Chapter 5
The Immediate Background
1830-1834


Many revolts had broken out in Persia after the end of the Russian war, especially in the East, and in 1830 the Shah charged Abbas Mirza, the Crown Prince, with the task of restoring order in that area. He first put down rebels in Yazd and Kerman and then sent his army across the desert to Khorasan. The year 1831 he spent in energetically suppressing rebellious tribes and districts so that by the end of the year order had been restored. Khiva and Herat had supported these rebellions with encouragement and promises of aid but after Abbas' easy victories they backed down and did nothing. Nonetheless Abbas Mirza decided that such interference could not go unpunished. 1

It was apparent to Persia that the nomad Turkmen were also a major source of instability on the eastern frontier. They blocked or outflanked the routes to both Khiva and Herat, and their slave raids were the terror of the settled peasants. Abbas Mirza therefore made these nomads his next objective. In 1832 he attacked Serakhs, a Turkmen stronghold and a major center of the slave trade. After a short siege the place was stormed, the defenders massacred, and the Turkmen were quiet for a while. Abbas then summoned Kamran, the ruler of Herat, to demand that he resume payment of tribute. But Kamran sent his vizier in his place and did not satisfy the demands of the Persians who then planned another campaign. 2

These Persian activities alarmed the British who were in the process of formulating a new defensive policy for India. In 1832 Shah Shuja wrote to the Governor-General asking for aid so that he could recover his throne and save Afghanistan from Persia, but he was not taken seriously. 3 But when a threat to Herat materialized, the Governor-General changed his mind and gave Shuja a four month advance of his pension, knowing that this would enable Shuja to raise troops and march to recover his throne. 4

After his victory at Serakhs, Abbas Mirza was recalled to Tehran, leaving his son, Mohammed Mirza, in charge. Leaving troops encircling Ghurian, Mohammed advanced directly to Herat and began to prepare for a siege. Abbas Mirza was also returning to Khorasan with an army of reinforcement and it looked as though Persian efforts would finally meet with success. But Abbas died in Mashad. When his son heard the news, he hastily concluded a truce with Herat and returned to Tehran to claim the position of Crown Prince. 5

By 1834 Shuja had raised an army and was preparing to march. After extorting more men and money from Sind, he negotiated a treaty with Ranjit Singh whereby the Sikhs would get Peshawar in return for their aid. 6 Thus Shuja had high hopes of success when he marched on Kandahar and these were confirmed when he defeated Kohendil Khan, a brother of Dost Mohammed, and took possession of that city. Dost Mohammed had been at war with Kohendil but he put this quarrel aside and marched to help his brother. In doing so, Dost left his eastern flank uncovered, and Ranjit Singh promptly invaded and seized Peshawar while Dost defeated Shuja at Kandahar. Shuja soon returned to India and his British pension.

In summary, between 1830 and 1834 Persia made a sustained and largely successful effort to reestablish its position in Khorasan, but this effort was cut short and mostly negated by the untimely death of Abbas Mirza. Britain was alarmed at the Persian activity and responded by encouraging Shah Shuja to regain his throne. Shuja failed but Ranjit Singh of the Sikhs gained Peshawar in the process. At the same time Mohammed Ali began a war that almost destroyed the Ottoman empire. Russian intervention saved it and the Sultan then signed a treaty with the Tsar that convinced the British that Turkey had passed under complete Russian control. The treaty of Unkiar Skelessi was actually a treaty of mutual defense but the British thought it gave the Russian navy a one-way door to the Mediterranean sea. 7 All of this made the British determined to go through with their recently developed forward policy.


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