A landlocked, mountainous, and arid country of Central Asia on the northwestern frontier of India. Afghanistan was a principal object in the Great Game of imperial rivalry between Great Britain and tsarist Russia. The southward expansion of Russia was deemed by Britain to pose a threat to India, whereas Russia suspected Britain of having designs on the Hindu Kush.
   In the mid-eighteenth century the country’s tribes were united under a Pathan monarch, Ahmad Shah, and launched a series of plundering raids into India. The Pathans became bogged down in frontier wars with the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab and were also sufficiently divided among themselves to tempt foreign intervention. In the early nineteenth century the thought that Afghan leaders might collaborate with Napoleon aggravated British concern for the security of India. Even after Napoleon’s defeat this concern only intensified. And for good reason. In 1837, the Shah of Persia led an expedition, with the support of Russian agents, to lay siege to the city of Herat in western Afghanistan. Although the siege failed a British invasion that opened the first of the Afghan Wars followed in 1838. By 1842, the invasion had ended in one of the greatest humiliations of British arms. Continuing Russian pressure southward prompted Britain to adopt a forward policy for Afghanistan with the goal of establishing a defensive line against an invasion of India on the northern heights of the Hindu Kush. The Second Anglo-Afghan War began in 1878 with a second and more successful British invasion and ended in 1880 with assumption of power of the pro-British Abdur Rahman, who remained on the throne until 1901. Britain promised to help Rahman repel foreign invaders but forbade him from conducting diplomatic relations with any other power.
   In 1895, Britain and Russia reached an agreement establishing the boundary between Afghanistan and Russia, and in 1907, Russia declared the country outside its sphere of influence, promised to send no agents there, and agreed to consult with Britain on Afghan affairs. Britain agreed not to annex Afghanistan or interfere in its domestic affairs.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Bilgrami, Asghar H. Afghanistan and British India, 1793-1907: A Study in Foreign Relations . New Delhi: Sterling, 1972;
    Ewans, Martin. Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics . New York: Harper Perennial, 2002.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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