HL Deb 17 February 1873 vol 214 cc537-8

My Lords, I have a Question to put to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for India as to an alleged error in drawing the boundary line of Afghanistan, or, at least, of the territories under the dominion of the Ameer of Cabul. I do not pretend myself to know anything of the geography of Central Asia, nor do I believe there is any very accurate information on the subject to be obtained in this country. But as we have lately seen the great inconvenience of making treaties without proper geographical knowledge, I am anxious to know, Whether with regard to the Central Asian question there has been any error in drawing the boundary of Afghanistan or the territories under the dominion of the Ameer of Cabul? I also have to ask whether the Government can give the House any sketch or outline map which may enable us to judge of the boundary line which has been agreed upon according to the Papers on the Table?


I am obliged to my noble Friend for putting his Question, because undoubtedly there has been an impression—I will not say in the public mind, but in the mind of some writers in the Press—that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in indicating the boundaries of the two provinces of Badakshan and Wakhan, has made a geographical error. Now, I am bound to say that if the Foreign Office had made any error in the matter they would have been led into it by the India Office; because, of course, the Foreign Office applied to us for information. But I am happy to assure my noble Friend that, as far as I can understand, no error has been committed. A very careful memorandum on the frontier of those provinces was drawn at the India Office from maps and most authentic information furnished by Sir Henry Rawlinson, who, besides being a most distinguished member of our Council, is also President of the Royal Geographical Society. That memorandum was sent out to India, and there it was discussed and considered by Lord Mayo. It was sent home in a Despatch, drawn up, I am sorry to say, too late to receive his signature; but it was signed by Lord Napier after the noble Earl's death. That Despatch entirely approves the line drawn by Sir Henry Rawlinson, which follows the Oxus up to a point where it branches into two comparatively small streams—one coming down to the Hindoo Koosh, and the other to a small lake. The original intention was to adopt the southern branch, running down to the Hindoo Koosh; but there are a very considerable number of villages on both sides of the stream; and by Sir Henry Rawlinson's advice the right hand branch in the direction of the lake, beyond which there are no villages and no inhabited country, was taken. That boundary was fully assented to by the Government of India; and I have every reason to believe it is perfectly correct. With regard to the sketch map, I may point out that there has just been published a new edition of the well-known book of Captain Wood—A Journey to the Sources of the River Oxus. He was the only European who ever saw the country, and a new edition of that work, edited by Colonel Yule, contains a map in which the boundaries of Badakshan and Wakhan are defined almost exactly as they have been by the Foreign Office.