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- Indian Frontier Policy - 5/8 -
The conditions above mentioned are for the most part permanent. Russia may not, and probably has not, any intention of trying to invade and conquer India--but she has not the power, which is a far more important consideration.
To return to the position of affairs previous to the second Afghan war. [Footnote: See _Afghanistan_, 1878, published by Secretary of State for India, p. 128 et seq.] Early in 1875, Lord Northbrook, the Governor -General, received a despatch from the Government at home, pointing out that the information received from Afghanistan, not only in respect to internal intrigues but also as regards the influence of foreign Powers, was scanty, and not always trustworthy. He was, therefore, instructed to procure the assent of the Ameer to the establishment of a British Agency at Herat, and also at Candahar.
The Viceroy of India and his Council having consulted various experienced officers on the subject, replied in June, that in their opinion the present time and circumstances were unsuitable for taking the initiative. They pointed out that the Sirdars and many of the people of Afghanistan would strongly object, and that in the Ameer's somewhat insecure position he could not afford to disregard their feelings in the matter. They advised patience and conciliation.
In November 1875 a second despatch was received from England, reiterating the necessity of more complete information as to Afghanistan, especially in view of recent Russian advances in Central Asia; and the Viceroy was directed to send a Mission to Cabul without delay, to confer with the Ameer on Central Asia, and requesting that British officers should be placed on the frontier to watch the course of events.
The Government of India, in January 1876, again urged the undesirability of forcing the hands of the Ameer, and pointed out that his objections to English officers were not from a feeling of disloyalty, and that to force his hands was not desirable. They did not apprehend any desire of interference on the part of Russia, and they concluded by alluding to the careful conciliatory policy carried out by Lords Canning, Lawrence, and Mayo, as giving the best promise of peace, and satisfactory results in Afghanistan. Consequently they deprecated the proposed action by the Home Government in forcing British officers upon Shere Ali. In April 1876 Lord Northbrook quitted India, and was succeeded by Lord Lytton; and a further reply from Lord Salisbury, the Secretary of State for India, was received by the Viceroy. It reiterated that the Government at home considered our trans-frontier relations unsatisfactory; that permanent British Agencies should be established in Afghanistan; and that we were willing to afford the Ameer material support against unprovoked aggression, our object being to maintain a strong and friendly Power in that country. The despatch went on to say that should the Ameer decline to meet our request, he should be informed that he was isolating himself from us at his peril.
The next step was taken in May, when the Ameer was invited to receive a special Mission, which he politely declined. In October our native Agent at Cabul came to Simla and had an interview with Lord Lytton, who reiterated the demands of the British Government, pointing out that in the event of a refusal there was nothing to prevent our joining Russia in wiping Afghanistan out of the map altogether, of which Shere Ali was duly informed. In January 1877 a final effort was made to come to terms, and Sir Lewis Pelly and the Afghan Prime Minister, Noor Mahomed, had a conference at Peshawur. The first, and indeed the only point discussed, was the demand that British representatives should reside in Afghanistan, which was a _sine qua non_. Noor Mahomed pathetically pleaded that Lords Lawrence, Mayo, and Northbrook, successive Viceroys, had all in turn promised that this should not be insisted on; and he ended by saying that Shere Ali would rather perish than submit. It was evident that further discussion was useless, and the conference was closed; Noor Mahomed, who was ill, dying shortly afterwards. In March 1877 our native Agent at Cabul was withdrawn, and direct communication with Shere Ali ceased.
I have given the above _resume_ of the correspondence in 1875-77, and of the abortive efforts to induce the Ameer to comply with our demands, because it is evident that if he continued to resist compulsion must almost inevitably ensue. At about the same time, Quetta, in the Bolam, was occupied by a considerable British force, which was naturally regarded as a threat on Afghanistan. A concentration of troops also took place in the Northern Punjaub, and preparations were made for the construction of bridges over the Indus. All these were indications of coming war. It must also be noted that our relations with Russia in Europe were much strained at the time, so that probably the preparations in India were in some degree due to the apprehension of war in other parts of the world.
In the summer of 1878 a Russian Envoy arrived at Cabul, which under the circumstances is hardly to be wondered at. Some months however elapsed, and it was not until November 1878 that war was declared. Lord Lytton, the Viceroy, in his proclamation stated: 'That for ten years we had been friendly to Shere Ali; had assisted him with money and arms; and had secured for him formal recognition of his northern frontier by Russia.' It went on to state, that in return he had requited us with active ill-will; had closed the passes and allowed British traders to be plundered; and had endeavoured to stir up religious hatred against us. It then pointed out that whilst refusing a British Mission he had received one from Russia; and ended by saying that we had no quarrel with the Afghans, but only with Shere Ali himself.
