The Races of Afghanistan


The Races of Afghanistan was written towards the end of, and shortly after, the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80) and published in London in 1880. The author, Henry Walter Bellew, was a surgeon and medical officer in the Indian Army who over the years had undertaken a number of political missions in Afghanistan and written several books on Indian and Afghan subjects. In explaining the purpose of his book, Bellew writes that the peoples of Afghanistan in his view soon would become subjects of the British Empire and that, “to know the history, interests, and aspirations of a people, is half the battle gained in converting them to loyal, contented, and peaceable subjects….” The book begins with an introduction, an overview chapter on the Afghans, and separate chapters on the history of the Afghans, British relations with Afghanistan, and Sher Ali (the emir of Afghanistan who reigned 1863–66 and 1868–79). These introductory chapters are followed by individual chapters on the following ethnic groups or tribes: Pathan (today usually seen as Pashtun or Paktun, Puktun, or Pushtun), Yusufzai, Afridi, Khattak, Dadicae, Ghilji (also seen today as Ghilzi and Khilji), Tajik, and Hazarah (Hazara in modern times). Bellew speculates on the pre-Islamic origins of the different Afghan peoples, discussing the tradition that the Afghans were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, and referring to the writings of Herodotus, in which the Dadicae are mentioned as one of four Indian nations forming a satrapy on the extreme eastern frontier of the Persian Empire under the emperor, Darius I. Bellew’s book was used as a source by later writers, for example Percy Molesworth Sykes (1867–1945) in his A History of Persia (1921). Bellew was the author of other books on Afghanistan and neighboring countries, of grammars and dictionaries of several Afghan languages, and of studies of individual ethnic groups.

Last updated: September 30, 2016