Reforms of Amānullāh Khān and civil war

1929 Afghan Civil War
Date mid-November 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)

Shinwari tribesmen (November-December 1928)

Flag of Afghanistan (1929).svg Habibullāh Kalakāni (December 1928 onwards)

Flag of Afghanistan (1928–1929).svg Amānullāh Khān (Until 14 January 1929)

Flag of Afghanistan (1919–1921).svg Inayatullah Khan (14-17 January 1929)
Flag of Ali Ahmad Khan's rebellion against Habibullah Kalakani.svg Ali Ahmad Khan (17 January - 9 February 1929)
Alliance of anti-Kalakani tribes (9 February - ?)
  • Wardak
  • Maydan
  • Jalriz
  • Sanglakh

Flag of Afghanistan (1929–1931).svg Mohammed Nādir Khān (Summer-October 1929)
Flag of Afghanistan (1929).svg Approx. 15,000[2] Flag of Ali Ahmad Khan's rebellion against Habibullah Kalakani.svg 2,000

The reforms of Amānullāh Khān began following his accession in 1919 and his securing independence for Afghanistan in 1920. He proposed extensive reforms to many parts of Afghan life, seeking to establish a central, secular government modeled after Western countries. The reforms were not universally popular, and in November 1928, tribal forces marched on Kabul. Amānullāh Khān abdicated a few months later in January 1929, and after the abdication of his brother a few days later, control of the country was seized by Habibullah Kalakani, leader of the Tajik forces. His rule did not last long due to the increasing disillusionment of Pashtun tribes that had supported him and instability from other armed groups. In October 1929, Nadir Shah led forces across the Durand Line to Kabul, taking control of the country and crowning himself King of Afghanistan.


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.

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 1924-25. 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.

Civil war

Shinwari revolt (mid November – early December 1928)

The unraveling began when Shinwari Pashtun tribesmen revolted in Jalalabad in mid-November 1928, cutting telegraph wires and cutting the road to the capital, After which they drew a manifesto of ten grievances, five of which related to what they saw as Amanullah's unsupportable meddling with the status of women.[4] Amanullah sent two representatives to suppress the uprising - His foreign minister, Ghulam Siddiq Khan, and the head of the National Council, Shayr Ahmad Khan. However, In late November, they had a falling out, and according to Fayz Muhammad, were negotiating separately with the tribes.[5] Ghulam Siddiq is said to have incited some of the Shinwari to attack Shayr Ahmad Khan, the main consequence of which was that the Shinwari burned the Emir's winter palace in Jalalabad to the ground.[5]

On 3 December 1928, Amanullah then decided to send his brother-in-law, Ali Ahmad Khan Luynab, to deal with the problem, and sent him off with regular troops, militia levies, and a sizable treasury with which to conciliate the tribal leaders. Ghulam Siddiq and Shayr Ahmad were ordered back to Kabul.[5]

In the meantime, calls had gone out for tribal levies to assist the regular army in dealing with the Shinwari uprising, and armed tribesmen from the east, south and west, which included Waziri, Wardak, Ghilzai and Tajik tribesmen, but also more recently the Mangal tribesmen (who recently were at war with Amanullah's government) trickled into the capital to help[5]. These men had no particular loyalty to the government and saw the situation simply as an opportunity for enrichment. As it turned out, there was no need to send them to Jalalabad, Ali Ahmad managed to conciliate the Shinwari leaders and put an end to the uprising, but as it took a while for this news to spread through the countryside, the levy tribesmen continued to arrive in the capital.[5]

Siege of Jabal al-Siraj (late November – mid December 1928)

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

Amanullah presumably welcomed the news of the reconciliation. However, any feeling of relief would have been very temporary - forces led by a Tajik leader, Habibullah Kalakani, were moving toward Kabul from the north.[5] Kalakani was an native of Kalakan, a village thirty kilometers north of Kabul. In late november, they besieged Jabal al-Siraj, North of Kabul, and on either 11 or 12 December, after 18 days of siege, Ahmad Ali Lodi peacefully surrendered the citadel, handing over all government funds as well as 18 machine guns, and an unspecified number of heavy weapons and rifles.[5]

First Battle of Kabul (14–25 December 1928)

