28 AUGUST 1880, Page 6


opportune moment for passing in brief review the principal facts and incidents of the "forward policy" in Afghanistan. The ostensible cause of that policy was the Russian Mission to Cabul in the summer of 1878. As a matter of fact, the Russian Mission to Cabul, as we shall pre- sently show, had very little connection with the new policy. But let us assume for the moment that it was its sole cause, and what then ? Does not the event prove that the invasion of Afghanistan was the worst plan we could have adopted for checkmating Russia ? The Russian Mission was avowedly of a temporary and friendly character, and was insignificant in point of numbers and prestige. It consisted of some score of Cossacks, under the command of a colonel unknown to fame. Yet, for all this, Shere Ali received the Mission with the greatest reluctance. As soon as he heard of it, he sent at once "to inform the Governor-General of Tashkend "—we are quoting from the Parliamentary papers—" that it was not advisable to send a European Agent, as the Afghans are an uncivilised and ignorant race, and might do the European some injury." This was the reason which Shere Ali always urged, we believe in perfect good-faith—and the murder of Cavagnari is a strong proof of it—against the expediency of pressing a British Agent upon him. But before he dispatched his message to General Kaufmann, he received a letter from that officer announcing the departure of the Mission. Shere Ali then pursued towards the Russian Mission the very same tactics which he employed afterwards against Sir Neville Chamberlain's Mission. On one pretext or another the Russian Mission was delayed for a whole month at the frontier, and the official who then allowed it to pass died soon afterwards, poisoned, as was supposed, by order of Shere Ali. The Mission being thus fairly on its way to the Ameer's capital, "great efforts," says Cavagnari's report, "are being made by the Cabal Durbar to collect an assembly of all the Chiefs, Khans, and chosen men of the kingdom and its neighbourhood," "in order to settle what reply shall be given to !the Russian proposals The .Ameer desires that Afghanistan may remain independent, and that there should- be no Envoys of a different religion to Mahommedanism in his kingdom." The Ameer'e uneasiness increased as the Russian Mission approached Cabul. "The Ministers of the Ameer's Court," reports our Political Agent at Peshawar," are generally of opinion that his Highness will not enter into any engagement which would impose a condition of Russian interference with his country. It is, moreover, said that the Ameer asserts that he would like an English officer of excellence and learning, and acquainted with the affairs of Afghanistan, to come to Cabul for a few days, in the capacity of Envoy from the British Government, with whom he may personally discuss the pro- ceedings which have passed between him and the English Govern- ment within the last few years It is said that the Ameer is now in great anxiety on account of the arrival of the European Russian Envoy at his capital." There is little doubt that if the Ameer had been judiciously handled at this time by Lord Lytton, he would have taken the earliest oppor- tunity to dismiss the Russian Mission. But the facts leave scarcely a loophole of escape from the conclusion that Lord Lytton wished to force a quarrel on the Ameer, and that he gladly availed himself of the Russian Mission to Cabal for that pur- pose. Long before that Mission was dreamt of, he had menaced Shere Ali with an understanding between England and Russia which would have the effect of "wiping Afghani- stan out of the map." And because the Ameer refused to receive British Agents permanently in different parts of his dominions, Lord Lytton had removed our Native Agent from Cabul, and broken off all diplomatic relations with the Ameer. Yet so strong was the repugnance of Shere Ali to European Residents from any quarter, that as soon as he found himself embarrassed by the presence of a Russian Envoy, he turned at once towards the Indian Government for advice and assistance. So true was the warning of Lord Lawrence and all our great Indian authorities that the Afghans would inevitably turn away from the power that forced a European Envoy upon them, and em- brace the friendship of the Power that left them alone. The slightest manifestation of sympathy from Lord Lytton would evidently have been welcomed by Sheri) Ali, when he found himself in presence of the Russian Mission. Nay, if Lord. Lytton had but left him alone, there can be little doubt that the Ameer would have got rid of his unwelcome Russian guests with the least possible delay. While they remained they were kept under strict surveillance, and were hardly allowed to leave their quarters. But Lord Lytton adopted, with the sanction of the Home Government, the method which, of all others, was beat calculated to drive the Afghans into the arms- of Russia.

