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- Indian Frontier Policy - 4/8 -


From 1872 to 1876 Lord Northbrook was Viceroy of India, and one of his last acts before leaving was the appointment of Colonel Sandeman as our Envoy, with a view to mediate between the Khan and his subordinates, and which proved successful. The principal terms which were finally accepted by the Khan and his tribal chiefs were, that their foreign policy was to be under our guidance, and we were also to be the referee in case of internal disputes; that the commerce of the Bolam was to be opened and protected, the annual subsidy hitherto granted to the Khan of 5,000_l_. being doubled to cover the necessary expenditure; and, finally, that a British Agent with a suitable contingent should be established at Quetta. It is important to observe that the negotiations were conducted throughout in a spirit of conciliation, and that their beneficial results remain in force to the present day.

The policy pursued for many years on the Afghan frontier, although regulated by the same general principles as in Khelat, was not altogether so rapidly accomplished, or so entirely successful. The circumstances were in some degree different and less simple. In the first place the frontier was 800 miles long, and was inhabited by Afghan tribes, who were more predatory and intractable than the Beloochees; they were not only independent of each other, but for the most part acknowledged no allegiance to the Ameer of Cabul. Border disputes therefore had to be settled with individual chiefs; and no opportunity was offered for our mediation in internal feuds, or for joint agreement on external policy, as was so successfully accomplished by Sandeman in Beloochistan. There was no general federation with which we could enter into negotiation. As a consequence, we were compelled to maintain a large force and fortified posts along the frontier; and many punitive expeditions became necessary from time to time against lawless offending tribes. Still, on the whole, and considering the difficulties of the situation, the policy of conciliation, subsidies, and of non- interference with their internal affairs, gradually succeeded; raids once chronic became exceptional, and were dealt with rather as matters of frontier policy than of war. [Footnote: See Parliamentary Papers: _Afghanistan,_ 1878, page 30, and _Beloochistan,_ No. 3, 1878.]

It must also be remembered, as an additional complication, that in annexing the Punjaub, although it is essentially the country of the Sikhs, who are Hindoos, the inhabitants of the trans-Indus districts are for the most part what are termed Punjaubee Mussulmen, that is, Afghans, in race, religion and language.

From what has been said as to our dealings with the border tribes, it will be evident that while our difficulties were continuous and often serious, still, they were chiefly local; and that the defence of the Empire on that frontier against foreign aggression depended in a great measure on our relations with the ruler of Afghanistan itself. When Dost Mahomed, after the great war, returned in 1843 to his former position as Ameer of that distracted country, it was hardly to be expected that, although acquiescing in his reinstatement, we should be regarded by him in a friendly light; still, some years passed away without any important change in our relative positions, one way or the other.

In 1855, Lord Dalhousie was Governor-General, and a treaty was made with Dost Mahomed, by which both parties agreed to respect each other's territories. In January, 1857, a still more important one followed. We were then once more at war with Persia; and at a meeting between Sir John Lawrence and the Ameer, an agreement was entered into that Dost Mahomed, acting in co-operation with us, should receive 10,000_l_. a month for military purposes, to continue during the war; that English officers should reside in his country temporarily, to keep the Indian Government informed, but not to interfere with the administration, and that when peace ensued they should be withdrawn, and a native agent alone remain as our representative. [Footnote: In view of the strong objection to the presence of English officers in Afghanistan, Sir John Lawrence intimated to the Viceroy of India that he had given an assurance to Dost Mahomed that it should not be enforced unless imperatively necessary.]

It is important to note that this friendly treaty was made at Peshawur, just before the great Mutiny, and that the Ameer, though urged by his people to attack us in our hour of danger, remained faithful, and would not allow them to cross the border.

Dost Mahomed died in June, 1863, and for some years after his death family feuds and intestine wars occurred as to his successor, during which we carefully abstained from interference, and were prepared to acknowledge the _de facto_ ruler. Ultimately, in 1868, his son Shere Ali established his authority in Afghanistan, and was acknowledged accordingly. Lord Lawrence was then the Viceroy, and in a despatch to the Secretary of State expressed his views as regards the advances of Russia. After pointing out that they were now paramount in Central Asia, he suggested a mutual agreement as to our respective spheres and relations with the tribes and nations with whom we were now both in contact, and he went on to welcome the civilising effect of Russian government over the wild tribes of the Steppes, and pointed out that if Russia were assured of our loyal feeling in these matters, she would have no jealousy in respect of our alliance with the Afghans.

The Secretary of State (Sir Stafford Northcote) replied 'that the conquests which Russia had made, and apparently is still making, in Central Asia, appear to be the natural result of the circumstances in which she finds herself placed, and to afford no ground whatever for representations indicative of suspicion or alarm on the part of this country.' It is a great misfortune that such sensible, conciliatory views did not continue to guide our policy in the events which a few years later led us into the second great war in Afghanistan.

