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- Indian Frontier Policy - 7/8 -
question in the Parliamentary Papers published [Footnote: _North-West Frontier, Chitral_, 1895.] in 1895. It appears that so long ago as 1876 the ruler of Chitral voluntarily tendered his allegiance to the Maharajah of Cashmere, and endeavoured, but without success, to persuade the neighbouring chiefs of Swat, Bajour, and Dir, to follow his example. Now Chitral and Cashmere are not only far apart, but are separated by lofty mountain ranges, inhabited by other tribes, so that this sudden offer of vassalage seems rather inexplicable. It transpired, however, a few years afterwards, that his real motive in seeking the friendship of Cashmere was due to his fear of aggression by the Ameer of Cabul.[Footnote: _Ibid_, page 46.]
The Government of India at the time encouraged this somewhat sentimental friendship, and in order to obtain influence over the intervening tribes established a fort at Gilgit, in an almost inaccessible position, not far from the snowy crests of the Hindoo Koosh. The position, however, proved to be costly, and also dangerous from unfriendly neighbours, and, as after three years' experience no special object was attained, it was withdrawn in 1881.
In 1889 the old fears of possible Russian aggression again revived, and Gilgit was reoccupied with a strong detachment of Cashmere troops, accompanied by several English officers. The Government of India pointed out that the development of Russian military resources in Asia rendered it necessary to watch the passes over the mountains, in order to prevent what was called a _coup de main_ from the north. In short, they dreaded the march of a Russian army over the Pamirs and the Hindoo Koosh --a region where Nature has constructed for us perhaps one of the most formidable frontiers in the world.
Friendship with the ruler of Chitral was also cultivated. He was given an annual subsidy, and a present of 500 Sniders; being visited also by English officers. It was even contemplated at the time to construct a direct road from his capital to our frontier near Peshawur; but as he was suspicious, and as his neighbours in Swat, Bajour, and others would probably have objected, the suggestion was happily postponed.
In October 1892 the ruler of Chitral died, and after the usual family contests and intrigues, Nizamul-Mulk, his son, established his authority in the country.
In January, 1893, Dr. Robertson arrived at Chitral as our representative, accompanied by two officers and fifty Sikhs. Although he was received in a friendly manner by the new ruler, his account of the state of affairs in April was discouraging and ominous. He wrote: 'We seem to be on a volcano here. Matters are no longer improving; the atmosphere of Chitral is one of conspiracy and intrigue.' A few weeks later he gave a more cheerful account, and although he described the people as fickle, he considered that Englishmen were safe. It became evident, however, that the Nizam-ul-Mulk was weak and unpopular, and Dr. Robertson described the country as 'in a distracted state, and torn by factions.'
The reports of our Agent, in short, would seem to prove that he was in a false and dangerous position, with a small escort, far away in the mountains, about 200 miles from our frontier.
In January, 1895, the Nizam was murdered by his brother, and the whole country at once again fell into anarchy. Dr. Robertson, who had been temporarily absent, but had returned in February, was besieged in a fort, with his escort, which, however, had been increased to about 290 men. The crisis had come at last, and there was no time to spare.
A strong force under Sir Robert Low was assembled at Peshawur, and crossed the frontier on April 1. It must be pointed out that, in proceeding to Chitral, the British troops had necessarily to pass through a difficult mountainous country inhabited by independent tribes; and the Government of India issued a proclamation in which they pointed out that their sole object 'is to put an end to the present and to prevent any future unlawful aggression on Chitral territory, and that as soon as this object has been attained the force would be withdrawn.' The proclamation went on to say, that the Government 'have no intention of permanently occupying any territory through which Mura Khan's misconduct may now force them to pass, or of interfering with the independence of the tribes.'
The military operations were conducted with great skill and rapidity, and Dr. Robertson's small garrison, which at one time had been hard pressed, was saved: a small force under Colonel Kelly, which had left Gilgit, having by a daring and successful march arrived just before the main body from Peshawur.
The short campaign having thus accomplished its object, the gradual withdrawal of the British troops in accordance with the proclamation would seem to have been a natural sequence. In the weak, distracted state of the country, and in the assumed necessity of not losing our influence in those distant regions, the Government of India, however, considered that a road from our frontier to Chitral should be made, and certain positions retained in order to guard it. This vital question having been carefully considered at home, the Secretary of State for India, on June 13, 1895, telegraphed to the Viceroy that her Majesty's Government regretted they were unable to concur in the proposal. He went on to say that no 'military force or European Agent shall be kept at Chitral; that Chitral should not be fortified; and that no road shall be made between Peshawur and Chitral.' He added that all positions beyond our frontier should be evacuated as speedily as circumstances allowed.
