“Afghanistan in the age of Empires: the Great Game for South and Central Asia” by Farrukh Husain

Farrukh Husain in his book “Afghanistan in the Age of Empires” provides a fresh perspective on the first Anglo-Afghan War. The author is a British-Muslim of Afghan descent and provides the Afghan-Muslim perspective on the First Afghan War and the events that led up to it. It is a well-referenced and well-researched book. The author has used new material from archives and previously unpublished sources which includes a rare account of the battle of Jalalabad from a soldier named Edward Teer and previously unpublished letter from Mahomed Akbar Khan. It’s a treasure trove of quotes from British primary sources and it will be of great help to those who are interested in researching about events and characters of First Anglo-Afghan war. It solved some enigmas of history for me. For example, when I read the following brief passage in Dalrymple’s book, “The most prominent was probably the marriage between Captain Robert Warburton and the beautiful Shah Jahan Begum, a niece of Dost Mohammad, to which both Burnes and Lieutenant Sturt were witnesses. Equally sensitive was between Lieutenant Lynch, the Political Agent at Qalat, and the beautiful sister of Walu Khan Shamalzai, the local Ghilzai chieftain“, I had a feeling that there is more to this than meets the eyes. Farrukh Husain does an excellent job of uncovering the truth and goes into detail about these affairs. He reveals that the marriage between Captain Robert Warburton and the Afghan Durrani princess Shah Jehan Begum was a forced marriage engineered by Warburton. Same was the case with the marriage between Captain Lynch and a Ghilzai girl. I have shared the except from the book concerning marriage between Warburton and Shahjahan Begum here. In William Dalryample’s book I read that “there is no indication that the Shah [Shuja] ever knew Pashtu, and he certainly did not write in it”. I was surprised to read that as Shah Shuja’s mother was a Yousafzai from Peshawar valley. Farrukh Husain gives a reference from “Storms and sunshine of a soldier’s life ” by Colin Mackenzie which shows Shah Shuja’s mother tongue was Pashto. The book feels like corrective supplement to William Dalrymple’s “Return of a King” and provides many details which are left out by the latter.

Farrukh Husain uniquely highlights the contribution of Afghan women to the armed struggle against invaders. For example he has written about the charge by a burka clad woman against the British, during May 1842, to avenge her husband’s death at the head of thousands of Afghans. The author highlights the sexual exploitation of Afghan women by the British during occupation and convincingly explains that it was the main reason behind insurrection of Afghans against British in Kabul and elsewhere. He writes, “The sexual exploitation of Afghan women was Britain’s Achilles heel and would now expose the British to disaster in Afghanistan.” The author dismisses the traditional explanations for causes of first Anglo-Afghan and re-evaluates it. He also gives greater importance to the Sikh occupation of Peshawar and writes that “it was not a sideshow in the great game but the root of the problem in the region”. Alexander Burnes is a minor character and a contemptible villain in his book. The author further exposes the baseness of Ranjeet Singh using various primary sources.

The book generally do not suffer from inaccuracies and I only noticed one error in which the author confuses Khajjak tribe and village with Khojak Pass (which connects Qila Abdullah with Chaman).

Farrukh Husain has not utilized very important non-British sources like Naway Ma’arek of Mirza Ata, Muharaba Kabul wa Kandahar by Munshi Abdul Karim (1851), Akbarnama of Maulana Hamid Kashmiri (1840s) and Jangnama of Ghulam Kohistani (1840s). The noteworthy and fresh non-British content used by Farrukh Husain are the letters of Mohammed Akbar Khan who details the circumstances of the killing of Macnaghten, Divan i Shah Shuja Ul Mulk and Shah Shuja letters.

The book is published by Silk Road Books. The book has strong binding with quality pages and has many coloured plates. It has 412 pages.


 “However, to swallow the Pashtun territory would be a hard task for Runjeet Singh, as one Pashtun had told the Elphinstone mission : “We are content with discord, we are content with alarms, we are content with blood , but we will never be content with a master “

 “There was to be no escape for this jingoistic old fire breather, harried by the Afghans he would now meet his doom. Hari Singh fell in a ball of smoke as he was blasted by Mohammed Afzal Khan, from an Afghan swivel cannon mounted atop a camel . Hari Singh died as violently as he had lived, in the land of his Afghan opponents, near a watch tower. In 1834 before occupying Peshawar, Hari Singh had openly voiced “his contempt for Afghans and did not conceal his design to carry Sikh arms beyond Peshawar” and now he paid the price for his misjudgement and ironically fulfilled his wishes and carried his arms just beyond what was at that time Peshawar City, before being blasted to death.”

“Peshawar was a quagmire for Runjeet Singh, but to give it up would be to admit defeat, in return for which the Sikhs had lost many able men and expended a great deal of money. It was the classic dilemma faced by those that occupy Afghan territory. Runjeet Singh himself called Peshawar a necklace of knives hung around my throat by Hari Singh.”

“The British were used to Indian natives fawning over them. This would certainly not be the case in Afghanistan. Men would look the invader in the eye and speak their mind, and addressed the newcomers as what they were “soldiers”



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