Afghanistan
eBook - ePub

Afghanistan

A Military History from the Ancient Empires to the Great Game

Ali Ahmad Jalali

Share book
  1. 384 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Afghanistan

A Military History from the Ancient Empires to the Great Game

Ali Ahmad Jalali

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents
Citations

About This Book

Afghanistan: A Military History from the Ancient Empires to the Great Game covers the military history of a region encompassing Afghanistan, Central and South Asia, and West Asia, over some 2, 500 years. This is the first comprehensive study in any language published on the millennia-long competition for domination and influence in one of the key regions of the Eurasian continent.Jalali's work covers some of the most important events and figures in world military history, including the armies commanded by Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, the Muslim conquerors, Chinggis Khan, Tamerlane, and Babur. Afghanistan was the site of their campaigns and the numerous military conquests that facilitated exchange of military culture and technology that influenced military developments far beyond the region. An enduring theme throughout Afghanistan is the strong influence of the geography and the often extreme nature of the local terrain. Invaders mostly failed because the locals outmaneuvered them in an unforgiving environment. Important segments include Alexander the Great, remembered to this day as a great victor, though not a grand builder; the rise of Islam in the early seventh century in the Arabian Peninsula and the monumental and enduring shift in the social and political map of the world brought by its conquering armies; the medieval Islamic era, when the constant rise and fall of ruling dynasties and the prevalence of an unstable security environment reinforced localism in political, social, and military life; the centuries-long impact of the destruction caused by Chinggis Khan’s thirteenth century; early eighteenth century, when the Afghans achieved a remarkable military victory with extremely limited means leading to the downfall of the Persian Safavid dynasty; and the Battle of Panipat (1761), where Afghan Emperor Ahmad Shah Abdali decisively routed the Hindu confederacy under Maratha leadership, widely considered as one of the decisive battles of the world. It was in this period when the Afghans founded their modern state and a vast empire under Ahmad Shah Durrani, which shaped the environment for the arrival of the European powers and the Great Game.

Frequently asked questions

How do I cancel my subscription?
Simply head over to the account section in settings and click on “Cancel Subscription” - it’s as simple as that. After you cancel, your membership will stay active for the remainder of the time you’ve paid for. Learn more here.
Can/how do I download books?
At the moment all of our mobile-responsive ePub books are available to download via the app. Most of our PDFs are also available to download and we're working on making the final remaining ones downloadable now. Learn more here.
What is the difference between the pricing plans?
Both plans give you full access to the library and all of Perlego’s features. The only differences are the price and subscription period: With the annual plan you’ll save around 30% compared to 12 months on the monthly plan.
What is Perlego?
We are an online textbook subscription service, where you can get access to an entire online library for less than the price of a single book per month. With over 1 million books across 1000+ topics, we’ve got you covered! Learn more here.
Do you support text-to-speech?
Look out for the read-aloud symbol on your next book to see if you can listen to it. The read-aloud tool reads text aloud for you, highlighting the text as it is being read. You can pause it, speed it up and slow it down. Learn more here.
Is Afghanistan an online PDF/ePUB?
Yes, you can access Afghanistan by Ali Ahmad Jalali in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in Geschichte & Zentralasiatische Geschichte. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.