Besides, after all, the Russian Mission to Cabul was not the cause—it was only the occasion—of the Afghan policy of the late Government. That policy dates from January, 1875, and the Government of Lord Beaconsfield must be- held entirely responsible for it. By the unrepealed Treaties of 1855 and 1857 the British Government was pledged "never to interfere" in Afghanistan ; "but at the pleasure of the British Government, a Vakeel, not a European officer, shall remain at Cabul on the part of that Government, and one at Peshawur on the part of the Government of Cabul." In spite- of this explicit engagement, the Government of Lord Beacons- field, without the slightest warning, instructed the Viceroy of India, in the beginning of 1875, to press upon Shere All the- reception of British officers as Political Residents in different parts of his dominions. The Indian Government, then under the wise guidance of Lord Northbrook, consulted every man whose judgment was worth having in India, in-- eluding the ill-fated Cavagnari, and the unanimous opinion was that it would be most unwise and impolitic to force a European Agent on the Ameer. But the Hoeg apovern- ment was deaf to every remonstrance. It instructeg Vice- roy to practise guile on the Ameer, and to send an Envoy to. Cabal under false pretences. The Ameer was to be "induced.

to receive a temporary embassy in his capitaL" This temporary mission was "not to be publicly connected with a permanent mission within his dominions. There would be many advan- tages in ostensibly directing it to some object of smaller political interest, which it will not be difficult for your Excellency to find, or, if need be, create." The Viceroy was "therefore instructed, on behalf of her Majesty's- Government, without any delay that you can reasonably avoid;:' to find some occasion for sending a mission to Cabul," and "it " will be the Envoy's duty earnestly to press upon the Ameer- the risk he would run, if he should impede the course of action which the British Government think necessary for securing his independence." Lord Northbrook resigned office rather than assume any responsibility for a policy which violated the faith of treaties and which every authority of any repute in India condemned on the ground of its perilous impolicy. A new Viceroy was accordingly appointed, and the Afghan war has been the result. But let it not be forgotten that the Government of Lord Beaconsfield threatened the Ameer with war before a word was heard of any Russian Mission to Cabul.

Lord Lytton was instructed to tell the Ameer that it would be "at his own peril" that he refused to receive British officers- as permanent Residents within his territories ; and the new Viceroy did not lag behind his instructions. He told the Ameer bluntly that if he persisted in his refusal to receive British officers, the Government of India might rectify its frontier at his expense, without consulting him, and not im- probably "wipe Afghanistan out of the map."

What is the explanation of these violent proceedings In truth, it is difficult to extract any definite idea of policy from them. Nor, indeed, is it easy to reconcile with each other the explanations offered at different times by the late Govern- ment. The Ameer was threatened with war, unless he received at various points in his dominions British officers whose principal duty it would be to watch over his foreign relations ; and this was declared to be "necessary for securing his independence." Another of the declared objects of the new policy was to secure Afghanistan against foreign aggression ; and the means adopted to achieve that end were the violation of a treaty engagement, accompanied by a menace of war, unless this breach of faith was acquiesced in by the Ameer. Another object was to pre- vent conffiets between -rival candidates for power ; yet this policy was to be pursued "without interfering in the internal affairs of the country." "The primary purpose" of the pro- posed British Mission to Cabul was "to invite the confidence of the Ameer ;" and this was to be done by practising a deceit upon him,—sending an envoy under a pretext totally different from the real purpose. Russian aggression in Central Asia was stated by Lord Salisbury to be the chief motive of the new policy. Yet at that very time Lord Beaconsfield (then Mr. Disraeli) was wishing Russia God-speed in her conquests in Central Asia, and declaring "that at no time has there been a better understanding between the Courts of St. James and St. Petersburg than at the present moment" (i.e., May, 1876). When the die was fairly cast, and England was actually committed to a war of aggression against Afghanistan, Lord Beaconsfield threw off the mask, and openly declared that "the object" of the war was to secure "a scientific" instead of a "hap-hazard frontier." A month later, "a scientific frontier" was defined by Lord Beaconsfield as a frontier which "can be defended by a garrison of 5,000 men, while a hap-hazard one will require for its defence an army of 10,000 men, and even then will not be safe against attack." When the first campaign was over, and the Treaty of Gandamak was extorted from Yakoob Khan, Lord Beaconsfield declared, amidst the cheers of his followers,—" Her Majesty's Government have the satis- faction of feeling that the object of their interference in that errantry has been completely accomplished We have secured the object for which the expedition was under- taken. We have secured that frontier which will, I hope, ,render our Indian Empire invulnerable." A more cynical declaration of political immorality surely never issued .from the mouth of a British Prime Minister. But it is not with the morality of the new Afghan policy that we are now dealing, but with its political expediency. The scientific frontier which the wisdom of Lord Beaconsfield has secured to us, at a cost of upwards of twenty millions sterling, has never occupied a garrison of less than 50,000 men, and the -present Secretary of State for India declared lately that it was so haphazard that it might be considered as no longer existing. The new policy was, moreover, to have made of Afghanistan "a strong, friendly, and independent State." In fact, it has broken it to pieces, destroyed its independence, and kindled in. the hearts a the Afghans a hatred of the British name which will certainly survive the present generation. The whole series of events really looks more like a case of political dementia than of mere blundering. Nor are we yet at the end of the story. General Roberts may, we hope, cut the knot of our difficulties, but no one can look at the situation of Candahar without grave anxiety, and the certainty that we have not yet fully paid the frightful price required of us for Lord Salisbury's political sins.