Emboldened by the victory, Kalakani attacked Kabul with 2000 men (only 200 of which were armed with rifles, and the rest armed with sticks and axes) on 14 December 1928. He and his forces entered the Murad Beg Fort on the northern slopes of the Kuh-i Kutal, nearby the village of Khayr Khanah.[5] The rebels, feeling that deposing an emir would be against the shariah, performed a ritual and declared Kalakani the new emir, and then passed through the village of Dih-i Kupak at 3:00 PM. Around 3:15 PM, they reached the Bagh-i Bala park. They also occupied Bagh-i Bala palace, formerly the summer residence of Abdur Rahman Khan, which had now been turned into a military hospital for the Emir's personal guard and the residence of a Turkish physician, Bahjet Beg. After disarming and dismissing the guards and the embassy, they stationed their own guards, reassuring the employees of the embassy that they were guests of the nation and as such no harm would come to them.[5]

The rebels also managed to enter the house and fortress tower of Shahr Ara, which was defended by Shawkat Beg, a Turkish officer who was the son of Muhammad Akbar Khan. His small force, as well as a group of cavalry officers, managed to prevent the Rebels from entering the old city.[6]

As the battle continued, the whole city was filled the sounds of artillery and gunfire. However, only the cavalry of the Emir's personal guard and a few other loyal soldiers actually put up a fight against Kalakani's forces. The rest of the army was in a mutinous mood, as their officers had been appropriating the soldier's rations. Holding their commanders rather than the rebels to blame for the trouble, when ordered to shoot, the soldiers simply fired their weapons in the air. Tumult and confusion were now widespread. The emir was furious when he heard of the mutiny, and ordered all the weapons to be distributed to the residents of Kabul and to the tribesmen who had come into the city but had not yet left for Jalalabad to fight the Shinwari. However, the near-universal loathing of the Afghans for Amanullah led to the majority of them refusing to take up arms against Kalakani. To make matters worse for Amanullah, Some Waziri, Mangal and Ahmadzai tribesmen defected to Kalakani, took up positions on the Asmai Hill in the center of Kabul, and fired on the Emir's troops.[6]

Ghulam Ghaws, Whose father, Malik Jahandad Ahmadzai, had been executed following a rebellion, headed towards his hometown costs, carrying with him more than 300 rifles, armed the people there, and rose up against the government. Other tribes acted similarly because there was no control over the distribution of weapons. [6]

The Battle took a drastic turn on 25 December, when Kalakani was wounded in the shoulder from an aerial bomb, causing him to retreat 20 kilometers north, to Murad Beg Fort, in the Kuhdaman region.[6]

Government counteroffensive and Amanullah's adbdication (25 December 1928 – 14 January 1929)

Kalakani's retreat gave Amanullah a chance to regroup. In late December, he began shelling Murad Beg Fort, and this shelling lasted until 13 January. However, the shelling failed to provide any results, and this disheartened the king. In the early morning of 14 January, 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. At the time of his abdication, Amanullah's troops were fighting in the Khayr Khanah (Khirskhanah) pass, 7 Miles (11 km) north of Kabul.[7]

Second Battle of Kabul (14 – 17 January 1929)

After accessing to the Afghan throne, Inayatullah Khan sent a peace envoy to Kalakani. The envoys informed Kalakani that Inayatullah's accession had been illegal in accordance to the shariah, since Kalakani had ascended the throne in the Islamic month of Rajab, and Inayatullah's accession had taken place in the Islamic month of Sha'ban.[8] Rejoiced, Kalakani and 28 armed men, accompanied by a group of unarmed Kuhdamanis passed through the village of Dih-i Afghanan and attacked the capital, shouting "ya chstar yar" and firing guns at the air. On the very first day of his reign, Inayatullah was forced to barricade himself in the Arg with several of his ministers.

On the 16th of January, While 80 Hazarahs from Bihsud were defending the Qalah-i Buland Fortress, as well as the arsenal at Kulula Pasha, some officials declares their allegiance to Kalakani. These included Shayr Ahmad, head of the national council, Fayz Muhammad Khan, former minister of trade, Abd al-Hadi Khan, the minister of finance, and the sons of Abdur Rahman Khan: Mir Hashim, Sardar Amin Allah Khan, Muhammad Umar Khan, as well as a number of deputy ministers and heads of state bureaus.[8]

On the 17th of January, Inayatullah, unnerved by the lack of support from the Kabulis, surrendered to Kalakani and abdicated the throne. Kalakani allowed him to peacefully leave Kabul with his family and 3000 rupees.[9]

My brother, Habib Allah! It is known to all that i have no wish to be padishah. After the death of my father, I never harbored any desire for the throne. I was compelled to accept it only at the insistence of the leaders who linked my accession to the throne with the prosperity of the people and the strengthening of Islam. But now, as I see the blood of Muslims being shed, I have decided to relinquish my claim to the Afghan amirate and give you my oath of allegiance like other true-believing Muslims.

