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During the colonial era, the British Indian Government fought two wars with Afghanistan before its relations with the government of Afghanistan were established. Afghanistan was placed in a crucial position geographically from the British point of view. It could serve as an advanced post outside India’s frontiers for checking Russia’s potential military threat as well as for promoting British commercial interests in central Asia. If nothing else it could become a convenient buffer between the two hostile powers. The British wanted to weaken and end Russian influence in Afghanistan but they did not want a strong Afghanistan. They wanted to keep her a weak and divided country which they could easily control.
The British decided to replace the independent ruler of Afghanistan Dost Muhammad with a friendly that is subordinate ruler. Their gaze fell on Shah Shuja who had been deposed from the Afghan throne in 1809 and who had been living since then at Ludhiana as a British pensioner, and they decided to put him back on the Afghan throne. Thus without any reason or excuse the British government decided to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and to commit aggression on this small neighbor the British launched an attack on Afghanistan in February 1839. Most of the Afghan tribes had already been won over with bribes. Kabul fell to the English on 7 August 1839 and Shah Shuja was immediately placed on the throne. But Shah Shuja was detested and despised by the people of Afghanistan especially as he had come back with the help of a foreign bayonets. Many Afghan tribes rose to revolt. Then suddenly on 2 November 1841, an uprising broke out at Kabul and the sturdy Afghan’s fell upon the British forces.
On 11 December 1841 the British were compelled to sign a treaty with the Afghan chiefs by which they agreed to evacuate Afghanistan and to restore Dost Muhammad. But the story did not end there. As the British forces withdrew they were attacked all along the way. Out of 16,000 men only one reached the frontier alive while a few other survived as prisoners. Thus the entire Afghan adventure ended in total failure. The British Indian government now organized a new expedition. Kabul was reoccupied on 16 September 1842. But it had learnt its lesson well. Having avenged its recent defeat and humiliation it arrived at a settlement with Dost Muhammed by which the British evacuated Kabul and recognized him as the Independent ruler of Afghanistan.
The first Afghan war caused India over 1 ½ crores of rupees and its army nearly 20,000 men.
The British now followed a policy of non-interference in Afghans internal affairs. During the 1860s as Russia again turned its attention to Central Asia after its defeat in the Crimean War, the British followeed the policy of strengthing in Afghanistan as a powerful buffer. They gave the Amir of Kabul aid and assistance to help him discipline his rivals internally and maintain his independence from foreign enemies. Thus by a policy of non-interferes and occasional help the Amir was prevented from aligning himself with Russia.
From 1870 onwards, there was a resurgence of imperialism all over the world. The Anglo-Russian rivalry was also intensified. The British statesmen once again thought of bringing Afghanistan under direct political control so that it could serve as a base for British expansion in Central Asia. To force British terms on Sher Ali – the Afghan ruler a new attack on Afghanistan was launched in 1878. This is known as the second Afghan War. Peace came in May 1879 when Sher Ali’s son Yakub Khan signed the Treaty of Gandamak by which the British secured all they had desired. They secured certain border districts, the right to keep a Resident at Kabul and control over Afghanistan’s foreign policy.
The British success was short-lived. The national pride of the Afghans had been hurt and once again they rose to defend their independence. On 3 September 1879, the British Resident Major Cavagnari and his military escort were attacked and killed by rebellious Afghan troops. Afghanistan was again invaded and occupied but the Afghans had made their point. The British reversed their policy and went back to the policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of a strong and friendly Afghanistan. Abdul Rahman – a grandson of Dost Muhammed was recognized as a new ruler of Afghanistan. Abdul Rahman agreed not to maintain political relations with any power except the British. Thus the Amir of Afghanistan lost control of his foreign policy, and to that extent became a dependent ruler. At the same time he retained complete control over his country’s internal Affairs.
The First World War and the Russian Revolution of 1917 created a new situation in Anglo-Afghan relations. The Afghans now demanded full independence from British control. Habibullah who had succeeded Abdul Rahman in 1901 as Amir was assassinated on 20 February 1919 and his son Amanullah, the new Amir declared open war on British India. Peace came in 1 921 when, by a treaty Afghanistan recovered its independence in foreign affairs.