6 MARCH 1880, Page 5


IT is, we imagine, pretty certain that the scheme of assigning Herat to Persia has broken down. The Times revealed the secret a little too early, and though, as is evident from the replies in Parliament, negotiations were entered into with Teheran, they did not succeed. The cause of failure will pro- bably never be known, for this Ministry reveals nothing volun- tary to Parliament ; and if pressed with impertinent questions, can easily say that the production of the papers would not be beneficial to the public service. Renter hints, in a carefully worded telegram from Teheran, which the Times publishes in its most conspicuous type, that the idea has been abandoned by the Shah's Government, "on account of the political difficulties considered as likely to result were the proposal carried out," which would imply that the Shah had yielded to pressure from St. Petersburg. The Tory organs, and especially the Telegraph, reject this explanation, it being impossible, of course, that Lord Beaconsfield should ever be defeated ; but they confirm the main statement, and the rest is of compara- tively little importance. Whether Russia opposed the plan in earnest, or the Shah asked too much, in the shape of guarantees, or the moderate party in the Cabinet grew alarmed at the prospect before the country, does not much signify, if only the central fact is true, and Great Britain is relieved of the embarrassments which would have followed a partnership with a State which, as the Tele- graph now admits, is rapidly decaying, with only a few raga- muffins for soldiers, and no hold over the populations to be subjugated. Those embarrassments would probably have been extreme, as we should have been obliged to protect Persia on sides which we cannot reach, and to defend Herat against in- surrection as well as attack as assiduously as if we claimed it for ourselves. We are burdened with quite enough guarantees as it is, and do not want to march our political frontier with that of Russia, in Armenia, in Persia, and in Afghanistan, all at once.

If the Ministry have receded from the Persian idea we are quite willing to acknowledge their prudence, but their wiser counsels in that direction do not relieve them of their pressing embarrassments in Afghanistan. Indeed, their wisdom rather increases them. They have now all Afghanistan, the whole of the Douranee empire, on their hands to settle, before they can declare that India is at peace. British troops occupy Cabul and Candahar. British troops, unless Mahonamed Jan gives up at the eleventh hour, which is quite possible, will in a few weeks be in march for Ghuznee and Bamian. Afghan Turkestan must be quieted or controlled somehow, and the Government are de- termined to obtain some guarantee for the "independence "of Herat, that is, its independence of Russian or, as matters will henceforth stand, of Persian influence. What are they to do ? According to the Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, which has frequently been right, the Government of India has decided to make Cabul and Candahar dependencies, under Afghan Princes, supported by " Contingents " raised from the Kuzzil- bashes, that is, the Persians, and the Hazarehs, a tribe supposed to be friendly, to hand over Herat to Persia, and to increase the territories of the Khan of Khelat and the Maharaja of Cash- mere. This scheme has attracted great attention, but the transfer of Herat, which was the key to it, has been abandoned ; and Sir Stafford Northcote, after declining on Monday to answer any question on the subject without notice, on Tuesday declared it to be "wholly imaginary." We sincerely trust it is imaginary. The scheme suggested is a most wretched one, —annexation in disguise, without any of the benefits which, at a terrible price to this country, annexation might yield to the general prosperity of the world. The Princes would govern as badly as the Ameers, would be infinitely more detested, would secure no commercial or social order, and would require just as much support as British Chief Commissioners, who would at least try to make their provinces rich and orderly. To defend Herat would be a most burdensome affair, while to hand over Afghan tribes to a Hindoo sovereign like the Maharaja of Cashmere, who is asserted by travellers, missionaries, and officials to have desolated his own valley by misgovernment, would be an outrage that, if the facts were known, even this Parliament would not permit. Still, what is the Government to do ? They have just four alternatives. They can retire and leave Afghanis- tan to settle itself, which, after some months of civil war, it will probably do by submitting to Abdurrahman Khan, as successor to Dost Mahommed, the very best solution now ob- tainable. Retirement, however, is pronounced by Lord Beacons- field " dishonourable," and, until the general election, Lord Bea- consfield is dictator. They can annex, but the Cabinet, through Sir Stafford Northcote, have declared they will not annex ; and we believe them, for the War Office could not find a suf- ficient European garrison for so vast a region ; and if we send native troops to stay in that detestable country, we shall either have a protest scarcely distinguishable from a mutiny, or a sudden stop in the recruiting of the Native regiments, which are filled not by conscription, but by a system of volunteering, already strained by the fall in the comparative value of the Sepoye' pay. They can invent an Ameer and make a treaty with him, but there is no good candidate, Musa Khan, the best, being a child ; and the selection of an incompetent Ameer is equivalent either to retirement, or to annexation over again. And finally, they can partition Afghanistan, as the Lahore paper says, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer denies, they have decided to do. The parti- tion, however, with Herat undisposed of, is not only a most difficult enterprise, but one which can hardly, by any use of words, however adroit, be made to look success- ful, for no politician would guarantee for six months' time the fidelity of an Afghan in possession of Herat. We should be compelled to garrison Cabul, Candahar, Ghuznee, Bamian, and Herat, and the provisioning, relieving, watching, and de- fending those ironclads, always afloat on a sea of Afghan and Central-Asian politics, would be an endless preoe,cupation, embar- rassment, and expense. What, then, is the Government to do ? We doubt, if the Persian project has failed, if they know any more than anybody else, if Lord Beaconsfield has dreamed out a new plan, or if Lord Lytton has suggested any final course ; and believe that the Ministry will wait, and go on groping. There is Ghuznee to be taken, and that will look like a feat ; and the papers can write about Mahmoud the Ghuznavide, and his conquests in India. There is Bamian to be occupied, and that will keep General Roberts's force engaged ; and there is Herat to be taken, or assigned to some " friendly " Sirdar, or disposed of in some way, when the recent failure has been sufficiently forgotten. There will, as the Saturday Review says, be "lively campaigning," and everybody will be interested, and the Government can plead that until active operations have ceased, it is impossible for them to announce their final decision. That is very much the way things have gone hitherto, and as the Indian Budget has been so arranged that this country will have no bill to pay, or a very little one, that is at least the most probable course of affairs for another spring. It is a most wretched course, for we shall be employing fifty thousand troops in a serious campaign, without knowing ex- actly for what end we are fighting, or what advantage would mean peace, or what the Government wishes to be the out- come of it all, unless it be "the strong, the united, and the friendly Afghanistan" which they now know they will not secure, and which, in making proposals to Teheran, they im- plicitly abandoned. It seems to us a little wicked to be killing cultivated British officers, and useful British soldiers, and respectable Sikh fighting-men in pursuit of a waiting policy like that ; but that is not the idea of the Government, whose journals are quite jubilant because between the declaration of war in November, 1878, and the Treaty of Gundamuck, we lost in killed, wounded, and invalided only some 3,000 men. Add 2,000 for the number since, and it is only 5,000 men ; and what is that when, if we are fortunate this year, we shall be in fuller possession of what we already possess,—" the gates" of Somnath,—we beg pardon, "of India."