—  Inayatullah Khan, in his abdication agreement[9]

Kalakani versus Ali Ahmad Khan (17 January – 9 February 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.

Following his takeover, Kalakani, fearful of a counterattack by the Amanullah loyalists, swiftly moved the treasury to Kudhaman.[10]

The first concerted opposition to Kalakani came from Ali Ahmad Khan, who was still stationed in Jalalabad after suppressing the Shinwari revolt. There, the locals proclaimed Ali as the new Emir upon receiving the news of Kalakani's accession. Ali then marched his troops on Samucha-i Mulla Omar, Tangi Khurd Kabul, and Chanri, and let the take up positions there. At the head of a 2,000 men strong army and a tribal militia, he marched to Jagdalak, where he waited for a force of Mohmands who had promised to join him. Over the course of 23 to 29 January, Ali sent out proclamations of his new emirate to Kabul, Logar, the Hazarahjat, the Southern province, and elsewhere, and called on people to join him.[11]

Malik Qays of the Khugyani tribe, who had initially allied himself with Ali, defected to Kalakani, captured Ali and brought Ali to Kalakani in exchange for 17,000 rupees and the rank of lieutenant general,[11] ending Ali's reign on 9 February.[12]

Kalakani rules Kabul (9 February – March 1929)

Having become King of Afghanistan, Kalakani appointed a number of people into office, including:[13]

  • Shayr Jan, former cavalry commander, as Minister of Court.
  • Ata al-Haqq as foreign minister.
  • Abd al-Ghafur Khan, son of Muhammad Shah Tarabi of the Safi tribe, as Minister of the interior.
  • Malik Muhsin as governor-general of the Central Province.
  • Sayyid Husayn as Minister of Defense.
  • Purdil Khan as field marshal of the Army.
  • Abd al-Wakil Khan as field marshal of the Army alongside Purdil Khan.
  • Hamid Allah as "honorary sardar".
  • Sayyid Muhammad as commander of the Arg.
  • Mirza Mujtaba Khan as minister of finance.
  • Muhammad Mahfuz as war minister.
  • Kaka Muhsin of the Kacharlu clan as governor of Hazarahjat (centered on Bihsud).
  • Muhammad Karim Khan as governor of Ghazni.
  • Khwajah Mir Alam as governor of Mazar-i-Sharif.
  • Ghulam Muhammad Khan of governor of Tagab.
  • Chighil Khan as governor of Charikar.
  • Nadir Ali as governor of Jaghuri and Malistan.

Battle of Shaykhabad (March 1929)

Sometime before the 13th of March, the Battle of Shaykhabad took place, 46 miles (74 kilometres) from Kabul and halfway across the Kabul-Ghazni road.

It was here where Karim Khan Wardak, who refused to pledge allegiance to Kalakani, had made defensive preparations.[14] Around this time, Abd al-Wakil Khan, who had earlier been appointed field marshal by Kalakani, was dispatched to Ghazni and Qandahar with a force of 3,000 men. When Abd al-Wakil reached the village of Bini Badam and Qalah-i Durrani, 30 miles (48 kilometres) from Kabul, he halted there to deal with Karim Khan Wardak's forces, only then to proceed. But Karim Khan, along with Wazir and Hazarah leaders who had gathered in support of Aman Allah, sent a joint message to the field marshal that said:[15]

We, the peoples of the region of Wardak, consider ourselves subjects of Amir Habib Allah. However, since we have yet to send him our oaths of allegiance, we fear that if his army should come it might be to attack us and plunder our property. But if he shows forgiveness and agrees to these four conditions, we will not stand in the way of your victorious army. Our conditions are the following:

  • First: the fortress of Abd al-Ahad Khan who left for Qandahar with Amir Aman Allah must be protected against looting and his people from punishment.
  • Second: The rifles distributed to us by Amir Aman Allah must be left in our possesion.
  • Third: All of us, the people of Wardak, living on the territory up to Ghazni, must not be subject to looting nor violence even though we have not yet sent oaths of allegiance.
  • Fourth: When your army passes through our territory during its two day march, all forage and provisions must be procured for carsh and market prices and not taken without payment or in the form of a requisition.

