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Afghan Bribes Reduced

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April 13, 1841
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Mohammed Abdulkarim
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People
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Bahadur Shah II 1837–1857

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Between April and October 1841, disaffected Afghan tribes gathered in Bamiyan and other areas north of the Hindu Kush mountains, joining forces to resist British rule. They were led by chiefs such as Mir Masjidi Khan and became an effective resistance movement. However, in September 1841, British envoy Macnaghten made the decision to reduce the subsidies paid to the Ghilzai tribal chiefs in exchange for their acceptance of Shuja as Emir and to keep the passes open. This decision immediately backfired, as the Ghazis rebelled and proclaimed a jihad. The monthly subsidies, which had been bribes to ensure the chiefs' loyalty, were reduced from 80,000 to 40,000 rupees at a time of rampant inflation, and as a result, the call of jihad proved stronger. Initially, Macnaghten did not take the threat seriously, describing the Ghazis' rebellion as "a row about some deductions". He ordered an expedition to put down the rebellion, but the Ghazis defeated the Thirty-fifth Native Infantry in a night raid on October 10th. However, the next day they were defeated by the Thirteenth Light Infantry, causing the rebels to flee to the mountains. After this victory, Macnaghten demanded that the chiefs who rebelled send their children to Shuja's court as hostages to prevent another rebellion. This demand was met with horror, as Shuja was known for mutilating those who displeased him. Macnaghten's alternating policy of confrontation and compromise was perceived as weakness, which encouraged the chiefs around Kabul to start rebelling. Macnaghten was torn between wanting to leave Afghanistan on a high note with the country settled and peaceful and wanting to crush the Ghazis. He threatened the harshest reprisals, then compromised by abandoning his demand for hostages. However, his indecision was perceived as weakness, which only emboldened the rebels. The situation was made worse by the fact that Shuja was deeply unpopular, leading many of his ministers and the Durrani clan to join the rebellion. Ultimately, Macnaghten's mismanagement of the situation would contribute to the disastrous British defeat in the First Anglo-Afghan War.

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