Military Wiki
1929 Afghan Civil War
DateNovember 1928-October 1929[1]
  • Abdication of King Amānullah Khān, followed by his brother Inayatullāh Khān (January 1929)
  • Defeat of Amānullāh Khān's offensive by King Habibullāh Kalakāni's forces (Spring 1929)
  • Capture of Kabul and assassination of King Kalakāni by Mohammed Nādir Khān and his forces (October 1929)

Flag of Afghanistan (1929).svg King Habibullāh Kalakāni

Shinwari tribesmen (1928-January 1929)

Flag of Afghanistan (1928–1929).svg King Amānullāh Khān (Spring 1929)

Mohammed Nādir Khān (Summer-October 1929)
Approx. 15,000[2] Unknown

Amānullāh Khān reigned in Afghanistan from 1919, achieving full independence from the British Empire shortly afterwards. Before the Treaty of Rawalpindi was concluded in 1921, Afghanistan had already begun to establish its own foreign policy, including diplomatic relations with the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1919. During the 1920s, Afghanistan established diplomatic relations with most major countries.

The second round of Anglo–Afghan negotiations for final peace were inconclusive. Both sides were prepared to agree on Afghan independence in foreign affairs, as provided for in the previous agreement. The two nations disagreed, however, on the issue that had plagued Anglo-Afghan relations for decades and would continue to cause friction for many more — authority over Pashtun tribes on both sides of the Durand Line. The British refused to concede Afghan control over the tribes on the British side of the line while the Afghans insisted on it. The Afghans regarded the 1921 agreement as only an informal one.

The rivalry of the great powers in the region might have remained subdued had it not been for the dramatic change in government in Moscow brought about by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In their efforts to placate Muslims within their borders, the new Soviet leaders were eager to establish cordial relations with neighboring Muslim states. In the case of Afghanistan, the Soviets could achieve a dual purpose: by strengthening relations with the leadership in Kabul, they could also threaten Britain, which was one of the Western states supporting counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. In his attempts to unclench British control of Afghan foreign policy, Amanullah sent an emissary to Moscow in 1919; Vladimir Lenin received the envoy warmly and responded by sending a Soviet representative to Kabul to offer aid to Amānullāh's government.

Throughout Amānullāh's reign, Soviet-Afghan relations fluctuated according to Afghanistan's value to the Soviet leadership at a given time; Afghanistan was either viewed as a tool for dealing with Soviet Muslim minorities or for threatening the British. Whereas the Soviets sought Amanullah's assistance in suppressing anti-Bolshevik elements in Central Asia in return for help against the British, the Afghans were more interested in regaining lands across the Amu Darya lost to Russia in the nineteenth century. Afghan attempts to regain the oases of Merv and Panjdeh were easily subdued by the Soviet Red Army.

By 1921, banditry was dramatically curtailed in Afghanistan by harsh punishment, such as being imprisoned in suspended cages and left to die.

In May 1921, the Afghans and the Soviets signed a Treaty of Friendship, Afghanistan's first international agreement since gaining full independence in 1919. The Soviets provided Amanullah with aid in the form of cash, technology, and military equipment. Despite this, Amanullah grew increasingly disillusioned with the Soviets, especially as he witnessed the widening oppression of his fellow Muslims across the border.

Anglo-Afghan relations soured over British fear of an Afghan-Soviet friendship, especially with the introduction of a few Soviet planes into Afghanistan. British unease increased when Amanullah maintained contacts with Indian nationalists and gave them asylum in Kabul, and also when he sought to stir up unrest among the Pashtun tribes across the border. The British responded by refusing to address Amanullah as "Your Majesty," and imposing restrictions on the transit of goods through India.

Amānullāh's domestic reforms were no less dramatic than his foreign policy initiatives, but those reforms could not match his achievement of complete, lasting independence. Mahmud Tarzi, Amanullah's father-in-law and Foreign Minister, encouraged the monarch's interest in social and political reform but urged that it be gradually built upon the basis of a strong central government, as had occurred in Turkey under Kemal Atatürk. Socially, Amanullah enjoyed many of Mahmud Tarzi's thoughts at the time, such as giving women more rights and allowing freedom of press through publishing. Tarzi, being heavily influenced by the West, brought this influence to Afghanistan - Amanullah enjoyed Western dress and etiquette. His wife, Queen Soraya Tarzi, became the face of Amanullah Khan's reforms in regard to women.[3]

Amānullāh's reforms touched on many areas of Afghan life. In 1921 he established an air force, albeit with only a few Soviet planes and pilots; Afghan personnel later received training in France, Italy, and Turkey. Although he came to power with army support, Amanullah alienated many army personnel by reducing both their pay and size of the forces and by altering recruiting patterns to prevent tribal leaders from controlling who joined the service. Amanullah's Turkish advisers suggested the king retire the older officers, men who were set in their ways and might resist the formation of a more professional army. Amanullah's minister of war, General Muhammad Nadir Khan, a member of the Musahiban branch of the royal family, opposed these changes, preferring instead to recognize tribal sensitivities. The king rejected Nadir Khan's advice and an anti-Turkish faction took root in the army; in 1924 Nadir Khan left the government to become ambassador to France.

