Afghan's American Prince, Part 2

Last week's column concerned Josiah Harlan's first visit to Afghanistan. When Harlan met King Dost Mohammed, he was impressed by the dynamic, intelligent and popular ruler. Harlan realized the Afghans would not depose the king and replace him with the lazy, hedonistic Shah Shujah. He spent 18 months in Afghanistan as the king's guest, classifying local plants and learning to speak, read and write Persian. He fell in love with the country and vowed to return someday.

Back in India, he told Shah Shujah he could only return to power if the British helped him. His mission completed, Harlan offered his services to the Maharajah of Punjab who was hiring foreign mercenaries to train his army. He spent seven years as a Punjabi General and provincial governor, but the Maharajah fired him in a dispute over a horse.

The American soldier remembered his pleasant tour in Kabul and offered his services to King Dost Mohammed. He told his friend a blunt truth: The Afghans were brave, tough fighters but they fought like a mob. They needed training and discipline to be effective. Dost Mohammed appointed General Harlan commander in chief of his armed forces, ordering him to turn it into a western style army. The Afghan king needed Harlan badly. The Uzbeks, in the northern part of his kingdom, beyond the towering Hindu Kush mountains, were rebelling. Moreover, they were raiding other tribes and selling whole villages into slavery. The tribal chieftains had appealed to him for protection, but he could not help them.

Harlan spent a year creating a fighting army, then in September 1838 marched out of Kabul to subdue the rebellious Uzbeks. The king presented him with a gold embossed sword. Harlan was the first general to lead an army over the Hindu Kush since Alexander the Great, twenty three centuries earlier.

Harlan's artillery blasted the gates off the Uzbek fortress at Saighan and his infantry poured in, slaughtering the garrison and releasing over 400 Hazara tribe captives en toute to the slave market. They returned to their villages. When a second fort was destroyed, the Uzbeks sued for peace. They agreed to respect King Dost Mohammed's sovereignty and stop their raids on other tribes.

A few days later, a delegation representing all the Northern Afghanistan tribes called on the general who had rescued their people from the hated Uzbeks. They presented him with an elaborate document, with a gold seal and written in Persian, signed by every tribe. acclamation, Harlansahib was appointed Prince of Ghor to rule over their homeland. The American farm boy was now ruler of a rugged, 22,000 square mile province in Afghanistan. Ghor means "mountain" in Pashtu.

Harlan accepted the great honor then departed for Kabul to report his victory. He had been gone a year. Everything had changed. The British were marching on Kabul with 18,000 men. They claimed it was not an invasion. They were only "returning the legitimate ruler to his rightful position." They were putting Shah Shujah back on the throne.

Harlan had left some of his army to insure peace north of the Hindu Kush. British gold bribed many of the tribal chieftains. Seeing his supporters vanish, Dost Mohammed took refuge in the mountains. When the British army marched into Kabul in August 1839, the senior official remaining was an American, General Josiah Harlan.

Harlan offered some excellent advise. Shujah was not popular. He should not take revenge on his old enemies. The British should continue to pay the tribal leaders to keep their purchased loyalty. And they must cultivate the Ghilzai tribes who controlled the passes back to India.

British officers ignored his advise. They would pay a terrible priced for this decision.

To be concluded next week. See for Part 1.

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