king jealous of his minister; and with matchless treachery, ingratitude, and cruelty, the latter was first 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 Mahommend, the ablest, getting Kabul. Peshawar and the right bank of the Indus fell to the Sikhs after their victory at Naoshera in 1823. The last Afghan hold of the Panjab 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.

In 1809, in consequence of the intrigues of Napoleon in Persia, the Hon. Mountstewart 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. Leiut. Alex. Burnes visited Kabul on his way to Bokhara in 1832. In 1837 the Persian siege of Herat and the proceedings of Russia created uneasinss, and Burnes was sent by the Govenor-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 Panjab, bound himself to co-operate, but eventually declined to let the expedition cross his territories. The "Army of the Indus," amounting to 21,000 men, therefore assembled in Upper Sind (March 1838), 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 (7th August). 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.

Dost Mohammed image

Dost Mohammed


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 (Nov. 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 2d November 1841 the revolt broke out violently at Kabul, with the massacre of Burnes and other officers. The position of the British camp, its communication 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 (23d December) 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 6th 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 demoralized, the march a mass of confusion and massacre; for there was hardly a pretence of keeping the terms. On the 13th the last survivors mustered at Gandamak only twenty muskets. Of those who left Kabul, Dr. Brydon [Dr William Brydon] only reached Jalalabad, wounded and half dead. Ninety-five prisoners were afterwards recovered. The garrison of Ghazni had already been forced to surrender (10th December). 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.

William Brydon Afghanistan 1842 image

This painting, Remnants of an Army (by Lady Elizabeth Butler), shows the wounded and half-dead Dr. William Brydon, an assistant surgeon, arriving at the gates of Jellalabad (Jalalabad). Brydon was thought to be the sole survivor of a 16,000 strong British expeditionary force during a 90 mile retreat from Kabul over snow-covered mountain passes to Jellalabad during the First Afghan War. This retreat was one of the bloodiest defeats in British colonial history.


To avenge these disasters and recover the prisoners preparations were made in India on a fitting scale; but it was the 16th April 1842 before General Pollock could relieve Jalalabad, after forcing the Khybar Pass. After a long halt there, he advanced (20th August), and gaining rapid successes, occupied Kabul (15th September), 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.





Shah Shuja had been assassinated soon after the departure of the ill-fated garrison. Dost Mahommed, released, was able to resume his position at Kabul, which he retained till his death in 1863. Akbar Khan was made vazir, but died in 1848.

The most notable facts in later history must be briefly stated. In 1848, when the Sikh revolt broke out, Dost Mahommed, stimulated by popular outcry and by Sikh offer to restore Peshawar, crossed the frontier and took Attok. A cavalry force of Afghans was sent to join Sher Singh against the British, and was present at the battle of Gujerat (21st Feb. 1849). The pursuit of the Afghans by Sir Walter Raleigh Gilbert, right up to the passes, was so hot that the Dost owed his escape to a fleet horse.

In 1850 the Afghans re-conquered Balkh.

In January 1855, friendly intercourse, which had been renewed, between the Dost and the British government, led to the conclusion of a treaty at Peshawar.

In November 1855, after the death of his half-brother, Kohandil Khan of Kandahar, the Dost made himself master of that province. In 1856 came the new Persian advance to Herat, ending in its capture, and the English expedition to the Persian Gulf. In January 1857 the Dost had an interview at Peshawar with Sir J. Lawrence, at which the former was promised arms and a subsidy for protection against Persia. In consequence of this treaty a British mission under Major Lumsden proceeded to Kandahar. The Indian mutiny followed, and the Afghan excitement strongly tried the Dost’s fidelity, but he maintained it. Lumsden’s party held their ground, and returned in May 1858.

In 1863, Dost Mahommed, after a ten months’ siege, captured Herat; but he died there thirteen days later (9th June), and was succeeded by his son Sher Ali Khan.

Since then the latter has passed through many vicissitudes in rivalry with his brothers and nephews, and at one time (1867) his fortunes were so low that he held only Balkh and Herat. By the autumn of 1868, however, he was again established on the throne of Kabul, and his competitors were beaten and dispersed. In April 1869 Sher Ali Khan was honourably and splendidly received at Amballa by the earl of Mayo, who had shortly before replaced Sir J. Lawrence. Friendly relations were confirmed, though the Amir’s expectations were not fulfilled. He received the balance of a donation of £120,000 which had been promised of artillery and arms was made to him; since then some small additional aid in money and arms has been sent, but no periodical subsidy.

Sher Ali Khan now reigns over all Afghanistan and Afghan Turkestan, whilst Badakhshan is tributary to him. In the latter part of 1872 a correspondence which has gone on between the Governments of Russia and England resulted in a declaration by the former that Afghanistan was beyond the field of Russian influence; whilst the Oxus, from its source in Lake Sirikol to the western limit of Balkh, was recognized as the frontier of Afghan dominion.


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