John Carl Nelson
A condition of economic exhaustion and political anarchy prevailed in Iran by 1800. The great
empires of the 1600's had coflapsed and in the wars that followed the prosperity of the area was
destroyed. The city of Herat was a microcosm of the general conditions. After 1797 the Kajar dynasty
tried to restore the Persian empire to its former limits but their efforts met with only limited success and
Herat remained their goal in the east. Afghanistan was torn apart by tribal tensions in 1818 and Herat
became more vulnerable. The Russian empire achieved a position of dominance in Western Asia after
1828. The British felt that this was a threat to their own empire in India and tried to erect a buffer to
guard against Russian influence. They saw Persian efforts to take Herat in the 1830's as an extension of
Russian influence and a threat to India.
After 1835 Russia encouraged Persia to take Herat. The Russians perhaps hoped to provoke a
break between Britain and Persia thus displacing British influence which had been growing. The Persian
army laid siege to Herat in 1837 but its efforts to take the city were ineffective. The Russian ambassador
to Persia sent agents into Afghanistan to arrange a coalition of states against Herat. The British saw this
as a direct intrusion into their buffer area and when Kabul sided with Persia the British decided to send
an army into Afghanistan. The Persians failed to take Herat but the British still considered it necessary to
occupy Afghanistan. Their occupying army was destroyed in 1842 but since the Persian and Russian
threat had abated no further action was necessary.
Each of the parties involved failed in their immediate objectives but as a result the relations in
this area were defined until 1906. Persia and Afghanistan lost the freedom to act independently. Russia's
dominant position in Persia was maintained but the British could not be excluded. Afghanistan was
firmly made part of the Indian imperial system and the city of Herat became its outermost limit.