Thursday, March 7, 2013

'Abd al-Rahman Khan

‘Abd al-Rahman Khan  (b. c. 1844, Kabul, Afghanistan - d. October 1, 1901, Kabul, Afghanistan) was the Emir (Amir) of Afghanistan (r.1880-1901).  During his reign, Afghanistan became a buffer state between Great Britain and Russia whose boundaries were demarcated where possible.  He was the third son of Afzul Khan, and grandson of Dost Mohammed Khan, who had established the Barakzai dynasty in Afghanistan.  'Abd al-Rahman was considered a strong ruler who re-established the writ of the Afghan government in Kabul.

Before his death at Herat, on June 9, 1863, Dost Mohammed had nominated as his successor Shir Ali, his third son, passing over the two elder brothers, Afzul Khan and Azim Khan.  At first, the new amir was quietly recognized.  However, after a few months, Afzul Khan raised an insurrection in the northern province, between the Hindu Kush mountains and the Oxus River, where he had been governing when his father died.  This began a fierce contest for power between Dost Mohammed's sons, which lasted for five years.
In this war, 'Abd al-Rahman became distinguished for ability and daring energy.  Although his father, Afzul Khan, who had none of these qualities, came to terms with the Amir Shir Ali, the son's behavior in the northern province soon excited the amir's suspicion, and 'Abd al-Rahman, when he was summoned to Kabul, fled across the Oxus into Bokhara.  Shir Ali threw Afzul Khan into prison, and a serious revolt followed in southern Afghanistan.

The amir had scarcely suppressed it by winning a desperate battle when 'Abd al-Rahman's reappearance in the north was a signal for a mutiny of the troops stationed in those parts and a gathering of armed bands to his standard.  After some delay and desultory fighting, he and his uncle, Azim Khan, occupied Kabul  in March 1866.  The amir Shir Ali marched up against them from Kandahar.  However, in the battle that ensued at Sheikhabad on May 10, Shir Ali was deserted by a large body of his troops.  After Shir Ali's defeat, 'Abd al-Rahman released his father, Afzul Khan, from prison in Ghazni, and installed him upon the throne as amir.

Notwithstanding the new amir's incapacity, and some jealousy between the real leaders, 'Abd al-Rahman and his uncle, they again routed Shir Ali's forces, and occupied Kandahar in 1867.  When Afzul Khan died at the end of the year, Azim Khan became the new ruler, with 'Abd al-Rahman as his governor in the northern province.  However, towards the end of 1868, Shir Ali's return, and a general rising in his favor, resulted in the defeat of 'Abd al-Rahman and Azim Khan at Tinah Khan on January 3, 1869.  Both 'Abd al-Rahman and Azim Khan sought refuge in Persia, where 'Abd al-Rahman placed himself under Russian protection at Samarkand.  Azim Khan died in Persia in October 1869.

'Abd al-Rahman lived in exile in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, for eleven years, until the 1879 death of Shir Ali, who had retired from Kabul when the British armies entered Afghanistan.  The Russian governor-general at Tashkent sent for 'Abd al-Rahman, and pressed him to try his fortunes once more across the Oxus.  In March 1880, a report reached India that 'Abd al-Rahman was in northern Afghanistan and the governor-general, Lord Lytton, opened communications with him to the effect that the British government was prepared to withdraw its troops, and to recognize 'Abd al-Rahman as amir of Afghanistan, with the exception of Kandahar and some districts adjacent to it.  

At the durbar (official court meeting) on July 22, 1880, 'Abd al-Rahman was officially recognized as amir, granted assistance in arms and money, and promised, in case of unprovoked foreign aggression, such further aid as might be necessary to repel it, provided that he align his foreign policy with the British.  The British evacuation of Afghanistan was settled on the terms proposed, and in 1881, the British troops also handed over Kandahar to the new amir.

However, Ayub Khan, one of Shir Ali's sons, marched on Kandahar from Herat, defeated 'Abd al-Rahman's troops, and occupied Kandahar in July.  This serious defeat aroused 'Abd al-Rahman.  He led a force from Kabul, met Ayub Khan's army near Kandahar, and won a resounding victory, forcing Ayub Khan to flee to Persia.  From this time onward, 'Abd al-Rahman occupied the throne at Kabul, and in the course of the next few years he consolidated his dominion over all Afghanistan, suppressing insurrections by a sharp and relentless use of his despotic authority.  The powerful Ghilzai tribe revolted against the severity of his measures, but they were crushed by the end of 1887.  In that same year, Ayub Khan made a fruitless inroad from Persia.  In 1888, the amir's cousin, Ishak Khan, rebelled against him in the north.  However, these two enterprises came to nothing.

