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Abdur Rahman Khan

Abdur Rahman Khan (Pashto: عبدر رحمان خان ) (b. between 1840 to 1844 - d. October 1, 1901) was Emir of Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901. He was the third son of Afzul Khan, and grandson of Dost Mahommed Khan, who had established the Barakzai dynasty in Afghanistan. Abdur Rehman Khan was considered a strong ruler who re-established the writ of the Afghan government in Kabul after the disarray that followed the second Anglo-Afghan war.

Background and early career

Before his death at Herat, on June 9 1863, Dost Mahommed 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. But 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 Mahommed's sons, which lasted for nearly five years.

In this war, Abdur 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 behaviour in the northern province soon excited the amir's suspicion, and Abdur 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 Abdur 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 (March 1866). The amir Shir Ali marched up against them from Kandahar; but in the battle that ensued at Sheikhabad on May 10, he was deserted by a large body of his troops, and after his signal defeat Abdur Rahman released his father, Afzul Khan, from prison in Ghazni, and installed him upon the throne as amir of Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the new amir 's incapacity, and some jealousy between the real leaders, Abdur 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 Abdur Rahman as his governor in the northern province. But towards the end of 1868 Shir Ali's return, and a general rising in his favour, resulted in Abdur Rahman and Azim Khan's defeat at Tinah Khan on January 3 1869. Both sought refuge in Persia, whence Abdur Rahman placed himself under Russian protection at Samarkand. Azim died in Persia in October 1869.

Period of exile

Abdur Rahman lived in exile in Tashkent, then part of Russian Turkestan, 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 Abdur Rahman, and pressed him to try his fortunes once more across the Oxus. In March 1880, a report reached India that Abdur Rahman was in northern Afghanistan; and the governor-general, Lord Lytton, opened communications with him to the effect that the British government were prepared to withdraw their troops, and to recognize Abdur Rahman as amir of Afghanistan, with the exception of Kandahar and some districts adjacent to it. After some negotiations, an interview took place between him and Lepel Griffin, the diplomatic representative at Kabul of the Indian government. Griffin described Abdur Rahman as a man of middle height, with an exceedingly intelligent face and frank and courteous manners, shrewd and able in conversation on the business in hand.

Reign

At the durbar on July 22 1880, Abdur 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 upon that city from Herat, defeated Abdur Rahman's troops, and occupied the place in July. This serious reverse roused the amir, who had not at first displayed much activity. He led a force from Kabul, met Ayub's army close to Kandahar, and the complete victory which he there won forced Ayub Khan to fly into Persia. From that time Abdur Rahman was fairly seated on 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; but these two enterprises came to nothing.

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. Abdur 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; but it was not a sufficient reason for calling upon the British, although they had guaranteed his territory's integrity, to vindicate his rights by hostilities which 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. His interest lay in keeping powerful neighbours, 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 Indian government 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, and substantially conduced towards a pacific solution. Abdur Rahman left on those who met him in India the impression of a clear-headed man of action, with great self-reliance and hardihood, not without indications of the implacable severity that too often marked his administration. His investment with the insignia of the highest grade of the Order of the Star of India appeared to give him much pleasure.

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 tribe, who vainly attempted to defend their independence, within their highlands, of the central authority at Kabul. In the late 1880s many of the Hazara tribes revolted against Abdur Rahman, the first ruler to bring the country of Afghanistan under a centralized Afghan government. Consequent on this unsuccessful revolt, numbers of Hazaras fled to Quetta in Balochistan and to the area around Mashhed in northeastern Iran. 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 Jaghuri, their nearest neighbors to the northeast. The territory, which they abandoned, was occupied by Afghans of the Ghilzai tribe, supported by the Amir as plan for Pashtunization of Afghanistan.

By sending Sunni clerics to every village in Hazarajat Abdur Rahman forced the Hazaras to attend Sunni mosques and abandon Shiism. He imposed tougher regulations on Hazaras by forcing them to pay heavy taxes. For instance, from 500 families in Ajristan each well-to-do family was forced to pay 40 Sir (6.7 kg) wheat while the poor ones paid three Afs, each. In Daya Fulad, Zawuli and Sepai districts the state collected Afs. 80,000 and forced the Hazara girls into marriage. In the Shikhali district an estimated 7,000 head of cattle were taken away from Hazaras and 350 men and women of the Jaghori district had been sold at Kabul markets each at the price of 20-21 As. Abdur Rahman's brutal suppression compelled a large number of Hazaras to seek refuge in Iran, India, and Russia. Abdur Rahman could only succeed in subjugating 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 declared Afghanistan's independence in 1919.

In 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand was deputed to Kabul by the government of 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 the amir other pending questions. The amir showed his usual ability in diplomatic argument, his tenacity where his own views or claims were in debate, with a sure underlying insight into the real situation. The territorial exchanges were amicably agreed upon; the relations between the 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. In 1895-96, he conquered Nuristan province (formerly called Kafirstan) and using sword he forcedly converted the people to Islam. 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 in his stead.

Abdur Rahman died on October 1, 1901, being succeeded by his son Habibullah. He had defeated all enterprises by rivals against his throne; he had broken down the power of local chiefs, and tamed the refractory tribes; so that his orders were irresistible 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. He 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. His adventurous life, his forcible character, the position of his state as a barrier between the Indian 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 18.5 lakh (1.85 million) rupees. He was allowed to import munitions of war. 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. His two eldest sons, Habibullah Khan and Nasrullah Khan, were born at Samarkand. His youngest son, Mahomed Omar Jan, was born in 1889 of an Afghan mother, connected by descent with the Barakzai family.

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