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CABUL, CANDAHAR, AND INDIA.
HAT we have an Eastern question touching us far more nearly than that which relates to the condition of Macedonians and Thessalians under the tyranny of the Sultan, and that this question. is fraught with the gravest difficulties, none will be inclined to dispute except those who are either unable or unwilling to go beneath the surface of things. All who are disinterestedly anxious to get at the truth of facts will soon convince themselves that we have reached a crisis in the administration of what we call our Indian Empire, and that it is impossible to regard our political schemes and military operations in Afghanistan apart from the material and moral welfare of all over whom we bear sway throughout the whole peninsula of India. Such inquirers will almost certainly find themselves forced into conclusions in the highest degree unwelcome and discouraging; but probably they will be less tempted than others to exaggerate the effects of the recent reverses which have stirred the fears or the indignation of those who allow their attention to be absorbed by the incidents of the passing moment. The defeat of General Burrows is important, chiefly as throwing light on the conditions under which our continued occupation of any part of Afghanistan must be maintained, if we are mad enough to resolve on a course as impolitic as it is wicked. There is no reason to fear that any Afghan chief will succeed in crushing British forces under wary leaders, or that a British army may not hold the land for an indefinite time, if we are determined to hold it at all costs. If we make up our minds that the resources of the whole Empire shall be staked in order to carry out schemes which were to make India invulnerable from without, and prosperous and happy within, there is no doubt that for some years at least Afghanistan may be kept as a British possession, and that the ensigns of British authority may be exhibited in Cabul, Candahar, and, if we please, in Herat, as they are in Delhi, Lucknow, or Calcutta.
But it may be asserted without hesitation and without fear of contradiction that the question of retaining Afghanistan or any part of it is one which the present Government is precluded even from considering. Whatever else may have been involved in the recent elections, this much is absolutely certain, that the nation expressed its will on certain subjects of supreme importance with unmistakable clearness. For some years it had been compelled to look on while a Ministry, which professed itself peculiarly zealous for the honour as well as the welfare of the country, presumed not merely to frame schemes of policy which formed no part of the business for which they were placed in power, but to carry them out without honestly
consulting either the people or their representatives. Its patience had been sorely tried by the tortuous dealings of Lord Beaconsfield and his colleagues, who upheld tyranny wherever a people were struggling to shake off the yoke, and moved heaven and earth to thwart and put down those who appeared as deliverers. The country saw how much Ministers, who extended to themselves the maxim that the King can do no wrong, could do by means of a Parliamentary majority, ready to support them at all costs in schemes never contemplated on their introduction into office. These schemes were such as no Minister had a right to form, far less to carry out, unless he had definite national sanction; and the great event of the last spring has proved conclusively that the people regarded them with profound abhorrence. Meanwhile, no other course was open to it than to protest in extra-Parliamentary assemblies against the new methods which were encroaching on the liberties of Englishmen and threatened to subvert them. Few probably doubt now that but for one such assembly Lord Beaconsfield would have committed the country to an offensive alliance with the Sultan under the nominal plea of advancing British interests, but practically for the purpose of upholding a despotism as iniquitous as any with which the world has ever been cursed. But although a war which must have thrown Europe into a blaze was thus prevented, the English nation had no opportunity of expressing its will, and was virtually unable to enforce it. The Septennial Act gave Lord Beaconsfield a long lease of power, which, with a party educated up to the necessary mark, meant little less than absolute licence; and the people had to look on while a series of surprises marked successive stages of arbitrary power. It was impossible to know what the next move might be; and it is but fair to admit that many whose judgment was less to be trusted than their motives, were for a time dazzled by plans which, while they still belonged to the future, were invested with something like the brilliancy of fireworks. The bestowal of the title of Empress of India on the Sovereign of Great Britain was to carry with it, we were told, an irresistible charm. The very assumption of imperial character was to convince the master of another Empire that the idea of rivalry on the plains shut in by the vast Himalayan barrier was an idle dream. India was from that day to be more peaceful, more prosperous, and more happy. The fears which had thus far disturbed from time to time the tranquillity of her rulers were henceforth to cease to trouble them. The military expenditure, which was already much too heavy, was to be reduced within limits which would involve little or no strain on the poverty-stricken ryots; and the Government would be able to devote its attention exclusively to the internal administration of the country.
