THE REIGN OF KING AMANULLAH, 1919-29
On February 20, 1919, Habibullah was assassinated on a hunting
trip. He had not declared a succession, but left his third son,
Amanullah, in charge in Kabul. Because Amanullah controlled both
the national treasury and the army, he was well situated to seize
power. Army support allowed Amanullah to suppress other claims
and imprison those relatives who would not swear loyalty to him.
Within a few months, the new amir had gained the allegiance of
most tribal leaders and established control over the cities.
Third Anglo-Afghan War and Independence
Amanullah's ten years of reign initiated a period of dramatic
change in Afghanistan in both foreign and domestic politics. Starting
in May 1919 when he won complete independence in the month-long
Third Anglo-Afghan War with Britain, Amanullah altered foreign
policy in his new relations with external powers and transformed
domestic politics with his social, political, and economic reforms.
Although his reign ended abruptly, he achieved some notable successes,
and his efforts failed as much due to the centripetal forces of
tribal Afghanistan and the machinations of Russia and Britain
as to any political folly on his part.
Amanullah came to power just as the entente between Russia and
Britain broke down following the Russian Revolution of 1917. Once
again Afghanistan provided a stage on which the great powers played
out their schemes against one another. Amanullah attacked the
British in May 1919 in two thrusts, taking them by surprise. Afghan
forces achieved success in the early days of the war as Pashtun
tribesmen on both sides of the border joined forces with them.
The military skirmishes soon ended in a stalemate as the British
recovered from their initial surprise. Britain virtually dictated
the terms of the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement, a temporary armistice
that provided, somewhat ambiguously, for Afghan self-determination
in foreign affairs. Before final negotiations were concluded in
1921, however, Afghanistan had already begun to establish its
own foreign policy, including diplomatic relations with the new
government in the Soviet Union in 1919. During the 1920s, Afghanistan
established diplomatic relations with most major countries, and
Amanullah became king in 1923.
The second round of Anglo-Afghan negotiations for final peace
were inconclusive. Both sides were prepared to agree on Afghan
independence in foreign affairs, as provided for in the previous
agreement. The two nations disagreed, however, on the issue that
had plagued Anglo-Afghan relations for decades and would continue
to cause friction for many more--authority over Pashtun tribes
on both sides of the Durand Line. The British refused to concede
Afghan control over the tribes on the British side of the line
while the Afghans insisted on it. The Afghans regarded the 1921
agreement as only an informal one.
The rivalry of the great powers in the region might have remained
subdued had it not been for the dramatic change in government
in Moscow brought about by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In
their efforts to placate Muslims within their borders, the new
Soviet leaders were eager to establish cordial relations with
neighboring Muslim states. In the case of Afghanistan, the Soviets
could achieve a dual purpose: by strengthening relations with
the leadership in Kabul, they could also threaten Britain, which
was one of the Western states supporting counterrevolution in
the Soviet Union. In his attempts to unclench British control
of Afghan foreign policy, Amanullah sent an emissary to Moscow
in 1919; Lenin received the envoy warmly and responded by sending
a Soviet representative to Kabul to offer aid to Amanullah's government.
Throughout Amanullah's reign, Soviet-Afghan relations fluctuated
according Afghanistan's value to the Soviet leadership at a given
time; Afghanistan was either viewed as a tool for dealing with
Soviet Muslim minorities or for threatening the British. Whereas
the Soviets sought Amanullah's assistance in suppressing anti-Bolshevik
elements in Central Asia in return for help against the British,
the Afghans were more interested in regaining lands across the
Amu Darya lost to Russia in the nineteenth century. Afghan attempts
to regain the oases of Merv and Panjdeh were easily subdued by
the Soviet Red Army.
In May 1921, the Afghans and the Soviets signed a Treaty of Friendship,
Afghanistan's first international agreement since gaining full
independence in 1919. The Soviets provided Amanullah with aid
in the form of cash, technology, and military equipment. Despite
this, Amanullah grew increasingly disillusioned with the Soviets,
especially as he witnessed the widening oppression of his fellow
Muslims across the border.
Anglo-Afghan relations soured over British fear of an Afghan-Soviet
friendship, especially with the introduction of a few Soviet planes
into Afghanistan. British unease increased when Amanullah maintained
contacts with Indian nationalists and gave them asylum in Kabul,
and also when he sought to stir up unrest among the Pashtun tribes
across the border. The British responded by refusing to address
Amanullah as "Your Majesty," and imposing restrictions on the
transit of goods through India.
Data as of 1997