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- Indian Frontier Policy - 3/8 -
position in this country, and that you ought to avail yourself of the offer to negotiate that has been made to you.'
This was conclusive. Our Envoy early in December met the Afghan chiefs, and agreed that we should immediately evacuate the country, and that Dost Mahomed, who was in exile in India, should return. On December 23, Sir William McNaghten was treacherously murdered at a conference with the Afghan Sirdars, within sight of the British cantonment, and then came the end.
The British force at Cabul, leaving its guns, stores and treasure behind, commenced its retreat on January 6, 1842; but incessantly attacked during its march, and almost annihilated in the Koord Cabul Pass, it ceased to exist as an organised body. General Elphinstone and other officers, invited to a conference by Akbar Khan, were forcibly detained as hostages, and on January 13 a solitary Englishman (Dr. Brydon) arrived at Jellalabad, being, with the exception of a few prisoners, the sole remaining representative of the force.
I have given this short sketch of the first Afghan war because, disastrous as it was, the causes of our failure were due throughout far more to rash and mistaken policy than to any shortcomings of the British troops engaged. Kaye in his 'History' gives a clear summary of its original object and unfortunate results: 'The expedition across the Indus was undertaken with the object of creating in Afghanistan a barrier against encroachment from the west.' 'The advance of the British army was designed to check the aggression of Persia on the Afghan frontier, and to baffle Russian intrigues by the substitution of a friendly for an unfriendly Power in the countries beyond the Indus. After an enormous waste of blood and treasure, we left every town and village of Afghanistan bristling with our enemies. Before the British army crossed the Indus the English name had been honoured in Afghanistan. Some dim traditions of the splendour of Mr. Elphinstone's Mission had been all that the Afghans associated with their thoughts of the English nation, but in their place we left galling memories of the progress of a desolating army.'
The history of the war from first to last deserves careful consideration; and if the lessons taught by it are taken to heart, they will materially assist in determining the principles which, should guide our policy on the North-West frontier of India.
EVENTS PRIOR, AND LEADING UP, TO SECOND AFGHAN WAR
Conquest of Khiva, Bokhara, and Kokand by Russia--British Conquest of Scinde and the Punjaub--Our Policy with the Frontier Tribes--Treaty of 1857 with Dost Mahomed--Shere Ali succeeds as Ameer, 1868--War of 1878-- Abdul Rahman becomes Ameer--Withdrawal of British Army from Afghanistan, 1881.
For a few years subsequent to the war, our frontier policy happily remained free from complications, and it will be desirable now to refer shortly to the progress of Russia in Central Asia, and of her conquests of the decaying Principalities of Khiva, Bokhara and Kokand.
Previous to 1847 the old boundary line of Russia south of Orenburg abutted on the great Kirghis Steppe, a zone [Footnote: Parliamentary Papers: _Afghanistan_, 1878.] (as the late Sir H. Rawlinson told us) of almost uninhabited desert, stretching 2,000 miles from west to east, and nearly 1,000 from north to south, which had hitherto acted as a buffer between Russia and the Mahomedan Principalities below the Aral.
[Footnote: Extract from _Quarterly Review_, October 1865.]'It was in 1847, contemporaneously with our final conquest of the Punjaub, that the curtain rose on the aggressive Russian drama in Central Asia which is not yet played out. Russia had enjoyed the nominal dependency of the Kirghis-Kozzacks of the little horde who inhabited the western division of the great Steppe since 1730; but, except in the immediate vicinity of the Orenburg line, she had little real control over the tribes. In 1847 -48, however, she erected three important fortresses in the very heart of the Steppe. These important works--the only permanent constructions which had hitherto been attempted south of the line--enabled Russia, for the first time, to dominate the western portion of the Steppe and to command the great routes of communication with Central Asia. But the Steppe forts were after all a mere means to an end; they formed the connecting link between the old frontiers of the empire and the long -coveted line of the Jaxartes, and simultaneously with their erection arose Fort Aralsk, near the embouchure of the river.'
The Russians having thus crossed the great desert tract and established themselves on the Jaxartes (Sir Daria), from that time came permanently into contact with the three Khanates of Central Asia, and their progress since that date has been comparatively easy and rapid.
The Principalities had no military organisation which would enable them to withstand a great Power; their troops and those of Russia were frequently in conflict of late years; but the battles were in a military sense trivial; and the broad result is, that Russia has been for some years predominant throughout the whole region; and her frontiers are now continuous with the northern provinces of both Afghanistan and Persia. It is this latter point which is the important one, so far as we are concerned, but before entering into its details, it will be well to consider the nature of the great country over which Russia now rules.
