3 DECEMBER 1887, Page 7


S0 far Lord Dufferin has been exceedingly successful in his foreign policy. The key-note of that policy has been to avoid wars of conquest, and especially any war which might turn the fighting tribes of Afghanistan into deadly foes, or, worse still, into dangerous subjects ; but to place the Indian Government and the Indian Army in such a position on the North-West border, that if Russia ever approached the Hima- laya, she might find herself faced by a practically impenetrable mountain range, which would serve either as a mighty fortress to be carried before another step could be taken, or as a base from which a return blow could be delivered in Asiatic Russia itself. To this end it was necessary to secure, first, the friendship of the Afghans who hold, and if assisted will defend, all approaches to the grand Himalayan fortreee, and who, if beaten in the field, can and will make the main- tenance of Russian communications indescribably difficult ;

secondly, to secure the passes against all attack ; and thirdly, to establish a friendly relation with the mountain-tribes who are throughout the Western Himalaya nearly independent, and who, while they can make attack a little easier, can make defence difficult, or even impossible. To conciliate those tribes would be for Russia an advantage, because, once her troops are in the hills, they can, if she is defeated, kill her soldiers out ; and it is for us almost a necessity, because they can interrupt the regular transmission of supplies. About the first object our readers have probably heard quite enough. We have con- ciliated the Afghans so far, that the saturnine despot who rules them as they have never been ruled yet, is ready to fight the Russians, trade to us for help in money and arms, aids us to keep down frontier forays, and has even invited a British officer to hold an important position in his military councils. Abdurrahman is, of course, suspicious, tenacious, and un- manageable in details, for he is an Afghan ; but in a broad way he knows his own interest, and sees that it is, on the whole, better to side with the Southern than with the Northern Power. That is all we shall ever get from any Afghan ruler; and it is more than Italy or France ever got from the House of Savoy, which for so many centuries ruled the Afghanistan of Europe. For practical purposes it is sufficient, and we may, till a revolution occurs in Cabul, continue to believe that beyond our mountain-wall the people are on our side. The second object, the fortification of the passes, has also been attained. The frontier railways will within a few months be so completed, that at the only points where the huge wall, sixteen thousand feet high, is sufficiently broken for artillery to pass, British armies can be stationed under good cover, supplied from the endless resources of the peninsula, and capable of being reached by reinforce- ments from London in less than six weeks, the soldiers travelling all through by water or rail. The broad strip of difficult country lying between the Empire and the frontier passes has been extinguished, and armies can reach the passes from the South, and, what is more important, from England, as easily as they could formerly reach the Sutlej. That is an immense gain ; and to complete it, the Khyber and two smaller passes are barred by forts, while the Bolan is defended by the fortress at Quetta, the foremost station of the whole plan. This station and the territory round it.—.a splendid valley, twenty miles by five—has in this last month been "annexed," and will henceforward be governed by a British Commissioner. The effect of that step—which has, of course, been taken with the assent of the Beloochee chiefs, and especially of the Khan of Khelat—is physically not much, for we have leased the valley since 1877 ; but morally it is much, for it secures permanent possession, it warns all concerned that Britain can only be expelled by force, and it allows of the immigration of a great civil population, which will bring with it cultivation, supplies of food, and information, and which, growing rich as it will under the shadow of the flag, must perforce be loyal. Nobody in Asia helps you so heartily as the man whose throat will be out the day after you are beaten ; and ten years hence, Quetta will be full of prosperous clams as faithful as Parsees. Work is, of course, still going on, and the expenses are considerable ; but the end is clearly seen, and within a year the great range will be as well defended as organisation can make it, while we shall possess the means, if we desire it, of marching straight to Candahar, or, if necessary, to Herat. We deprecate either march most strongly, believing that we can do more on the defensive ; but the experts must be trusted, and they all say that the power of striking back and taking the offensive may on occasion be invaluable. If Russia were beaten, for instance, all Central Asia would rise in insurrection, and we might be morally compelled to do something for our friends. That power we now possess, and for military purposes we may, when the plans are all com- pleted, regard the Suleiman Range as sufficiently safe. The "scientific frontier" of which Lord Beaconsfield said we were in search has been found, and it is much the safer from the partial attainment of the third object, the conciliation of the tribes of the great range. We cannot conquer them without an unwarrantable expenditure of energy and treasure, and it is useless to hope that they will voluntarily become subjects ; but still, great progress towards pacification has been made. On November 25th, Lord Dufferin held a grand Durbar at Peshawar, which was attended by Princes from Bokhara and Kokand, by the reigning Akhoond of Swat, still the most prominent Mahommedan on the hills, though he has not his father's spiritual sway, and by a host of chiefs from valleys and mountains altogether beyond our direct dominion. Not one of these men could have been compelled to come, nor twenty years ago would one of them have dared to come, lest his tribesmen should condemn him as a renegade ; and every one in coming acknowledges that he feels the weight of the Southern Power, and would rather be regarded as a friend than as a foe. The chiefs keep, of course, their reserved right of rebellion, and they would not for the world surrender their privilege of murdering their subjects and one another ; bat still, they acknowledge vassalage of a sort, and would hold that dis- obedience in serious crises would require justification, or, at all events, make punishment just and to be expected. They are, in fact, about as trustworthy as Highland chiefs under the first Stuarts in Scotland ; and to have reached even that point is an enormous step towards order. If we will only feed the chiefs a little with money, another step may be gained ; and they are always learning more about us, their men swarming over the hills in search of military employ. These tribesmen are probably the bravest men in the world, and though a Pathan will desert if summoned from home to murder an enemy, still he will die round the colours, and carries back with him a feeling that if he has a duty to any- thing, which he would flatly deny in words, it is to the honour of the British flag. The Durbar, which must have been one of the strangest scenes ever enacted since Jenghiz Khan held Durbars in Samarcand, marks a distinct step in the history of the British—conquest, shall we say f—of the North-West Hima- layas. It proves that the impalpable barrier which has divided us from the mountaineers is growing thin, and that if the great struggle comes, the Pathan tribes will, at least until otherwise influenced by threat or bribe, throw in their lot with the great Empire of the South, and not with her invaders.

