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´╗┐Title: Indian Frontier Policy; an historical sketch
Author: Adye, John, Sir
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Indian Frontier Policy; an historical sketch" ***







The subject of our policy on the North-West frontier of India is one of
great importance, as affecting the general welfare of our Eastern
Empire, and is specially interesting at the present time, when military
operations on a considerable scale are being conducted against a
combination of the independent tribes along the frontier.

It must be understood that the present condition of affairs is no mere
sudden outbreak on the part of our turbulent neighbours. Its causes lie
far deeper, and are the consequences of events in bygone years.

In the following pages I have attempted to give a short historical
summary of its varying phases, in the hope that I may thus assist the
public in some degree to understand its general bearings, and to form a
correct opinion of the policy which should be pursued in the future.






Proposed Invasion of India by Napoleon I.--Mission of Burnes to Cabul
--Its Failure--Hostility of Russia and Persia--First Afghan War, 1839-41
--Its Vicissitudes and Collapse.



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,



Further Advance of Russia--Merv Occupied--Sir West Ridgeway's Frontier
Commission of 1885--The Durand Agreement with Abdul Rahman--The Chitral
Expedition of 1895--Its Results--Sudden Outbreak of Frontier Tribes, 1897.

[Illustration: Afghanistan and North-West Frontier of INDIA.]





Proposed Invasion of India by Napoleon I.--Mission of Burnes to Cabul
--Its Failure--Hostility of Russia and Persia--First Afghan War, 1839-41
--Its Vicissitudes and Collapse.

In considering the important and somewhat intricate subject of policy
on the North-Western frontier of our Indian Empire it will be desirable,
in the first place, to give a concise history of the events which have
guided our action, and which for many years past have exercised a
predominating influence in that part of our Eastern dominion.

Speaking generally, it may, I think, be said that the main features of
our policy on the North-Western frontier have been determined by the
gradual advance of Russia southwards, and partly also by the turbulent
character of the people of Afghanistan, and of the independent tribes
who inhabit the great region of mountains which lie between Russia and

These two circumstances--the first having been the most powerful--have
led us into great wars and frontier expeditions, which as a rule have
been costly, and in some cases unjust, and their consequences have not
tended to strengthen our position either on the frontier or in India

It will be well therefore to give an outline of the Russian conquests
in Central Asia to the north of Afghanistan, and also of our dealings
with the rulers of Cabul in bygone years, and we shall then be better
able to judge of our present position, and to determine the principles
which should guide our North-Western frontier policy.

One of the first threats of invasion of India early in the century was
planned at Tilsit, and is thus described by Kaye:[Footnote: _History
of the War in Afghanistan_] 'Whilst the followers of Alexander and
Napoleon were abandoning themselves to convivial pleasures, those
monarchs were spending quiet evenings together discussing their future
plans, and projecting joint schemes of conquest. It was then that they
meditated the invasion of Hindostan by a confederate army uniting on the
plains of Persia; and no secret was made of the intention of the two
great European potentates to commence in the following spring a hostile
demonstration--Contre les possessions de la compagnie des Indes.'

The peril, however, was averted by a treaty at Teheran in March 1809,
in which the Shah of Persia covenanted not to permit any European force
whatever to pass through Persia towards India, or towards the ports of
that country. And so the visionary danger passed away.

The old southern boundary of Russia in Central Asia extended from the
north of the Caspian by Orenburg and Orsk, across to the old Mongolian
city of Semipalatinsk, and was guarded by a cordon of forts and Cossack
outposts. It was about 2,000 miles in length, and [Footnote:
_Quarterly Review_, Oct. 1865.] 'abutted on the great Kirghis
Steppe, and to a certain extent controlled the tribes pasturing in the
vicinity, but by no means established the hold of Russia on that
pathless, and for the most part lifeless, waste.'

