Life of the Amir Dost Mohammed Khan of Kabul


Life of the Amir Dost Mohammed Khan of Kabul is a two-volume biography of Dost Mohammad Khan (1793–1863), ruler of Afghanistan in 1826‒39 and 1842‒63 and founder of Barakzai dynasty. The book is by Mohan Lal (1812–77), a notable figure in the intellectual history of 19th-century India. The son of a Kashmiri Brahmin who had been a munshi (secretary) on the mission in 1808 of Mountstuart Elphinstone to Peshawar, Mohan Lal was one of the first graduates of Delhi English College. Fluent in English, Urdu, Persian, and Kashmiri, he was one of three men to accompany Sir Alexander Burnes on his journey from India to Bukhara (in present-day Uzbekistan) in 1832‒34. In 1834 he published an account of this mission entitled Journal of a Tour through the Punjab, Afghanistan, Turkistan, Khorasan and Part of Persia in Company with Lt Burnes, and Dr Gerard. He became a trusted adviser to Burnes and served as his intelligence chief until Burnes’s death during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–42). While serving in Afghanistan, Mohan Lal wrote a draft, in Persian and in English, of his biography of Dost Mohammad Khan, drawing on documents and information provided by members of the amir’s family and court. The supporting documents were lost in the insurrection of 1841 and the manuscript of the book itself seized by Mohammed Akbar Khan, forcing Mohan Lal to rewrite the entire work. Scarred by the disastrous outcome of the war and the death of Burnes, Mohan Lal traveled to Great Britain, where he had an audience with Queen Victoria, unsuccessfully sought compensation from the East India Company for loans he had taken out in his own name to secure the release of British hostages, and to deliver Burnes’s journals to his family in Scotland. Mohan Lal dedicated the book to the queen, signing his name “Mohan Lal, Kashmirian. (In the Service of the Honourable East India Company).” In addition to being a vivid portrait of Dost Mohammad Khan, this biography is a valuable primary source for the study of the First Anglo-Afghan War. As indicated by the subtitle, the book highlights the amir’s diplomatic and political skills in maneuvering between the competing powers of Persia, Russia, and Great Britain, all of which were seeking to exert influence over his policies and control, directly or indirectly, his country.

Last updated: August 25, 2016