« ZurückWeiter »
timidity and self-effacement.
The policy of dividing Afghanistan with Russia is to be opposed on grounds of principle, as a proceeding unworthy of our power and reputation; but if it is to be discredited among our politicians of all shades of opinion, it must be shown that, far from strengthening our position, it would weaken it, and that our anxieties and responsibilities would be immensely increased by its adoption. A brief examination of the question will suffice to show that such would be the case. It is necessary, in the first place to consider what the division of Afghanistan would exactly mean in the form in which it would present itself for solution. No one supposes that there would be a definite arrangement beforehand between the British and Russian Governments for the partition of Afghanistan into provinces or spheres. The probable form in which it would be effected would be by a series of moves and counter-moves, and either Empire might be the first to begin the game.
But the habit of regarding Afghanistan as an empty chess-board, on which we and Russia can move our pieces as we wish, is fraught with danger, and for us more so than for Russia. Afghanistan is a difficult country for military operations, and much of it is quite impracticable. The Afghans are a brave and warlike people, not to be despised when armed with inferior weapons, and now well equipped with modern rifles and artillery. Their value as an enemy or as an ally, is not to be treated slightingly. They are stalwart, energetic and active warriors, animated by a love of independence and a religious fanaticism that render them doubly formidable when fighting on their own territory. The Ameer typifies the national character, and under his iron rule of twenty years it has lost none of its ferocity, while it has acquired greater
confidence through increased union and military efficiency in the ability of the country to maintain its national existence. It would be a grave mistake on our part, when natural causes have produced the very union and solidity we most desired, to turn round and assist those who wish to see Afghanistan break in pieces. Abdurrahman has shown that a united pacific Afghanistan is possible. British support is alone wanting to make it prove enduring, yet those who urge us to come to an agreement with Russia for the division of Afghanistan would have us wantonly destroy the work to some extent of our own making, and certainly one conducive to our own security.
The most general assumption is that when Russia comes, with or without a prior understanding, to Herat, England should at once occupy Candahar, and many persons add Cabul as well. This would be an irregular commencement for the formal partition of the State between England and Russia. But has any English statesman or public writer faced the consequences of those steps? Are the essential differences between the two annexations realized by those who represent they could be so dovetailed together as to result in a common Anglo-Russian frontier, that would be a guarantee of peace instead of a provocation to war? But what are the hard facts with which we should have to deal? Russia's conquest of Herat would be essentially a military achievement, difficult or easy in proportion to the skill of the Afghan defence, and the strength of the Afghan garrison, but once accomplished, no serious difficulties would remain for the new rulers in the Heri Rud valley. The population is too sparse, the tribes are too mixed with Persian and Turkoman races, and the country is too open and accessible, for any formidable opposition to be aroused or organized
Far different would be the experience of England when she attempted to appropriate the portions of the country intended to compensate her for the Russian seizure of Herat. The severance of that fortress from the rest of the country would be a blow for the Ameer personally, and also for the prestige of the English in India, but it would leave the national spirit of the Afghans intact, and also their capacity to fight for their independence. English advancing on Candahar, and perhaps on Cabul as well, without the Ameer's permission and most probably in face of his opposition, would appear once more in the guise of enemies. The Afghans would be certain to regard with hostile eyes any advance that did not partake of a combined offensive move in formal alliance for the expulsion of the Russians from Herat. Our march on Candahar might not be openly opposed, but it would embroil us with a hostile population and with the Durani tribes in one direction and the Ghilzais in another. That on Cabul would be attended with greater difficulties and could not be accomplished without fighting. In both directions we should appear to the Afghans in the light of invaders and enemies, and they would welcome any assistance in expelling us from their country. A false political move would thus undo the advantages of twenty years' peace and transfer all the moral weight to the side of Russia, who, by our own
act, would be turned from a foe into the friend of Afghan independence. The position may be thus expressed in a form that every one can understand for himself. A Russian seizure of Herat does not, in the eyes of the Afghans, threaten, for the moment, their independence; but a British occupation of Candahar and Cabul destroys it.