Until within the last few years our information as to its general character was very limited; but the accounts of numerous recent travellers all concur in describing it as consisting for the most part of sterile deserts, deficient in food, forage, fuel and water. There are a certain number of decayed ancient cities here and there, and there are occasional oases of limited fertility, but the general conditions are as just described. With the exception of the one railway from the Caspian to Samarcand, the means of transport are chiefly pack animals. Speaking roughly, the dominions of Russia in Central Asia, south of Orenburg, may be taken as almost equal in geographical extent to those of our Indian Empire; but there is this striking difference between the two, that whilst the population of India is computed at 250 millions, that of Central Asia, even at the highest computation, is only reckoned at four or five millions, of whom nearly half are nomadic--that is, they wander about, not from choice, but in search of food and pasturage. The extreme scantiness of the population is of itself a rough measure of the general desolation.
The military position of Russia in Central Asia, therefore, is that of a great but distant Power, which during the last fifty years has overrun and taken possession of extended territories belonging to fanatical Mahomedan tribes. The people themselves are, many of them, warlike and hostile; but they are badly armed, have no discipline, training, or leaders, and are not therefore in a position to withstand the advance of regular troops. Consequently Russia is enabled to hold the country with a comparatively small force of scattered detachments, which are, however, supplied with arms, munitions and stores under great difficulties from far distant centres, and her troops are practically incapable of concentration. Indeed the farther they go the weaker they become; the very magnitude of the area being an additional cause of weakness. This is a condition somewhat precarious in itself, and would certainly not appear to be an alarming one as a basis of attack against our Empire, even were India close at hand.
While Russia, however, was completing the subjugation of the Principalities, and advancing her frontiers until they became conterminous with the northern provinces of Afghanistan and Persia, the Government of India, by the great wars of 1843 and 1849, having annexed Scinde and the Punjaub, advanced our frontiers in a similar manner, so that the people both of Beloochistan and Afghanistan, hitherto far remote from our dominions, now became our neighbours.
In the life of Sir Robert Sandeman recently published, a very interesting account is given, not only of the nature of the country along the border, but of the policy pursued for many years with the independent tribes. It says: 'By the conquest of Scinde in 1843, and the annexation of the Punjaub in 1849, the North-West frontier of India was advanced across the river Indus to the foot of the rocky mountains which separate the plains of the Indus valley from the higher plateaus of Afghanistan and Khelat. These mountain ranges formed a vast irregular belt of independent or semi-independent territory, extending from Cashmere southward to the sea near Kurrachee, a total length of about 1,200 miles.' The belt of territory above described was 'inhabited by fierce marauding tribes, often at war with each other, ever and anon harrying the plains of the Punjaub and Scinde, and the constant terror of the trade caravans during their journey through the passes.'
The policy pursued for many years is thus described: 'The disasters of the first Afghan war, and the tragical episode of Khelat, were fresh in men's recollections, and created a strong feeling against political interference with tribes beyond our border'.... 'Accordingly, from the very first, the system of border defence maintained by the Punjaub Government was not purely military, but partly military, partly political and conciliatory. While the passes were carefully watched, every means was taken for the promotion of friendly intercourse.' Roads were made, steamers started on the Indus, and inundation canals developed along the border.
So long as they were friendly the tribesmen had free access to our territory, could hold land, enlist in our army, and make free use of our markets. As a result, the deadly hatred formerly prevailing between the Sikhs and the hill tribes soon disappeared; raids became exceptional; cultivation increased; the bazaars of our frontier stations teemed with Afghans, with trains of laden camels, who at the close of the season returned laden with our goods. Disputes were voluntarily referred by independent tribesmen for the arbitration of British officers. Such, (it is stated in the life of Sir Robert Sandeman) were the results of Lawrence's frontier policy, and no words are required to emphasise these excellent arrangements, which remained in force for many years.
Before leaving this part of the subject, it may be as well to anticipate a little and to allude to the successful part taken by Sir Robert Sandeman in 1876 on his appointment as our agent to the Khan of Khelat. It is important in the first place to mention, that whilst in Afghanistan the tribes all along the frontier were for the most part independent of the Ameer of Cabul, and were ruled by their own 'jirgahs' or councils, in Beloochistan the mode of government was so far different that the chiefs, whilst acknowledging the Khan as their hereditary ruler, were entitled, not only to govern their own tribes, but to take part in the general administration of the country as the constitutional advisers of the paramount chief. The dangers arising from the vicinity of three powerful kingdoms, Persia, Afghanistan, and Scinde, had no doubt led them to perceive the necessity of co-operation, which was established about the middle of the eighteenth century. Although the constitution as above described secured to the confederated tribes nearly a century of prosperity and peaceful government, it so happened that for some years before 1876, owing to the weakness of the then ruler, and partly to turbulence of the chiefs, the government of the country fell into disorder, and the commerce through the Bolam Pass altogether ceased.
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