It so happened that within a few days of this important decision a change of Government occurred at home, and the question was reconsidered; and on August 9, fresh instructions were telegraphed to India, by which it was ordered that British troops should be stationed at the Malakund Pass, leading into Swat, and that other posts up to, and including, Chitral, should also be held, and a road made through the country. In short the previous decision was entirely reversed.
Before going further it may be as well to point out that this is no mere question between one political party and another. It goes far beyond that, and we may feel assured that in considering the subject, both Governments were actuated by a desire to do what was considered best in the interests of the Indian Empire.
Still, it is I think impossible not to regard the ultimate decision as very unfortunate, and as likely to lead to serious consequences. In a mere military point of view, it was a repetition of the policy pursued of recent years of establishing isolated military posts in countries belonging to others, or in their vicinity; inevitably tending to aggravate the tribes, and which in time of trouble, instead of increasing our strength, are and have been the cause of anxiety to ourselves. Therefore, not only as a matter of policy, but in a purely military sense, the arrangement was dangerous.
I would further observe that many officers, both civil and military, men of the highest character and long experience in the Punjaub and its borders, did not hesitate to express their opinions at the time, that retribution would speedily follow; and their anticipations appear now to have been verified. Suddenly, not many weeks ago, the people of Swat, who were said to be friendly, violently attacked our position on the Malakund, losing, it is said, 3,000 men in the attempt; and also nearly captured a fortified post a few miles distant at Chakdara. Not only that, but this unexpected outbreak was followed by hostilities on the part of the tribes in Bajour, and by the Mohmunds north, of Peshawur, and also by the Afredis, who, subsidised by us, had for years guarded the celebrated Kyber. Again, the tribes of the Samana range, and others to the west of Kohat, rose in arms; and a very large force of British troops had to be pushed forward in all haste to quell this great combined attack on the part of our neighbours. General Sir Neville Chamberlain, perhaps the greatest living authority on frontier questions, has written quite recently, pointing out that never previously had there been a semblance of unity of action amongst the different tribesmen.[Footnote: _Saturday Review_, 30th Oct. 1897.]
There surely must have been some very strong feeling of resentment and injustice which brought so many tribesmen for the first time to combine in opposition to what they evidently considered an invasion of their country. As regards the Afredis, who are spoken of as treacherous and faithless, it must be borne in mind that in 1881 we specially recognised their independence,[Footnote: _Afghanistan_ No. 1, 1881, page 57.] and have ever since subsidised them for the special purpose of guarding the commerce through the Kyber; a duty which they have faithfully carried out until the present summer. Lord Lytton, who was Viceroy when the arrangement was proposed at the end of the war, wrote in 1880 [Footnote: _Ibid_, page 62.]--'I sincerely hope that the Government of India will not be easily persuaded to keep troops permanently stationed in the Kyber. I feel little doubt that such a course would tend rather to cause trouble than to keep order. Small bodies of troops would be a constant provocation to attack; large bodies would die like flies....'
'I believe that the Pass tribes themselves, if properly managed, will prove the best guardians of the Pass, and be able, as well as willing, to keep it open for us, if we make it worth their while to do so....' Many of these very men, and those of other tribes on the frontier, have for years enlisted in our ranks, and have proved to be good soldiers. I repeat that some strong cause must have influenced them suddenly to break out into war.
Until the present military operations have been brought to a close, and until full official information has been given of the circumstances which have led to them, it is not possible to pronounce a final judgment; still, it seems to me, that we have strong grounds for believing that the border policy of late years has in many instances been too aggressive and regardless of the rights of the tribes; and that the course finally pursued of the retention of fortified posts through Swat and Bajour to Chitral, has been the ultimate cause which has excited the people against us, and produced so great and costly a border war. It must also not be forgotten, that even now we are merely on the fringe, as it were, of the question; and that if we persist in forcing ourselves forward, we shall have many a costly campaign to undertake far away in distant, little-known regions, more difficult and more inaccessible even than those in which we now find ourselves.
On the whole it appears to me that we should as far as possible withdraw our isolated posts, so many of which, are either within the tribal country or along its borders. It is sometimes argued that any withdrawal on our part would have a demoralising effect on the tribes, who would ascribe our retirement to inability to maintain our positions. [Footnote: _Chitral_, 1895, page 62.] The best reply will perhaps be to quote the words of Lord Hartington, when under similar circumstances it was decided in 1881 to retire from Candahar. He said: [Footnote: _Afghanistan_, No. 1, 1881, page 92.] 'The moral effect of a scrupulous adherence to declarations which have been made, and a striking and convincing proof given to the people and princes of India that the British Government have no desire for further annexation of territory, could not fail to produce a most salutary effect, in removing the apprehensions, and strengthening the attachment of our native allies throughout India, and on our frontiers....'
These remarks may now be brought to a close. My object throughout has been to give an historical summary of the various wars and expeditions in which we have been engaged during the present century on the North
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