Ranjit Singh

It was Britain's support of Ranjit Singh and his Sikh Empire of Punjab rather than his rival Dost Mohammed that was a major cause for the invasion of Afghanistan in December 1838. Dost Mohammed wished to regain control of Peshawar which had been lost to Ranjit Singh. When the British declined to help him over their ally he turned to Russia for support and advice. It was this asking of the Russians that triggered the chain reaction that ultimately saw Lord Auckland launch the invasion. Originally, he had hoped that it would be done with the help and support of Ranjit Singh, but the wily ruler realised that he was getting all the advantages of the removal of a rival with none of the risks or dangers and so prevaricated and ultimately declined to join in with the British. He was able to convince the British to launch their invasion from the Southern route through the Bolan Pass rather than the more direct Khyber Pass route. He was getting old and would die in June 1839 before the calamities befell the British. He had been a very strong leader of the Punjab and his death to begin a slide in the unity of the Punjab State as the army seized control of the Sikh Kingdom. The British were unnerved by this unstable state of affairs and notwithstanding their recent catastrophe in Afghanistan they went to war with the Punjab eventually defeating it and taking control of the Punjab in 1849.

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by Stephen Luscombe