Northern Afghanistan or Letters from the Afghan Boundary Commission


In the 1860s and 1870s, Russia annexed the khanates of Central Asia, extending its control to the borders of Afghanistan and greatly alarming British India, which at that time effectively controlled Afghanistan’s foreign policy. Great Britain and Russia first attempted to delimit their spheres of influence in the region in the Granville-Gorchakov Agreement of 1873 (also called the Anglo-Russian Agreement). However, the agreement was vague and Russia almost immediately expanded farther to the south. In the early 1880s, the two empires opened negotiations on defining Afghanistan’s northern border. They formed a joint Afghan Boundary Commission, which began work in the fall of 1885. The book presented here is an account in 28 chapters of the commission’s activities, written in a series of letters by commission member Colonel Charles Edward Yate. The British side first set up its headquarters around Herat, in the western part of Afghanistan, during the summer of 1885, and undertook its survey work to the north. A meeting of the joint commission followed in November of that year. The two sides separated in September 1886, at Khamyab (close to the present-day Afghan-Turkmen-Uzbek borders), with the British returning to India a month later via Kabul. Negotiations with the Russian government followed in Saint Petersburg in the summer of 1887, and a final settlement was reached in the winter of the following year. By January 1888, the commission had set up 79 boundary markers along the 630-kilometer frontier, much of which lay along the Amu Darya River. In the final chapter, the book gives a general description of the Russian-controlled Trans-Caspian territory and its people, a region crossed by the British delegation on its way back to India. An index of names of people and places and a map of the northwest frontier of Afghanistan appear at the end of the book.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London


Title in Original Language

Northern Afghanistan : or Letters from the Afghan Boundary Commission

Type of Item

Physical Description

430 pages : maps


  1. F.H. Brown, revised by Katherine Prior, “Yate, Sir Charles Edward (1849‒1940),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2004).
  2. J.A. Norris, “Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1873,” in Encyclopaedia Iranica.

Last updated: August 31, 2017