First Anglo Afghan war (1841)
Prelude to Anglo Afghan War
In 1837, First Anglo Afghan War began after Persia besieged Herat under the pretense that it formed part of the empire of Nadir Shah.
However, it was Russia who backed Persian to seizing Herat.
Britain, however, resolved that neither Persia nor Russia should take Herat from the Afghans.
In October, 1838, Lord Auckland declared war to compel Persia to retire from Herat.
British also determined to dethrone Dost Mohammed Khan, the ruler of Afghanistan, because he had been carrying on a suspicious intercourse with Russia.
They set up Shah Shuja in his throne, because Dost Mohammed Khan dethroned him many years previously.
Moreover Shah Shuja had been living for many years in British territory under British protection. Therefore, British consider Shah Shuja more faithful ally against Russia.
Dost Mohammed Khan may have been a usurper, but Afgan people accepted him as their ruler. Afghan consider him as a man of undoubted capacity.
If he had been properly treated in 1836-37 he might have become as useful an ally to the British government as he proved himself to be twenty years later.
British advance to Kabul, 1839
In February, 1839, the British army crossed the river Indus, and advanced along the Bolan Pass to Quetta, and thence to Kandahar.
Major Rawlinson remained at Kandahar as minister and envoy of Shah Shuja. Army under the command of General Nott supported him.
The main army, under Sir John Keane, advanced northward, captured the important fortress of Ghazni.
He conducted Shah Shuja to Kabul, whilst Dost Mohammed Khan fled northward to Bokhara.
British placed Shah Shuja on the throne of Afghanistan, under the guidance of Sir William Macnaghten.
British successes, 1840
The British arms and gold maintained Shah Shuja on the throne at Kabul.
The Afghans cared nothing for him. So long as they received subsidies from the British authorities they remained loyal. However British rule made Afghan angry.
The hill tribes, who occupied the passes into the Punjab, remained loyal to British as long as they received bribe.
Otherwise might turn against the British at any time, and cut off their return to India.
Towards the close of 1840, Dost Mohammed Khan returned to Kabul and surrendered to Sir William Macnaghten.
They sent Dost to Calcutta as a prisoner but treated him as a guest, and often played at chess at Government House.
Afghan Disaffection, 1841
In 1841, British cut down the subsidies to Afghan and general discontent grew among Afghan.
The Afghans grew angry with Shah Shuja and weary of British occupation.
However, Afghan secretly wanted to return to the old life of riot and rapine.
The wild hill tribes, who were supposed to guard the passes leading to the Punjab, were still more disaffected; but these matters were kept secret.
British Army in Danger
At the same time the position of the British army was unsatisfactory.
Shah Shuja resented the presence of British soldiers, and lodged British in a cantonment three miles from the city.
Lord Keane returned to India. Sir William Macnaghten lived with his family in a house close to the cantonment.
Soon British government appointed him Governor of Bombay. Sir Alexander Burnes planned to succeeded him as minister and envoy.
Burnes lived in a house within the precincts of the city, and thought himself as safe in Kabul as in Calcutta.
Outbreak and Murder
On the 2nd November, Afghan rose in revolt in the city of Kabul. Burnes barricaded his house.
He sent an urgent message to the British cantonment for a battalion of infantry, and two field-pieces.
But the danger was underrated, and no force was sent lest it should offend Shah Shuja.
That same afternoon mob burnt down the gateway of the Burnes house. Afghan brutally murdered Burnes and twenty-three others.
First Anglo Afghan War – Afghan Revolt
Later in the afternoon two battalions of British infantry tried to cut a way through the narrow streets and crowded bazaars, but found the task beyond their power.
They were compelled to return to the British cantonment.
Akbar Khan, the eldest son of Dost Mohammed, appeared at the head of the insurrection.
Shah Shuja shut him up in the Bala Hissar, helplessly waiting for the British to suppress the rebellion.
Murder of Macnaghten
Provisions were running short in the British cantonment; supplies were withheld by the people of Kabul; and soldiers and sepoys were becoming demoralised.
At last it was decided to retreat to Jalalabad—the half-way house between Kabul and Peshawar.
They opened negotiations with Akbar Khan for the supply of provisions and carriage.
Akbar Khan demanded vast sums as ransom, and the surrender of British officers as hostages for the payment.
On the 23rd December, 1841, Sir William Macnaghten had a final meeting with Afghan chiefs.
The British minister and envoy was suddenly attacked and murdered by Akbar Khan.
British Disaster in the Khyber, 1842
In January, 1842, the British forces began to retreat from Kabul. Akbar Khan and a large army of Afghans followed them.
British army, numbering four thousand troops and twelve thousand camp-followers, entered the Khyber Pass beneath a heavy fall of snow.
The hill tribes crowned the precipitous heights on either side, and poured a murderous fire on the retreating masses.
The soldiers of Akbar Khan joined in the horrible work of murder and plunder.
Whole of the surviving force perished in the Khyber Pass with the exception of a surgeon named Brydon, who escaped on a pony to Jalalabad.
He lived to tell the tale for more than thirty years afterwards.
End of the First Anglo Afghan War, 1842
General Pollock advanced westward from Jalalabad, whilst General Nott advanced northward from Kandahar. Both armies met at Kabul.
Later rioter murdered Shah Shuja, and Akbar Khan had fled away to the northward.
All the British hostages, including the ladies and children, reached Kabul in safety.
British set Dost Mohammed Khan free at Calcutta. He returned to Kabul and recovered his throne.
This bought the first Anglo Afghan to a close, and for some years the British ignored Afghans.
Nepal and Burma also revolted against British occupation.
However British restored their prestige through the victories of Pollock, Nott, and Napier over them.
The disorders soon died away.