During all the earlier years of the century, while we were establishing
our power in India, constant intrigues and wars occurred in Persia,
Afghanistan, and Central Asia; and rumours were occasionally heard of
threats against ourselves, which formed the subject of diplomatic
treatment from time to time; but in reality the scene was so distant
that our interests were not seriously affected, and it was not until
1836 that they began to exercise a powerful influence as regards our
policy on the North-West frontier.

In that year Lord Auckland was Governor-General, and Captain Alexander
Burnes was sent on a commercial mission up the Indus, and through the
Kyber Pass, to Cabul, where he was received in a friendly manner by the
Ameer Dost Mahomed. It must be borne in mind that neither Scinde nor the
Punjaub was then under our rule, so that our frontiers were still far
distant from Afghanistan. It was supposed at the time that Russia was
advancing southward towards India in league with Persia, and the mission
of Burnes was in reality political, its object being to induce the Ameer
to enter into a friendly alliance.

Dost Mahomed was quite willing to meet our views, and offered to give
up altogether any connection with the two Powers named. It, however,
soon became apparent that our interests were by no means identical; his
great object, as we found, being to recover the Peshawur district, which
had been taken a few years previously by Runjeet Singh, while we, on the
other hand, courted his friendship chiefly in order that his country
might prove a barrier against the advance of Russia and Persia.

These respective views were evidently divergent and the issues
doubtful; when suddenly a Russian Envoy (Vicovitch), also on a so-called
commercial mission, arrived at Cabul, offering the Ameer money and
assistance against the Sikhs. This altered the aspect of affairs. Burnes
wrote to the Governor-General that the Russians were evidently trying to
outbid us. Still some hope remained, until definite instructions arrived
from Lord Auckland declining to mediate with or to act against Runjeet
Singh, the ruler of the Punjaub. The Ameer felt that we made great
demands on him but gave him nothing in return. It then became evident
that the mission of Burnes was a failure, and in April 1838 he returned
to India. It was our first direct effort to provide against a distant
and unsubstantial danger, and it failed; but unfortunately we did not
take the lesson to heart.

In the meantime the Shah of Persia, instigated by Russia, besieged
Herat, but after months of fruitless effort, and in consequence of our
sending troops to the Persian Gulf, the Shah at length withdrew his army.

It was not only the hostile efforts of the Shah on Herat in 1838 which
were a cause of anxiety to the Indian Government; but, as Kaye
writes,[Footnote: Kaye's _War in Afghanistan._] 'far out in the
distance beyond the mountains of the Hindoo Koosh there was the shadow
of a great Northern army, tremendous in its indistinctness, sweeping
across the wilds and deserts of Central Asia towards the frontiers of
Hindostan.' That great Northern army, as we know now, but did not know
then, was the column of Perofski, which had left Orenburg for the
attempted conquest of Khiva, but which subsequently perished from
hardships and pestilence in the snowy wastes of the Barsuk Desert, north
of the Aral.

In view of all the circumstances--of the supposed designs of Russia and
Persia, and of the hostility and incessant intrigues in Afghanistan--the
Government of India were sorely perplexed, and opinions amongst the
authorities widely differed as to the policy to be pursued. Lord
Auckland, however, at length decided on the assemblage of a British
force for service across the Indus. In his manifesto issued in December
1838 he first alluded to the Burnes mission, and the causes of its
failure. He then referred to the claims of Shah Soojah, a former ruler
of Afghanistan (who had been living for some years in exile within our
territories) and said we had determined, in co-operation with the Sikhs,
to restore him to power as Ameer of Cabul.

It was arranged that Shah Soojah should enter Afghanistan with his own
troops, such as they were, supported by a British army marching through
Scinde and Beloochistan. The Governor-General expressed a hope that
tranquillity would thus be established on the frontier, and a barrier
formed against external aggression; and he ended by pro claiming that
when the object was accomplished the British army would be withdrawn.

