A Brief Chronological Aid to the History of the Great Game and Anglo-Afghani Involvement:
William Hawkins’ ship Hector
drops anchor off the Tapti River on the west coast of India, becoming the first merchant ship to reach the region from England.‡
1747: Ahmad Shah Sadozai Durani
comes to power in Afghanistan
supported by Pashthun
1757: Robert Clive
defeats the troops of the French-financed Nawab of Bengal in the battle of Plaset
, effectively eliminating all other European powers in India. This cements the relationship between the Moghul Court and the British- and means the roughly 1000 Company administrators at this point command the world’s second largest army and presides over 1/15th of the planet’s population, at the request of the waning Moghul administation.
1772: Warren Hastings
appointed first Governor-General of British India
Timor Shah shifts the capital from Kabul
Pitt's India Bill
passed by the British Parliament, which establishes a Board of Control over all merchant operations in India.
Reforms of Governor General Cornwallis, to eradicate profiteering and corruption, take place in the shadow of the Napoleonic Wars
, and threat of invasion by French troops moving through Persia is considered a very real possibility.
Permanent settlement of Bengal
Death of Tipu Sultan
London politicos insist upon new allies in the region in case of French incursion into Persia or the Sind – so Governor General Lord Minto
officially begins the Great Game
in an effort to win over various ethnic, regional or religious interests in Central Asia, by flattery, bribery, threat or trickery, before French envoys do the same. This same year, Ranjit Singh
army marches out of Lahore
in the Punjab
, radically shifting the balance of power. British envoys are immediately dispatched to sound the leader about his ambitions and allegiances – but Capt. David Seton
blunders badly when he promises on behalf of the Crown that England would defend his small nation against any incursion. For the time, however, Singh is convinced he can side with the British to his advantage against the Afghani clans which have control of Peshewar
, so he signs a treaty of perpetual friendship, even though the British soon return to a position of official neutrality
between Punjabi and Afghan forces.
1808: Montstuart Elphinstone
is dispatched to Peshewar
to negotiate with Shah Shujah
, Singh’s sworn enemy.
Russians expand into Persia at Aslanduz
and force the signing of the Treaty of Gulistan
which cedes control of the Caucasus
back to Russia
Conquest of Gurkhas
. British forces in the region number nearly 300, 000, including 40, 000 English officers. Almost all the infantry are native Indian sepoy
1818: Dost Mohammed
, which is soon followed by the destruction of Marathas
by British-supported Persian dissidents and a spreading civil war in Afghanistan leads to the division of the country into two political entities until 1835
Consolidation of power by Dost Mohammed
Khan in central and western Afghanistan - he abandons his youthful decadence and commits himself wholly to Allah by donning spartan clothes, memorizing the Qu'ran
and forbidding alcohol in all cities under his control.
1828: Lord Bentinck
appointed Governor-General. Russian armies expand further in to Persian territory, now controlling Tabriz and Yerevan, pushing the Czar’s influence ever further into Asia, as spies begin to circulate as far as Tehran
, thus pushing the British to solidify their forces in the Sind as a precaution. A 25 year old officer, Alexander ‘Bokhura’ Burnes☼
is dispatched to survey the Indus River
in preparation for extensive troop movements, which sets off the chain of events leading to the Afghan invasion.
Brahmo Samaj founded by Raja Rammohan Roy; prohibition of sati
Introduction of English as medium of instruction
Said Jamal-ul Din Afghan credited with the Pan-Islamic movements in the region, while the threat of expansion into Central Asia by Czarist Russia now supercedes any threat from French forces. The British intensify their efforts to co-opt competing groups of Afhgan tribes. The English are referred to derisively as ‘ferangi
Death of Ranjit Singh and outbreak of the first Opium War
1839-42: First Anglo Afghan war
1843: East India Company
forces officially occupy the Sindh
The end of the Sikh War
leads to the annexation of the Punjab
Annexation of Oudh
by the British and the introduction of Hindu widow marriage to combat the prevalence of traditional widow burning
after the death of the husband.
1857: Indian Mutiny
, led by disenchanted Muslim element of the Bengal Army. The uprising began in newly-occupied Awadh
and quickly spread throughout the region, devolving into what was for all intents and purposes a race war
, as rebel factions across the sub-continent tried ‘to turn back the clock to a previous era where those dreadful reformers from Britain had not existed, and Company rule had appeared in a far different form from its Victorian
Transfer of India’s political control passes from the East India Company
to the British Crown
Amir Shir Ali Khan
: Second Anglo Afghan war
Rule of Dost Mohammed
's grandson, Abdur Rahman Khan
Anglo-Russian agreement delineates specific borders and regions for both sides military and commercial activities.
End of British involvement in Afghan affairs
‡The Portuguese actually had gotten to India first, and had begun trading immediately in spices, slaves, and anything else they could get their hands on and wasn’t tied down. So protective of this lush bonanza were they that assassins were immediately dispatched from Europe to kill Captain Hawkins before he made contact with the ruling Moghuls, or at the very latest before he returned to London to tell anyone of his trip. However, he did manage a meeting with Emperor Jehangir in Agra – thus began the British epoch in India.
☼ Burnes, who arrived in India at age 16 as a clerk, had advanced quickly to the Political Bureau, given his discipline and talent of languages. In ’29 he had, alone, traversed and mapped the Great Indian Desert of Rajputana. Now he went upstream through the Sind to the Punjab, at great risk, with a gift of six Scottish stallions for Ranjit Singh and a proposal that the Company and Sikhs ally themselves against any Russian advance. The British would occupy the Sind, use the Punjab as a platform, and keep close tabs on the frontiers in the North. Meanwhile, Singh was welcome to Peshewar, and the Kashmir beyond. See John H. Waller Beyond the Khyber Pass: the Road to British Disaster in the First Afghan War (NY, Random, 1990), p. 11 –33, or Burnes’ book Travels in Bokhara… (London, John Murray, 1834)
† P. Lawson, The East India Company (NY:Longman, 1993), 161. This is a fantastic condensation on a heavily researched aspect of British imperialism – and Lawson is an astute, balanced observer who avoids any contemporary revisionism, while at the same time remaining eloquently critical. In explaining, for example, the ‘mission creep’ suffered by British forces in India during this period, he explains how ‘by the mid 19th c. the Indian land empire had become a solid mass of princely states and company territory guarded by an army that kept the enemy at bay on the ragged edges of its domain…in its own logic, pacification required constant military action to deal with homegrown insurgents and external threats…this policy entailed still further wars and annexations, usually justified on a point of security.’ (145) Thus, once British forces entangled themselves in one area, they found themselves quickly mired there while being drawn into some adjacent region’s intrigues, for varying corporate or political motives. Only the ruinous retreat from Kabul, and then the bloody Indian Mutiny, revealed to the English that the necessity of extracting themselves from this dismal latticework of unprofitable bloody mindedness.