Two Suspicious Persons in Kabul


Abdul Hai Habibi


1. Agha Hussain Khan (Mohan Lal)


One person whom we come across during the early period of the Mohammadzai rulers in Afghanistan is Mohan Lal. He was in the country toward the end of the Sadozai period and the rise of the Fateh Khan brothers. He was an active figure during the first Afghan-Anglo War and is considered an important personality in fostering British colonialism and undertaking undercover activities for the British Raj in Afghanistan.

Knowing such personalities in the history of Afghanistan is of interest to the people and from their activities we see a dark side of our history which shows us how these sinister forces were working in the country without our knowledge?

Mohan Lal’s name is well-known in Afghanistan and after spending many years in the country he wrote a book with the title of The Life of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan in English in which he describes his observations serving as an important historical document detailing the early period when the Mohammadzai family was in power.

In essence this person was actually a Moslem and his name was Agha Hasan Khan. His ancestry is traced to Raja Mani Ram from Kashmir who had converted to Islam. His father was named Mirza Mohammad Shikwa, a disciple of Mawlana Fakhr. He sent his son, Agha Hasan, to college in Delhi where he studied Persian and English and started working as a Persian clerk with the British administration in India. It is possible he changed his name to Mohan Lal for political reasons.

In the beginning he started serving the famous Alexander Burns and was sent to Iran in 1832 CE from where he travelled to Afghanistan, Khorasan and Turkestan. He published his travelogue in 1834 in Calcutta.

He compiled his observations on the first Afghan-Anglo war in 1840 in his book The Life of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan. Toward the end of his life he lived in Delhi and passed away in 1870 CE. He is considered to be a capable vassal of British colonialism and was given the medals of Lord of the Empire and Lord of Persian Lion. His family lives in Delhi until the present time.

His wife, Heydari Begum, was a scholar and writer. She wrote a booklet under the name The Time of Delhi’s Revolution in 1857 CE which was censored, by the orders of British officers, in 1880. She later condensed her topic and published it in the form of a pamphlet.[1]

After his first journey Mohan Lal came to Afghanistan for a second time in 1873. This was a time when Lord Auckland, the governor-general of India, sent a letter to Amir Dost Mohammad Khan in August of 1836, to develop trade relations and this move was followed by sending a trade mission on 15 May 1837 with a special letter to the Amir. The head of this delegation was Sir Alexander Burns, and Major Leech, Wood and Dr. Lord were other military members of this team. Mohan Lal accompanied the delegation as its secretary. The British delegation stayed in Kabul for several months but their discussions with the Amir were not fruitful and returned to India on 26 April 1838 in failure. It was during this time that Captain Vikovich was sent by the Russian government to Kandahar who later visited Kabul resulting in the deterioration of the political situation in Afghanistan. On 15 January 1838 Burns, through a letter,  informed the British Raj about the presence of representative of the Czar’s government in Kabul and emphasized that both Iran and Russia were engaged in gaining political supremacy in Kabul.

As a result of his acquaintance with Afghanistan, Mohan Lal, who was acting as a prime figure in this political activity returned back to India with the British delegation. He started his clandestine activities when the British decided to attack Afghanistan and tried to return back the deposed Shah Shuja to the Afghan throne so they may be able to further their political ambitions in the region.

To achieve their goal, first and foremost, the British had to secure Sind and Baluchistan and Burns was assigned with the task who started working on his new assignment. Having failed themselves, the colonial British, used Indian informers, who were familiar with the habits and lifestyle of the people, to achieve their goals. When Burns was unable to reach an agreement with Rustam Khan Talpur and he returned back from Talpur without any success he let Mohan Lal, who had portrayed himself as one of their own among the people, to take charge of the matter. Through his political wit, this British agent, managed to sigh the 24 December 1838 pact with Rustam Khan Talpur, in 10 articles, which was totally to the advantage of the British Raj in India. In this way Mohan Lal managed to deceive the naive ruler of Sind. The Bakr fort was an important staging point for the British forces to move into Afghanistan. Mohan Lal was aware of the strategic importance of the fort and had managed to convince Rustam Khan to let the British use it.

Mohan Lal was a key figure in takeover of Sind and Baluchistan by the British and they continued their quest to subdue the Sind and Baluch nations and in 1839 when the British forces, with the help of Shah Shuja, headed in the direction of Afghanistan, by way of Shekarpur and Dara-e Bolan, McNaughten and Burns were in the lead while Mohan Lal had managed to spread his intelligence network all the way to Kandahar.