This was indeed a momentous decision. The Commander-in-Chief in India,
Sir Henry Fane, had already given an adverse opinion, saying that 'every
advance you make beyond the Sutlej in my opinion adds to your military

On the decision becoming known in England many high authorities, and
the public generally, disapproved, of the expedition. The Duke of
Wellington said that 'our difficulties would commence where our military
successes ended,' and that 'the consequences of crossing the Indus once,
to settle a Government in Afghanistan, will be a perennial march, into
that country.' The Marquis Wellesley spoke of 'the folly of occupying a
land of rocks, sands, deserts, and snow.' Sir Charles Metcalfe from the
first protested, and said, 'Depend upon it, the surest way to bring
Russia down upon ourselves is for us to cross the Indus and meddle with
the countries beyond it.' Mr. Elphinstone wrote: 'If you send 27,000 men
up the Bolam to Candahar, and can feed them, I have no doubt you can
take Candahar and Cabul and set up Soojah, but as for maintaining him in
a poor, cold, strong, and remote country, among a turbulent people like
the Afghans, I own it seems to me to be hopeless. If you succeed you
will I fear weaken the position against Russia. The Afghans are neutral,
and would have received your aid against invaders with gratitude. They
will now be disaffected, and glad to join any invader to drive you out.'

Mr. Tucker, of the Court of Directors, wrote to the Duke of Wellington:
'We have contracted an alliance with Shah Soojah, although he does not
possess a rood of ground in Afghanistan, nor a rupee which he did not
derive from our bounty as a quondam pensioner.' He added, that 'even if
we succeed we must maintain him in the government by a large military
force, 800 miles from our frontier and our resources.'

The above were strong and weighty opinions and arguments against the
rash and distant enterprise on which the Government of India were about
to embark. But there is more to be said. Independently of the result in
Afghanistan itself, it must be borne in mind that the proposed line of
march of the army necessarily led through Scinde and Beloochistan,
countries which (whatever their former position may have been) were then
independent both of the Ameer and of ourselves.

The force from Bengal, consisting of about 9,500 men of all arms, with
38,000 camp followers, accompanied by Shah Soojah's levy, left
Ferozepore in December, and crossing the Indus, arrived at Dadur, the
entrance to the Bolam Pass, in March 1839. Difficulties with the Ameers
of Scinde at once arose, chiefly as to our passage through their
territories; but their remonstrances were disregarded, and they were
informed that 'the day they connected themselves with any other Power
than England would be the last of their independence, if not of their
rule.' [Footnote: Kaye's _War in Afghanistan_.]

The army then advanced through the Bolam, and reached Quetta on March
26th. But here again obstacles similar in character to those just
described occurred, and Sir Alexander Burnes visited the ruler of
Beloochistan (the Khan of Khelat), demanding assistance, especially as
to supplies of food. The Prince, with prophetic truth, pointed out that
though we might restore Shah Soojah, we would not carry the Afghans with
us, and would fail in the end. He alluded to the devastation which our
march had already caused in the country; but having been granted a
subsidy, unwillingly consented to afford us assistance; and the army,
leaving possible enemies in its rear, passed on, and reached Candahar
without opposition in April. At the end of June it recommenced its march
northwards, and Ghuznee having been stormed and captured, our troops
without further fighting arrived at Cabul on April 6. Dost Mahomed,
deserted for the time by his people, fled northward over the Hindoo
Koosh, finding a temporary refuge in Bokhara, and Shah Soojah reigned in
his stead.

So far the great expedition had apparently accomplished its object, and
the success of the tripartite treaty between ourselves, the Sikhs, and
the new Ameer had been successfully carried out, almost entirely,
however, by ourselves as the pre-dominant partner.

The time therefore would seem to have arrived when, in fulfilment of
Lord Auckland's proclamation, the British army should be withdrawn from
Afghanistan. For the moment this appeared to be the case. But in reality
it was not so, and our position soon became dangerous, then critical,
and at last desperate. In the first place, the long line of
communication was liable at any time to be interrupted, as already
mentioned; then, again, the arrival of Shah Soojah had excited no
enthusiasm; and the very fact that we were foreigners in language,
religion and race, rendered our presence hateful to his subjects. In
short, the new Ameer was, and continued to be, a mere puppet, supported
in authority by British bayonets.

