The Third Anglo-Afghan War Launched Amidst a New Wave of Anti-Colonialism

Dr. Gregory Blue

Afghanistan entered 1919 as a dependency of the British Empire and emerged from it as the world’s one Islamic society freed of colonialism. The country’s rocky 19th-century subordination to British power led to London controlling its foreign policy and reshaping the central Afghan state with money and arms. Anti-British nationalism grew on competition between emergent modernist and traditionalist political factions and on the dynamics of WW1 international relations. The pan-Islamist sentiments of both factions converged during the war, despite the government’s formal neutrality. Eventual Ottoman and Soviet recognition of Afghan sovereignty, plus Wilson’s principle of self-determination, set the stage for a new, modernist Afghan monarch to launch the 1919 war of independence. Animated by his vision of leading a new Central Asian Islamic federation, his forces suffered repeated tactical defeats, but the war-weary British opted to concede Afghan independence rather than further contesting the issue, faced as they were with multiple challenges in India, the Middle East and elsewhere.