During this time, the leaders of Kandahar, Sardar Khundil Khan and his brothers, who had set up links with Czar’s representative, sent clandestine letters to Mir Mehrab Khan, the ruler of Kalat of Baluchistan so that he may not allow Shah Shuja and the British force to pass through Dara-e Bolan in direction of Kandahar. Mohan Lal, who had alerted his informers in Kandahar, through Abdul Wahab Mustufi, a revenue officer of Sardar Khundil’s family, intercepted the letters and informed the British authorities about political motives of the rulers of Kandahar. Sardar Khundil Khan and the people of Kandahar were making preparations to face the British force, and Khundil left the city with a force of 4000 men to face the incoming onslaught of the British. It was during this time that an informant of Mohan Lal, named Mohammad Taher, who had been in contact with the leaders of Kandahar for some time, abducted Mullah Naso, head of Khundil Khan’s administration, and asked McNaughten to write an alluring letter of praise for him. It was Mullah Naso who obstructed the plans made by Sardar Khundil Khan and the warriors from Kandahar, forcing him to abandon Kandahar and go to Iran.

Mohan Lal’s spying network was so rampant during this time that those working for the Kandahar court, such as Haji Khan, Abdul Majid Khan, Ghulam Akhundzada and Mullah Naso had been persuaded to work for him. Because of this the city of Kandahar capitulated without much resistance and Shah Shuja and William McNaughten entered it on 25 April 1939. Mohan Lal introduced Mullah Naso and other informers, working for him, to the British authorities so they may be receive compensation for their cooperation. We know that this immoral Indian secretary was constantly engaged in corrupting others.

Mohan Lal’s activities continued in Afghanistan and when the British forces attacked Kabul the brave son of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan, Sardar Ghulam Haider Khan, met the invading force in Ghazni. However, the deceitful Mohan Lal, managed to negate this move also with his satanic plans. Mohan Lal had established a close relationship with Abdul Rashid Khan, nephew of the Amir. Abdul Rashid was in the Ghazni fortress, during this time, and Mohan Lal abducted the young nephew paving the way for the fall of Ghazni and defeat of Ghulam Haider Khan. Sir John Kein, writing about the secretive skills of Mohan Lal notes: “Mohan Lal established links with Abdul Rashid at a time when the British trade delegation was in the court of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan and it looks that Mohan Lal was engaged in the abduction of people. He used this tactic to the end of the first Afghan-Anglo war.”

After the fall of Ghazni the British forces attacked Kabul resulting in Mohan Lal to divert his spying network to Kabul resulting in creating breaches in the army of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan. He managed to deceive a number of those working for the Amir until Kabul fell on 7 August 1839 and Shah Shuja, once again, sat on the throne of Kabul.

Mohan Lal was active in Kabul during the first Afghan-Anglo war and had befriended several people, one of whom was Ghulam Khan, through whom, he managed to accomplish his feats. After the downfall of the British this person took refuge in Ludihana as, due to his ties with Mohan Lal, it was not possible for him to live in Kabul.

In his book, The Life of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan, written in two volumes, Mohan Lal describes in detail, the activities of the Kabul court, its leaders, freedom fighters and renegades. His book is a treatise about the deeds of heroes and villains of the nation.

It looks as though he survived the assault on the British forces in Kabul after the war and wrote his books after returning to India.


2. Qazi Abdul Qader Khan, famous as Qazi Qadero

We come across the name of Qazi Qadero, in journals such as Aryana and historical books, when the subject is about the military and literary movement during the time of Amir Sher Ali Khan. He was an important figure of the movement and according to the paper, Shams-al-Nihar, which was published from the Bala Hisar military garrison of Kabul he was the royal military secretary in the court of the Amir. It was he who translated military rules and regulations from English to Persian. He established military ranks in Pashto, named military ranks for officers and garrisons, cabinet members and civilian ranks.

It is clear from the writings of Shams-al-Nihar that Qazi Qadero was an influential personality in the Amir’s court and participated in formal and national meetings where he gave political speeches and talked about development plans. He was considered an honorable person by the Afghan press and a prominent figure of the court.

