Amir Dost Mohammad Khan:
(b. 1793, Afghanistan--d. June 9, 1863,
Herat), ruler of Afghanistan (1826-63) and founder of the Barakzay, who
maintained Afghan independence during a time when the nation was a focus
of political struggles between Great Britain and Russia.
Dost Mohammad was one of a number of sons
of Payenda Khan, head of the Barakzay clan. In 1816 the clan rose in
rebellion against the Afghan ruler Mahmud Shah, who had put to death his
prime minister, a member of the clan. Following eight years of civil war,
the clan claimed victory. Dost Mohammad emerged as its most powerful
member, and he ascended the throne in 1826.
With Great Britain and Russia maneuverings
for influence in Afghanistan, Dost Mohammad was forced to balance his
nation between the two great powers. He also sought to recover territory
lost from the central government's control during the civil war. The
British, feeling that Dost Mohammad was either hostile to them or unable
to resist Russian penetration, moved to take a direct role in Afghan
affairs. First they negotiated unsatisfactorily with Dost Mohammad, and
then they gave military support to an exiled Afghan ruler, Shah Shoja'. In
1839 they tried to use British troops to place Shoja' on the throne at the
capital in Kabul; this action resulted in the First Anglo-Afghan War
(1839-42). Dost Mohammad surrendered to British forces following the
capture of his family in 1840.
The position of Shoja' and the British
forces in Kabul, however, deteriorated rapidly. Shoja' was killed in a
rebellion, and British troops were massacred as they attempted to retreat
from the city. After the British departed in 1843, Dost Mohammad was
restored to the throne. He then tried with some success to regain control
of outlying sections of the country. He also reached an accommodation with
the British, signing treaties of friendship in 1855 and 1857. In June 1863
his forces, under the command of his son-in-law, captured the city of
Herat, and Dost Mohammad died there a few days later.