History of the Arsenal

A Brief History of the Kabul Arsenal

Prior to the foundation of the Kabul Workshops and the Kabul Arsenal contained therein, arms and munitions production in Afghanistan largely took place in distributed workshops and homes around the capital and other cities. When Emir Abdur Rahman Khan took power in Kabul in 1880, it was only a few months after a tremendous unplanned explosion had levelled much of the Bala Hissar and destroyed a sizeable percentage of Afghanistan’s existing arsenal. British forces had destroyed or seized many other weapons during the course of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880). Coming to power in the aftermath of this conflict, the Emir understood that Afghanistan needed modern rifles, guns, and ammunition to preserve its territorial integrity and to fight internal conflicts.

Following a meeting with Lord Dufferin in Rawalpindi, India, in 1885, the Emir began to undertake the necessary steps to introduce a modern manufacturing complex to Afghanistan. After an early misstep with a Frenchman, M. Jérôme Kirchgesner, Abdul Rahman Khan hired Mr. (later Sir) Thomas Salter Pyne in early 1887. The Emir selected a piece of land on the outskirts of the city and the foundation stone for the Kabul Workshops was laid on 7 April 1887. In the official Afghan history, the Sirāj al-tawārīkh, the Kabul Arsenal complex is most often referred to as the Kārkhānah-i Bukhārī (‘steam workshop’) ; practically speaking, the Kabul Arsenal comprised just one part of the greater workshop complex. The Kabul workshops—and the Arsenal—were known to locals simply as the ‘Mashīn-Khānah’ (ماشین خانه; literally ‘machine house’ in Dari). The Kabul Arsenal is best conceived of as a sub-unit or department of the Kārkhānah-i Bukhārī more broadly. Under Pyne’s stewardship the workshops expanded substantially, to include a modern machine-coined mint as well as production facilities for small arms, cartridges, light weapons, artillery guns, and ordnance.

The Arsenal was one of the earliest homes to industrial machinery in Afghanistan and represented the first concerted push towards establishing modern industry in the country. After departing Kabul in November of 1895 to visit England, Pyne cited the following output capacity for the factory in a newspaper interview: 10,000 per day of each Martini and Snider cartridges, two field guns per week with all equipment, 15 rifles per day, and quick-firing guns at the rate of two a week. In a letter written in mid-1895, the Emir wrote “the object of our royal person is that all people residing in the kingdom of Afghanistan should possess various kinds of arms and weapons. It is with this object in mind that a large arms factory has been constructed in Kabul and is in full operation to make sure all subjects, at time of war, are fully armed.”

Adapted from N.R. Jenzen-Jones, ‘A Brief History of the Kabul Arsenal and its Primary Outputs’ (forthcoming).

Image sources: London Illustrated News; original source unknown via Silah Report; Niedermayer–Hentig Expedition via Bibliotheca Afghanica.