The Reign of King Habibullah, 1901-1919

The Reign of King Habibullah, 1901-1919

Habibullah, Abdur Rahman's eldest son but child of a slave mother, kept aclose watch on the palace intrigues revolving around his father's moredistinguished wife (a granddaughter of Dost Mohammad), who sought the throne forher own son. Although made secure in his position as ruler by virtue of supportfrom the army which was created by his father, Habibullah was not as domineeringas Abdur Rahman. Consequently, the influence of religious leaders as well asthat of Mahmoud Beg Tarzi, a cousin of the king, increased during his reign.Tarzi, a highly educated, well-traveled poet and journalist, founded an Afghannationalist newspaper with Abdur Rahman's agreement, and until 1919 he used thenewspaper as a platform for rebutting clerical criticism of Western-influencedchanges in government and society, for espousing full Afghan independence, andfor other reforms. Tarzi's passionate Afghan nationalism influenced a futuregeneration of Asian reformers.

The boundary with Iran was firmly delineated in 1904, replacing the ambiguousline made by a British commission in 1872. Agreement could not be reached,however, on sharing the waters of the Helmand River.

Like all foreign policy developments of this period affecting Afghanistan,the conclusion of the "Great Game" between Russia and Britain occurredwithout the Afghan ruler's participation. The 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention(Entente) not only divided the region into separate areas of Russian and Britishinfluence but also established foundations for Afghan neutrality. The conventionprovided for Russian acquiescence that Afghanistan was now outside this sphereof influence, and for Russia to consult directly with Britain on mattersrelating to Russian-Afghan relations. Britain, for its part, would not occupy orannex Afghan territory, or interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs.

During World War I, Afghanistan remained neutral despite pressure to supportTurkey when its sultan proclaimed his nation's participation in what itconsidered a holy war. Habibullah did, however, entertain a Turco-German missionin Kabul in 1915. After much procrastination, he won an agreement from theCentral Powers for a huge payment and arms provision in exchange for attackingBritish India. But the crafty Afghan ruler clearly viewed the war as anopportunity to play one side off against the other, for he also offered theBritish to resist a Central Powers from an attack on India in exchange for anend to British control of Afghan foreign policy.

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