- Afghan Wars
- (1838–1842, 1878–1880)The Afghan Wars were two nineteenth-century conflicts occasioned by British fears of the threat posed by Russia to British interests in India and the Persian Gulf. In the first the East India Company invaded Afghanistan to return to power the deposed amir, Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk. A British army of 15,000 with 30,000 followers captured Kandahar without resistance and occupied Kabul in August 1839. British forces were unable to control the countryside, however, and this seemingly easy victory turned into a rout when, in 1841, the Afghans struck back and turned the British retreat into a massacre in which 4,500 troops and 12,000 civilians were killed by Afghan raiders and the bitter winter weather of January 1842. A punitive expedition returned to Afghanistan, defeated the Afghans in a series of small engagements, and, in an act of retribution, burned the Great Bazaar in Kabul. Still, the initial purpose of the British campaign was thwarted when Dost Muhammad Khan, a selfproclaimed amir friendly to Russia, returned to power in Kabul shortly after the British army returned to India and reigned for 20 years.In the Second Afghan War, British forces invaded after Tsar Alexander II annexed the Central Asian Khanates of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand to the Russian Empire and Shere Ali, son and heir of Dost Muhammad, renewed the Afghan policy of friendliness toward Russia. The campaign began in November 1878 and quickly chalked a series of victories leading to the capture of Jalalabad and Kandahar early in 1879. Shere Ali died and was succeeded by his son, Yakub Khan, who signed a treaty ceding the Khyber Pass, Kurram, Pishin, and Sibi to Britain and agreed to receive a British agent in Kabul. The peace was shattered almost immediately, however, as the entire British mission was slaughtered by mutinous Afghan soldiers shortly after their arrival in Kabul. A punitive expedition led by General Frederick Roberts took Kabul, and some 100 Afghan deemed responsible for the massacre of the British mission were hanged.In December 1879, Roberts then beat back an attack by a large Afghan force in the Battle of Sherpur. Abdur Rahman, grandson to Dost Muhammad, then led a new Afghan army equipped with modern Russian rifles into northern Afghanistan. Rather than oppose him, the British offered him the throne. When a rival claimant to throne, Ayub Khan, defeated a British army of 20,000 men in the Battle of Maiwand and forced a retreat to Kandahar, the settlement was imperiled until Roberts marched 10,000 men from Kabul to Kandahar - 313 miles in 22 days - and defeated Ayub Khan in the Battle of Kandahar. When the victorious British withdrew to India, Ayub Khan seized Kandahar but this time was defeated by Abdur Rahman.Afghanistan was now within Britain’s sphere of influence in Central Asia, but the brutality of the fighting there helped to defeat the government of Disraeli in the British general election of 1880.See also <
>; < >; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Farwell, Byron. Queen Victoria’s Little Wars . New York: W. W. Norton, 1972;Heathcote, T. A. The Afghan Wars, 1839-1919 . Staplehurst, England: Spellmount, 2003;Tanner, Stephen. Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander to the Fall of the Taliban . Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2003.CARL CAVANAGH HODGE
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.