Source: MECW Volume 18, p. 379;
Written: July 1857;
Transcribed: Andy Blunden, 2001.
Afghanistan, by Engels.
From 1818 Dost Mohammed Khan of the Barukzye tribe (Douranee tribe, as also the Populzyes, then the dynasty of the Suddozyes, but ousted by Dost Mohammed) ruled in Kabul after many civil wars. In Peshawar and Kandahar brothers of Dost Mohammed also ruled. The one in Peshawar, Azim Khan, attacked the Sikhs but Runjeet Singh defeated him and seized Peshawar from him so that it further became a tributary of the Sikhs.
Herat alone remained under an ancient Suddozye dynasty. This was attacked by Mohamed Shah of Persia with Russian advice and aid. Agitation among the English. Fear of a Russian invasion of India, for Persia had been completely played into the hands of the Russians by English policy.
Even earlier, in 1835, Lord Auckland, Governor-General [of India], sent Alexander Burnes to Kabul as ambassador, under the pretext of a trade mission. The Persians wanted to have Dost Mohammed also on their side, but Dost was for the English alliance. But when it came to particulars the English demanded everything and would promise nothing in return. The Pole Vitkievicz intervened, promised everything and demanded little, and Burnes finally had to leave, whereupon Vitkievicz and the Persians momentarily gained the upper hand (garbled “blue books” ).
The Indian Governor, in Simla at the time, under the influence not of the Indian Council, but of W. H. MacNaghten, secretary to the Government, Henry Torrens and J. Colvin, his private secretaries. MacNaghten and Colvin very ambitious, particularly the former. In its Russophobia this conclave decided to restore Shah Soojah, who had been ousted back in 1809 and was living on pension in Loodhianah, to the throne of Afghanistan and to conclude an alliance with the Sikhs to this end. This was done. The army gathered. Runjeet Singh was ready. Shah Soojah began to organise a recruited army under English officers.
Meanwhile small expedition to Karrak (near Bushire) in the Persian Gulf was enough at the very last moment, September 4-9, 1838, when Herat had almost fallen, to push the Persians back. They retired, and now au fond no more fear of Russian power in Afghanistan. But the English had advanced too far, and so the expedition was undertaken, although only with a few troops.
October 1, 1838 proclamation containing the Governor-General’s declaration of war — scarcely public, when the news of the relief of Herat arrived.
The army which actually marched: 2 brigades Bengal army, 13th Queen’s Infantry Regiment, 16th, 31st, 35th, 37th, 42nd, 48th native infantry under Sir W. Cotton, 16th Lancers and Indian irregular cavalry, 9,500 men in all.
One brigade Bombay army, 4th Dragoons, 2nd and 17th Queen’s regiments, a native infantry regiment and some artillery via the Indus.
Shah Soojah’s army: 2 cavalry, 4 infantry regiments, 1 mounted battery — 6,000 men under Major-General Simpson (Crimea?).
The Bengal troops and Shah Soojah’s troops marched through Sindh, on which a levy was imposed for the benefit of Runjeet Singh and Shah Soojah, to Shikarpur, where they were to meet the Bombay troops. Sir J. Keane commander-in-chief. — the Sikhs, with Shah Soojah’s son Timur Khan, through the Khyber Pass towards Kabul. Having marched off from Lahore in mid-December, by February 20 Cotton in Shikarpur, where the Shah’s army was already. The English Bengal army 9,500 men, 3,800 camp-followers, 30,000 pack-camels.
MacNaghten’s political agents and emissaries with Shah Soojah. Burnes among them.
Many camels already lost in Shikarpur.
Beginning of March through the Bolan Pass. To Dadur 146 miles, 16 marches. The camels were dropping for want of forage. Food supplies ditto. The Baluchistan robbers on flank and at rear. Particularly from Dadur to Quetta, 60 miles through the pass. in Quetta on March 26. Here the cavalry was due to stop, but nothing to eat. Burnes set out to Mehrab Khan of Khelat, who promised everything, but said that the land was poor.
On March 7 the Shah’s troops marched from Shikarpur. The Bombay brigade also followed, and Sir J. Keane, who arrived with it in Quetta on April 6. Nothing for it but forthwith to Kandahar. Left on April 7, over the Kodjuk Pass. Kohun-dil-Khan and his brothers fled, and the army entered Kandahar on April 25.