From official correspondence published subsequently [Footnote: Parliamentary Papers, _Afghanistan_, 1881, No. 2.--c. 2811.] it appeared that in entering Afghanistan our chief object at the outset was to establish what was called a strategical triangle, by the occupation of Cabul, Ghuznee and Jellalabad; and it was stated that by holding this position, entrenched behind a rampart of mountains, we should have the power of debouching on the plains of the Oxus against Russia in Central Asia! 'It is difficult,' said Lord Lytton, 'to imagine a more commanding strategical position.' The events of the war, however, soon put an end to this somewhat fanciful strategy.
In November 1878 the British forces entered the country by three main routes, the Kyber, the Koorum, and the Bolam, and hard fighting at once ensued on the two northern ones. The results were immediate: Shere Ali fled northwards, and died soon after. His son, Yakoob Khan, assumed temporarily the position of Ameer, but in the convulsed state of the country lie possessed little real power or authority. In May, 1879, he met the British authorities at Gundamuk, and after considerable discussion signed a treaty, the chief points of which were as follows:-- The foreign affairs of Afghanistan were to be under our guidance; and we undertook to support the Ameer against foreign aggression; British agents were to reside in the country; the Koorum, Pisheen, and Sibi Valleys were assigned to the British Government; and finally, Yakoob Khan was to receive an annual subsidy of 60,000_l_.
So far, it would appear as if the campaign had at once realised the main objects of British policy; but tragic events rapidly followed, active hostilities were resumed, and the Treaty of Gundamuk became mere waste paper.
As a first result of the treaty, Sir Louis Cavagnari [Footnote: _Afghanistan_, 1881, No. 1.] was appointed our Envoy, and accompanied by a few officers and a small escort, arrived at Cabul in July, being received in a friendly manner by the Ameer; although influences adverse to his presence in the capital soon became apparent. Suddenly, on September 3, the British Residency was attacked by several Afghan regiments, and after a desperate resistance, Cavagnari and the whole of his officers and escort perished.
This deplorable event, of course, upset all previous arrangements, and led to an immediate resumption of hostilities. Our troops at once advanced and captured Cabul, Yakoob Khan voluntarily abdicating and becoming an exile in India. Ghuznee also was occupied shortly afterwards by our advance from Candahar.
The Government of India, in a despatch in January, 1880, pointed out that, in view of the complete change in the political situation, it was necessary, in the first place, fully to establish our military position in the country. They acknowledged that the hopes entertained of establishing a strong, friendly, and independent kingdom on our frontier had collapsed; and that Afghanistan had fallen to pieces at the first blow, its provinces being now disconnected and masterless. In view of these unexpected results, they went on to recommend the permanent separation of the provinces under separate rulers; and having regard to the special difficulties connected with Herat, advocated its being handed over to Persia!
This was indeed a policy of despair!
Lord Hartington, who had become Secretary of State for India, writing in May, 1880, summed up the situation as follows :--'It appears that as the result of two successful campaigns, of the employment of an enormous force, and of the expenditure of large sums of money, all that has yet been accomplished has been the disintegration of the State which it was desired to see strong, friendly and independent; the assumption of fresh and unwelcome liabilities in regard to one of its provinces, and a condition of anarchy throughout the remainder of the country.'
Long and careful consideration was naturally given to the solution of the difficulty in which this country found itself owing to the untoward circumstances just related. Two important decisions were however ultimately arrived at: [Footnote: _Afghanistan_, 1881, No. 1.]
1. That authority in Afghanistan, and the unity of its provinces, should as far as possible be restored by the appointment of a new Ameer; and Abdul Rahman, a nephew of Shere Ali, who had been for twelve years an exile in Bokhara, was invited to Cabul, and was supported by us in assuming the title.
The chief conditions were, that his foreign policy was to be under our guidance, that no English officers were to reside as our representatives in Afghanistan, and that he was to receive a subsidy.
2. That the British troops should be withdrawn as soon as the pacification of the country would permit. This decision was recommended not only by the Viceroy, the Marquis of Ripon, but by the higher officers who had held command during the war. Sir Donald Stewart, who was in chief command, and Sir Frederick Roberts, both, concurred in our withdrawal from the country; the Kyber Pass was to be held by subsidised tribes, and the Koorum Valley to be altogether abandoned; the independence of the tribes being in each case recognised. Sir John Watson, who was in command in that valley, pointed out that as a route from India into Afghanistan it was practically useless. As a further argument in favour of withdrawal, it may be well to allude to the fact that the men of our native regiments were sick of serving in Afghanistan, far away from their homes, and that it would be impolitic to keep them there.
Some differences of opinion existed as to whether we should relinquish possession of Candahar; but as it was 400 miles from the Indus, in a foreign country, and as our remaining there would not only be hateful to the Afghans, but in a military sense would be dangerous and costly, its final abandonment was decided on; the valley of Pisheen, between
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