All this is most satisfactory ; and we only wish we thought it as important as do the great majority of Anglo-Indians. Unfortunately, we do not. That Russia, when ready for her march on Constantinople, will try to keep this country quiet by threatening India, is probable enough ; but that she will fight a first-class Power for an acquisition so distant with Persia lying exposed at her feet, has always seemed to us impossible. An able statesman must one day appear in St. Petersburg, and then Persian independence may be con- sidered gone. Russia can attack her by land from the East and from the West, and by sea across the Caspian, and there is in the Shah's dmhinions no resisting power. His Army could not defeat even 50,000 Russians, the population has been reduced by misgovernment to less than that of Belgium, and there are no impassable frontiers to defend with a few men. Skobeleff with 100,000 men would have con- quered Persia in a year, and the prize would be, to a nation of peasants already too numerous, of almost priceless value. The population of Russia is accustomed to move ; for half-a-century it has been slowly flowing South ; the best lands are now all taken up; and Northern Persia, half as large as France, and quite as fertile, would prove irresistibly attractive. It would offer prosperity to ten millions of Slays, who could pay twice the Russian taxes, and who would flow on ceaselessly southward until the Czar from dominions of his own looked down the Persian Gulf straight to the coast of India. Then, indeed, the neces- sity for defence will be upon us ; but uutil then we -cannot but hold that the fear of an invasion of India across the Himalaya is but a strategist's dream. The great experts, how- ever, we acknowledge, are of a different opinion ; and as they are nearly unanimous, it is wise to accept their guidance, and, so far as we can do it without conquest beyond the Himalaya, to make the frontier safe. This Lord Dufferin is doing, and as the government of Persia is not in his hands, and he could not, if it were, restore her strength, we must hold his foreign policy to be thoroughly well planned. We can reach the other side of the Suleiman with an army without exhausting the troops, and can supply them there for years,—that is the substance of what has been accomplished, and that is a great achievement.