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Panjdeh Incident
DateMarch 30, 1885
LocationSerhetabat, Turkmenistan (Then Pandjeh, Afghanistan)
Result Russian victory
Flag of Afghanistan (1880–1901).svg Emirate of Afghanistan Russia Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Gen. Ghaws al-Din Khan Gen. Alexander Komarov
Casualties and losses
600 killed 40 killed

The Panjdeh Incident or Panjdeh Scare (Russian: Афганский кризис, Afghan Crisis or Бой за Кушку, Battle of Kushka) was a battle that occurred in 1885 when Russian forces seized Afghan territory south of the Oxus River (modern name Amu Darya) around an oasis at Panjdeh (modern Serhetabat in Turkmenistan). The incident created a diplomatic crisis between Russia and Great Britain. The competing interests of Russia and Britain, the main protagonists in the The Great Game,in Central and South Asia had for years been on the increase, and the Panjdeh Incident came close to triggering full-scale armed conflict. After taking the northern part of what became Russian Central Asia the Russians moved into Turkmenistan from the Caspian, winning the Battle of Geok Tepe in 1881 and annexing Merv in 1884. Panjdeh is south of Merv on the road to Herat.

An Afghan force was encamped on the west bank of the Kushk River, with a Russian force on the east bank. On 29 March 1885, the leader of the Russian forces, General Alexander Komarov, sent an ultimatum demanding an Afghan withdrawal. On their refusal, the Russians attacked them at 3 a.m. on 30 March and drove them across the Pul-i-Khishti Bridge with a loss of some 40 men. Afghan troops were reported to have been 'wiped out to a man' in their trenches, with losses of up to 600.

The incident soured the relations between Britain and Russia, but the Emir Abdur-Rahman, who was present at the Rawalpindi conference with Lord Dufferin at the time, regarded the matter as a mere frontier scuffle. However, members of Gladstone's cabinet, namely Lord Ripon (the previous Indian Viceroy), believed withdrawal could lead to a breakdown in law and order and possible intervention from Russia.

Outright war was averted with diplomacy, and Lord Dufferin managed to secure a settlement in which Russia kept the Merv Oasis and Panjdeh to the south of it, but relinquished an important pass further west and promised to respect Afghan territorial integrity in the future.

Following the incident, the Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission was established to delineate the northern frontier of Afghanistan. The commission did not have any Afghan involvement, and effectively led to Afghanistan becoming a buffer state between British India and the Russian Empire. The incident brought the southward expansion of Imperial Russia to a halt. The Russians founded the border town of Kushka in the conquered territory; it was the southernmost settlement of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

The 1921 Afghan-Soviet Treaty of Friendship was the first international agreement the Soviets entered into after seizing power. Under its terms, inter alia, "the Soviets agreed to return to Afghanistan, subject to plebiscites, territories in the Panjdeh area ceded under duress by Afghanistan to Russia or Bukhara in the nineteenth century..."[1] "...Meanwhile, the Soviets reneged on some of their important pledges, under the Treaty of 1921 and several Memoranda of Mutual Understanding. They embarked on a path of blatant expansion in Muslim Central Asia in the clear knowledge that a weak, unprotected, and necessarily friendly Afghanistan would be unable to pose an impediment. First they failed to return the most important border district, which from the Afghan point of view, was Panjdeh... "[2]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Bruce Amstutz Pg. 12
  2. Amin Saikal, Ravan Farhadi, Kirill Nourzhanov Pg. 70

Sources[edit | edit source]

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