However, like Mohan Lal, this person was also a spy of the colonial era, but was more dangerous since to the very end he was not recognized and worked clandestinely in the inner circles of the government as a friend of Afghanistan and remained a close confidant of the Amir to the very end. Mohan Lal, who was a foreigner, was known as an informer who worked for the enemy.

I did not know the real identity of Qazi Qadero until two years ago. In 1949 I met a merchant in Quetta of Baluchistan dressed in European clothes who introduced himself as a grandchild of Qazi Qadero. I found him to be an interesting person and talked to him for an hour or so. He gave me a notebook written in English which had been published by the Albert Press of Quetta. The title of the notebook was Copies of Testimonials of the Qazi Family.

The notebook contains official documents, which officers of the British Raj, had written to Qazi Qadero and praise his important service in relation to the British involvement in Afghanistan and the court of the Amir and contains recommendations for his service.

From these testimonials of the British officers we see that Qazi Qadero actively worked for them in the guise of a friend of the Amir. At the time when the Amir was fleeing Kabul in failure to Mazar-e Sharif, Qazi Qadero was with him. After that he suddenly disappears from sight. I am including translations of the documents to shed light on a dark phase of our history.



Indur, August 1882

Dear Friend,

I received your letter of 27 July. I was glad to know you entered Peshawar safely and are in good health. I wish I would have seen you in Indur but now we have to wait for instructions from the Indian government. I do not have any links with Afghanistan since September of 1880 but I know that you managed to undertake the tasks assigned to you during the time of abandoning Kabul with utmost bravery and courage. While in Afghanistan I was very thankful about your capabilities and the help you provided me. Last June I alerted officials of the Indian government about your services and will once again remind them of the work you have done for them.

There is no doubt that the Indian government and His Excellency the Viceroy are thankful about your services, more so than mine, which took place in Afghanistan.

Yours truly,

Lepel Griffen[2]



Peshawar, 14 April 1884

Qazi Abdul Qader Khan, who has been working for a long time for the Indian government in Kabul, is a capable and active person and even now is in possession of a great deal of information about that country. He is being paid 300 rupees by the foreign office. He is ready to provide British administrators with important information regarding Afghanistan. He is also in possession of a great deal of documents which were helpful to us during the war in Kabul.

I will be thankful if he is recruited in an appropriate capacity since Sir Lepel Griffen has recommended his services to a great extent.

J.J. Cordery, Commissioner



Indur, 15 December 1884

The letter of appreciation which I had given to Qazi Abdul Qader, during the time of my return from Afghanistan in 1880, shows that he was successful in doing the work he had been assigned and I would once again like to express my thanks for his accomplishments for the British government in Afghanistan.

Based on his deep knowledge of political matters in Afghanistan I chose him as my assistant despite the fact that the administrators and political agents in Peshawar did not know him. I provided him the opportunity to test him and he managed to do important work for us in Kabul. His information regarding the necessary matters was correct and precise. I trusted him to the extent that during my return to India I assigned him as a secret agent of the Amir in Kabul. He continued to provide important information until the time Mohammad Afzal Khan arrived as the British resident to Kabul.

After that Qazi returned to India and upon my recommendation was given 300 rupees as payment by the Indian government. But he deserves more and is an active person and I do not have any doubt that the Indian government will use his services in the future also. If I am sent back to Afghanistan I will put him to use since he is well informed about events in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar and Badakshan. Issues which I have not heard from others in Hindustan, nor do I know anyone else with such vast knowledge.

Lepel Griffen, Agent of the Central Government



Zela Hazara, 1 August 1885

I have known Qazi Abdul Qader for the past 20 years. His family has always been the attention of administrators of the government. In 1869 when Amir Sher Ali Khan returned to Kabul, Qazi Abdul Qader and Mohammad Jan accompanied the Amir and in 1879 they went with Amir Sher Ali Khan as far as Turkestan.

After returning from Turkestan, Amir Yaqub Khan removed him from official duties. He took refuge in Kunar and from there sent important information regarding the events in Kabul which I forwarded, at the appropriate time, to the Indian government.

After that Qazi accompanied Lepel Griffen to Kabul, stayed with Amir Abdul Rahman and returned to Peshawar in 1882 and provided me with valuable information regarding the state of affairs in Afghanistan. Since he is a skillful, astute and learned person his information is of importance. I regret that he is facing money problems and is unable to continue with his life like he did in the past.

