CrAsHiNgBlOw (Hungry Soldier)

The Pre-Modern state of Afghanistan

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Afghanistan is a landlocked country in Asia that connects three main cultural and geographical regions: the Indian subcontinent to the southeast, Central Asia to the north, and the Iranian plateau to the west. For millennia, geography has defined the path of Afghan history as the doorway for invaders streaming out of Iran or Central Asia and into India: Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Chinggis Khan, and Babur, to name a few. Afghanistan has been playing the "Great Game" for decades. Because of the country's geostrategic location, other powers have historically used the Afghan people as tools to achieve their own goals. Afghanistan's background is difficult, and comprehending the current situation involves familiarity with both the country's history of insecurity and bloodshed. Afghanistan has acquired the nickname "Graveyard of Empires." The word derived from the historical pattern of external governments failing to accomplish their objectives in Afghanistan, during and after their invasions (Ataullahjan & Author, 2021). When it comes to the pre-modern era, Afghanistan was never conquered by the Mughals, the British, or the Soviets. These failures teach us crucial lessons that we may apply currently. Although warfare technology has advanced but geography, social, and cultural factors remain unchanged. These unchangeable factors restrict the extent to which war and state-building policies may be altered. Because of this consistency across time, prior experiences are extremely meaningful for today. This paper aims to investigate the Mughal, British, Soviet, and state-building attempts in Afghanistan over a lengthy period of time. The study begins during 1520, since Afghanistan was utilized as a pawn in a grand game among Mughal India, Safavid Persia, and the Central Asian Uzbek Khanate. My question here is whether or not Afghanistan's stability–instability quandary is connected to the growth of the rentier state.

Afghanistan has been through many stages of violence and difficulty. Many superpowers tried to invade Afghanistan and technically most of them succeeded but they could not stay. In Afghanistan, the Mughals were involved in both conventional and irregular warfare for nearly two centuries. Certain areas where the Mughal armies operated proved significant for the Raj's British Indian regiments, Soviet armored divisions, and NATO-US forces in the new millennium. Despite being Sunni Muslims, the Mughals were met with fierce hostility from Afghans, notably the Sunni Pathans (Pashtuns). Regional tribally opposition to a centralizing government was the backbone of rebellion in Afghanistan. Since the Middle Ages, dominance of Afghanistan has become a form of 'Great Game' for conquering the heart of Eurasia. The Mughals were far more successful than the British in maintaining a consistent presence in Afghanistan. Regardless, the Mughals were not really able to acquire dominance of Afghanistan's western and northwestern districts. In 19th century, British influence over Afghanistan was momentary. Furthermore, the Mughals utilized Afghanistan as a base from which to spread influence across Central Asia. Road development, tribal subsidies, the development of military structures and outposts, the establishment of thanas, and the military enlistment of various Afghan tribes characterized Mughal COIN. Several Mughal COIN strategies were remained in use even throughout the British Indian Empire. For example, both the Mughals and the British attempted to co-opt Afghanistan's potentially rebellious workforce through restricted military recruiting. The Mughals knew that the administration of the frontier tribes' borders was inextricably linked to the larger Afghan 'issue.' Subsidies to appease Afghan tribes were used by the Mughals throughout the British rule. When the amount of support was reduced, rebellions erupted, costing the imperial powers a lot more money. As a result, the origins of a rent seeking government in Afghanistan can be traced back to the late 17th century.

Afghanistan did not only had threats from outside but also within itself as many people competed for power. The Pathans are divided into two primary alliances: the Abdalis/Durranis and Ghilzai association. In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani of The Abdali Pashtun confederacy announced the foundation of an independent Afghanistan with Kandahar as its capital. He is considered as one of the best leaders of Afghanistan. He is also recognized as the founder of Afghanistan's modern state. He created a united Afghan state following the invasion of nadir shah, which collapsed the Mughals. Muhammadzai Barakzais, however, supplanted the Saduzoi royal dynasty, in the early nineteenth century, a subset of the Abdalis. Under Ahmad Shah (r. 1747–72) and his successor Timur Shah (r. 1772–93), the Alikozai, Popalzai, and Barakzai subgroups of the Abdali clan dominated most of the authority and privileges. Following Timur Shah's reign, the Alikozais established an autonomous emirate in Herat.

The Qizilbash ruled Herat and Kandahar during the Safavid invasion of West and South Afghanistan. The Qizilbash tribes furnished the Safavids with cavalry contingents in exchange for tuyul grants. Nadir Shah and afterwards the Saduzoi monarchs favored the Qizilbash. As a result, some 12,000 Qizilbash households had relocated to Kabul. The strategy is identical to Hamid Karzai's, who relied on private western security companies to provide his bodyguards. Dost Mohammed curtailed the qazilbash's influence and abolished the elite royal bodyguard corps when he became emir. In the 1830s, only 1,000 qizilbash sowars remained. During the first Anglo-British war, the qizilbash backed Shah Shuja who was a british puppet. To this point, it is obvious that Afghanistan's nation was built on a shaky foundation comprised of a complicated web of groups, subtribes, and families whose positions and allegiance shifted through time and circumstance. As a result, it scarcely counts as a state. 

Following the collapse of the Mughals, Britain intervened in Afghanistan as a colonial power in India. The First Anglo-Afghan War, which intended to reinstate the overthrown Saduzoi ruler Shah Shuja on the crown of Afghanistan, was the first British intervention in Afghanistan. Dost Mohammad Khan was born on June 9, 1793 in Afghanistan and died on June 9, 1863 in Herat. From 1826 until 1863, he was the monarch of Afghanistan and the creator of the Brakzay dynasty, which protected Afghan independence at a time when the nation was the center of political conflicts between the United Kingdom and Russia. In 1823, Dost Mohammad Khan seized power in Kabul and declared himself emir. In 1816, the clan rebelled against Afghan ruler Mahmud Shah, who had killed his prime minister, a tribe member. After eight years of civil struggle, the tribe declared victorious. Dost Mohammad proved to be the most prominent member of the clan, and he was crowned king in 1826. After dethroning his rival Mahmud Shah in 1823, The British made an attempt to form an alliance with Dost Mohammad but were unsuccessful. As a result, they launched an attack on Kabul. Amir and several members of his family were exiled to India when the Afghan-Anglo war broke out. After the First Anglo-Afghan war, Amir Dost Mohammad Khan was re-crowned king of Kabul.

To summarize, Afghanistan has always had a weak state system and a large amount of foreign intervention. Playing with Afghanistan would be chaotic, if not disastrous. As we look back on Afghanistan's pre-modern history, we can see that the country has always been split between three major powers: the Mughals, the Uzbeks, and the Safavids. A single paper cannot encapsulate even the tiniest fraction of Afghanistan's history, we do have a sense of the country's pre-modern status. In Asia, imperial powers such as the United Kingdom, Russia, and France used a divide and conquer strategy, but the tough topography and lack of economic growth made it impossible for these nations to overcome Afghanistan.


Anglo-Afghan Wars | History, Significance, & Facts. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Ataullahjan, S., & Author, V. A. B. T. (2021, September 2). Afghanistan, “graveyard of empires,” was once beautiful, vibrant and safe. Policy Options.

Roy, K., & Gates, S. (2016). War and state-building in Afghanistan historical and modern perspectives. Bloomsbury. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

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