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Dost Mohammad Khan, First Emir of Afghanistan

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November 1, 1826
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Mirza Firuz Shah
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People
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Akbar Shah II 1806–1837

Dost Mohammad Khan, First Emir of Afghanistan

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Emir Dost Mohammad Khan Barakzai (Pashto/Dari: دوست محمد خان بارکزی; December 23, 1793 – June 9, 1863), nicknamed the Amir-i Kabir, was the founder of the Barakzai dynasty and one of the prominent rulers of Afghanistan during the First Anglo-Afghan War. With the decline of the Durrani dynasty, he became the Emir of Afghanistan in 1826. He was the 11th son of Payendah Khan, chief of the Barakzai Pashtuns, who was killed in 1799 by King Zaman Shah Durrani.

 

At the beginning of his rule, the Afghans lost their former stronghold of Peshawar Valley in March 1823 to the Sikh Khalsa Army of Ranjit Singh at the Battle of Nowshera. The Afghan forces in the battle were led by Azim Khan, half-brother of Dost Mohammad Khan. Dost had ruled for a lengthy 36 years, a span broken only by Zahir Shah more than a century later.

The Musahiban family started with his older brother, Sultan Mohammad Khan, nicknamed "Telai", meaning "golden", a nickname he was given because of his love of fine clothing.

 

Background and rise to power

 

Dost Mohammad Khan was born to an influential family on 23 December 1793 in Kandahar, Durrani Empire. His father, Payinda Khan, was chief of the Barakzai Tribe and a civil servant in the Durrani dynasty. Their family can be traced back to Abdal (the first and founder of the Abdali tribe), through Hajji Jamal Khan, Yousef, Yaru, Mohammad, Omar Khan, Khisar Khan, Ismail, Nek, Daru, Saifal, and Barak. Abdal had Four sons, Popal, Barak, Achak, and Alako. Dost Mohmmad Khan's mother belonged to the Qizilbash group.

 

His elder brother, the chief of the Barakzai, Fateh Khan, took an important part in raising Mahmud Shah Durrani to the sovereignty of Afghanistan in 1800 and in restoring him to the throne in 1809. Dost Mohammad accompanied his elder brother and then Prime Minister of Kabul Wazir Fateh Khan to the Battle of Attock against the invading Sikhs. Mahmud Shah repaid Fateh Khan's services by having him assassinated in 1818, thus incurring the enmity of his tribe. After a bloody conflict, Mahmud Shah was deprived of all his possessions but Herat, the rest of his dominions being divided among Fateh Khan's brothers. Of these, Dost Mohammad received Ghazni, to which in 1826 he added Kabul, the richest of the Afghan provinces.

 

From the commencement of his reign he found himself involved in disputes with Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of the Punjab region, who used the dethroned Sadozai prince, Shah Shujah Durrani, as his instrument. In 1834, Shah Shujah made a last attempt to recover his kingdom. He was defeated by Dost Mohammad Khan under the walls of Kandahar, but Ranjit Singh seized the opportunity to annex Peshawar. Dost Mohammad sent his son Akbar Khan to defeat the Sikhs at the Battle of Jamrud in 1837. His failure in recapturing the Jamrud Fort became the Afghan Emir's worst concern.

 

European influence in Afghanistan

 

At the intersection of British, Russian and, to a lesser degree, French imperial interests, political maneuvering was necessary. Rejecting overtures from Russia, he endeavoured to form an alliance with Great Britain, and welcomed Alexander Burnes to Kabul in 1837. Burnes, however, was unable to prevail on the governor-general, Lord Auckland, to respond to the emir's advances. Dost Mohammad was enjoined to abandon the attempt to recover Peshawar, and to place his foreign policy under British guidance. He replied by renewing his relations with Russia, and in 1838 Lord Auckland set the British troops in motion against him. To enable such an action, the British manufactured the evidence needed to justify the overthrow of the Afghan ruler.

 

War with the Sikhs

 

In 1835, Dost Mohammad Khan, the youngest and the most energetic of the Barakzai brothers, who had supplanted the Durrani dynasty and become Emir (lord, chief or king) of Kabul in 1825, advanced up to Khaibar Pass threatening to recover Peshawar. In 1836, Hari Singh Nalwa, the Sikh general who along with Prince Nau Nihal Singh was guarding that frontier, built a chain of forts, including one at Jamrud at the eastern end of the Khyber Pass to defend the pass. Dost Muhammad erected a fort at `Ali Masjid at the other end. In the beginning of 1837, as Prince Nau Nihal Singh returned to Lahore to get married and the Maharaja and his court got busy with preparations for the wedding.

 

Dost Muhammad Khan sent a 25,000 strong force, including a large number of local irregulars and equipped with 18 heavy guns, to invest Jamrud. The Sikh garrison there had only 600 men and a few light artillery pieces. The Afghans besieged the fort and cut off its water supply, while a detachment was sent to the neighbouring Sikh fort of Shabqadar to prevent any help from that direction. Mahan Singh Mirpuri, the garrison commander of Jamrud, kept the invaders at bay for four days and managed meanwhile to send a desperate appeal for help to Hari Singh Nalva at Peshawar. Nalva rose from his sick bed and rushed to Jamrud.

 

In the final battle fought on 30 April 1837, the Afghans were driven off, but Hari Singh Nalva was killed. In 1838, with the help and agreement of the Sikh monarch who joined the Tripartite Treaty with British viceroy Lord Auckland, restored Shah Shuja to the Afghan throne in Kabul on August 1839. Dost Muhammad Khan was exiled to Mussoorie in November 1839, but was restored to his former position after the murder of Shah Shuja in April 1842. He thereafter maintained cordial relations with the Lahore Darbar.

 

Second reign

 

He was then set at liberty, in consequence of the resolve of the British government to abandon the attempt to intervene in the internal politics of Afghanistan. On his return from British India, Dost Mohammad was received in triumph at Kabul, and set himself to re-establish his authority on a firm basis. From 1846, he renewed his policy of hostility to the British and allied himself with the Sikhs. However, after the defeat of his allies at Gujrat on 21 February 1849, he abandoned his designs and led his troops back into Afghanistan. In 1850, he conquered Balkh, and in 1854 he acquired control over the southern Afghan tribes by the capture of Kandahar.

 

On 30 March 1855, Dost Mohammad reversed his former policy by concluding an offensive and defensive alliance with the British government, signed by Sir Henry Lawrence, Chief Commissioner of the Punjab, first proposed by Herbert Edwardes. In November of 1855, he conquered Kandahar. In 1857, he declared war on Persia in conjunction with the British, and in July, a treaty was concluded by which the province of Herat was placed under a Barakzai prince. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Dost Mohammad refrained from assisting the insurgents. His later years were disturbed by troubles at Herat and in Bukhara. On March 1862, Ahmad Khan, the ruler of Herat, captured Farah, which had been controlled by the Barakzai Emirs since 30 October 1856. This became Dost Mohammad Khan's cassus belli to launch an attack on Herat. On June 29 or July 8, Farah was captured by the Muhammadzais. On July 22, Sabzawar was captured. By July 28, Herat was besieged. After a 10 month siege on 27 May 1863, he captured Herat, but on the 9th of June, he died suddenly in the midst of victory, after playing a great role in the history of South and Central Asia for forty years. He named his son, Sher Ali Khan, as his successor. He was buried in Herat at the Gazurgah.

 

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Ismail Mazari

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Very good information.

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