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History of Afghanistan (Independence)


Afghanistan celebrates it’s independence day on August 19th every year, in commemoration of the Treaty of Rawalpindi at the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War. This treaty ended the British effort to conquer Afghanistan in the year 1919. [1]

Previous to the Third Anglo-Afghan War, Afghanistan had been involved into two longer lasting wars with Britain. The root causes behind the recurring conflict between the British and the Afghans was Britain’s imperialistic designs for Central Asia. Russia at this time was also flexing its imperial muscles in Asia, motivating the British to secure trade routes branching out from colonial India. The British were suspicious of both the influence of the Russians and of the Afghans themselves, who were generally seen as tribalistic, quarrelsome, and uncivilized. [4] Tensions often rose to the point of conflict, three times resulting in war, but the British never took control of the internal government and thus never officially claimed Afghanistan as their own.

First Anglo-Afghan War

The First Anglo-Afghan War lasted from 1838 to 1842 and was marked by a series of defeats and victories on both sides. At one point the entire British occupying force was massacred in an uprising, although it should be made clear that most in the occupying force were from India. The war ended after a new British force invaded the country, which withdrew shortly afterward. However, the heavy losses inflicted marked a decline in British power due to the heavy losses, and hence it is also called Auckland’s Folly, after the British governor of India named Lord Auckland who declared the war. [2]

Second Anglo-Afghan War

Signing of the Treaty of Gandamark. [5]
The Second Anglo-Afghan War lasted two years, from 1878 to 1880. The war was preempted by Afghanistan’s refusal to accept into the country a diplomatic envoy sent by the British as well as Russia’s overt attempts at diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. [2] The British responded by sending 40,000 troops into Afghanistan. Like the first war, the second also ended in British victory, and with the institution of a leader sympathetic to the British cause who was able to bring about stability in the country. Despite their decisive conquest, the British and Indian troops withdrew from the country afterward, leaving Afghanistan internally sovereign but with its foreign relations under tight British control. [3]

Third Anglo-Afghan War

It would be almost forty years before the Third Anglo-Afghan war broke out. Causes leading up to the war were many and complex, including the poor leadership of Amir Habiballah and the stirring of trouble in British India by Afghanis. The war spanned less than a year during 1919, due to nationalist uprisings in India and war fatigue in Britain because of the recently ended Great War (World War I). In fact, this may have been seen by the Afghans as an opportune time to regain independence due to the enemy’s poor circumstances. Technically, the war ended in British victory, despite resulting in double the losses on the British side and the return Afghanistan’s full internal and external sovereignty and the end of Britain’s imperialistic action in Afghanistan. [2]


[1] "CIA - The World Factbook." Welcome to the CIA Web Site — Central Intelligence Agency. US Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 26 Sept. 2011. <>.

[2] "Encyclopædia Iranica | Articles." Encyclopædia Iranica | Home. Encyclopaedia Iranica, 3 Aug. 2011. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <>.

[3] Hanna, Henry Bathurst. "The Second Afghan War, 1878-79-80 ... - Henry Bathurst Hanna."Google Books. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <>.

[4] Sidebotham, Herbert. "New Statesman - The Third Afghan War." New Statesman - Britain's Current Affairs & Politics Magazine. New Statesman, 17 July 2006. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <>.

[5] "Mohammad Yaqub Khan with British officers in May of 1879". Photograph. Wikipedia. Web. 27 Sep 2011. <>