Modernization and Development of Institutions
In addition to forging a nation from the splintered regions comprising
Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman tried to modernize his kingdom by forging
a regular army and the first institutionalized bureaucracy. Despite
his distinctly authoritarian personality, Abdur Rahman called
for a loya jirgah (jirgah--see Glossary), an assemblage
of royal princes, important notables, and religious leaders. According
to his autobiography, Abdur Rahman had three goals: subjugating
the tribes, extending government control through a strong, visible
army, and reinforcing the power of the ruler and the royal family.
Abdur Rahman also paid attention to technological advancement.
He brought foreign physicians, engineers (especially for mining),
geologists, and printers to Afghanistan. He imported European
machinery and encouraged the establishment of small factories
to manufacture soap, candles, and leather goods. He sought European
technical advice on communications, transport, and irrigation.
Nonetheless, despite these sweeping internal policies, Abdur Rahman's
foreign policy was completely in foreign hands.
The first important frontier dispute was the Panjdeh crisis of
1885, precipitated by Russian encroachment into Central Asia.
Having seized the Merv (now Mary) Oasis by 1884, Russian forces
were directly adjacent to Afghanistan. Claims to the Panjdeh Oasis
were in debate, with the Russians keen to take over all the region's
Turkoman domains. After battling Afghan forces in the spring of
1885, the Russians seized the oasis. Russian and British troops
were quickly alerted, but the two powers reached a compromise;
Russia was in possession of the oasis, and Britain believed it
could keep the Russians from advancing any farther. Without an
Afghan say in the matter, the Joint Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission
agreed the Russians would relinquish the farthest territory captured
in their advance but retain Panjdeh. This agreement on these border
sections delineated for Afghanistan a permanent northern frontier
at the Amu Darya but also the loss of much territory, especially
The second section of Afghan border demarcated during Abdur Rahman's
reign was in the Wakhan Corridor. The British insisted Abdur Rahman
accept sovereignty over this remote region where unruly Kirghiz
held sway, he had no choice but to accept Britain's compromise.
In 1895 and 1896 another Joint Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission
agreed on the frontier boundary to the far northeast of Afghanistan,
which bordered Chinese territory (although the Chinese did not
formally accept this as on a boundary between the two countries
For Abdur Rahman, delineating the boundary with India (through
the Pashtun area) was far more significant, and it was during
his reign that the Durand Line was drawn. Under pressure, Abdur
Rahman agreed in 1893 to accept a mission headed by the British
Indian foreign secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand, to define the limits
of British and Afghan control in the Pashtun territories. Boundary
limits were agreed on by Durand and Abdur Rahman before the end
of 1893, but there is some question about the degree to which
Abdur Rahman willingly ceded certain regions. There were indications
that he regarded the Durand Line as a delimitation of separate
areas of political responsibility, not a permanent international
frontier, and that he did not explicitly cede control over certain
parts (such as Kurram and Chitral) that were already in British
control under the Treaty of Gandamak.
The Durand Line cut through both tribes and villages and bore
little relation to the realities of topography, demography, or
even military strategy. The line laid the foundation, not for
peace between the border regions, but for heated disagreement
between the governments of Afghanistan and British India, and
later, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The clearest manifestation that Abdur Rahman's had established
control in Afghanistan was the peaceful successor of his eldest
son, Habibullah, to the throne on his father's death in October
1901. Although Abdur Rahman had fathered many children, he groomed
Habibullah to succeed him, and he made it difficult for his other
sons to contest the succession by keeping power from them and
sequestering them in Kabul under his control.
Data as of 1997