King Amanullah Khan

If fully enacted, Amānullāh's reforms would have totally transformed Afghanistan. Most of his proposals, however, died with his abdication. His transforming social and educational reforms included: adopting the solar calendar, requiring Western dress in parts of Kabul and elsewhere, discouraging the veiling and seclusion of women, abolishing slavery and forced labor, introducing secular education (for girls as well as boys); adult education classes and educating nomads. His economic reforms included restructuring, reorganizing, and rationalizing the entire tax structure, antismuggling and anticorruption campaigns, a livestock census for taxation purposes, the first budget (in 1922), implementing the metric system (which did not take hold), establishing the Bank-i-Melli (National Bank) in 1928, and introducing the afghani as the new unit of currency in 1923.

The political and judicial reforms Amānullāh proposed were equally radical for the time and included the creation of Afghanistan's first constitution (in 1923), the guarantee of civil rights (first by decree and later constitutionally), national registration and identity cards for the citizenry, the establishment of a legislative assembly, a court system to enforce new secular penal, civil, and commercial codes, prohibition of blood money, and abolition of subsidies and privileges for tribal chiefs and the royal family.

Although sharia (Islamic law) was to be the residual source of law, it regained prominence after the Khost rebellion of 1923-24. Religious leaders, who had gained influence under Habibullah Khan, were unhappy with Amānullāh's extensive religious reforms.

Conventional wisdom holds that the tribal revolt that overthrew Amanullah grew out of opposition to his reform program, although those people most affected by his reforms were urban dwellers not universally opposed to his policies, rather than the tribes. Nevertheless, the king had managed to alienate religious leaders and army members.

The unraveling began, however, when Shinwari Pashtun tribesmen revolted in Jalalabad in November 1928. When tribal forces advanced on the capital, many of the king's troops deserted. Amanullah faced another threat as well: in addition to the Pashtun tribes, forces led by a Tajik militia were moving toward Kabul from the north. In January 1929, Amanullah abdicated the throne to his oldest brother, Inayatullah Khan, who ruled for only three days before escaping into exile in British-India. Amanullah's efforts to recover power by leading a small, ill-equipped force toward Kabul failed. The deposed king crossed the border into British-India and went into exile in Italy and remained in Europe until his 1960 death in Zürich, Switzerland.

Reign of Habibullah Kalakani, January to October 1929

Habibullah Kalakani, the Tajik bandit, popularly known in Afghanistan as Bacha-i Saqqao, shown as a prisoner before being executed in November 1929.

The man who seized Kabul from Amānullāh Khān was Habibullah Kalakani. He was an ethnic Tajik and native of Kalakan, a village thirty kilometers north of Kabul. Kalakani's attack on Kabul was shrewdly timed to follow the Shinwari rebellion and the defection of much of the army.

The powerful Pashtun tribes, including the Ghilzai, who had initially supported him against Amanullah, chafed under rule by a non-Pashtun. When Amanullah's last feeble attempt to regain his throne failed, those next in line were the Musahiban brothers. They were also from the Mohammedzai and Barakzai family trees, and whose great-grandfather was an older brother of Dost Mohammad.

The five prominent Musahiban brothers included Nadir Shah, the eldest, who had been Amānullāh's minister of war. They were permitted to cross through the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to enter Afghanistan and take up arms. Once on the other side, however, they were not allowed back and forth across the border to use British-Indian territory as a sanctuary, nor were they allowed to gather together a tribal army on the British side of the Durand Line. However, the Musahiban brothers and the tribes successfully ignored these restrictions.

During this period anti-Soviet rebels from Central Asia known as Basmachi utilized the period of instability in Afghanistan to launch raids into the Soviet Union. The Basmachi had taken refuge in Afghanistan earlier in the decade after they were expelled from Soviet Central Asia by the Soviet military and they swore allegiance to the Emir of Bukhara, who lived in exile in Kabul. One of these raids was led by Faizal Maksum, who operated under the command of Basmachi commander Ibrahim Bek. Faizal Maksum's forces briefly captured the town of Gharm until they were expelled by Soviet forces.[4][5] The Basmachi operated in Afghanistan due to their alliance with Habibullah Ghazi and after his fall from power they were expelled from Afghanistan.[6]

After several unsuccessful attempts, Nadir and his brothers finally raised a sufficiently large force—mostly from the British side of the Durand Line—to take Kabul on October 10, 1929. Six days later, Nadir Khan, the eldest of the Musahiban brothers, was proclaimed King Nadir Shah. Habibullah Ghazi fled Kabul but was later captured in Kohistan, and executed on November 3, 1929.[citation needed] Nader also looted and plundered Kabul because the treasury was empty.[citation needed]

See also


  3. "Afghanistan and the Search for Unity" Omrani, Bijan, published in Asian Affairs, Volume 38, Issue 2, 2007, pp. 145–157.
  4. Ritter, William S (1990). "Revolt in the Mountains: Fuzail Maksum and the Occupation of Garm, Spring 1929". pp. 547. Digital object identifier:10.1177/002200949002500408. 
  5. Ritter, William S (1985). "The Final Phase in the Liquidation of Anti-Soviet Resistance in Tadzhikistan: Ibrahim Bek and the Basmachi, 1924-31". Digital object identifier:10.1080/09668138508411604. 
  6. Fayz Muhammad, R. D. McChesney. Kabul Under Siege: Fayz Muhammad's Account of the 1929 Uprising. (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1999.)

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