A report from 1929 lays out many of the problems facing Afghanistan today.
The rivalry of Russia and Britain for the control of Afghanistan dates back to the Victorian era, when British statesmen thought they heard across India’s northwestern frontier the footsteps of “the bear that walks like a man.” Great Britain has always been convinced that the aim of Russian policy in the East is encroachment on John Bull’s preserve in India, and that Russia therefore is always trying to secure ascendancy at Kabul. That conviction has forced on Great Britain the duty of fighting the Indian battle in Kabul and she has pursued this with deadly earnestness, twice leading military expeditions into the heart of Afghanistan, to down a pro-Russian ameer or to plant a British puppet.
Until the advent of the World War the pendulum of favor at the court of Kabul swung alternately between the English and the Czars. In 1914 Habibullah Khan, then ameer, declared himself neutral, but out of friendship for the British kept Afghanistan a Chinese Wall against all those who tried to foment revolt in India. At the conclusion of the war, Ameer Habibullah was assassinated for his pro-British attitude, or so it was stated openly at the time, and a set of unusual circumstances carried Amanullah Khan, third son of the late ameer, to the throne.
As the Governor of Kabul, during his father’s reign, Amanullah had spent much time studying the problems of administration of his country, and meeting his people. His first thought on coming to power was to make Afghanistan fully sovereign, internally secure, and externally independent. British wars on Kabul and the subservience of Habibullah had placed control of Afghan foreign affairs in the hands of the British government which had utilized this control to isolate Afghanistan from the outside world, and use her as a sort of ditch before the British citadel in India. Amanullah knew it was impossible to regenerate his country without securing freedom from alien interference and control, and forthwith he declared his complete independence.
The third Afghan war was therefore declared in 1919 and, unlike the previous two, was fought by a determined and united Afghanistan against a depleted British Indian army, further weakened by the rebellious discontent with British rule in India. The issue was not long in doubt. The swiftness of General Nadir Khan’s attack on Peshawar and the impossibility of lining up the disloyal Moslem population of northern India compelled Sir Hamilton Grant, British commander, to compromise the English position. A peace was speedily arranged on the basis of the Afghan demand that thereafter England should have nothing to say in the matter of Afghanistan’s relations with foreign countries. The bitter pill had to be swallowed for fear of the loss of the whole Indian empire. And while the Afghan delegates at the peace conference at Mussoorie, India, pulled out their swords in anger each time the British representative, Sir Henry Dobbs, tried to bluff, the Bolshevist regime at Moscow was exchanging diplomatic courtesies and cultivating friendship with Amanullah. Lord Curzon, as Foreign Minister, fought tooth and nail against receiving an Afghan Minister at the Court of St. James’s, while the Soviets acclaimed Ghulam Siddiq Khan as an equal and a brother.