this is the second part of a two part series celebrating Afghan independence day. Part one can be read here
by Peymana Assad
years Habibullah Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan had been building
support to fight against the British, but nothing came of the schemes he
devised. He was heavily subsidized by the British, but he chafed under
their control of Afghan foreign policy. His powers could really only be
compared to that of a British provincial governor, even though no
British soldier was on Afghan soil. In February 1919 Habibullah was
assassinated while on a hunting trip. After a brief succession fight,
Amanullah Khan, one of his sons took power and became the new Amir.
many years already small but vicious battles flared on the Eastern
parts of Afghanistan into British India, so Amanullah finally declared
war on Britain. As a gesture to the Afghan people he went to Eidgah
Mosque in Kabul and shouted to the crowd “Ya Margh Ya Istiqlal”
either death or freedom, launching the Third Afghan-Anglo war of May
1919. Three Afghan columns marched against British India and the Afghans
moved down the Khyber Pass gathering tribal support along the way.
Jihad had been called on Britain but exhausted by the First World War,
Britain found it hard to mobilise the forces it needed. During the first
battles of the Third Afghan-Anglo war Britain reeled, abandoning
several frontier posts with heavy losses. The Afghans were victorious in
Parachinar, Thal and Kurram, with the help of fellow Pashtun tribes but
started to face difficulties in Khyber, incurring heavy losses.
a month Britain realised that there was little to be gained by war,
although many in the British forces were still fantasying about taking
their troops all the way to Kabul. But the government of Delhi were
resolutely opposed to such an idea; they believed it would take more
troops than were present in the whole of India to take Afghanistan
effectively. Frustrated by the lack of progress the Raj employed aircraft's for the first time to target the capital.
three months of fighting would incur before Lord Chelmsford met with
Amanullah Khan for a peace agreement. In Rawalpindi Amanullah was
stripped of his financial subsidy, refused the right of arms shipments
from India and forced to yet again re-affirm the permanence of the
Durand line. But he won from the British a basic right which Afghanistan
had previously been denied as attached to the treaty was a letter that
declared Afghanistan “free and independent in its internal and external
affairs”. Britain had finally relinquished control of Afghan foreign
policy on 19th of August 1919 at the Treaty of Rawalpindi. The irony of the air attacks on the capital so soon after the British Empire had condemned Germany's World war one attacks on London was not lost on the King. "It is a matter of great regret that the throwing of bombs by zeppelins
on London was denounced as a most savage act and the bombardment of
places of worship and sacred spots was considered a most abominable
operation. While we now see with our own eyes that such operations were a
habit which is prevalent among all civilized people of the west"
has now been 93 years since Afghanistan restored its sovereignty over
its foreign affairs, yet sadly the country is still ravished by war.
However August 1919 still holds a great significance for Afghans today.
It is a symbol of their desire for freedom and self determination of
present context of affairs in the country may be blurred with countless
internal political disputes and accusations of corruption, but it is a
reminder to the people of Afghanistan that only a strong, stable and
united country can achieve what it is capable of. That reminder crosses
the boundaries set by ethnic or religious lines.
vision of Amanullah was a progressive Afghan state. Since the end of
the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan has been given the opportunity
to move towards just that. The freedoms granted to its citizens in its
current constitution are the small steps being taken, even with the
hiccups. Change however does not take place overnight, it is gradual and
the past 11 years have shown greater development in all aspects of
some though 1919 stands as an example that Afghanistan is still not
free from international or regional influences as the relations of the
country are mainly based by its alliance with NATO. But in a world that
is becoming heavily interdependent, it is an important example for
Afghans, that they must understand the need of having allies.
however does not mean Afghans should forget their 2,500 years of
defiance against conquest and foreign rule. Rather it should put into
perspective that Afghanistan will inevitably face difficulties along the
way but these difficulties can only be overcome when they are fought
together as a collective. Post 2014 will be the biggest test for
Afghanistan and this reminder should resonate in the minds of Afghans,
then and now during every celebration of Afghanistan’s Independence Day.
The writer is a student of War studies and tweets at @PeymanaAssad