Shere Ali did not inherit the great qualities of his father, and was also somewhat discontented that we had not abetted his cause during the internal troubles in Afghanistan. However, in 1869 he met Lord Mayo at Umballa, and after careful discussion it was agreed that we should abstain from sending British officers across the frontier and from interfering in Afghan affairs; that our desire was that a strong, friendly, and independent Government should be established in that country. It was further decided to give Shere Ali considerable pecuniary assistance, and presents of arms from time to time. The Ameer, while gratified at these results, wished us also to give a dynastic pledge as to his lineal descendants, which, however, was not acceded to. In 1873 Lord Northbrook was Viceroy of India, and a further conference took place at Simla with the Ameer's Prime Minister, chiefly as to the northern Afghan frontier in Badakshan and Wakkan, which were at the time somewhat uncertain, and a matter of dispute with Russia.

This somewhat delicate question was, however, settled in a friendly manner by Lord Granville, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Prince Gortschakoff's final despatch to him on the subject was as follows: [Footnote: _Central Asia_, 1873--c. 699.] 'The divergence which existed in our views was with regard to the frontiers assigned to the dominion of Shere Ali. The English Government includes within them Badakshan and Wakkan, which according to our views enjoyed a certain independence. Considering the difficulty experienced in establishing the facts in all their details in those distant parts; considering the greater facilities which the British Government possesses for collecting precise detail, and above all considering our wish not to give to this question of detail greater importance than is due to it, we do not refuse to accept the boundary line laid down by England. We are the more inclined to this act of courtesy as the English Government engages to use all its influence with Shere Ali in order to induce him to maintain a peaceful attitude, as well as to insist on his giving up all measures of aggression or further conquest. This influence is indisputable. It is based, not only on the material and moral ascendency of England, but also on the subsidies for which Shere Ali is indebted to her. Such being the case, we see in this assurance a real guarantee for the maintenance of peace.'

Prince Gortschakoff admitted more than once that the Emperor of Russia looked upon Afghanistan as completely outside the sphere of Russian influence, and within that of ours; at the same time, claiming similar independence for Russia in Central Asia.

During the next few years, subsequent to the Simla conference, Shere Ali, though he had received considerable assistance from us, both in money and arms, was not altogether satisfied, and one or two incidents occurred during that period which gave him umbrage. Lord Northbrook, the Viceroy in 1875, was not unaware of the somewhat cold and capricious spirit of the Ameer, but in writing to London he pointed out that Shere Ali's situation was difficult, not only from the risk of revolution at home, but also of attack from abroad, but that on the whole he was to be relied on.

A change, however, was coming over the scene, and our policy reverted from conciliation to compulsion. It was a critical period in the history of frontier policy, and demands careful consideration.

It must not be forgotten that although amongst those best qualified to judge the majority had long been opposed to advance and conquest in territories beyond our North-West frontier, and entertained but little fear of Russian aggressive power, still there were others--men of long experience, who had filled high positions in India--who held different views; and it is probable that not only successive British Governments, but the public generally, who have no time for carefully weighing the diverse aspects of the subject, were influenced sometimes one way, sometimes another. In the many difficulties connected with our world-wide Empire this must always be more or less the case. For instance, the late Sir H. Rawlinson, a few years before the second Afghan war, took a very alarmist view of the progress of Russia, not only in Central Asia but also in Asia Minor. He considered that her advance from Orenburg was only part of one great scheme of invasion; and he averred that the conquest of the Caucasus had given her such a strong position that there was no military or physical obstacle to the continuous march of Russia from the Araxes to the Indus. [Footnote: Parliamentary Papers, _Afghanistan_, 1878.] He described it as the unerring certainty of a law of nature. But, throughout, he ignores distances, blots out the mountains, deserts, and arid plains of Persia and Afghanistan, and takes no account of the warlike races who would bar the path. It requires a very large map to embrace all the details of this widespread strategy.

Some account has already been given of the weakness, in a military point of view, of Russia in Central Asia, and of the distance of her scattered troops from the main resources of the Empire. But, in addition, it must be remembered that the mountains of Afghanistan also form a natural and enduring barrier against a further advance. The great Hindoo Koosh range, running all along the northern part of that country, forms indeed the real scientific frontier between the two Empires, the few passes over its snowy crests ranging from 12,000 to 18,000 feet high, and only open for a few months in the year.

Another supposed line of advance for a Russian army, namely by the Pamirs, has of late years been brought forward; but its main features are more discouraging than those of any other. This elevated region consists of a mass of bare snow-capped mountains attaining elevations of over 25,000 feet, intersected by plateaux almost as devoid of vegetation as the mountains themselves. The lakes are about 12,000 feet above the sea, the population is scanty, and consists chiefly of nomads in search of food and pasture during the short summer; so that although the Russians might, if unopposed, possibly move in small isolated detachments carrying their own food and munitions over the Pamirs, it would only be to lose themselves in the gorges of the Himalayas.


Indian Frontier Policy - 4/8

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