Once your army has passed through, we promise to go to Kabul and offer our oath of allegiance to the Amir with sincere hearts.

—  Karim Khan Wardak, message to Abd al-Wakil

Abd al-Wakil accepted this message at face value,[15] and he sent the Model Battalion, which at the time numbered 1,800 men and was stationed at Qal ah-yi Durrani, to march on Shaykhabad along with 400 royal cavalry and 800 Kuhistani and Kuhdamani infantry militia which had halted near the village of Bini Badam. After an exhausting march through snow-covered hills, Abd al-Wakil's forces were ambushed near Zarani, at the edge of the Daht-i Tup waste land by Wardak tribesmen, who came thundering down the hills after a soldier's shot at a bird alerted them that Kalakani's troops were nearby. Many of Abd al-Wakil's troops were killed in the ambush; only 20 of 400 cavalrymen survived.[16]

The people of Maydan, Jalriz and Sanglakh refused to offer allegiance to Kalakani, and formed an alliance with the Wardak and defeated Kalakani's armies in Maydan and Qalah-i Durrani[16], before advancing to Arghandah, 14 miles (22.5 kilometres) west of Kabul.[16]

See also


  1. ^ "Afghan Civil War 1928-1929". Retrieved 2018-03-11.
  2. ^ "Afghan Civil War (1928–1929)". Retrieved 2018-03-11. [better source needed]
  3. ^ "Afghanistan and the Search for Unity" Omrani, Bijan, published in Asian Affairs, Volume 38, Issue 2, 2007, pp. 145–157.
  4. ^ Muḥammad, Fayz̤; Hazārah, Fayz̤ Muḥammad Kātib (1999). Kabul Under Siege: Fayz Muhammad's Account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 15. ISBN 9781558761551.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Muḥammad, Fayz̤; Hazārah, Fayz̤ Muḥammad Kātib (1999). Kabul Under Siege: Fayz Muhammad's Account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 35, 36, 37. ISBN 9781558761551.
  6. ^ a b c d Muḥammad, Fayz̤; Hazārah, Fayz̤ Muḥammad Kātib (1999). Kabul Under Siege: Fayz Muhammad's Account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 38, 39. ISBN 9781558761551.
  7. ^ Muḥammad, Fayz̤; Hazārah, Fayz̤ Muḥammad Kātib (1999). Kabul Under Siege: Fayz Muhammad's Account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 39, 40. ISBN 9781558761551.
  8. ^ a b Muḥammad, Fayz̤; Hazārah, Fayz̤ Muḥammad Kātib (1999). Kabul Under Siege: Fayz Muhammad's Account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 42, 43. ISBN 9781558761551.
  9. ^ a b Muḥammad, Fayz̤; Hazārah, Fayz̤ Muḥammad Kātib (1999). Kabul Under Siege: Fayz Muhammad's Account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 44, 45. ISBN 9781558761551.
  10. ^ Muḥammad, Fayz̤; McChesney, R. D. (1999). Kabul under siege: Fayz Muhammad's account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 50. ISBN 9781558761544.
  11. ^ a b Muḥammad, Fayz̤; McChesney, R. D. (1999). Kabul under siege: Fayz Muhammad's account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 52, 53. ISBN 9781558761544.
  12. ^ "Afghanistan". Retrieved 2019-01-20.
  13. ^ Muḥammad, Fayz̤; McChesney, R. D. (1999). Kabul under siege: Fayz Muhammad's account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 57, 58. ISBN 9781558761544.
  14. ^ Muḥammad, Fayz̤; McChesney, R. D. (1999). Kabul under siege: Fayz Muhammad's account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 64, 65. ISBN 9781558761544.
  15. ^ a b Muḥammad, Fayz̤; McChesney, R. D. (1999). Kabul under siege: Fayz Muhammad's account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 65. ISBN 9781558761544.
  16. ^ a b c Muḥammad, Fayz̤; McChesney, R. D. (1999). Kabul under siege: Fayz Muhammad's account of the 1929 Uprising. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 66, 67. ISBN 9781558761544.