HC Deb 07 February 1881 vol 258 cc254-6

asked the Secretary of State for India, Whether his attention has been called to the Memorandum upon the occupation of Kandahar by Lord Napier of Magdala, and especially to the following extracts:— For the security of British India, and the welfare of the district of Kandahar, the permanent annexation to India of the fortress and its surrounding territory appears to me the best course we could adopt…ֵThe Russians have an easy road to Herat, and a for tress there before them, in a fertile country, held by a people without unity and without leaders… Thence they will command the road to India, with a facility for aggression which may he measured by Ayoob Khan's rapid march to Kandahar…ֵ The abandonment of Kandahar will be misunderstood and attributed in the East to the prowess of the Afghans… The Railway should he advanced. A safe road to Kandahar will give it a clear start, and, instead of purchasing Russian articles at Peshawur, we shall deliver British manufactures to Central Asia; whether his attention has been called to the following remarks of the"Times"correspondent:— There can he no longer any doubt that the Government, in defiance of the almost unanimous consensus of opinion, both military and political, intend to withdraw all the British troops from Kandahar; whether, in view of the statements con- tained in the Memorandum of Lord Napier, and the similar opinion of other experts, Her Majesty's Government will defer, for twelve months at least, their abandonment of Kandahar; whether his attention has been called to the statement of a correspondent of the "Re-publique Francaise," now on the spot, that the Russian Railway from the Caspian towards Herat has been completed for a distance of 150 miles; whether the proclaimed abandonment of Kandahar is in consequence of any arrangement with the Russian Government; and, whether he can give any information as to the further advance of Generals Skobeleff and Kauffmann, and as to the statements in the Russian newspapers that the former General intends to consolidate his conquests, and to settle the Russian authority in the Country of the Turcomans?


The hon. Member's Question is somewhat long; but I will endeavour to answer it as shortly as I can. My attention has been called to Lord Napier of Mag-dala's Memorandum on the subject of Candahar, and not only to the extract to which the Question refers, but to the whole of that Memorandum. It appears to me to be a very able statement of the views of those who are advocates of the retention of Candahar; and I may, perhaps, call the attention of the House and the hon. Member to one very short extract from the Memorandum which he has not quoted. I might, perhaps, reply to the hon. Member's Question by asking him another—namely, whether he is prepared to advocate the policy of Lord Napier of Magdala as shown in the following words:—"At least one-half of the expense of the occupation of Candahar ought to fall on England?" That is an important paragraph, which the hon. Member has not quoted in his Question. My attention has also been called to the remarks of The Times Correspondent quoted by the hon. Member; and I have to say that I believe there is a very considerable, though by no means universal, agreement—which I think is quite as good a word as"consensus"— among military men in favour of the retention of Candahar. Among political officers, however, there is a much greater difference of opinion. The hon. Member asks me whether, in deferenco to Lord Napier of Magdala's opinion, and the general consensus of the military and political authorities, I will undertake to defer for 12 months the abandonment of Candahar? Well, it is impossible to decide at present the exact time at which the retirement will take place. That will depend on circumstances. I am not able to give the hon. Member any pledge such as he desires. I hope it will not be necessary to delay the retirement for so long a period as 12 months. I have no additional information to give with reference to the progress of the Russian Railway from the Caspian towards Herat than that which I gave the hon. Member a few days ago. The official information which we have on this subject is derived from the Foreign Office; and the latest authentic information we have traces matters down to last October, when it was stated, as I said before, that the Railway had been completed for a distance of 20 miles from Michaeloff Bay. I have reason to think that the assertion in The Republique Francaise, that the line has been completed for a distance of] 50 miles, is a gross exaggeration. There is no doubt, however, that sooner or later it is intended to complete the Railway for a distance of 185 miles from Michaeloff Bay to Bami. In reply to the last part of the Question of the hon. Member, I have to state that the communication that the Russian Cavalry have advanced 10 miles beyond Askabad has been confirmed. I am not aware that the whole of the Akkal Tekke country has submitted to the Russians; but it is not improbable, after what has happened at Geok Tepe, that they will practically occupy the country. I believe it has already been stated in this House by my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that the Russian Government have informed Lord Granville that they have no intention of prosecuting their conquests further in the direction of Merv.