‘Abd al-Rahman was the last ruler of Afghanistan to have died peacefully while still in power.  His reign (1880-1901), however, was far from peaceful.  He overcame his challengers in four civil wars and weathered one hundred rebellions.    The character of ‘Abd al-Rahman was molded by experiences of both power and exile.  The only son of Dost Mohammed’s (Dust Muhammad's) eldest son, he was appointed sub-governor of the Tashkurgan District in northern Afghanistan at the age of thirteen.  Upon the death of his grandfather, he actively took part in a five year war of succession, twice winning the throne for his father and an uncle before being defeated by yet another uncle, Shir 'Ali (Barakzay Shir 'Ali).  Forced into eleven years of exile in the Asiatic colonies of Russia, he returned when a British invasion ended Shir 'Ali’s reign.  He took over the throne in July 1880, having won Britain’s recognition in return for agreeing to British control over Afghanistan’s foreign relations.

Once in power, he pursued a rigorous policy of centralization.  He imposed taxation, conscription, and adjudication on the defeated clans and aristocrats.  He incorporated the religious establishment within the machinery of the state, ending many of its privileges.  He spent the bulk of his enhanced revenues on an army that he continuously kept in the field, forcefully carrying out his policies.

‘Abd al-Rahman was able to concentrate on consolidating his rule at home because of Britain’s and Russia’s desire to avoid direct confrontation with each other.  Afghanistan became a buffer state between the two empires.  They imposed its present boundaries.  Playing on their rivalry, ‘Abd al-Rahman refused to allow European railways, which were touching on his eastern, southern, and northern borders, to expand within Afghanistan, and he resisted British attempts to station European representatives in the country.  Toward the end of his reign, he felt secure enough to inform the viceroy of India that treaty obligations did not allow British representatives even to comment on his internal affairs.

In 1885, at the moment when the Amir was in conference with the British viceroy, Lord Dufferin, in India, the news came of a skirmish between Russian and Afghan troops at Panjdeh, over a disputed point in the demarcation of the northwestern frontier of Afghanistan. 'Abd al-Rahman's attitude at this critical juncture is a good example of his political sagacity. To one who had been a man of war from his youth, who had won and lost many fights, the rout of a detachment and the forcible seizure of some debatable frontier lands was an untoward incident.  However, it was not a sufficient reason for calling upon the British, even though they had guaranteed his territory's integrity. 'Abd al-Rahman reasoned that to call upon the British to vindicate his rights by hostilities would certainly bring upon him a Russian invasion from the north, and would compel his British allies to throw an army into Afghanistan from the southeast.

'Abd al-Rahman's interest lay in keeping powerful neighbors, whether friends or foes, outside his kingdom. He knew this to be the only policy that would be supported by the Afghan nation; and although for some time a rupture with Russia seemed imminent, while the Government of India made ready for that contingency, the Amir's reserved and circumspect tone in the consultations with him helped to turn the balance between peace and war. 'Abd al-Rahman left on those who met him in India the impression of a clear-headed man of action, with great self-reliance. His investment with the insignia of the highest grade of the Order of the Star of India appeared to give 'Abd al-Rahman much pleasure.

In the 1880s, 'Abd al-Rahman perpetrated a population transfer population transfer against the rebellious Ghilzai Pashtuns from their homes in the southern Afghanistan to the North.

From the end of 1888, the Amir spent eighteen months in his northern provinces bordering upon the Oxus, where he was engaged in pacifying the country that had been disturbed by revolts, and in punishing with a heavy hand all who were known or suspected to have taken any part in rebellion.

Shortly afterwards (in 1892) he succeeded in finally beating down the resistance of the Hazara people, who vainly attempted to defend their independence, within their highlands. In the late 1880s many of the Hazara tribes revolted against 'Abd al-Rahman, the first ruler to bring the country of Afghanistan under a centralized Afghan government. As a consequence of this unsuccessful revolt, many Hazaras fled to Quetta in Balochistan to the area around Mashhed in northeastern Iran, Russia, Iraq, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, China and India. Most active in the revolt were the Uruzgani, the southernmost of the Hazara tribes. Following their defeat, a considerable number of Uruzgani left the country, as did many Jaghori, their nearest neighbors to the northeast.