Nor does the comparative disadvantage in which we should be placed by a policy of partition stop there. Russia would be secure in her sphere by the absence of any deep national or racial sentiment, and also by the absence of inhabitants. We should be embroiled with a warlike, fanatical and numerous population, every man of which is taught to use a gun and a sword from his childhood. Our communications would have to be maintained through the difficult country that every one has heard described, and the battles would have to be fought in regions presenting far greater natural obstacles than those encountered in Natal. We have done it before successfully, some will say, and there is no reason why we should not do it all over again. But the argument is doubly fallacious. We have never done it with a Russia ready on our flank to take advantage of our errors and to profit by our embarrassments. But there is a still more serious objection to the adoption of a policy of partition in Afghanistan. The Afghan people and ruler, notwithstanding his passing fits of irritability at our easygoing way of taking matters that seem to him exceedingly grave, are at present far more favorably disposed towards us than they are to Russia. They are prepared to make a good fight, and perhaps a better one than is generally supposed, for Herat, and after it is lost, if the Russians should prove successful, to go on opposing them wherever they could as a national enemy. But if we step into their territory with the
intention of grabbing it, however we may try to disguise the fact, they will deem us as black as the Russians, and transfer all their hatred for both as Christians to us. The Afghan problem will thus be rendered more difficult from our point of view, and in a wilful and short-sighted manner we shall ourselves have turned allies, that might be invaluable in baffling Russia whenever she advances, into formidable and implacable enemies.
There is one aspect of the question that must not be omitted if the picture is to be complete. The creation of a feeling of enmity in the bosoms of the Afghans would have enduring consequences. It is not only that they would become willing to accept the Russians as deliverers and as the less of two evils, inasmuch as they were foreigners on Afghan territory. their thoughts and ambition would inevitably revert to what their ancestors accomplished in successive invasions of India from time immemorial down to Nadir Shah and their own great chief Ahmed, of the Durani family. The Afghans have been for Turk, Mogul and Persian, the advanced guard in the invasion of Hindostan, and there is no reason why they should not discharge the same duties for the Russians, if a bungling policy on our part led them to see in our opponents the deliverers from the authority we had too thoughtlessly sought to impose upon them. An occupation of Afghan territory as the reply to a Russian seizure of Herat would be a grave and, perhaps, a fatal mistake. It would alienate the Afghans, assist the plans of the Russians and land us in many difficulties from which we might not succeed in extricating ourselves. Under those circumstances our only prudent course would be to keep within our present frontier, to leave the Russians to advance through a hostile Afghanistan, and to inform its ruler that we would second
his efforts to defend his country, but leave it to him to decide when it would be the right moment for the Anglo-Indian army to advance to his support. Twenty years ago the conquest of Afghanistan was possible, or we might have broken it up into three or four dependent principalities, but it would be madness to make the same attempt to-day. We have been in the interval an important contributing party to the establishment of Abdurrahman's kingdom by our subsidies and moral support. It would be exceedingly foolish to hasten, at Russia's first move within the Afghan frontier, to undo the work of our own hands. The policy of dividing Afghanistan with Russia is not one that will bear examination. I will say nothing about its inherent baseness, but I hope I have made it clear that it would be entirely in Russia's favor, and that it would place us at a very considerable disadvantage.
Rather than enter upon so risky a partnership, it would be safer to allow Russia to occupy Herat and the region north of the Hindu Kush without any open opposition, and to wait before dealing our blow until her forces had come within our reach, and the Afghans had had time to operate on their lines of communication. The effect on the Indian public opinion of inaction in face of any fresh advance on the part of Russia must be bad; but to place our armies in a false and perilous position in Afghanistan, from a blind and reckless desire not to leave Russia alone in the nefarious project of breaking up Afghanistan, would be to invite a more serious peril and a graver shock to our reputation and position.
The superior advantages of the policy based on the maintenance of the integrity of Afghanistan are established by a consideration of its only possible alternatives. To say to Russia, frankly and plainly, that we will make any infraction by her of the Afghan frontier
a casus belli, is to raise a clear and honorable issue. Such a step would not only satisfy the Ameer and his people as to the integrity of our purpose towards them, but it would inspire the whole of India with a conviction that we were in earnest, and that we felt ourselves to be strong enough to cope with Russia. No doubt the objection will be raised that it would be offering provocation to Russia; but is there provocation in notifying to another party that you expect them to observe an agreement concluded between them and yourself? This is precisely what the British Government did in 1870 with regard to Belgium, and it is highly probable that it will have to take the same steps on its behalf again. Russia would have no more ground for taking offence now than Germany and France had or would have in the instance cited. She delimited the Afghan frontier in conjunction with us, and she has repeatedly declared that she regards Afghanistan as lying outside her sphere of influence. The only omission that has to be supplied is to acquaint Russia with our intention that she shall keep her word on this occasion, and not treat us as she did in the matters of Samarcand, Khiva and Merv. necessity to take this step is increased by the hold Russia is acquiring over Persia, which renders it all the more necessary that there should be no uncertainty about our rights in Afghanistan.