The army paid for everything and nationalised very liberally. In the process MacNaghten squandered a lot of money on bribery’ but to no avail. No enthusiasm for Shah Soojah.
June 27 from Kandahar for Kabul via Ghuznee, which was the impregnable fortress of Afghanistan, and was reached on July 21. Through treachery it came to Keane’s knowledge that one gate, the Kabul, was not walled up on the inside. He had left his siege guns in Kandahar, and had only light field guns. This news alone made capture possible. While mock assaults on the impregnable façade and a bombardment deceived the garrison, the gate was blown up with sacks of gunpowder and stormed by the 13th Regiment (under Dennie and Sale). After fierce resistance the fortress fell.
Dost Mohammed moved to Maidan, a very strong position, and then even closer to the English. But his army broke up, and Dost Mohammed fled to Bokhara, where the Khan had him seized.
The Sikhs did nothing, but as Dost Mohammed did not support the Afridis, they allowed Timur Khan through with a very few motley troops (under Capt. Wade). Arrived in Kabul on September 3.
On August 6 Shah Soojah and the English had entered Kabul. On September 18 the Bombay brigade marched back. On October 3 three companies of infantry, the 16th Lancers, 3rd Bengal Cavalry, 4th Local Horse, and one battery of artillery of the Bengal division were also repulsed. Distribution of the rest: Kabul: 13th Queen’s Infantry, 35th Native Infantry, 3 cannon light foot.
Jellalabad: 48th Native Infantry, some cavalrymen and sappers.
Ghuznee: 16th Native Infantry, 1 squadron irregular cavalry and what was available of Shah Soojah’s troops.
Kandahar: 42nd and 43rd Native Infantry, 1 squadron irregular cavalry, 1 battery and some of Shah Soojah’s troops available (Nott in command).
What had become of the 31st and 37th Native Infantry non liquet.[not clear] Bameean particularly through the Shah’s good Gurkha Regiment and one battery mounted artillery (!! taken in hand!).
The Afghans furious at the invasion by the Kafirs, Shah Soojah hated or indifferent. English intervention in government and administration makes things even worse. The Douranees around Kandahar had reckoned on Shah Soojah giving them back thell’ former preponderance and rights of plunder suppressed by Dost Mohammed. This was not permitted by the English. The Douranees furious about this. The Afridis in the Khyber Pass irritated instead of being paid. In Khelat, Mchrab Khan was attacked at MacNaghten’s instigation for being a traitor (!), and Khelat stormed by Willshire, who seemed to have remained in the area with the 2nd and 17th Queen’s and 31st Native Infantry together with cavalry and artillery. Mehrab Khan fell and part of the country annexed by Shah Soojah.
Rewards now showered from England.
In winter MacNaghten checked the revenue.’ Very bad. Almost everything had to be met by English subsidies. The Russian expedition to Khiva now known, and its strength greatly exaggerated because of the success in Afghanistan. Runjeet Singh died in Punjab, having already been fatally ill when the [English] expedition set out, and his sons and grandsons intrigued against each other and against the English. In Herat, Yar Mohamed, Shah Kamran’s vizier, let the English pay him, and intrigued against them in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan itself the Douranees not pacified, and Khelat in open rebellion. In Bokhara, Stoddart, English envoy, arrested, maltreated and forced to embrace Islam. In the northern mountains on the other side of the Hindu Kush near Khulum the supporters of Dost Mohammed among the Uzbek tribes in unrest (hitherto they had been dubious vassals of Afghanistan).
Admittedly, the Russian expedition was a failure, as MacNaghten ascertained in July, but it was now also established that Nao Nehal Singh, heir apparent and actual ruler of the Sikhs, was in direct correspondence and intrigues with the enemies of Shah [Soojah], that he had given asylum to Ghilzye refugees, etc., and was at the same time preparing the betrayal by Yar Shah, who was on intimate terms with the Persians and made himself out to be the most obedient servant of the Shah in Shah.'
