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Afghanistan History


Tajik Rule
January-October 1929

The man who seized Kabul from the faltering hands of Amanullah was a Tajik tribesman from Kala Khan (a village about 30 kilometers north of Kabul), whom historians usually describe as a Tajik bandit. The new Afghan ruler called himself Habibullah Khan, but he was called by others Bacha-i Saqqao (Son of the Water Carrier). A deserter from the Afghan army, he had worked in Peshawar as a tea seller and then served 11 months in prison for housebreaking. He had participated in the Khost rebellion of 1924 and then had become a highwayman. Although Bacha-i Saqqao robbed Afghan officials and the wealthy, he was generous to the poor. His attack on Kabul was shrewdly timed, following the Shinwari Rebellion and the defection of much of the army. Habibullah was probably the first Tajik to rule in the area since before the coming of the Greeks, with the possible exception of the brief Ghorid Dynasty of the twelfth century.


Little is written of his nine-month reign, but most historians agree that he could not have held power for very long under any condition. None of the powerful Pashtun tribeseven the Ghilzai, who in the beginning had supported him against Amanullah-would long tolerate rule by a non-Pashtun. When Amanullah's last feeble effort to regain his throne failed, the clearest contenders for the throne were the Musahiban brothers, who were also Muhammadzai Barakzai and whose great-grandfather was an older brother of the great nineteenth-century ruler, Dost Mohammad.

There were five prominent Musabihan brothers. Nadir Khan, the eldest, had been Amanullah's minister of war until he left office in dissent over Amanullah's military and domestic reforms. Although it has generally been believed that the British had a hand in the overthrow of Amanullah and in the accession to power of Nadir, such scholars as Louis Dupree, FraserTytler, and Poullada concur that the British did not bring down Amanullah and that while the British hoped that the Musahiban brothers would establish control, they tried to maintain some degree of neutrality in the contest. FraserTytler derides the rules established by the British for dealing with this situation as "a mixture of the rules of cricket and football." The brothers were permitted to cross through the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to go into Afghanistan to take up arms. Once on the other side, however, they were not to be permitted to go back and forth across the border to use British territory as sanctuary, nor were they allowed to gather a tribal army on the British side of the Durand Line. The restrictions were successfully ignored by the Musahiban brothers and the tribes.

After being thrown back several times, Nadir and his brothers finally raised a sufficiently large force (mostly from the British side of the Durand Line) and took Kabul on October 10, 1929. Six days later the eldest of the Musahiban brothers was proclaimed King Nadir Shah. The Tajik Habibullah fled Kabul, was captured in Kohistan, and was executed on November 3, 1929, despite promises of reprieve.