These conditions were apparent from the first day of his arrival, and
grew in intensity until the end. Shah Soojah himself soon discovered
that his authority over his people was almost nominal; and although he
chafed at our continued presence in the country, he also felt that the
day of our departure would be the last of his reign, and that our
withdrawal was under the circumstances impossible. But the situation was
equally complicated from our own point of view. If, as originally
promised, the British troops were withdrawn, the failure of the
expedition would at once become apparent by the anarchy which would
ensue. On the other hand, to retain an army in the far-distant mountains
of Afghanistan would not only be a breach of faith, but, while entailing
enormous expense, would deprive India of soldiers who might be required

After lengthy consideration, it was decided to reduce the total of our
force in the country, while retaining a hold for the present on Cabul,
Ghuznee, and Candahar, together with the passes of the Kyber and Bolam.
In short, the British army was weakly scattered about in a region of
mountains, amongst a hostile people, and with its long lines of
communication insufficiently guarded. Both in a military and a political
point of view the position was a false and dangerous one.

General Sir John Keane, who was about to return to India, writing at
the time, said 'Mark my words, it will not be long before there is here
some signal catastrophe.' During the summer of 1840 there were troubles
both in the Kyber and Bolam passes. In the former the tribes, incensed
at not receiving sufficient subsidies, attacked the outposts and
plundered our stores; while in Beloochistan matters were so serious that
a British force was sent, and captured Khelat, the Khan being killed,
and part of his territory handed over to Shah Soojah. [Footnote: In the
life of Sir Robert Sandeman, recently published, it is stated that the
alleged treachery of Mehrab Khan, which cost him his life, was on
subsequent inquiry not confirmed.] Rumours from Central Asia also added
to our anxieties. Although the failure of the Russian attempt on Khiva
became known some months later, it excited apprehension at the time
amongst our political officers in Cabul. Sir Alexander Burnes, during
the winter of 1839, expressed opinions which were curiously inconsistent
with each other. 'I maintain,' he said, 'that man to be an enemy to his
country who recommends a soldier to be stationed west of the Indus;
'while at the same moment he advocated the advance of our troops over
the Hindoo Koosh into Balkh, so as to be ready to meet the Russians in
the following May.

Sir William McNaghten, the chief political officer in Cabul, went still
further, and in April 1840 not only urged a march on Bokhara, but also
contemplated sending a Mission to Kokand, in order, as he said, 'to
frustrate the knavish tricks of the Russians in that quarter.'

Our position, however, at that time was sufficiently precarious without
adding to our anxieties by distant expeditions in Central Asia, even had
the Russians established themselves in the Principalities, which at that
time was not the case. Not only was Afghanistan itself seething with
treachery and intrigues from one end to the other, but the Sikhs in the
Punjaub, our nominal allies, had, since the death of Runjeet Singh,
become disloyal and out of hand. Beloochistan was in tumult; the tribes
in the Kyber, ever ready for mischief, incessantly threatened our
communications; so that we were certainly in no condition to enter upon
further dangerous expeditions against distant imaginary foes.

Sir Jasper Nicholls, the Commander-in-Chief, strongly objected to any
advance. 'In truth,' he said, 'we are much weaker now than in 1838.'

During the latter months of 1840, and in 1841, matters became steadily
worse, and all Afghanistan seemed ripe for revolt. 'We are in a stew
here,' wrote Sir William McNaghten in September; 'it is reported that
the whole country on this side the Oxus is up in favour of Dost Mahomed,
who is certainly advancing in great strength.' Again, in a letter to
Lord Auckland, he said 'that affairs in this quarter have the worst
possible appearance'--and he quoted the opinion of Sir Willoughby
Cotton, that 'unless the Bengal troops are instantly strengthened we
cannot hold the country.'

At this critical period, however, Dost Mahomed was heavily defeated at
Bamian, on the Hindoo Koosh, voluntarily surrendering shortly
afterwards, and for the moment prospects looked brighter; but the clouds
soon gathered again, and the end was at hand.