Auckland had returned to Calcutta, where Sir Jasper Nicolls was commander-in-chief and at the same time a member of the Council. The latter proved that the armed forces in India were already extremely weak. MacNaghten continued to demand that Herat should be conquered and Peshawar taken from the Sikhs, but now of course in vain. He wanted to macadamise the Punjab to enable troops to march through and to create a direct link with India, and continued to demand money and reinforcements, the latter, however, always being denied him. MacNaghten blamed all bad luck on Herat and the Sikhs; in Afghanistan, he claimed, all was in vain since Shah Soojah was very popular!
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan constant insurrections. The Ghilzyes rose again in spring 1840. Captain Anderson, Bengal artillery, defeated them May 16 on the Turnuk river, and MacNaghten promised them a subsidy of £3,000 p.a., yet still they persisted in unrest.
In Khelat the Baluchis rose and recaptured Khelat.
By now all the Englishmen in Afghanistan convinced of the untenability of the position, only MacNaghten obstinately maintained all was well.
In August Conolly sent to Khokand and Khiva.
In the Hindu Kush Azim Khan, Dost Mohammed’s son, and shortly afterwards Jubbar Khan, Dost Mohammed’s brother, came with Dost Mohammed’s family, respectively surrendering and submitting to the English in Bameean. At the same time various engagements with the Uzbeks in the mountains between Bameean and Kamurd, with varying success. Finally Dost Mohammed escaped from Bokhara and went to Khulum, where he gathered an army. Bajgah, a weak outpost in the mountains beyond Kamurd, had to be evacuated August 30 by the Gurkha Regiment of Shah Soojah. A newly formed Afghan regiment went over to Dost Mohammed 2-3 days later. Kabul was ready to break away, the Sikhs were intriguing these directly against the English and giving financial support to Dost Mohammed.
On September 14 Brig. Dennie arrived in Bameean with the 35th Native Infantry. On the 18th he attacked Dost Mohammed’s Uzbeks, etc., who were debauching from the mountains on Bameean, and utterly routed them. The wullee (chief) of Khulum pledged not to give Dost Mohammed asylum and concluded peace.
But Dost Mohammed reappeared in Kohistan (in the eastern Hindu Kush). At the end of September Sale marched towards the Ghorebund Pass against him. On September 29 a number of fortifications in the pass captured (near Tootundurrah), on October 3 Joolgah (a fortified village) stormed but repulsed. Dost Mohammed was everywhere and nowhere, it was often said 40-50 miles from Kabul, where the Balahissar were being armed. At length Dost Mohammed turned up with a fair-sized army in Nijrow (where?). Sale marched against him, encountered him at Purwandurrah and pursued him with his cavalry (Natives') as he retreated. The latter, attacked by Dost Mohammed’s horsemen, fled immediately (November 2) and were pursued as far as Kamurd. Thereupon Sale broke off the engagement.
After this victory, however, Dost Mohammed rode to Kabul and surrendered to MacNaghten.
In October-November unrest in Zemindawer (north-west of Kandahar) among the Parsewan inhabitants because of the collection of taxes due from the time of Dost Mohammed, and the cavalry escort of Shah Soojah’s army defeated by these inhabitants.’ End of December 1840 Nott sent troops from Kandahar against them, and on January 3, 1841 the Zemindawer Douranees beaten. (This insurrection directly instigated by Yar Mohamed in Herat, who promised to come.) Todd (envoy in Herat) now left his post, as nothing more could be done with Yar Mohamed, who was openly admitting his treachery and just demanding more moneybut Auckland disavowed Todd and dismissed him!
The Douranees continued in unrest, and the Ghilzyes also rose again. The English decided to fortify Khelat in Ghilzye once again; the Ghilzyes refused to suffer this and banded together. Nott sent 400 men of the 38th Native Infantry. On May 19 the Ghilzyes were defeated at Assiai-Ilmee but this failed to bring calm.
Aktur Khan of Zemindawer with 3,000 men defeated outside Ghiresk by Woodburn with chiefly Afghan troops (5th Afghan Infantry, 2 guns, and a few Afghan cavalrymen, who absconded) (in July).
Aktur Khan and another Douranee chief, Akrum Khan, back into the field. Defeated on August 17. This pacified the Douranees for some time.
On August 5 Chambers also defeated the Ghilzyes with Indian cavalry, and MacNaghten was triumphant.
“All quiet from Dan to Beersheba."
