Modernization and Development of Institutions

Modernization and Development of Institutions

In addition to forging a nation from the splintered regions comprisingAfghanistan, Abdur Rahman tried to modernize his kingdom by forging a regulararmy and the first institutionalized bureaucracy. Despite his distinctlyauthoritarian personality, Abdur Rahman called for a loya jirgah (jirgah--seeGlossary), an assemblage of royal princes, important notables, and religiousleaders. According to his autobiography, Abdur Rahman had three goals:subjugating the tribes, extending government control through a strong, visiblearmy, and reinforcing the power of the ruler and the royal family.

Abdur Rahman also paid attention to technological advancement. He broughtforeign physicians, engineers (especially for mining), geologists, and printersto Afghanistan. He imported European machinery and encouraged the establishmentof small factories to manufacture soap, candles, and leather goods. He soughtEuropean technical advice on communications, transport, and irrigation.Nonetheless, despite these sweeping internal policies, Abdur Rahman's foreignpolicy was completely in foreign hands.

The first important frontier dispute was the Panjdeh crisis of 1885,precipitated by Russian encroachment into Central Asia. Having seized the Merv(now Mary) Oasis by 1884, Russian forces were directly adjacent to Afghanistan.Claims to the Panjdeh Oasis were in debate, with the Russians keen to take overall the region's Turkoman domains. After battling Afghan forces in the spring of1885, the Russians seized the oasis. Russian and British troops were quicklyalerted, but the two powers reached a compromise; Russia was in possession ofthe oasis, and Britain believed it could keep the Russians from advancing anyfarther. Without an Afghan say in the matter, the Joint Anglo-Russian BoundaryCommission agreed the Russians would relinquish the farthest territory capturedin their advance but retain Panjdeh. This agreement on these border sectionsdelineated for Afghanistan a permanent northern frontier at the Amu Darya butalso the loss of much territory, especially around Panjdeh.

The second section of Afghan border demarcated during Abdur Rahman's reignwas in the Wakhan Corridor. The British insisted Abdur Rahman accept sovereigntyover this remote region where unruly Kirghiz held sway, he had no choice but toaccept Britain's compromise. In 1895 and 1896 another Joint Anglo-RussianBoundary Commission agreed on the frontier boundary to the far northeast ofAfghanistan, which bordered Chinese territory (although the Chinese did notformally accept this as on a boundary between the two countries until 1964.)

For Abdur Rahman, delineating the boundary with India (through the Pashtunarea) was far more significant, and it was during his reign that the Durand Linewas drawn. Under pressure, Abdur Rahman agreed in 1893 to accept a missionheaded by the British Indian foreign secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand, to definethe limits of British and Afghan control in the Pashtun territories. Boundarylimits were agreed on by Durand and Abdur Rahman before the end of 1893, butthere is some question about the degree to which Abdur Rahman willingly cededcertain regions. There were indications that he regarded the Durand Line as adelimitation of separate areas of political responsibility, not a permanentinternational frontier, and that he did not explicitly cede control over certainparts (such as Kurram and Chitral) that were already in British control underthe Treaty of Gandamak.

The Durand Line cut through both tribes and villages and bore little relationto the realities of topography, demography, or even military strategy. The linelaid the foundation, not for peace between the border regions, but for heateddisagreement between the governments of Afghanistan and British India, andlater, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The clearest manifestation that Abdur Rahman's had established control inAfghanistan was the peaceful successor of his eldest son, Habibullah, to thethrone on his father's death in October 1901. Although Abdur Rahman had fatheredmany children, he groomed Habibullah to succeed him, and he made it difficultfor his other sons to contest the succession by keeping power from them andsequestering them in Kabul under his control.

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