The Governor-General of India had throughout the whole war wisely and
steadfastly resisted the proposed further operations in Central Asia;
and the Court of Directors in London wrote as follows: 'We pronounce our
decided opinion that, for many years to come, the restored monarchy will
have need of a British force in order to maintain peace in its own
territory, and prevent aggression from without.' And they go on: 'We
again desire you seriously to consider which of the two alternatives (a
speedy retreat from Afghanistan, or a considerable increase of the
military force in that country) you may feel it your duty to adopt. We
are convinced that you have no middle course to pursue with safety and
with, honour.' The Government of India, hesitating to the last, failed
in adopting either of the alternatives.

In November, 1841, Sir Alexander Burnes was treacherously murdered by a
mob in Cabul, which was followed by an insurrection, and the defeat of
our troops. General Elphinstone, who was in command, writing to Sir W.
McNaghten on November 24, said that 'from the want of provisions and
forage, the reduced state of our troops, the large number of wounded and
sick, the difficulty of defending the extensive and ill-situated
cantonment we occupy, the near approach of winter, our communications
cut off, no prospect of relief, and the whole country in arms against
us, I am of opinion that it is not feasible any longer to maintain our
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.



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,

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.

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.

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

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

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
Candahar and Quetta, being alone retained by the British Government.

So ended the great war of 1878-80. At its close we had over 70,000 men
in Afghanistan, or on the border in reserve; and even then we really
only held the territory within range of our guns. The whole country had
been disintegrated and was in anarchy; whilst the total cost of the war
exceeded twenty millions sterling, being about the same amount as had
been expended in the former great war of 1839-41.

The military operations in themselves had been conducted throughout
with great skill in a most difficult country, and the troops, both
British and Native, had proved themselves admirable soldiers; but as
regards the policy which led us into war, it appears to have been as
unjust in principle as it was unfortunate in result. The facts, however,
speak for themselves.



Further Advance of Russia--Merv Occupied--Sir West Ridgeway's Frontier
Commission of 1885--The Durand Agreement with Abdul Rahman--The Chitral
Expedition of 1895: its Results--Sudden Outbreak of Frontier Tribes,

The reaction after the war naturally inclined the authorities in both
countries to leave frontier policy alone, at all events for the time.
Our professed object for years had been to make Afghanistan strong,
friendly, and independent. The first had certainly not been
accomplished, and the other two were doubtful. Still, by patience,
conciliation, and subsidies, we might hope in the course of time that
the wounds we had inflicted would gradually be healed, and a more stable
condition ensue. For a short period it was so; but then the old bugbear
of Russian advance over the dreary wastes of Central Asia again
supervened, and exercised its malign influence on our policy.

In 1881 and the following years, Russia, whilst completing her
conquests, and improving her communications in the south-western part of
Central Asia, became involved in somewhat prolonged hostilities with the
Tekke-Turcomans, ending in their subjugation, and in the occupation of
the long, desolate strip of country extending eastwards from the
Caspian, which had hitherto been independent. A railway was gradually
constructed from the vicinity of Kras-novodsk, on the Caspian, towards
Samarcand. Merv, formerly a city of importance, but of late a mere
village in the desert, was also occupied. These acquisitions of Russia,
accomplished in districts far removed from India, would not appear to
involve any special consideration on our part; but as the southern
frontiers of Russia thus became conterminous for a long distance with
Northern Persia, and also with some districts of Afghanistan, their new
position was regarded as possibly involving designs against our Indian
Empire, and remonstrances were made by us, more especially as regards
the occupation of Merv.[Footnote: _Central Asia_, No. 2, 1885.]

In a strategical point of view the question would not appear to be of
much importance, and would probably have dropped; but early in 1885 the
Russians attacked and drove the Afghan troops out of Penjdeh, a small,
hitherto almost unknown village in the desert. It was a high-handed
measure, and the relations between the two Governments, British and
Russian, which were already rather strained, became critical, and war at
one moment appeared to be almost inevitable.