[From MacNaghten’s letter to Robertson, August 20, 1841]
The English in Kabul encamped outside the town, the camp miserably fortified, untenable, dominated everywhere. Elphinstone, an old, sick general, had been in command since early 1841, when Cotton resigned. The ramparts could be surmounted on horseback! All around: gardens, houses and defile paths. The stores were kept separately in a fort, and between it and the camp lay an empty fort with a walled garden, which seemed to be made for a hostile party’ to cut off the communications. All this through the fault of the politicals who would not permit the occupation of the Bala Hissar.
The English officers and soldiers had intrigued a good deal with the women of Kabul, and the men of Kabul could get no redress. Widespread fury of the Mohammedans, who finally decided to seek revenge. This at the heart of the fury against the invaders. MacNaghten saw everything, as he wrote September 20, 1841, in “couleur de rose”. Meanwhile in September another minor insurrection suppressed in Kohistan.
The Indian finances ruined by the Afghan war. Every year £1 1/4 million went to Afghanistan, and Nicolls maintained that either the Punjab had to be conquered or the force in Afghanistan to be brought up to 25,000. A new Indian loan issued. 9,000 Indian troops encamped between Karachi and Quetta, 16,000 infantry and Shah troops in Afghanistan itself. Now a ministerial crisis in England, prospects of a Tory administration opposed to all trans-Indus expeditions. (MacNaghten so blind that when the loan was issued he asked if it was intended for the Chinese war!) — The 44th Queen’s Regiment under Shelton sent to Kabul in the spring.
MacNaghten appointed Governor of Bombay. Before departing he saw the necessity of restricting expenditure. Firstly by curtailing the subsidies to the chieftains of the Ghilzyes, Kohistances, Momunds, Kaubulees, Kuzzilbashes. This decided it. The summoning of the chieftains to Kabul resulted immediately in a conspiracy, and they decided that the Ghilzyes in the mountains to the south of Jellalabad should rise first. This they did.
MacNaghten, however, decided, as all was quiet to send some of the troops to India. One regiment in Kabul and one in Kandahar were sufficient succour [to Shah Soojah’s troops]. So he set out, on his return joining up with troops who were to take punitive measures on the way.
On October 9 the 35th Regiment Native Infantry, a cavalry squadron and two guns set out.... At Bootkhak the camp attacked. On the 10th Sale followed [Monteith] with the 13th Infantry Regiment and on October 13 arrived at the pass of Khurd-Kabul. Heavy fighting, but the English pushed through and Sale returned to Bootkhak. Monteith with the 35th Native Infantry was attacked every night in the mountains and robbed of all his camels. Admittedly peace concluded with the chieftains and promised to continue paying the old subsidies, but no go. The tribes went on fighting and the chieftains laughed up their sleeves. From Tezeell to Gundamuck continual fighting, and it flared up again on the other side of the Jugdulluck. There the outlet from the defile was captured.
Sale was in Gundamuck. MacNaghten still considered it unimportant.
The conspiracy of the chieftains in Kabul was known to Burnes and MacNaghten (the latter had not yet left) but nothing was done. On the evening of November 1 a meeting of the conspirators, decision to start an insurrection in the town in the morning, beginning with an attack on the residence of Burnes, who lived in the town.
November 2 Burnes’ house destroyed and he and his guards murdered. The English did nothing. Ordre, contre-ordre, disordre.[Napoleon] Elphinstone weak. Shah Soojah wanted no troops in the Bala Hissar! and they gave in to him!
November 3. Not until 3 p.m. three companies and 2 guns sent against the town! Repulsed, of course.'
The fortified camp of the English (bastioned stockade continued!) much too big for the few troops there, moreover dominated. Food supplies in a fort 400 yards removed from the S.W. corner of the camp!! Between the two lay an old earth fort with walled gardens, which was not occupied, and MacNaghten forbade its occupation!! This place (Mohamed Sheriff’s Fort) immediately occupied by the Afghans, the camp fired upon and the commissariat fort attacked (only 80 men inside!).
November 4 three rei[nforced] companies sent to the commissariat fort forced to turn back. Likewise a cavalry expedition sent to fetch (!) the garrison out of the commissariat fort. In the night the garrison evacuated the commissariat fort, which was immediately plundered. All the medical stores, beer, wine, etc., were lost together with the food supplies. A more distant fort where corn had been stored had already been evacuated the night of the 3rd on account of the weakness of the garrison and water shortage.