Information

1A Geographic Overview

Geography is a defining factor in Afghanistan’s military history. The country’s location and its topography had a profound impact on the course of events and the nature of military movements in and around the land occupied by today’s Afghanistan. Geography also influenced social and cultural developments in the country, with important political consequences. Located at the confluence of four main regions in Asia, Afghanistan has been entwined in unrelenting wars and conflicts throughout its turbulent history. Outside conquerors advancing their imperial ambitions, competing regional powers clashing on their geographic edges, and violent reactions by indigenous highlanders to outside incursions kept the people living in Afghanistan in a constant struggle for survival. At times, Afghanistan itself became the hub of powerful empires with easy access to neighboring regions for military conquests.
In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, the geography has not been merely a static space where the time-bound history was played out. The mutability and vicissitudes of history altered the stark reality of geography while the geography, for its part, adjusted the course of history. Political, social, and cultural shifts transfigured the geographic landscape while the geopolitics of regional powers and forces from beyond the region often accentuated the impact of geography on history. Ancient conquerors, whether they came from the north—such as Aryans (second millennium bc), Kushans (first century ad), Ephthalites (fifth century), Turks and Mongols (tenth–fifteenth centuries)—or ventured from the west—such as Achaemenids (sixth–fifth centuries bc), Alexander the Great (330–327 bc), and Arabs (seventh–ninth centuries)—all used Afghanistan as the gateway to India. Before the discovery and use of sea routes to India, the subcontinent was well protected in the north by the Himalayan Massif and in the south by the Arabian Sea. Access to the region was limited mostly to major mountain valleys and passes in the west that passed through the hilly terrain of Afghanistan.
In the fifteenth century, with the discovery and use by European powers of the sea routes, the gates of India, in the word of Thomas Holdich, became “Watergates,” and the way to India was by way of the sea.1 Sea transport diminished the attraction of previously well-beaten land routes that brought to the subcontinent Aryans from the north and conquerors from the west. Later, with the rise of the so-called gunpowder empires in the region, the Mughal Empire in India looked at Afghanistan as India’s gateway to the outside world. Abul Fazl-i-’Allami (1551–1602), the leading court chronicler of the Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Akbar (1542–1605), wrote that “Kabul and Kandahar are considered two gates of India. The former provides access to Central Asia and the latter to Iran. . . . Both facilitate links to the outside world.”2
figure
Centuries later, during the ferocious strategic competition among the European powers in Central Asia, British-controlled India was threatened by Napoleonic France and Tsarist Russia. The rush to rediscover the land routes to India through Afghanistan intensified. Once again, geography exerted strong influence on the course of history by defining its consequences. This time, Afghanistan became the forward line of defense for the British Indian territories. Facing the potential threats from the west, the geography of land-gates to India dictated the deployment of British military forces on the Indian subcontinent. The Khyber Pass gate in the northeast of Afghanistan and the Bolan Pass gate in the south were the two major highways leading to the British dominions in India. During most of the British rule in India, the territorial military forces were deployed along two major strategic axes: the Bengal army was based along the northern axis to include the key locations of Calcutta, Allahabad, Delhi, Lahore, and Peshawar facing the Khyber Gate; and the Bombay army deployed on the southern axis along the line of Madras, Bombay, Sind, Bolan, and Quetta facing the Bolan Gate. The latter axis could also be reinforced through sea routes from the port of Karachi.
The geographic influence in Afghanistan has internal and external dimensions. Internally, the topographic nature of the land exerts political, military, and social influences. The country’s physical structure comprises rugged mountains in the center and plains in the north and southwest. The northern plains gradually slope down toward the Amu Darya River and merge into the plains of Turkmenistan, while the western and southwestern plateaus and deserts join those of Iran. The northern and western plains that cover ancient Bactria are the most fertile regions and are well populated. In the south, population centers are spread mostly along basins of the Kabul and Helmand Rivers.
The climate of the Hindu Kush influences the political, social, and economic development of the land. Communities are isolated by geography and climate. The average annual precipitation is 313mm (12 inches)—one-third of the world average. Scarcity of water has forced people to live where water is available, spreading people over widely separated small areas. The distance and remoteness of habitable areas limit contacts between people and force local communities to become self-reliant. The impulse of self-reliance drives societies to limit themselves to a sustenance economy, with little prospect for surplus production to be marketed elsewhere. The situation is visible particularly in mountainous areas where people have been pushed into the inaccessible folds of the Hindu Kush by conquering armies who dominated the lowlands. The social, economic, and political history of the highlanders is significantly shaped by geography. Many remote valleys, from Nejrao to Upper Laghman, Nuristan, and Panjsher and from Keran-o-Munjan to Farkhar, are museums of unique ethnicities that have retained many of their original customs and traditions. The lack of access roads, poor communication, and severe climate have isolated these areas from the neighboring provinces and from one another. While the impregnability of the mountainous country has dissuaded or frustrated outside military incursions, the number of competing communities and parochial social attitudes have impeded mass mobilization of the people for common causes. This has been exploited constantly by outside powers to dominate the difficult territory. Many conquerors faced fierce resistance from local people who used the harsh physical nature of their homeland to their advantage. However, the invaders exploited the social and political differences in the area. Negotiations and political deals became a more effective means of dominance than weaponry. In 327 bc, Alexander the Great fought, negotiated peace, and even recruited combatants during his military operations in the area.3
The immense Hindu Kush mountain chain played a pivotal role in shaping the region’s history. Its influence parallels the effect of the Alps in Central Europe. Both massifs have often defined political and cultural frontiers between communities living on opposite sides of the highlands. The Hindu Kush marks a cultural watershed between northern and southern expanses in the region, with the north having closer cultural affinities with Central Asia and the south with the Indian subcontinent and Iran. This is like one of the great cultural frontiers of Europe between the cultural sphere of the Mediterranean and the transalpine cultures to the north drawn by the eastern Alps. Both chains are identified with great conquerors who successfully led massive armies across the rugged mountain passes. The feat of Alexander the Great, who crossed the Hindu Kush in the cold weather of early spring of 329 bc, has been exalted by military historians much like Hannibal’s passage through the Alps in the late fall of 218 bc.
The Hindu Kush as a geographical feature has exerted exceptional sway over events in Central and South Asia. The intertwined mountain ridges channeled military columns and commercial caravans through distinct tracts and corridors. The restrictions affected all kinds of traffic moving from west to east and from north to south and produced two distinctive patterns. In the first pattern, large movements from the west heading east were forced to branch off to the north and south of the central massif. The northern branches were directed toward northern Afghanistan (ancient Bactria) and the trans-Oxus region. The southern branch moved through Sistan and Kandahar to Sind and southern India or through Kabul and the Khyber Pass to northern India. The two divergent axes occasionally converged and linked up at the north–south passes of the Hindu Kush.
The second pattern involved north–south movements that were restricted to a network of mountain passes across the Hindu Kush. In spite of the hurdles associated with rugged terrain and harsh climate during most of the year, the barriers failed to deter armies, trade caravans, migrants, refugees, religious proselytizers, and other travelers from moving back and forth between the north and south. The centuries-old links between Central Asia and South Asia, grounded in political, social, and economic interaction, have been too strong and deep to be blocked by the terrain. Few powers survived in this geographic location unless they controlled the Hindu Kush passes. Cultural and political ties between the peoples of South Asia and Central Asia trace back to ancient times. The two-way exchange of ideas and military conquests resulted in mutual cultural and political influence. The changing correlation of political and military forces and the dynamics of geopolitical conditions also shaped the long history of interaction between the two regions. In general terms, while southward incursions were mostly of a military nature—typified in raids by the mounted warriors of the steppes including the Scythians, Kushans, Ephthalites, Turks, and Mongols—the northward influence was predominantly of a cultural nature such as the spread of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Manichaeism, and Islam.
The territory of today’s Afghanistan straddles the geographic boundaries of three main regions. It encompasses the converging space and dividing verges of Central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia with historical connections to China. Its...

Table of contents