It is not necessary, nor would it be desirable, now to recapitulate the
details of this serious crisis; because, happily, owing to the prudence
exercised by both Governments, the danger gradually passed away, a Joint
Commission being agreed on, to meet on the frontier, and to report as to
its delimitation. It may, however, be as well to mention that it seems
rather doubtful whether Penjdeh at the time absolutely belonged to
Afghanistan. Frontiers in the East are proverbially uncertain and
shifting, and in our own official maps, not very long before the
occurrences in question, it was marked as outside the Afghan border.
Colonel Stewart, reporting in 1884 on the northern frontier of
Afghanistan, and alluding to Penjdeh, said that it was inhabited by
Turcomans, and he thus described the position: 'The state of affairs
seems to have been that the Turcomans acknowledged that they were
squatting on Afghan land, and were liable to pay taxes, and each year
they paid something as an acknowledgment of Afghan rights; but so long
as this was done, the Afghans looked upon them as a protection against
the Tekke further north, and left them very much to themselves.'

The appointment of a Joint Commission of Russian and British officers
to delimit the northern frontiers of Afghanistan proved of great value,
not only in gaining information regarding districts hitherto but little
known, but also because its conjoint work tended to engender feelings of
respect and goodwill between the two nations concerned.

Its labours commenced in the autumn of 1885, and the report of Sir West
Ridgeway, the British Commissioner, is full of interest and
encouragement. In an article in the 'Nineteenth Century' of October,
1887, on the completion of his work, he gives some details of the
country, and also of the position of Russia in Central Asia, which are
worth quoting. As to the Afghan border he says: 'The three or four
hundred miles of country through which the new north-western frontier of
Afghanistan runs is a sandy, treeless, waterless desert, except where it
is traversed from south to north by the Heri-Rood, the Murghab and the
Oxus. The only cultivable ground is on the banks of these rivers; but in
spring time, after the winter snows have melted, the intervening plains
afford good grazing for sheep.' But perhaps the most important part of
his article is his view of the position of Russia in Central Asia: 'If
any Russian general,' he writes, 'were so reckless as to attempt the
invasion of India, and relying on the single line of lightly constructed
rails which connects the Caspian with the Oxus, and which are liable in
summer to be blocked by the moving sands of the desert, and in winter by
the falling snows of Heaven--if, relying on this frail and precarious
base, he were to move an army through the barren plains bordering the
Oxus, and leaving in his rear the various hostile and excited races of
Central Asia, he were to cross the difficult passes of the Hindoo Koosh,
and entangle his army in the barren mountain homes of the fanatical and
treacherous Afghan, then indeed our fortunate generals may well
congratulate themselves that the Lord has delivered the enemy into their

Whilst, however, his conclusions as to the military weakness of Russia
in that part of the world are clear and decisive enough, he at the same
time does full justice to the good work which she is carrying out in
that vast area. He says: 'Hitherto Russia's advance in Central Asia has
been the triumph of civilisation. Wherever she has planted her flag
slavery has ceased to exist. This was keenly brought home to us in the
course of our travels. For hundreds of miles before we reached Herat we
found the country desolated and depopulated by Turcoman raids, while
even in the Herat valley we continually came across the fathers and
brothers of men who had been carried off from their peaceful fields by
man-stealing Turcomans, and sold into slavery many hundred miles away.
All this has ceased since the Russian occupation of Merv; the cruel
slave trade has been stamped out....'

Lord Salisbury, speaking in 1887, at the conclusion of the frontier
delimitation, happily described the situation as follows: 'I value the
settlement for this reason--not that I attach much importance to the
square miles of desert land with which we have been dealing, and which
probably after ten generations of mankind will not yield the slightest
value to any human being: but the settlement indicates on both sides
that spirit which in the two Governments is consistent with continued
peace. There is abundant room for both Governments, if they would only
think so....' What a pity that some statesman could not have persuaded
England to that effect fifty years before!

