A Military History from the Ancient Empires to the Great Game

Ali Ahmad Jalali

Afghanistan: A Military History from the Ancient Empires to the Great Game covers the military history of a region encompassing Afghanistan, Central and South Asia, and West Asia, over some 2,500 years. This is the first comprehensive study in any language published on the millennia-long competition for domination and influence in one of the key regions of the Eurasian continent.

Jalali’s work covers some of the most important events and figures in world military history, including the armies commanded by Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, the Muslim conquerors, Chinggis Khan, Tamerlane, and Babur. Afghanistan was the site of their campaigns and the numerous military conquests that facilitated exchange of military culture and technology that influenced military developments far beyond the region. An enduring theme throughout Afghanistan is the strong influence of the geography and the often extreme nature of the local terrain. Invaders mostly failed because the locals outmaneuvered them in an unforgiving environment. Important segments include Alexander the Great, remembered to this day as a great victor, though not a grand builder; the rise of Islam in the early seventh century in the Arabian Peninsula and the monumental and enduring shift in the social and political map of the world brought by its conquering armies; the medieval Islamic era, when the constant rise and fall of ruling dynasties and the prevalence of an unstable security environment reinforced localism in political, social, and military life; the centuries-long impact of the destruction caused by Chinggis Khan’s thirteenth century; early eighteenth century, when the Afghans achieved a remarkable military victory with extremely limited means leading to the downfall of the Persian Safavid dynasty; and the Battle of Panipat (1761), where Afghan Emperor Ahmad Shah Abdali decisively routed the Hindu confederacy under Maratha leadership, widely considered as one of the decisive battles of the world. It was in this period when the Afghans founded their modern state and a vast empire under Ahmad Shah Durrani, which shaped the environment for the arrival of the European powers and the Great Game.

“Ali Ahmad Jalali has produced the first military history of ancient, medieval, and early modern Afghanistan on a scale commensurate with the subject. This work will be invaluable to military historians and area specialists; it combines sound scholarship and accurate translations from the full range of sources.”

—Jeremy Black, author of Military Strategy: A Global History

“Afghan monarchy, Soviet communism, and American democracy have failed in Afghanistan. Before that, Afghanistan was caught between British-controlled India and an expanding Russia. Now Afghanistan must come up with a new model. Must it inevitably be another faltering religious dictatorship, or will it eventually go back into its history to examine how it was an influential regional power? Ali Jalali provides this background as the prehistory to his A Military History of Afghanistan: From the Great Game to the Global War on Terror. This excellent work provides the classical antiquity of Afghanistan to an English-speaking audience and may yet provide some direction to this war-and-dogma-wracked people.”

—Jacob W. Kipp, Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, University of Kansas
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About the Author

Ali Ahmad Jalali is distinguished professor, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University, and author of A Military History of Afghanistan: From the Great Game to the Global War on Terror.