TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE REVOLUTION IN AFGHANISTAN. THE only fact quite certain as yet is that Shere Ali has fled from his capital, with his harem and a few soldiers, and has sought refuge "in Turkestan "—that is, either in some city on his own Western border, or in Russian territory—but there can be little doubt that a revolution has occurred in Afghanistan. The explanation with which the English people, in the absence of information, amused themselves for a few days is too much opposed to all known facts to be accepted as anything but a theory, suggested by a strong wish that it might be true. We were required to believe that Shere Ali, cowed by the ill- success of his feeble effort to defend the Passes, had re- leased his son Yakoob Khan, whom he has imprisoned for years, had left him to make peace with the invaders, and had himself fled, with his treasures, to enjoy security under Russian protection. In other words, one of the boldest and most persevering of Asiatic Princes had been so terrified by the mere advance of a small British force across his frontier, that he had thrown away his kingdom, abandoned his capital, and sought safety with an Infidel Power, which only twelve months ago he had held in the deepest distrust and fear. That is possible, as it is possible that the Emperor of Germany may fly to Moscow to be out of the way of the Socialists, but it is in the highest degree improbable. A man of Shere Al's temperament and history does not abandon power so, especially when it must pass to a son whom, of all men living, he most detests and dreads. Princes seldom abdicate except under compulsion, and in Asia the step from a throne to a grave is almost instantaneous. It is possible also that the Ameer, who knows well the history of his father's life, has released Yakoob Khan to bear the brunt of the British advance, and has.retired to his own section of Turkestan, proposing to raise a new army there, and return as his father did before him, when the storm-wave is spent ; but this is not a likely explanation. Shere Ali was in no imme- diate danger from the British. He could have fled just as easily after they had arrived before Cabul, and every instinct of his mind must have prompted him to strike one blow for himself, and his dynasty, and Islam in front of his own capital, where for months he had been accumulating troops. The new army would have been far more easily raised by a defeated hero. His flight while he still retained an army would have been disgraceful in his own eyes, and the Barukzye though it has not the European sense of honour, has an honour of its own, which it tenaciously guards.
There has, as we judge, been a revolution in Cabul, and we believe, when the facts are known, they will be found to have been something in this wise :—The Afghans have regarded the failure of Shere Ali's efforts to defend the Passes as the French regarded Napoleon's surrender at Sedan,—as proof of incapa- city for reigning ; and insisted, through the Ghilzais—the most warlike of the clans, except the ruling one—on the eleva- tion of Yakoob Khan to the throne, from which Shere dreading his son far more than the British, and aware that in the East deposed monarchs cannot live long, fled with his women and his younger children, purposing to reach any city which would protect him, or even to protract his flight to Tashkend. The reasons for not arresting his flight are obvious. No one in Afghanistan willingly risks a blood-feud with the Barukzyes ; the Russians, of whom there is a deep, though vague awe, were believed to be friendly to the Ameer, or even accompanied him in his flight ; and even in Central Asia, no one desires to commence a reign with the reputation of a parricide. That the Ghilzais should be foremost in the revolution is natural enough. The prestige of the Barukzyes was naturally diminished by the failure of their chief ; and the Ghilzais, besides their numbers, boast, and with reason, that they drove out the British before, and that the work of resistance naturally falls to them, whose destiny it is to make the British flag turn back. Yakoob Khan, therefore, mounts the throne as head of the Barukzyes, yet by the aid of the Ghilzais,- that is, he is accepted by the two clans which, for fighting pur- poses, represent the strength of Afghanistan, and which, with the Kuzzilbaahes, or Persian immigrants, have for a century main- tained the dynasty of which Yakoob Khan, failing his father, is the natural representative. The notion that there is a flaw in his title because his mother was a Momund is, we believe, quite illusory. No Mahommedan race takes the mother's pedigree into account, so long as she was Mussulman, and Yakoob Khan at once is the ablest male of his race and the one preferred by the people, a title which in Mussulman Asia, and under circumstances of stress, has, except in the single instance of the Ottoman Caliphs, always been held sufficient.
Yakoob Khan is, we believe, reigning as Ameer of Afghani- stan, with full recognition, though no doubt with a kingdom dis- tracted by dissensions, intrigues, and that general dissolution of authority produced more or less in every despotism by a sense of impending defeat. The only immediate question for this country, therefore, is whether he will treat or fight ; and on the whole, we should, but for the telegram of the 27th from Lahore, published in the second edition of the Times of Friday, have thought it certain that he would prefer resistance. The new Ameer is a fighting man. He is under•the strongest temptation to prove himself abler and more suc- cessful than his father. He has been raised to the throne by the Ghilzais, whose proudest tradition is their massacre of British troops, and he knows that in his father's deposition he has furnished the British with an agent whom they could employ with effect as a vassal king. Yakoob Khan cannot. make peace, except upon terms which his entire nation would regard as disgraceful, and which would infallibly tempt every clan in Afghanistan to set up for itself, on the plea that the Ameer had ceased to be independent. If he is defeated, he can but make peace, after all ; and if he wins, which, in his judgment, may be still possible, he will refound the power of his dynasty, perhaps for a century to come. He will, therefore, we should have believed, fight with all the energy he has ; but, of course, we submit to a positive state- ment of fact. If the telegram in the Times is correct, and he has come in to Jellalabad, he must be aware that he is power- less, and intend to submit. In that case, the mere menace of British advance must have shattered Afghanistan to pieces, and we must either protect Yakoob Khan against anarchy—that is, govern Afghanistan ourselves through him—or leave the country in hopeless disorder, and open to any invader from the North. The dilemma is an unpleasant one, but if the Barukzye authority has disappeared, those are our only alternatives, except annexation, or the retirement within our own mountains, which the Government is certain not to sanc- tion.
We are not sure that we should not, if driven to choose between the two alternatives, prefer annexation, to government through a vassal Afghan. He will require support against his father, against the clans, and against an unpopular pea.ce, almost as costly as a garrison would be. He himself will need restraint of a much stronger kind than we apply in India, and has no idea of government, except through the force which British Residents dislike to see applied. We shall be com- pelled to guarantee him against his own subjects, and to condone, in consequence, acts which will appear in the eyes of decent men at home hideous oppressions. We shall always be suspecting him, perhaps with justice, of intriguing with Russia, while he will suspect us of wishing to annex his dominions. The imbroglio may end in a massacre, and perhaps it would be wiser to annex ; for we shall then at least be sure of one thing,—that we are spending our millions and our lives in doing some good to the world, which in this expedition we have so unreasonably disturbed. We have no right to shatter a ruling organisation throughout a vast country, and then to refuse to rule the country ourselves.