DŌST MOḤAMMAD KHAN (b. Qandahār December 1792, d. Herat, 21 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 1279/9 June 1863), first ruler (1242-55/1826-39, 1259-79/1842-63) of the Bārakzay/Moḥammadzay dynasty of Afghanistan. He was the eleventh son of Sardār Pāyenda Khan (Sarfarāz Khan), chief of the Bārakzay clan, who was put to death by Shah Zamān Sadōzī (1208-15/1793-1800) in 1214/1799. Dōst Moḥammad Khan was raised by his Qezelbāš mother, from the Persian tribe of Sīāh Manṣūr and reportedly Pāyenda Khan’s favorite wife, though not of noble stock. Later, when ʿAbd-al-Majīd Khan, a cousin of Dōst Moḥammad Khan, forcibly married her, Dōst Moḥammad Khan came under the tutelage of his eldest brother, Sardār Fatḥ Khan, vizier during the second reign of Shah Maḥmūd Sadōzī (1215-18/1800-03, 1224-34/1809-18; Fayż Moḥammad, pp. 75-88; Mohan Lal, I, pp. 11-36).

Dōst Moḥammad Khan first achieved distinction as an aide to his brother and then as governor of Kūhestān. While with Fatḥ Khan on campaign in Herat in 1232/1817 he was sent to seize the assets of a local notable named Ḥājī Fērūz-al-Dīn. Much innocent blood was spilled, and some members of the harem were assaulted by Dōst Moḥammad Khan’s party. Fearing retaliation by his brother and Shah Maḥmūd, both of whom had great respect for Ḥājī Fērūz-al-Dīn, Dōst Moḥammad Khan fled to Kashmir. Sardār Fatḥ Khan captured Herat and was preparing to launch an attack on Persia, but his success alarmed Shah Maḥmūd and his son Kāmrān, and the latter immediately set out for Herat from Qandahār. After an uneasy coexistence lasting three months Kāmrān blinded Fatḥ Khan, whose brothers vowed to avenge him. Dōst Moḥammad Khan and two brothers, Sardār Yār Moḥammad Khan and Sardār Pīr Moḥammad Khan, left Kashmir for Kabul, entering it unopposed in 1234/1819. Shah Maḥmūd and Kāmrān decided to recapture the city, taking with them the blinded vizier, Fatḥ Khan; on the way, in Sayyedābād, Kāmrān murdered him, however. Dōst Moḥammad Khan then went out to intercept the forces of Shah Maḥmūd and his son, who fled without a battle. Kabul came under the control of Sardār Moḥammad ʿAẓīm Khan, the second most senior brother of Dōst Moḥammad Khan, who became governor of Ḡaznī. Dōst Moḥammad Khan dreamed of ruling all Afghanistan, however, a dream that he never relinquished. When Moḥammad ʿAẓīm Khan died in 1238/1822-23 his son Sardār Ḥabīb-Allāh Khan took control of Kabul but was later defeated by Dōst Moḥammad Khan, who also, with the help of the Qezelbāš of Kabul, repelled the challenge of another brother, Sardār Solṭān Moḥammad Khan. Dōst Moḥammad Khan took effective control of the city in 1242/1826 (Fayż Moḥammad, pp. 88-108; Mohan Lal, I, pp. 90-150).

After Dōst Moḥammad Khan established himself in Kabul he began to extend his rule throughout Afghanistan. He took Ḡaznī and defeated Shah Šojāʿ-al-Dawla Sadōzī in Qandahār but failed to restore Afghan sovereignty over Peshawar in 1250/1834 and again in 1253/1837. He adopted the title amīr-al-moʾmenīn (commander of the faithful) in 1254/1838 and waged what he claimed was jehād (holy war) against the Sikhs in Send. The following verse was inscribed on the first coinage that he issued, in 1254/1838: “Amīr Dōst Moḥammad resolved to wage jehād / And to mint coins, may God grant him victory.” From that time on he was known as Amīr-e Kabīr, despite a three-year interruption in his rule. In 1255/1839, with the help of British forces, he was ousted from Kabul, and Shah Šojāʿ-al-Dawla was installed as ruler. After some attempts to regain his throne Dōst Moḥammad Khan surrendered to the British government and was exiled to India. The tumultuous period between his dethronement and his return to Kabul as amir in 1258/1842 is known as the First Anglo-Afghan War (see ANGLO-AFGHAN WARS i).

It was during his second reign that Dōst Moḥammad Khan was able to bring all of Afghanistan under his direct control, with the exception of Peshawar and Kashmir, which have remained separate. He conquered Bāmīān and Hazārajāt in 1266/1849, naming his son Moḥammad Akram Khan as governor. During an expedition to Turkestan in 1271/1854 Balḵ, Maymana, and Šeberḡān were subjugated, and Prince Moḥammad Afżal Khan was appointed governor there. The amir extended his rule over Qandahār after the death, in 1272/1855, of his brother Sardār Kohandel Khan, ruler of that region. Dōst Moḥammad Khan’s last campaign resulted in the conquest of Herat, but he died there of natural causes in 1279/1863 (Fayż Moḥammad, pp. 121-222; Mohan Lal, II, passim; Reštīā, pp. 52-160).

Amir Dōst Moḥammad Khan was the first to bring the region that today constitutes Afghanistan under the control, occasionally tenuous, of a single central government. It could thus be argued that he laid the foundations of the modern Afghan state, which was developed by his descendants. He managed to rule Afghanistan by playing one segment of society against another. Unruly tribes were forcibly crushed. The chiefs of the Ḡelzī, the main rivals of the Bārakzī, were especially harshly treated, though overall Dōst Moḥammad Khan can be considered merciful in the treatment of his adversaries. He allied himself with Shiʿites, particularly the Qezelbāš and Hazāra tribes, and made use of them in his military and civil administrations. Marriage was another political instrument that he used effectively; at the time of his death he had sixteen wives. The result of these alliances was a great number of offspring, twenty-seven sons and twenty-five daughters at his death, the cause of much discord among the Moḥammadzī. Three of his sons ruled in Afghanistan as amirs: Šēr ʿAlī Khan (1280-82/1863-65, 1285-97/1868-79), Moḥammad Afżal Khan (1283-84/1866-67), and Moḥammad Aʿẓam Khan (1284-85/1867-68). Other noteworthy sons were Moḥammad Akbar Khan, Ḡolām Ḥaydar Khan, and Moḥammad Amīn Khan (Fayż Moḥammad, pp. 230-51; Gregorian, pp. 73-81; Mohan Lal, II, passim).


Map: Figure 1. The Dorrāni empire and after.



Fayż Moḥammad Kāteb, Serāj-al-tawārīḵ I, Kabul, 1331/1913.

V. Gregorian, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan, Stanford, Calif., 1969, pp. 73-81

. J. Harlan, Central Asia. Personal Narrative of General Josiah Harlan, 1832-1841, London, 1939.

K. A. Haye, “Amir Dost Muhammad Khan Barakzai,” Proceedings of the Pakistan Historical Conference 2, 1952, pp. 235-44.

Mīrzā Yaʿqūb ʿAlī Ḵāftī, Pādšāhān-e motaʾaḵḵer-e Afḡānestān I, Kabul, 1334/1916, pp. 7-79.

Mohan Lal, Life of the Amir, Dost Mohammad Khan of Kabul, 2 vols., London, 1846; repr. Karachi, 1978.

S. Q. Reštīā, Afḡānestān dar qarn-e nōzdāh, Kabul, 1346/1928, pp. 44-168.

(Amin H. Tarzi)

Originally Published: December 15, 1995

Last Updated: November 29, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 5, pp. 523-524