The Second Anglo-Afghan War

The Second Anglo-Afghan War

After months of chaos in Kabul, Mohammad Akbar secured local control and inApril 1843 his father, Dost Mohammad, returned to the throne in Afghanistan.During the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49), his last effort to take Peshawarfailed.

By 1854 the British wanted to resume relations with Dost Mohammad, whom theyhad essentially ignored in the intervening twelve years. The 1855 Treaty ofPeshawar reopened diplomatic relations, proclaimed respect for each side'sterritorial integrity, and pledged both sides as friends of each other's friendsand enemies of each other's enemies.

In 1857 an addendum to the 1855 treaty permitted a British military missionto become a presence in Qandahar (but not to Kabul) during a conflict with theIranians, who had attacked Herat in 1856. In 1863 Dost Mohammad retook Heratwith British acquiescence. A few months later, Dost Mohammad died. Sher Ali, histhird son, and proclaimed successor, failed to recapture Kabul from his olderbrother, Mohammad Afzal (whose troops were led by his son, Abdur Rahman) until1868, after which Abdur Rahman retreated across the Amu Darya and bided histime.

In the years immediately following the First Anglo-Afghan War, and especiallyafter the 1857 uprising against the British (known as the Sepoy Rebellion) inIndia, Liberal Party governments in London took a political view of Afghanistanas a buffer state. By the time Sher Ali had established control in Kabul in1868, he found the British ready to support his regime with arms and funds, butnothing more. From then on, relations between the Afghan ruler and Britaindeteriorated steadily over the next ten years. The Afghan ruler was worriedabout the southward encroachment of Russia, which by 1873 had taken over thelands of the khan, or ruler, of Khiva. Sher Ali sent an envoy seeking Britishadvice and support. The previous year, however, the British had signed anagreement with the Russians in which the latter agreed to respect the northernboundaries of Afghanistan and to view the territories of the Afghan amir asoutside their sphere of influence. The British, however, refused to give anyassurances to the disappointed Sher Ali.

After tension between Russia and Britain in Europe ended with the June 1878Congress of Berlin, Russia turned its attention to Central Asia. That samesummer, Russia sent an uninvited diplomatic mission to Kabul. Sher Ali tried,but failed, to keep them out. Russian envoys arrived in Kabul on July 22, 1878and on August 14, the British demanded that Sher Ali accept their mission.

The amir not only refused to receive a British mission but threatened to stopit if it were dispatched. Lord Lytton, the viceroy, called Sher Ali's bluff andordered a diplomatic mission to set out for Kabul on November 21, 1878. Themission was turned back as it approached the eastern entrance of the KhyberPass, thus triggering the Second Anglo-Afghan War. A British force of about40,000 fighting men were distributed into military columns which penetratedAfghanistan at three different points. An alarmed Sher Ali attempted to appealin person to the tsar for assistance, but unable to do so, he returned toMazar-e-Sharif, where he died the following February.

With British forces occupying much of the country, Sher Ali's son andsuccessor, Yaqub, signed the Treaty of Gandamak in May 1879 to prevent a Britishinvasion of the rest of the country. According to this agreement and in returnfor an annual subsidy and vague assurances of assistance in case of foreignaggression, Yaqub relinquished control of Afghan foreign affairs to the British.British representatives were installed in Kabul and other locations, Britishcontrol was extended to the Khyber and Michni passes, and the Afghanistan cededvarious frontier areas to Britain. An Afghan uprising opposed to the Treaty ofGandamak was foiled in October 1879. A noted historian, W. Kerr Fraser-Tytler,suggests that Yaqub abdicated because he did not wish to suffer the same fatethat befell Shah Shuja following the first war.

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