The spell worked less rapidly than was expected. The impression made on the mind of the Russian Czar was not so deep as could be desired. Further action was needed to make the ministerial theory of empire a reality; but it was insisted that the task was perfectly
simple and easy. All that was needed was to have a scientific frontier, and this frontier lay within the borders of a savagely mountainous and barren country, interposed between our dominions and the still more dreary and desert wastes of Central Asia, across which it was supposed a Russian army would speedily find its way to the valleys of the Indus and the Ganges. It was implied, if not openly said, that the one indispensable task in India was that of providing against evils which might make themselves felt, perhaps a hundred years hence, perhaps soɔner-but when, no man could say. The one object of fear was the successor of Peter the Great, whose supposed plan he was pledged to the utmost of his power to carry out; and this plan was one which involved not only the subjugation of Central Asia, but the conquest of Hindustan. It was not now for the first time that the spectre of Russian aggression seemed to lower darkly on the political horizon. Forty years ago the British Government, alarmed by the same portent, had set up their puppet on the throne of Cabul for the purpose of raising an impassable barrier between ourselves and the Russian Emperor; and a series of frightful disasters was the result. The lesson was taken to heart by most men; but some strenuously refused to be relieved of the nightmare which had led to that most deplorable enterprise. Among these men the most conspicuous are Sir Henry Rawlinson and Sir Bartle Frere. They had learnt nothing from the catastrophe of Shah Soojab, and they learnt nothing from the ominous speed with which the great Mutiny followed the annexations of Lord Dalhousie. For them the one thing to be done was to secure India against Russian aggression, and Sir H. Rawlinson's eyes looked longingly towards Candahar and Herat, while Sir Bartle Frere made up his mind that no considerations of forbearance, no regard for treaties, should be allowed to stand in the way of any course needed to avert an imaginary danger. So long as the administration of India was in the hands of men like Lord Lawrence and Lord Northbrook their dreams and theories did but little mischief; but it was easy to see that any attempt to realise them would kindle a fire which it would be difficult, and perhaps impossible, to put out: and such an attempt was rendered inevitable by the fatal exigences of a spirited foreign policy. This policy, as understood or expounded by Lord Beaconsfield, rested on the doctrine that British and Russian interests must be necessarily antagonistic; and that, in order to counteract the latter, all the resources of the British Empire must, if need be, be made available. The indignation of the Russian people was pressing the Czar to call the Sultan to account for intolerable wrongs done to peoples over whom he had no right to rule, but whose deliverance Lord Beaconsfield held to be incompatible with the interests of Great Britain. If a Russian army of many myriads should threaten Constantinople, it was indispensable to exhibit the Sovereign of England as a potentate capable of putting in motion forces not less formidable. The mountain heaved with labour; but the birth was a puny one. At a vast cost a handful of Sepoys was
brought to Malta, and after a short sojourn within the bounds of Europe was sent back again. They who felt tempted to laugh at the abortive issue of a very serious step, taken without the consent of the British people, might have been forgiven if the measure had not been laden with the seeds of future mischief. It was not merely that an attempt had been made to create throughout Europe an impression to which there was no corresponding reality. This was but a small part of the evil. Lord Beaconsfield had wished it to be understood that the few thousand Sepoys brought to Malta were little more than a troop taken from a mighty army, the whole of which might be made available for European warfare. The inference was false; but the step had nevertheless wrought a change which fatally affected the welfare of India and the security of our dominion.