The Kohistan Regiment of Shah Soojah in Kardurrah rebelled and killed their officers
November 5 Elphinstone already talking of bribing the enemy and of negotiations!
November 6 Mohamed Sheriff’s Fort finally captured and destroyed. Otherwise nothing happened. Some corn purchased in the surrounding villages. Elphinstone writes to MacNaghten:
“Our case is riot yet desperate [...] but it. goes very fast."
[From Elphinstone’s letter to MacNaghten of November 6, 1841]
Mohun Lal, Burnes’ moonshee, sent as negotiator to the mountain tribes, in order to bribe the chieftains. But also secretly to pay rewards for the heads of the most furious (10,000 rupees a piece).
Elphinstone quite ill, at a loss, undecided, depending on whoever spoke last, ordre, contre-ordre, disordre.
November 9 Brig. Shelton, who was in the Bala Hissar with the Shah’s troops, called to the camp as second in command’ and as ad latus [assistance] of Elphinstone, but the two constantly at loggerheads.
Sale’s brigade was now to return from Gundamuck, to relieve them.
November 10 the Afghans en masse on. the dominating foothills, fired into the camp. At MacNaghten’s insistence, 1,000 men were to attack. No sooner were they assembled than counter-order from Elphinstone. Eventually sent however. A small fort captured, but the troops in the open field fled from the Afghan horsemen (Europeans! and natives'). However, the enemy finally repulsed.
November 13 the Afghans again on the mountain, bombarding the camp from the heights of Beh-meru with 2 guns. MacNaghten wanted to attack, Shelton did not, overruled, and 16 companies, 2 1/2 squadrons, 2 guns sent out, among them Shelton himself. The Afghan horsemen charged again and again through the English infantry, repulsing them and being repulsed themselves by the cavalry. The infantry then followed and took the heights and the 2 guns. Last success of the English.
November 15 Pottinger arrived from Kohistan wounded: the Shah’s Gurkha Regiment annihilated by the mountain tribes.
November 17 news that Sale was marching towards Jellalabad. Last hope gone west. Now only a choice between occupation of the Bala Hissar, retreat or capitulation. Shelton succeeded in asserting his view that the Bala Hissar should not be occupied (his reasons childish), which alone would have made wintering possible.
November 23 second engagement at Beh-meru. The English marched out, totally defeated, lost 2 guns. The artillery alone fought well, the infantry, Europeans and Sepoys, cowardly. Chased back in disorder over the plain into the camp by the Afghans.
Now they could no longer (in Elphinsione’s opinion) enter the Bala Hissar without sacrificing some of the 700 wounded and sick and almost all the stores, ammunition and food. On half rations for the past few days! Therefore negotiations. The Afghan chieftains demand (November 24) unconditional surrender. Rejected.
Mahomed Akbar Khan, Dost Mohammed’s son, arrived in Kabul and became chief of the Afghans. He immediately took steps to cut off all the supplies of the English, and succeeded.
Abdullah Khan and Meer Musjedee, the two chieftains on whose heads the English had placed a reward, eliminated before the end of November. The first was wounded at Beh-meru by a dubious shot (second engagement) and was then allegedly given poison; the second probably poisoned or suffocated. The rewards claimed, but the English refused payment.
December 1-8 shortages in camp. Horses dying. March on Jellalabad declared impossible. Likewise a capitulation, which, it was said, could provide no protection against the tribes in the mountains. MacNaghten now wants [to move to] the Bala Hissar. December 5 the Afghans burnt the English bridge over the Kabul, 1/4 mile from the camp, without the English attempting to prevent them. December 6 Mohamed Sheriff’s Fort evacuated. (5,000 men still fit for duty.) [The garrison of the fort consisting] of 100 men [were put to flight by] 20 Afghans who had climbed up the walls of the fort!!
The generals pressed for capitulation or retreat, which was admittedly almost impossible. MacNaghten hesitated. On the 10th news that the relief force from Kandahar, for which they had been hoping, could not get through. On the 11th everything eaten up down to the last scrap. The soldiers had become so cowardly that they were no longer fit for fighting.