W. Q. Waterfield, Commissioner



Peshawar 4 March 1887

Dear Sir Hugog,

Qazi Abdul Qader requested that I write this letter and I am sure you will be pleased in meeting him. He knows Sir Charles Hugog. He has been the foreign secretary of Amir Sher Ali Khan and our representative in Kabul for a long time. He has faced a lot of difficulties and has served as our secret emissary in Russia through Amir Sher Ali.

He is now facing financial difficulties. He will be of great value, he has seen viceroys and have provided them good guidance.

W. G. Waterfield



Simla, 20 September 1888

Qazi Abdul Qader requested that I write a letter of reference on his behalf. He is a native gentleman who is not only known in Peshawar but all over India. He is experienced in matters related to Kabul and the frontier areas. The Indian government can use his talent.

C. W. Aitchison



Peshawar, 6 November 1888

Dear Sir! I regret that our personal relationship is coming to an end. I always enjoyed your company and am thankful about the information and suggestions you provided regarding the state of affairs in Afghanistan.

Your opinion regarding Afghanistan, Turkestan and adjacent countries was always correct. I am thankful for your suggestions, evaluation of the situation and proper recommendations which you provided to the government. Your life has been full of volatility and I hope that you will spend your life with the confidence of the government happy and free life.

I am certain if you encounter any problems the administrators in the government will be able to help you and will stay sympathetic to your cause. I stay faithfully yours truly,

W. G. Waterfield



The eighth letter of recommendation was written in Peshawar on 15 April 1859 signed by A. Edwards, the Commissioner. It is in praise of Qazi Ghulam Qader Khan who is considered to be a person of confidence and a member of the court of Sultan Mohammad Khan Barakzai, who accompanied the Sultan during the war of 1948-49. He was praised by Sir John Lawrence and served the British during the turmoil of 1857. He showed readiness to spend 50,000 rupees of his own money and participated in the distribution of funds, which amounted to four hundred thousand rupees, issued from Peshawar. The agreement which he made with the Mohmand tribesmen is considered to be an important achievement and I gave him a good prize for that. My recommendation to those who will take over after me is to make sure they do not forget Qazi Ghulam Haider and use his local talent in matters related to the frontier areas, Kabul and the economy since he is a trusted friend of the British government.



 The ninth letter of recommendation is also in the name of Qazi Ghulam Qader, written by A. Burns in Peswhawar on 8 April 1882 in the presence of Sardar Barakzai. It states that during our trip to Kabul, Qazi and his brother provided us many services in Peshawar. His father, Mullah Hisan, is a native of Afghanistan and is a person of good character, whom I met in Lalpur, from where he went as an exile with Shuja-al-Mulk to India.



The tenth letter of recommendation was written in Peshawar on 15 January 1869 by Woodward for Qazi Mohammad Jan, the third son of the mentioned Qazi Qader Khan.

From this letter we know that an elder brother of Qazi, Nasrullah Khan died in Peshawar in 1867.


From these documents it is clear that this family of Qazi’s, from the time of Sultan Mohammad Khan, were engaged with Afghan rulers and provided services to the British government. The first collaborator from this family was named Mullah Hisan, whom Burns had met in Lalpur and who fled with Shah Shuja to India. After this, Qazi Ghulam Qader (brother of Qazi Abdul Qader) found his way into the court of the Peshawar rulers and secretely served the British.

The people of Kabul know Qazi Abdul Qader, who was well-respected in the court of Amir Sher Ali Khan, and these documents show that he went to Russia as a spy also. What is unusual is that after the fall of Amir Sher Ali Khan from power, Qazi Qadero was not to be seen in Kabul but he accompanied the king as far as Mazar-e Sharif and was probably present at his death bed. After burying the Amir he returned to Kabul and was assigned by Griffen to work in the court of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan. But no one has mentioned his name in the court of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan.

Such is the story of these two strange persons who had found their way into the courts of Kabul. I write about their exploits to reveal their secret documents.[3]




[1]Qamoos-al-Mashaheer, Vol. 2, p. 242.

[2]This recommendation was written on behalf of Qazi Qadero, signed by Lepel Griffen. Griffen was a high level British administrator and politician, who after the fall of the sultanate of Amir Sher Ali Khan and Yaqub Khan, surrendered Kabul to Amir Abdul Rahman Khan (21 July, 1880). After leaving Afghanistan he was appointed as the representative of the British government in the state of Indur of India.

[3]Ariana Journal, Vol. 10, pp: 5-12. 1951.