The Panjdeh Crisis, 1885

J.M. Brereton describes how Russian advances in Central Asia alarmed the British authorities in London as well as in India.

An insignificant mud-built caravanserai remote in an oasis south of the great Qara Qum desert of Central Asia, Panjdeh was for centuries unknown except to nomadic Turkmen tribesmen and a few caravan merchants making to or from the Afghan city of Herat, some hundred miles to the south. Yet for a few months in 1885 its name was echoed in the corridors of Whitehall and St Petersburg, and it took on a significance that nearly equalled Sarajevo’s in 1914.

After the end of the Second Afghan War in 1880, Britain was confident that she had established a buffer state between her Indian empire and the expanding Tsarist dominions in Turkestan. As Disraeli put it, ‘a scientific frontier’ had at last been secured, and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, who had been set on the throne of Kabul by British arms, seemed co-operative in fulfilling his treaty obligations.

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