December 11 capitulation. The whole of Afghanistan to be evacuated. The British troops in Kabul to go to Peshawar. Shah Soojah to accompany them or remain, as he chooses. Dost Mohammed returns. 4 British officers as hostages. Nevertheless, peace and friendship between Afghanistan and England (even a clause inserted stating that the Afghans were not to enter into any alliance without the consent of the English). The treaty accepted in the main by word of mouth.
During the entire period of the English defensive and sluggish offensive the Afghans distinguished by their use of long-range long flintlocks (jezails). They were always out of range of the poor smoothbore muskets of the English.
December 13 the Bala Hissar evacuated by the English.
December 16 the forts round the camp (small Afghan fortifications) evacuated in return for deliveries of supplies, which proved to be very scanty. The Afghans suspicious, sent nothing and scoffed at the treaty.
December 18 snow. December 19 dispatch of MacNaghten’s order that Ghuznee, Kandahar, Jellalabad should be evacuated. The chieftains disunited and suspicious. On December 22 Mahomed Akbar Khan had the proposal put to them that they should associate with the, English, leave Shah Soojah on the throne, make him, Mahomed Akbar Khan, vizier and immediately defeat the other Afghan tribes, and let the English remain until the spring, when they should retire peacefully. MacNaghten walked into the trap, arrived on the 23rd to conclude the matter — and was murdered The generals sat back and let this happen!
January 1  the treaty at last. The English to march, as soon as they have cattle, accompanied by Afghan chieftains. The troops in Jellalabad to march even earlier. Those in Ghuznee via Kabul, those in Kandahar direct [to India]. 6 British officers as hostages. The Afghans to conclude no alliance without the consent of the English, but may, in return, claim English help too (if this not ratified, the Afghans to do as they like). All guns except 6 horse-drawn and three small mule-drawn (mountain) guns to remain, likewise all remaining similar weapons, ammunition and stores.'
In addition all the cash (19 lakhs) remains, and bills of exchange for 14 lakhs signed for individual chieftains, to whom MacNaghten was alleged to have promised this.
Immediate warning from all parties that they would be attacked during the march. But que faire? [What was to be Done?] At first Pottinger refused to conclude this treaty, since reinforcements were on the way from India and there was great dissension among the chieftains, nor did the treaty offer any guarantee of a safe withdrawal. But a council of war (December 25) ordered it.
409 The summary of John W. Kaye’s History of the War in Afghanistan (vols. I-II, London, 1851) was made by Engels as a basis for his article “Afghanistan” (see this volume, pp. 40-48 and Note 40). Engels managed to summarise the contents of a two-volume work abounding in quotations from various sources and with the documents appended totalling 1,346 pages. As a rule, he presented a selection of the facts in very concise German, generally following the chronological order of the book. Only on rare occasions did he reproduce passages, phrases or words from Kaye’s book in English, French or other languages. (In the present edition the use of the English expressions is mentioned in footnotes while the French and other foreign words are given as in the original.) Since on the whole the text of the original summary is neither a translation into German nor a version of passages from Kaye’s book, but is largely an original work, it is gives, in ordinary and not small type, as is usually the case. Words abridged by Engels are printed in full; explanations by the editors are given in square brackets.
410 Blue Books - a series of parliamentary and foreign-policy documents. Here the reference is to the Correspondence Relating to Persia and Afghanistan (London, 1839), comprising the reports submitted to Parliament on the negotiations between Alexander Burnes, the British representative in Kabul, and the Emir of Afghanistan, Dost Mohammed. As a result of the negotiations the British Government, at Palmerston’s insistence, declared war on Afghanistan in 1838. The reports were submitted to Parliament in 1839 but, as subsequently transpired, the most important papers were not produced, which made it possible to claim that Dost Mohammed was the initiator of the Anglo-Afghan conflict. Marx wrote about the falsifications contained in this publication in the New-York Daily Tribune (see present edition, Vol. 12, pp. 606-07).
411 Gurkhas-general name given to a number of peoples in Nepal from whom the British colonial authorities in India recruited soldiers for special regiments in their army.
412 The Russian expedition to the Khanate of Khiva in November 1839 was undertaken under V. A. Perovsky, Military Governor of Orenburg. His 5,000-strong detachment, with artillery and a food convoy, proved unprepared for a winter march through the barren steppes and lost half its men through mass disease. Failing to reach Khiva, Perovsky wat forced to return to Orenburg.