Having clearly informed the Russian Government as to the position we took up in regard to Afghanistan, our next step should be to put our house in order with the Ameer. Having made his country and his dynasty secure, we should have far stronger claims on his consideration and gratitude than we possess at present, when, as he well knows, we are hesitating as to the course we should pursue, and even dubious as to his loyalty, because on all
matters he does not see eye to eye with ourselves. Under those circumstances it would be reasonable to ask him to do things that he would not think of sanctioning under the existing vague and uncertain arrangement. The concession of an Afghan agent in London, and other favors to which Abdurrahman attaches importance, would obviously justify our asking something in return; but perhaps it might be well to defer the suggestion for a railway to Candahar until the Ameer began to see for himself that camels and pack-horses did not provide sufficient means of transport for the increasing trade of his country. Telegraphs are not open to the same objection, and a request for permanent or temporary agents at specified points along the frontier we had undertaken to defend could not be deemed unreasonable. At the same time, the defence of that frontier should be left primarily in the hands of the Afghans themselves, and our part on the spot should be regulated by the wishes and judgment of the Ameer himself. Our policy would have committed us to a war all over the world with our rival, and there would be many more advantageous scenes of combat for us than the passes and plateaux of Afghanistan. But, on the other hand, it should be clearly understood that such a war would be of Russia's own making. She has repeatedly admitted that she has no interests in Afghanistan, and it is quite true. Her only possible interest there is to work us an injury, and that we are within our rights in sparing no effort to prevent.
Having decided on the principle of the policy we shall pursue, our relations with Abdurrahman should be placed on a clear footing, and the anxiety he has sometimes occasioned the Government of India under the hitherto uncertain arrangement, affords no precedent for the attitude he would
take up as soon as he knew that we had confronted Russia on behalf of his country and his family. He is a man not to be duped by make-beliefs, and one who only respects strength and the manifest consciousness of strength. He knows as well as our officials the hollowness of our past intentions with regard to his country, and of how SO many of our reputed statesmen would veer round at a given moment and advocate sharing his territory with Russia. Is it surprising if, under such circumstances, he should have his doubts about our friendship, and incline to think that the only course of salvation lies in excluding Christians and all their works, such as railways, from his State? The way to win his loyal and lasting attachment is to prove to him that we have as tender a regard for the continued independence of Afghanistan and for the security of his house as he could desire; and when it is realized at Cabul that the British Government has finally abandoned all intention of taking part in any division or breaking up of Afghanistan, and has pinned its interest to the maintenance of its integrity and to the recognition of Abdurrahman's heirs, there is no foretelling how this candor and certitude may influence the Afghan Court and people in favor of a more liberal and enlightened policy.
My object is attained if I have succeeded in drawing attention to the position of affairs in Afghanistan, where, at any moment a crisis may be sprung upon us, unless the wisdom, prudence and promptness of our rulers succeed by well-timed and judicious action in averting it. The defence of India is intimately connected with the satisfactory solution of the question, and the The Fortnightly Review.
assured safety of India is both more necessary and more difficult in a time of internal trouble for her, such as is the present moment. There are some critics of our Indian rule who declare that the present Famine is the direct outcome of our system of Government, and of the drain an English civil service and army impose on the country. But these same critics ignore the fact that the cause of that drain is the Russian menace, which has compelled us to increase our military expenditure, and with it the remittances home to an enormous extent. The Russian menace should be warded off by "the strong right arm" of England supporting a clear and simple policy maintaining the complete integrity of Afghanistan under all the possibly varying conditions of its internal domestic history. For the success of that policy without an undue strain on our resources, the cooperation of the Afghans themselves and their present able ruler is desirable and even essential. Their resisting power is not to be despised, and, assisted by a few engineers and artillerists, they would give Russian troops a good deal of employment, while adequate forces were being collected to deal with them. The co-operation of this brave and war-like people would mean a certain and complete triumph in the event of war; but it would mean something else, and that is the refusal of Russia to embark upon a war in which the odds would be seriously against her. A policy based on the maintenance of Afghan integrity and independence would, consequently, be one calculated to promote peace and to postpone to some remote date any Russian invasion of India through Afghanistan.
Demetrius C. Boulger.