Who was Sher Ali Khan?
Let’s start with the first owner from the 1800s named by Percy Webster: Sher Ali Khan.
On the death of his father Dost Mohammad Khan in 1869 CE, Sher Ali Khan became the Amir of Afghanistan.
Over many years and conflicts, Dost Mohammad Khan had created a central government over the diverse groups in Afghanistan, declaring himself Amir in 1838 CE.
Following Dost Mohammad’s death, Sher Ali Khan inherited a dominant position, complete with powerful international “allies”.
Since the beginning of the 1800s, the British and Russian empires had been vying for influence and control over various regions in Central Asia.
Criss-crossed by lucrative trade routes, these territories provided new markets for British and Russian goods.
And for the British, Afghanistan represented an important buffer between the British Empire in India and the Persian and Russian empires.
It was the British empire's intervention in the conflict between Dost Mohammad Khan and his political rival — when they sided with Shah Shujah over Dost Mohammad — that initiated the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842 CE).
The British suffered (in their eyes) humiliating losses in this war and committed violent acts of reprisal, including the destruction of Kabul’s bazaar. Ultimately, Dost Mohammad returned to power and maintained tense — but cordial — relations with the British Empire in India.
Dost Mohammad’s son, Sher Ali Khan, followed in his father’s footsteps in more ways than one: during his reign, the British initiated the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880 CE). Sher Ali was not as successful as his father and did not hold on to power. Deposing Sher Ali as leader, the British replaced him with his son, Yaqub, who they believed was more amenable to British influence.
In September 1879, the British envoy in Kabul, Sir Louis Cavagnari, was killed. Major-General Frederick Roberts was sent to Afghanistan to identify those responsible and any other suspected rebels against British influence. In October, Frederick Roberts took Kabul, destroyed part of the Bala Hissar in a punitive action and began a series of trials and executions.