Conquerors of Britain: Akbar Khan

Mohammad Akbar Khan (1813-1845) was an Afghan Prince and tribal leader but is now best remembered for being a victorious Afghan general who inflicted on the British their heaviest defeat in modern times when his troops completely destroyed an occupying British army.

An ambitious, ruthless and fiercely anti-British Afghan nobleman, Akbar Khan led a revolt in Kabul against the British mission of William McNaughten, who strongly advocated the occupation and subjugation of Afghanistan by the British army, and Alexander “Sekundar” Burnes, his sometimes unwilling sidekick but a prominent empire builder in his own right. Both the two officials were very experienced in Oriental matters, well familiar with local ways and customs and even spoke local languages. Yet Akbar Khan succeeded in outwitting the two men — which was no mean feat considering their background and unique learning, surprised them and even personally killed the latter. In keeping with a rather gruesome Afghan tradition at the time, the bodies of the two British high officials were dismembered and their various bits were displayed for some time at various points in the main bazaar of Kabul. The British garrison stationed there at the time was also annihilated and Kabul was freed from British occupation — and not for the last time either.

Later his troops besieged Major-General William Elphinstone’s entire British army which had entered Kabul to quell the revolt and exact brutal punishment. After employing a ruse by promising a safe passage for Elphinstone’s force, Akbar Khan was able to outwit, ambush and eventually — within a week — destroy the entire army, numbering over 17,500 with its civilian camp followers. Elphinstone himself was captured and is to this day the highest-ranking British officer ever to be captured and then to die in captivity.

The British staged a punitive expedition into Afghanistan with lots of collective punishment — i.e. the killing of civilians, the destruction of Afghan settlements, towns and bazaars as well as what would now be called ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity or even genocide. Eventually it took another war to drive the British completely from Afghanistan but Akbar Khan’s contribution cannot be overestimated. After the defeat that Akbar Khan inflicted on them the British came to realize that they were not up to the task of subjugating Afghanistan. Moreover their empire was exposed for what it was — a colossus with feet of clay heavily dependent on the docility of the subjugated peoples for its survival.

In today’s Afghanistan Akbar Khan remains the most revered political and military leader, not surprisingly perhaps given the fact that Afghanistan once again finds itself under occupation — this time by NATO forces, including those of the Afghans’ old friends, the British.

In an act somewhat reminiscent of the great Akbar Khan’s exploits, a senior British commander, Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, was recently killed in action by Afghan rebels.


Akbar Khan, the conqueror of the British


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One Response to “Conquerors of Britain: Akbar Khan”

  1. Karl Malone » Simon Mann Says:

    […] Conquerors of Britain: Akbar Khan « Yankophobe's […]


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