Lord Auckland: Governor General of India

Between 1836 to 1842, Lord Auckland served as Governor General of India. During his tenure, the first Anglo-Afghan war gave a severe blow to British Prestige in India. He was termed as most unsuccessful Governor-General of India and is known for his follies in Afghan wars.

Political Events during Lord Auckland

The Durrani Empire which was founded by Ahmad Shah Abdali ended in 1823 and Dost Mohammad Khan became the Emir of Afghanistan usurping the throne and occupying Kabul & Ghazani. But by that time Peshawar had gone into the hands of Sikhs.

Sikhs under the forces of Maharaja Ranjit Singh occupied and Dost Mohammad’s forces, under the command of his son Mohammad Akbar Khan in 1836 defeated the Sikhs at Jamrud, yet could not retake Peshawar.

Dost Mohammed contacted Lord Auckland, the Governor General of British India and this was the first indication of British Intervention in Afghanistan. Dost Mohammad Khan surrounded by the Sikhs and Persians had tried to win friendship from the British to win back Peshawar from Sikhs. However, British were aware and fearful of the Russian intervention in Persia. There was a fear among the British that Russia could attack India through Persia and Afghanistan. There was a series of 4 Russo-Persian wars in 1722-23, 1796, 1804, 1826-28 and all of them Russia was victorious. Persia had surrendered the territories around the Caspian Sea to Russia and Russia had a dominant position.

The Great Game

Afghanistan which was between the Russia and British India was a cradle of the Great Game, the strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia. The fear of Russian attack, dominant position of Russia made the British try to increase their interference in Afghanistan.

However, Dost Muhammad Khan wanted to take Peshawar Back from Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a friend of British.

Treaty of Lahore

This Anglo-Sikh Friendship was basically based upon the fact that “Enemy’s enemy is Friend”. There was fear on French attack by a coalition led by Napoleon and Zamanshah. In this treaty both the parties (British and Sikhs) basically agreed to not shelter to each other’s enemy and not interfere with each other’s affairs. This friendship had lasted till death of Ranjit Singh in 1839.

The dilemma of Lord Auckland was that he could not afford the friendship of Dost Mohammad khan at the cost of Ranjit Singh. So he had two options. One was to defer all the plans for Afghanistan. Other was to attack Afghanistan and force Dost Mohammad Khan out and impose a puppet government in Afghanistan which could hold Russians and Persians Back.

Lord Auckland chose the second option.

The First Anglo Afghan War: 1838-1842

The Great Game involved Britain’s repeated attempts to impose a puppet government in Kabul. The British wanted Dost Mohammad to break all contact with the Iranians and Russians. This puppet was Shuja Shah. In 1838 Shuja Shah gained the support of the British and Maharaja Ranjit Singh for wresting power from Dost Mohammad Khan. This was the Tripartite Treaty which was signed in June 1838.

Tripartite Treaty 1838

A tripartite treaty was signed between Ranjit Singh, Shah Shuja and Lord Auckland in June 1838. This tripartite treaty was basically to help each other in the time of need. The terms of this treaty were as follows:

  • Shah Shuja will be reinstated on the Throne
  • Sikh armies will provide army to Shah Shuja
  • Shah Shuja will determine the Foreign Policy with the advice of the British.
  • Ranjit Singh’s claim on the right bank of Indus was recognized by Shah Shuja.
  • Shah Shuja gave up claims on Sind.
  • British would remain in the background.

The above hotchpotch of Shah Shuja, British and Maharaja Ranjit Singh triggered First Anglo Afghan War. The outcome of the war was as follows:

  • After some resistance Dost Mohammed Khan surrendered to the British and Shuja was restored to the throne by the British on August 7, 1839.
  • Dost Mohammad Khan was deported as a prisoner to Calcutta.

But Shah Shuja was a traitor. The Afghanis took Shah Shuja as a betrayer and could not accept Shah Shuja as their ruler. So, Shuja ud-Daula, leading the Afghan awam, sent Shah Shuja to hell on April 5, 1842.

The killing of Shah Shuja also burst the balloon of the British Success, which seemed to be an extraordinary initially. The Afghanis rose in rebellion and the victims of their wrath wre the British Political Agents who were cut into pieces.

Many British soldiers were killed in adverse cold.

Thus, the final outcome of this war was that a humiliating treaty was signed by the British and the British were forced to recognize Dost Mohammad as Emir of Afghanistan. Thus, the First Anglo Afghan War was a stupefied project of Lord Auckland which resulted in the death of thousands of British (Indian) soldiers and waste of Crores of Rupees.

The names of the English Commanders murdered during this period were Alexander Burns, Charles Burns, Sir William Macnaughten & General Elpinstone.

The Afghan Policy of Lord Auckland was criticized and he was replaced by Lord Ellenborough in 1842. Lord Ellenborough was a lover of military pomp and to seek an avenge, he ruined Kabul and evacuated Afghanistan. Mohammad Akbar, son of Dost Mohammad secured local control.

Death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh: 1839

During the First Anglo Afghan war, the pillar of the Sikh Empire Maharaja Ranjit Singh died in 1839, after a rule of around 45 years. He left 7 sons with 7 different queens and immediately after his death the Sikhs started disintegrating. This led death of his successors one by one.

The Last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar 1837

On 28 September 1837 , the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar who used to write Ghazals and Shayari with his pen name “Zafar” sat on the throne of the Mughal Empire which was now limited to Red Fort of Delhi. He was son of Akbar-II.


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