14 FEBRUARY 1880, Page 4



THE Government, it would appear probable, is about to take another most serious step behind the back of Parlia- ment. On Tuesday, the Times affirmed, in a serious leader, and in a tone which produced general conviction, that the British Government had instructed their representative at Teheran to state that they were no longer disposed to maintain the clause of the Treaty of 1857 which forbids Persia to occupy Herat. As Herat has been a leading object of Persian ambi- tion, and was the main pretest of the short war of 1856, this is, of course, an invitation to the Shah to attempt its conquest once more, an invitation he is certain at all events to wish to accept. Of course a statement that the Government intended to reverse a policy which Lord Palmerston thought so import- ant that he supported it by war created excitement, and the leaders of Opposition on Tuesday asked the necessary ques- tions in both Houses. In the Lords, Lord Beaconsfield replied to Lord Granville, with serene audacity, that there was "no foundation whatever" for the statement, though there had been communications from Persia ; but in the Commons, Sir Stafford Northcote did not display his leader's nerve, and only answered that there had been communications, that the matter had been considered, that " we had not yet come to any agreement," and that he could not without inconvenience make any statement on the subject. The Times thereupon reaffirmed the accuracy of its information, and the truth would appear to be that the Government have decided upon this course—as, in fact, is hinted by the appearance of Sir H. Rawlinson's article in the Nineteenth Century, Sir H. Rawlinson being Chair- man of the Committee of the Council of India on Foreign Relations, and the stormy petrel of Asiatic politics—though the needful official acts have not been performed, and the Premier is therefore enabled to deny that anything has been actually done. Her Majesty's Government is about, as part of its Afghan enterprise, to hand over Herat, the key, as it believes, of Afghanistan and India, to the Court of Teheran. It is an immoral, a weak, and a dangerous policy. It is immoral, because we are virtually handing over to an un- civilised and decaying Power a region over which we have absolutely no right of sovereignty. No treaty gives us even a colourable right over Herat. We are not even in military possession of it. Our troops have never been within four hundred miles of it. Yet we presume to hand it over to Persia as if it were our property. We might just as well inform the Dutch Foreign Office that while we still guaranteed the remainder of Belgium, they were at liberty to take possession of Antwerp, and all the Belgian territory necessary to its support. Indeed, the proceeding would be even worse, for the Dutch in Europe are good governors ; but the Persians, while they govern so badly that they de- stroy every region they touch, have in Herat a direct motive for governing badly,—namely, the wish to crush the Afghans, whom they, as Sheeahs, regard as heretics, and hate nearly as hard as they hate European Infidels. It is like handing over Protestants who wish to be independent to Ultramontane rulers, who hate their independence as at once an insolence and a heresy. Grant that such an arrangement would be to the advantage of England, still, what conceivable right have we to hand over a foreign city, not captured, or even attacked, to a Power against which the inhabitants of that city will de- fend themselves almost to the death ? It is nonsense to talk of guarantees against oppression. We could not enforce them in Teheran itself, much less in Herat, and we shall not try. The city will be placed, like every other city in Persia, under a Prince of the Blood, and his acts, however tyrannical, will be supported as if they were the acts of the Sovereign him- self. That is the steady policy of the Court of Teheran, which will trust none but a Shahzada with real power, and never seriously corrects or restrains one of the sacred caste. Herat will be ruined in five years, and then governed on the single principle of extracting from it all the contributions possible. It is a weak policy, because its single motive is to gain possession of Herat without the necessary cost or effort ; and it is a dangerous one, because it involves a guarantee to a weak and corrupt Power, perpetually in danger of being threatened or bribed from St. Petersburg. We wish to discuss the question without party feeling, and will, therefore, state frankly what we believe to be the Government's defence. They will say that it is necessary to place a British Agent in lielat, and to preserve it from Russia ; and that in the exist- ing situation of Afghanistan, with the Ameership broken up and society dissolved, these objects cannot be directly attained without excessive effort and expense. We could not occupy Herat without an army, or maintain a Resident there in safety without a British cantonment of at least 2,00& men. If, however, the Persians take the city, they will hold it at their own expense, and they will pro- tect a British Consul, as they do at Shiraz and Bushire. We shall, therefore, have an " Eye " in Herat, without having- to pay much for it ; and the Russians will be at once watched and kept out, without any drain upon the resources of the- British Treasury or the British Ministry at War. Those will be paraded as most important results, and we shall be called upon to admire the firmness of the Premier who has achieved such objects without a war, and the foresight of the novelist who through the Emir Fakreddin stated in " Tancred " more than. thirty years ago, that " the only way to manage the Afghans is by. Persia and the Arabs." We do not deny that an Agent at Herat might be useful, if well selected, if only because he might restrain the British Government from periodical panics about Central Asia ; but that is the only advantage we should gain,—and at what a price ? Not less than a guarantee for an effete and crumbling despotism, which we can only reach rid the Persian- Gulf, and a necessity for controlling in all its foreign policy one of the weakest and the most corrupt Courts in the world. It is obvious that if Herat is so important— we assume, of course, the Tory view on that matter, which is not ours—and we hand it over to Persia, we must guarantee Persia in its possession, and must so con- trol Persia that she will never hand it over to Russia, never act as Russia's agent, and never so provoke Russia that it would be impossible for a British Government to justify her proceedings. We must, in fact, control the whole foreign policy of Persia, and be willing to defend her at any moment- by force ; must, that is, prevent her from being treacherous, which is nearly impossible, unless we outbid Russia ; and pre- vent her decadence, which is quite impossible, for her popula- tion is perishing out, as Sir H. Rawlinson acknowledges, of famine and misgovernment. It is doubtful if there are four millions of Persians left. Besides maintaining a predomin- ance at Constantinople, and a superiority over four or five anarchical and hostile Afghan States, and a direct control over Candahar, enlarged till it is a kingdom, we shall be bound to obtain and keep unquestioned ascendancy at Teheran, and to be ready, on any threat from St. Petersburg or any summons from the Shah, to send an expedition. from Bombay sufficient to frighten back the Army of the Caucasus. With a Constitution and a people and an Army like ours, it is midsummer madness ; but what help can there be, if this policy is carried out ? To declare Herat the key of India, to hand it over to Persia to keep for- us, and then to abandon Persia, would be folly ; yet to guar- antee Persia, especially on the Herat side, is to undertake a second Protectorate as vast as the Protectorate of Asia. Minor, further from our resources, and even more difficult of fulfilment. We cannot have assistance from a European ally in Persia, as we have always had in defending European Turkey. No one of the Continental Powers, except Russia,. cares if Persia sinks into the Caspian. We are loaded down with obligations as it is, and here is a new one, voluntarily undertaken because Ministers do not see how to retire from Afghanistan with credit in the eyes of electors who do not know clearly where Afghanistan is. We can hardly find troops enough for their daily work; we are expecting, or saying we expect, a grand European war ; we are actually expecting a. crash at Constantinople which may shake half the world, and we bind ourselves to the Protectorate of another dying empire, and the guardianship of a city six hundred miles from our frontiers, full of a fighting population, and threatened, as we assume, by an empire like Russia. And our ally in all this is to be a monarch without an army, and nearly without a. people, who may at any moment accept a treaty from Russia which may compel us to fight her and him too. And all this is risked in the search for a scientific frontier, when we had one which an expenditure of five millions on fortresses and light railways would have made impregnable.