It is believed that at least half of the population of Hazarajat were killed by Abdur Rahman's forces, which also resulted in mass exodus of these people to neighboring Balochistan of British India and Khorasan in Eastern Iran.

'Abd al-Rahman's brutal suppression compelled a large number of Hazaras to seek refuge in Iran, India, and Russia. 'Abd al-Rahman could only succeed in subjugating the Hazaras and conquering their land when he effectively utilized internal differences within the Hazara community. Co-opting sold-out Hazara chiefs into his bureaucratic sales of the enslaved Hazara men, women and children, in 1897, the Hazaras remained de facto slaves until King Amanullah Khan declared Afghanistan's independence in 1919. 

In 1893, Mortimer Durand  negotiated with Abd al-Rahman Khan, the Durand Line Treaty for the demarcation of the frontier between Afghanistan and British India. This line, the Durand Line, is named after Mortimer Durand and still remains as an unrecognized boundary by the Government of Afghanistan.

Mortimer Durand was sent to Kabul by the government of British India for the purpose of settling an exchange of territory required by the demarcation of the boundary between northeastern Afghanistan and the Russian possessions, and in order to discuss with Amir 'Abd al-Rahman Khan other pending questions. 'Abd al-Rahman Khan showed his usual ability in diplomatic negotiations.  In the agreement, the relations between the British Indian and Afghan governments, as previously arranged, were confirmed; and an understanding was reached upon the important and difficult subject of the border line of Afghanistan on the east, towards India.

During the period of 1895-1896, 'Abd al-Rahman directed the invasion of Kafiristan and the forcible conversion of its indigenous peoples to Islam. The region was subsequently renamed Nuristan. 

In 1895, the Amir found himself unable, by reason of ill-health, to accept an invitation from Queen Victoria to visit England; but his second son Nasrullah Khan went instead.

In 1896, he adopted the title of Zia-ul-Millat-Wa-ud Din ("Light of the nation and religion"); and his zeal for the cause of Islam induced him to publish treatises on jihad. Today, his descendants can be found in many places outside of Afghanistan, such as in America, France, Germany, and even in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and carry the surname of Ziyaee, which is itself a derivative of the King's title. His two eldest sons, Habibullah Khan and Nasrullah Khan, were born in Samarkand. His youngest son, Mahomed Omar Jan, was born in 1889 of an Afghan mother, connected by descent with the Barakzai family.

'Abd al-Rahman died on October 1, 1901, being succeeded by his son Habibullah Khan (Habib Allah) (r. 1901-1919).

'Abd al-Rahman Khan was considered a strong ruler who re-established the writ of the Afghan government after the disarray that followed the second Anglo-Afghan war. He became known as The Iron Amir.

He had defeated all rivals against his throne. He had broken down the power of local chiefs, and tamed the refractory tribes; so that his orders were unquestioned throughout the whole dominion. His government was a military despotism resting upon a well-appointed army. It was administered through officials absolutely subservient to an inflexible will and controlled by a widespread system of espionage, while the exercise of his personal authority was too often stained by acts of unnecessary cruelty.

'Abd al-Rahman held open courts for the receipt of petitioners and the dispensation of justice; and in the disposal of business he was indefatigable. He succeeded in imposing an organized government upon the fiercest and most unruly population in Asia. He availed himself of European inventions for strengthening his armament, while he sternly set his face against all innovations which, like railways and telegraphs, might give Europeans a foothold within his country.

ʿAbd al-Raḥman also reorganized the administrative system of the country and initiated internal reforms. He brought in foreign experts, imported machinery for making munitions, introduced manufacture of consumer goods and new agricultural tools, and established Afghanistan’s first modern hospital. He imposed an organized government upon a divided population and maintained the balance in dealing with the British in India and with the Russian Empire.

His adventurous life, his forceful character, the position of his state as a barrier between the British and the Russian empires, and the skill with which he held the balance in dealing with them, combined to make him a prominent figure in contemporary Asian politics and will mark his reign as an epoch in the history of Afghanistan. The Amir received an annual subsidy from the British government of 1,850,000 rupees. He was also allowed to import munitions of war.

Alternative names include:

'Abd al-Rahman

'Abd al-Rahman Khan
Abdur Rahman
Abdur Rahman Khan

The Iron Amir
"Light of the nation and religion"
Zia-ul-Millat-Wa-ud Din

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