Divide and Conquer

I have seen a great deal of your government since I came to India.  Your forts, your arsenals, your ships, all are admirable.  I have been down to Calcutta, and have been astonished with your wealth, your palaces, your marts, and your mint; but to me the most wonderful thing of all is that so wise and wealthy a nation could have ever entertained the project of occupying such a country as Kabul, where there is nothing but rocks and stones.

With these words, Amir Dost Mahammad bade farewell to the governor general of India at the end of the First Afghan War.  Mahammad had spent much of his life fighting to preserve his kingdom.  His elder brother, Fatteh Khan, had been assassinated by Mahmud Shah Durrani, the very ruler of Afghanistan he had restored to his throne.  As the leaders of the Barakzai tribe, Fatteh Khan’s brothers had to seek vengeance.  They drove Mahmud from his throne and parceled out his territories among themselves.  Mahammad received Ghazni, to which he later added Kabul, but his troubles had only begun.

These Pashtun rulers had powerful enemies and rivals.  Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab, seized Peshawar, an important fortress town that Mahammad had to recover, but in asserting his right and defending his territory, he involved himself in a struggle among far greater powers.  These were the years of the Great Game between Russia and Britain...

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