THE DEFEAT OF AYOUB KHAN.
THOSE Tories who judge a policy by its success or failure ought at once to accept the Liberal policy in Afghani- stan. Bad or good, weak or strong, it has, at all events, succeeded. The object of each party in dealing with that State is, it is admitted, the same,—namely, that Afghanistan should be "a strong, a united, and a friendly country." The late Government endeavoured to secure that excellent object by invading Afghanistan and occupying the capital, by im- posing treaties on an unwilling country, by dethroning and establishing Princes, and finally by dismembering the kingdom, cutting off a huge cantle to be "a centre of British influence." Parliament supported them, and the result was that they spent £23,000,000 sterling, employed an Army of 50,000 men, sacrificed 5,000 good soldiers by death and invalid- ing, encountered a massacre, barely avoided a defeat, and finally found themselves with Afghanistan in anarchy, three great factions fighting for the throne, a costly province to be gar- risoned by British troops, and every Afghan mortally hostile to British power. The Liberal Government, seeking the same end as the Tory one, after a spasm of indecision, the cause of which we shall not know till the secret memoirs of this reign are published, withdrew from Afghanistan. Imme- diately, the nominal Prince, relieved of the secret fear of British ambition and of the curse of British support, endeavoured to reconsolidate his throne, and gradually succeeded. Abdur- rahman has slowly and patiently re-established his hold over the Northern Afghans, till the Cabulees, even when in his rival's service, regard him as their proper leader ; has reoccu- pied the Ghilzai country, of which Khelat-i-Ghilzai is the centre ; and, finally, has inflicted on his only serious rival —the only one who, being of the blood of Dost Mahommed, is a Pretender, and not a rebel—a crushing defeat. Whether Ayoub has lost 200 or 2,000 men scarcely signifies at all. Afghan campaigns, when foreigners are absent, are seldom very murderous, for the forces engaged are comparatively small, the clans possess courage rather than tenacity, and strict pursuit in such a country is very difficult. The important facts are that the Cabulee soldiers of Ayoub have been im- pressed with the necessity of purchasing pardon, and have fired on their General ; that Ayoub's army has been broken in pieces, and that this time he has not saved his guns. The kingdom, therefore, lies at Abdurrahman's feet. It is possible that Ayoub may still give trouble, for he has flashes of intermittent energy, is the natural centre of discon-
tent, and has caught the point so many Asiatics miss, that the use of artillery is to demoralise the enemy before the battle begins. It is also possible that Mahommed Jan and perhaps another leader or two may make a fight of it, not in the hope of seizing the throne, but of obtaining pleasant terms, Governor- ships, light tributes, and consideration. But the great probability is that Abdurrahman, strengthened by his victory, by his possession of Candahar, which is running over with the money wasted by the British, and by the vague impression, so irresistible in Asia, that Destiny has declared upon his side, will, before winter sets in, be as undisputed Sovereign of Afghanistan as ever his grandfather, Dost Mahommed, was. That is to say, he will be the only person pretending to occupy the throne, to have rights and not merely claims, and to. guide what, for want of a better description, we must call the national policy. Afghanistan will be as united as it ever has been, as strong as it ever was, and as friendly as a State which we have invaded, oppressed, and dismembered can be expected to be. Those results which the late Government, with all its. expenditure of blood and treasure, failed to secure, the present Government has secured, while saving its money and its people's lives. If a policy is to be judged by its results, the. Liberal policy in Afghanistan has succeeded.
But Abdurrahman will be a Russian agent, and will favour their stealthy advance towards the Himalayas? That objection. does not lie in Tory mouths, for they chose Abdurrahman ; but we believe it is futile, and that if Yakoob could not be released the Tories were entirely in the right in their selection. The notion that an imprisoned Prince becomes a devoted friend of those who imprisoned him is all nonsense. Abdur- rahman is evidently a cautious, cool, and ambitious man,. who wants to rule his own country, who knows that neither Russia nor England is a pleasant master, and who thoroughly understands, even if he does not share, his- countrymen s just suspicion of white ambition. He cannot free himself from fear either of the great Empire on the North,. or of the equally great and much nearer Empire on the South, and is very likely as much disposed to trick both, and play off one against the other, as ever was a Duke of Savoy, whose position was, in many respects, so like his own. But his object, like. the Savoyard's, is to be free of both, not to favour, still less to invite, either ; and he will pursue that object unremittingly.. That is precisely what English statesmen of both parties desire- him to do, and the way to enable him to do it is to withdraw the greatest obstacle in his path, our apparent favour, to send him a. little money when he wants it badly, but worry him with no Resi- dent, perplex him with no despatches, and so far as it is humanly possible, plague him with no counsels. We cannot desire that he should be independent, and absolute, and prosperous, half so strongly as he himself does, and may leave him, as we do. all other friends, to manage his own house, and "get on" by his own devices and his own efforts. Lord Ripon has only to, withdraw from Pisheen, give the Ameer the allowance and the rifles he asks for, and cease to publish Afghan telegrams, which keep up the impression in India that he intends inter- ference, and Afghanistan will sink back to its old position„ —that of a very extensive, but entirely worthless plateau, thinly populated by warlike clans who detest the foreigner and civilised order about equally, and ask only permission to kill one another in faction-fights without fearing interference. We have wasted twenty-three millions in a desperate effort to. make cartridges cohere by compression ; but as we recovered our heads in time, that is, so far, the extent of the mischief done. It is now at last open to us to do what we should have done- from the first,—leave Afghanistan alone.