During the next few years no events of special importance occurred to
affect our general frontier policy in India, so far as Russia and
Afghanistan proper are concerned. The ample information we now possess
of the relative power and position of each country, and the experience
gained in bygone wars, enable us to form a correct judgment of the great
strength of our Empire in the East; and it is to be hoped that in the
future we shall hear less of those alarmist views which have so
frequently led us into erroneous policy and untoward expeditions.

Russia and England are now, happily, on friendly terms, and Abdul
Rahman, the Ameer of Cabul, although his position is difficult in the
midst of a turbulent people, has proved himself a loyal neighbour.

But another cloud has appeared on the horizon, and our troubles with
the intervening frontier tribes are now apparently worse than ever. From
accounts already given of those who dwell along the border, it is
evident that although our differences with them, during past years, have
been frequent and often serious, they have been more or less of a local
character. Troublesome as our neighbours have proved, still they have no
power of inflicting serious injury, or of endangering our rule. Under
these circumstances, the best policy, whilst firmly repressing their
predatory instincts, is to leave them alone.

In the absence of full official information as to the origin of recent
difficulties, which have culminated in the present frontier war, it is
only possible to speak in general terms. It may be mentioned, in the
first place, that owing to the uncertain line of demarcation between the
territories of the Ameer of Cabul and those of his independent tribal
neighbours, constant feuds and local hostilities occurred from time to
time in the mountains; and with a view of defining their respective
spheres, the Government of India, in 1893, sent a Mission to Cabul for
the purpose. This in itself would appear to have been a reasonable step;
and the 'Durand Agreement' which ensued (but which has not been
published) would, it was hoped, tend to a cessation of conflicts between
the Ameer's subjects and their neighbours. But there is a further aspect
of the question. So far as is known, not only were the respective
borders laid down, but it is understood that in many cases the
intervening tribes are now assumed to be what is termed 'within the
sphere of British influence.' In maps recently published, presumably
with some authority, vast mountainous districts are now included in this
somewhat mysterious phrase. For instance, the Koorum Valley, the Samana
Range, the countries of the Afredis and the Mohmunds, the districts of
Chitral, Bajour, Dir, Swat, Bonair, and others, are all included within
it; and in many instances fortified positions, occupied by British
troops, are to be found either within or along their borders.

Surely this opens out a wide question, and it would be interesting to
know whether, in the discussions at Cabul, the chiefs of the intervening
tribes were present, and whether they acquiesced, not only in the new
boundaries, but also in being included as within our sphere of
influence? It is evident it should have been a tripartite, and not a
dual, agreement. It is perfectly well known, and has been proved by long
experience, that these frontier tribes value their independence and
liberties, beyond everything else, and will not submit peacefully to
interference; and if they were not consulted in the arrangements just
described, we may begin to trace the origin of the present crisis.

Although, as I have explained, we are unable, from want of official
information, to deal fully with, the larger topic of recent border
policy, we have, at all events, ample details as regards the Chitral
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

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

'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
-West frontier of India; and of the causes which have led to them. My
observations are founded on Parliamentary official papers, and on other
works of authority; and I hope they may prove useful to the public, who
have not, as a rule time to study the intricate details of this
difficult subject. I have endeavoured to prove that the tribes on the
frontier, and the people of Afghanistan, have no real power of injuring
our position in India; and turbulent as they may be, a policy of
patience, conciliation, and subsidies, is far more likely to attain our
object than incessant costly expeditions into their mountains. Our
influence over them is already great, and is increasing year by year. By
carefully maintaining the principles I have sketched out, we shall
gradually obtain their friendship, and also their support, should other
dangers ever threaten our dominions.

We are the rulers of a great Empire in the East, with its heavy duties
and responsibilities, and in devoting ourselves to the welfare of the
millions under our sway, and in developing the resources of the country,
we shall do far more for the happiness of the people and the security of
the Empire than by squandering our finances in constant expeditions
beyond its borders.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Indian Frontier Policy; an historical sketch" ***

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