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Afghan wars

Afghan wars. From 1807, when the armies of Tsar Alexander I reached its northern borders, Afghanistan came to represent an uneasy neutral zone between the Russian and the British Indian empires around which ‘the Great Game’ was played. The British attempted to bring the kingdom under ‘informal influence’ but, when this broke down, launched three military interventions—in 1838–42, 1878–81, and 1919–21. None was successful. The first Afghan War against Dost Mohammed saw a British expeditionary force reach and capture the capital, Kabul. However, surrounding tribes rose up and forced a desperate retreat through mountainous country. Only one member of the original army of 16,000 lived to cross the Khyber pass back into India. The second war was precipitated by Lord Lytton's forward policies, which subsequently were repudiated by Gladstone's incoming 1880 government. The third war arose when Habibullah Khan demanded recognition by the British of the absolute independence of his kingdom. At first this was refused but British arms, once more, found the Afghan terrain and peoples intractable. Afghanistan's sovereignty at international law was formally recognized on 21 November 1921.

David Anthony Washbrook

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