28 AUGUST 1880, Page 4


THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN. THE position in Afghanistan is certainly grave. The mutiny of the Khan of Khelat's troops will weaken, perhaps very materially, the force at General Phayre's dis- posal for the advance through the Khojak ; and no one can doubt that the army which Ayoub Khan has gathered before Canda- liar is a very powerful one, though we do not of course accept the obviously extravagant rumour telegraphed to the Western Daily News, that it amounts in all to a hundred thousand men. We attach less importance to the rumour of the unsettled state of -Cabul, and the order to General Stewart to halt his troops at Jellalabad. Of course, it was to be expected that so soon as we had left Cabul, Abdul Rahman would have to deal with the partisans of Yakoob Khan,—and this he fully expected, when he accepted our nomination and urged our retirement. He must settle that business for himself as he best can. Our wisest policy is to leave the disputed succession in Afghani- stan to be settled by the Afghans themselves, and all that it is incumbent on us to do is to show that whenever we find it necessary for the interests of India, we can assert our supre- macy in Afghanistan, and that we can deal effectually with the attack of any Afghan chief who is unwise enough to assail us.

But it is impossible to deny that at the present moment General Roberts and General Phayre have as much on their hands as they can do, and that if they do it well, they will be entitled to very high praise. It is absurd to suppose that the great force which Ayoub Khan has now at his disposal has in any way lost heart. The British sally of the 16th shows in the most striking way that the Afghan besiegers were well up to their work, and from all we can learn of that sally, we must think that, on the whole, it was a mistake, and did not answer any purpose worth the very serious sacrifice of officers which it cost us. The best officer in Candahar, Brigadier- General Brooke, and six others, were killed, as well as 180 men,—iir other words, one officer to every twenty-five men. That proves beyond question that the officers had to keep the men -well up to their duty, and that our sally produced no panic among the Afghan besiegers. There is every reason to believe that Ayoub Khan has now a very large and thoroughly drilled force before Candahar, besides any number of Ghazis. His plan, if we understand it rightly, is to meet General Roberts on the road from Khelat-i-Ghilzai, with an entrenched force, which it may be hardly possible for Roberts to attack without serious loss, and which he may have to turn. Military critics seam to expect that Ayoub will fortify the Poti Pass,—a defile from thirty to forty yards long, something like five marches from Khelat-i- Ghilzai, and eight marches from Candahar. But whether he chooses so distant a point as this or not, it is pretty certain that Ayoub will dispute the road to Candahar with General Roberts, and oblige him either to carry an entrenched position at considerable loss, or to strike off from the main route on paths far from easy for the march of an army. Besides this, there is, undoubtedly, a force under Mahommed Jan which slipped out of Ghuznee before General Roberts reached that place, and which is keeping before him, ready to assist Ayoub whenever General Roberts encounters the advanced guard of the Afghan army.

We had hoped till yesterday that there might have been some chance of General Roberts acting in concert with General Phayre, and delaying his own arrival at Candahar till General Phayre could come up. But the bad news of the mutiny among the Khan of Khelat's troops puts an end so far to the prospect of any such combined operation. We have the greatest confidence in General Roberts's military genius, and, in cases of this kind, military genius is everything ; but -with a less competent General we should regard Ayonb's position in command of a regular army of Afghans much larger than our own, without counting the hordes of fanatics, volunteers who seem to add vastly to the substantial re- sources of the Afghan General, with the utmost anxiety. The simple truth of the matter is that Ayoub's victory over General Burrows has turned Afghanistan into a camp teeming with most dangerous enemies. The moun- taineers render it very difficult to get in supplies ; and this renders rapid marching infinitely more difficult than it would otherwise be ; while the absolute necessity of suppressing mutiny in the rear, and strongly holding a long chain of posts from Khelat in the direction of our advance to Candahar, diminishes dangerously General Phayre's resources for assisting General Roberts. We feel every confidence that the difficulties, great as they are, will be overcome. But the situation, though not so critical as when General Roberts had to fight his great- fight for the possession of Sherpore, and won it almost by a fluke, is certainly far more serious than at any time- since we first heard of the flight of General Burrows into Candahar. We are paying dearly, indeed, for our most unscientific frontier.