As soon as the fine prospects of Imperial policy disappeared in one quarter, it was necessary to create serious diversion elsewhere. The expedition to Malta had failed; the war between the Russian and the Turk had not been averted, and the tyranny of the Sultan had not been upheld. The hour was come, and the dreams of Sir H. Rawlinson and Sir Bartle Frere now assumed the form of theories which no patriotic Englishman ought to call into question. They could not indeed be acted upon without dire injustice and gross breach of faith; but Sir Bartle Frere insisted that, in dealing with infidels or half savage tribes, such considerations were not worth a moment's thought. The die was cast; and the good effects, achieved by the moderate and wise statesmanship of nearly forty years, were undone at a stroke. During that long period we had been at peace with the ruler of Cabul. A native envoy had resided at his Court, and had obtained for the Government information such as no British officer had ever supplied, or could hope to supply. In the Afghans we had a people whom the slightest symptom of aggression on the part of Russia (if such aggression had been, as it was not, practicable) would have thrown into the arms of the English, and in Afghanistan, a country which would be an insurmountable barrier to any invader of India. We had, in short, a friendly, independent, and orderly Afghanistan; and we were as strictly pledged by the explicit declarations of treaties, as we were urged by material interests, to maintain a state of things from which we had derived nothing but benefit. But all such considerations must be thrust aside when the task in hand was to chastise and provoke the government of the Czar. The Emir of Cabul was a Moslem, and Lord Beaconsfield had taken the Mahometans of Europe and their master into his special grace and favour; but even the faith of Islam could win no indulgence for one with whom it had become necessary to break a solemn compact. He must be invited to receive a British Envoy as a resident at his Court, and British residents at other places within his dominions; and the mission must be made to present itself in all haste at his frontier ports, for fear that the Ameer's anxiety to retain our friendship should induce him to comply with a proposal, the effects of which he dreaded. With a
courtesy which Major Cavagnari and his companion studiously acknowledged, the Afghan officer signified his inability to let them pass without his master's sanction; and this courteous answer was represented to the world as a gross and deliberate insult to the British nation. The war was thus begun against a ruler, who, with the request that he should admit British residents within his territories, had received the gracious information that he was merely an earthen pipkin between two iron pots, and that any attempt to resist the will of the British Government must involve his utter destruction. But the physical conditions of Afghanistan were much what they had been in the days of Macnaghten, Burnes, and Elphinstone; and Lord Lytton soon learnt that dire difficulties, to say the least, intervened between his threats and their execution. The task taken in hand was nothing less than a march of 900 miles from Sukkur on the Indus to Herat, by way of the Bolan Pass and Candahar. The flood gates of military expenditure were spread wide, and the waters rushed in with furious force. Before they reached Candahar the loss of 20,000 camels on the road, with an aggregate value of nearly 1,000,0col., formed an ominous item at the head of the future bill of costs. With this prodigious loss of transport power the army found itself in a country which had no wealth, which could furnish no food, and where we had made the people our bitter enemies. The greater part of the force was at once sent back to India, and 4,000 men remained to hold Candahar. The campaign was a miserable failure; but the stupendous difficulties still to be encountered compelled Lord Lytton to take such terms as he could get by the Treaty of Gundamuck. Before all things the knowledge of a miscarriage total and thorough must be withheld from the English people. The scientific frontier, which, we were told, would be secured to us if we would gain a commanding influence over the triangle of territory formed on the map by Cabul, Ghuznee, and Jellalabad, together with power over the Hindoo Khosh,' was no more ours than are the mountains in the moon. But Lord Beaconsfield and his followers pretended that the frontier had been conceded by the treaty, although it gave us nothing beyond the right of garrisoning two useless Afghan valleys at a huge cost, to be defrayed out of the revenues of India. The attempt to parade this barren concession as the acquisition of the much-vaunted scientific frontier was, indeed, felt to be hopeless. The expenses already incurred were known, even to those who were not behind the scenes, to be appalling; and it was impossible for Lord Lytton to let the world know that these expenses had been incurred for nothing. He must show that he could really do as he pleased in Afghanistan; and he resolved therefore to act at once on the clause which allowed him to send a British Envoy to Cabul. Shere Ali had never disguised the danger of this course; and Lord Lytton had absolutely no means of knowing whether Yakoob, his son, had either the ability, the means, or the will to meet and overcome the peril. At all costs the risk must be encountered.