The First Anglo-Afghan War

The First Anglo-Afghan War

To justify his plan, Auckland issued the Simla Manifesto in October 1838,setting forth the necessary reasons for British intervention in Afghanistan. Themanifesto stated that in order to insure the welfare of India, the British musthave a trustworthy ally on India's western frontier. The British pretense thattheir troops were merely supporting Shuja's small army in retaking what was oncehis throne fooled no one. Although the Simla Manifesto stated that Britishtroops would be withdrawn as soon as Shuja was installed in Kabul, Shuja's ruledepended entirely on British arms to suppress rebellion and on British funds tobuy the support of tribal chiefs. The British denied that they were invadingAfghanistan, instead claiming they were merely supporting its legitimate Shujagovernment "against foreign interference and factious opposition."

From the British point of view, the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-42) (oftencalled "Auckland's Folly") was an unmitigated disaster, despite theease with which Dost Mohammad was deposed and Shuja enthroned. An army ofBritish and Indian troops set out from the Punjab in December 1838 and reachedQuetta by late March 1839. A month later, the British took Qandahar without abattle. In July, after a two-month delay in Qandahar, the British attacked thefortress of Ghazni, overlooking a plain leading to India, and achieved adecisive victory over Dost Mohammad's troops led by one of his sons. DostMohammad fled with his loyal followers across the passes to Bamian, andultimately to Bukhara. In August 1839, after almost thirty years, Shuja wasagain enthroned in Kabul. Some British troops returned to India, but it soonbecame clear that Shuja's rule could only be maintained with the presence ofBritish forces. After he unsuccessfully attacked the British and their Afghanprotégé, Dost Mohammad surrendered to them and was exiled in India in late1840.

By October 1841, however, disaffected Afghan tribes were flocking to supportDost Mohammad's son, Mohammad Akbar, in Bamian. On January 1, 1842, theirpresence no longer wanted, an agreement was reached that provided for the safeexodus of the British garrison and its dependents from Afghanistan. Five dayslater, the retreat began, and as they struggled through the snowbound passes,the British were attacked by Ghilzai warriors. Although Dr. W. Brydon isfrequently mentioned as the only survivor of the march to Jalalabad--out of acolumn of more than 16,000 (consisting of about 4,500 military personnel, bothBritish and Indian, along with as many as 12,000 camp followers) who undertookthe retreat--a few more survived as prisoners and hostages. His Britishprotectors gone, Shuja remained in power only a few months before beingassassinated in April 1842.

The complete destruction of the garrison prompted brutal retaliation by theBritish against the Afghans and touched off yet another power struggle fordominance of Afghanistan. In the fall of 1842, British forces from Qandahar andPeshawar entered Kabul just long enough to rescue the few British prisoners andburn the Great Bazaar. Although the foreign invasion provided the Afghan tribeswith a temporary sense of unity they had previously lacked, the loss of life andproperty was followed by a bitter resentment of foreign influence.

The Russians advanced steadily southward toward Afghanistan in the threedecades after the First Anglo-Afghan War. In 1842 the Russian border was on theother side of the Aral Sea from Afghanistan, but five short years later thetsar's outposts had moved to the lower reaches of the Amu Darya. By 1865Tashkent had been formally annexed, as was Samarkand three years later. A peacetreaty in 1868 with Amir Muzaffar al-Din, the ruler of Bukhara, virtuallystripped him of his independence. Russian control now extended as far as thenorthern bank of the Amu Darya.

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