Under the Absolute Amir


Under the Absolute Amir is an account of life and work in Kabul by Frank A. Martin, who for eight years was engineer-in-chief to Amir ʻAbd al-Rahman Khan (reigned 1880−1901), ruler of Afghanistan, and later to his son and successor, Habibullah (reigned 1901–19). The book provides a first-hand overview of Afghanistan, written from a European perspective, and is particularly interesting on subjects such as roads, trade, and economic development, with which the author was directly involved. It includes chapters on travel, the city of Kabul, manners and customs, the life of Europeans in Afghanistan, soldiers and arms, geological conditions in the country, religion, and the political situation. As indicated by the title, Martin is especially struck by absolute monarchy as the Afghan system of government. He opines that “fortunately there are few parts of the earth where such a form of government exists, for it is not one which is likely to produce the greatest good for the greatest number.” Chapters devoted to the character and policies of Amir ʻAbd al-Rahman Khan, prisons and prisoners, and tortures and methods of execution underscore the despotic character of the state. Martin also stresses, however, the interest of both ʻAbd al-Rahman Khan and his son in the modernization and development of the country and the keen interest that both took in trade, commerce, and mechanical tools of all kinds. The chapter “Trades and Commerce” draws on Martin’s involvement in managing the government workshops, which at this time constituted the main industrial base of the country. The chapter on the political situation contains accounts of Martin’s conversations with ʻAbd al-Rahman Khan, including one in which the Afghan ruler expresses his interest in obtaining a strip of territory in Baluchistan that would provide direct access to the sea. The book is illustrated with photographs and drawings by the author.

Last updated: September 30, 2016