‘Afghanistan: Between Hammer and Anvil’

‘Afghanistan: Between Hammer and Anvil’ by Tariq Ali for The New Left Review, Mar-Apr 2000

Coveted in the late 19th century by Russian Tsar and British Viceroy alike, Afghanistan’s impassible fastnesses enabled it to avoid occupation by either colonial power. Two British invasions were repelled—a warning to both London and St Petersburg. Eventually an expanding Tsarist Empire and the British Empire in India accepted Afghanistan, still a pre-feudal confederacy of tribes with its own king, as a buffer state. The British, as the more powerful force, would keep a watchful eye on Kabul. This arrangement suited all three parties at the time. The result was that Afghan society never underwent even a partial imperial modernization, remaining more or less stationary for over a century. When change finally came, the catalysts were external. The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the overthrow of the Ottoman Caliphate by Kemal’s new model army in 1919 stirred modernizing ambitions in the young Afghan King Amanullah. Chafing under British tutelage, and surrounded by radical intellectuals who looked to Enlightenment ideals from Europe and the bold example from Petrograd, Amanullah briefly united a small educated elite with the bulk of the tribes, and won a famous military victory against British arms in 1919. read more

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