HL Deb 11 March 1881 vol 259 cc787-94

rose to call the attention of the House (1.) To the following extract from the enclosure to be found on page 20 of the Blue Book [C.-27761 Afghanistan (1881), No. 1:— Monday, 15 March. In the afternoon the General received the principal Mullas and Kowanins of the city and surrounding villages in Durbar. They were twenty-nine in number, and had come in consequence of Sir Donald Stewart's late letter to the Sirdar, to inform him that they had all taken an oath on the Koran to the effect that they would at once deliver up to justice any individual whom they might hear of that was an ill-wisher to the British Government, and intending to do mischief to the troops here in garrison. After the General had heard their statement, he informed them that There was no chance of Kandahar again falling under the authority of a supreme ruler in Kabul. Kandahar would for the future stand by itself, and the moment the Sirdar should inform Sir Donald Stewart that he considered his power sufficiently consolidated to take charge of the city the General would be quite prepared to make it over to him; and (2.) To an extract of a Memorandum by Sir John Lawrence, dated Calcutta, 25th November 1868; and also to move for a Return of the number of men invalided from the effects of the Peshawar fever and cholera in the Peshawar Valley from 1862 to 1878. He begged with great deference to submit—first, strategical and political proofs that England's and India's most important interests and rights as well as those of our national good faith required the military occupation of Candahar. Secondly, the military occupation of Candahar maintained and secured the great political advantages obtained by the successful campaigns of 1879–80–81. Before going further, it would be apposite to state to their Lordships that he was instructed, when commanding in India, by the Supreme Government, to submit a Report to them of the best means of defending the Peshawar Valley and the Trans-Indus Frontier against an attack from the Khyber and North West Passes; and Sir Neville Chamberlain, in order to assist him in doing so, was requested to accompany him along the Frontier to give him the valuable information he possessed on the subject. He would fail in his duty to their Lordships and the country were he to withhold the information thus obtained respecting a State interest on which, he believed, depended our rights and interests in India, Central Asia, and the Eastern Question. It was also apposite to that subject to say that Party tactics and false delicacy had made that as well as the Eastern a vexed question, by keeping out of sight Russia, whom the records of history and of every Foreign Office in the civilized world proved to have been the principal actor for nearly two centuries in the great drama, the scene which began at first in a little port, Archangel, but now extended from the Mediterranean to the China Sea. In mentioning Russia in that short address, he only did so under the influence of that truth without which no difference, national or private, could be satisfactorily settled. No one more than he admired the patriotic and devoted feeling which the Russian people displayed in the years 1855–7 in the defence of their country; and no one could have seen without admiration the discipline and steadfast courage of the Russian Army in re-constructing their shattered works at Sebastopol under fire. But he did not sympathize with their Eastern diplomacy. He returned from that digression to the advantages gained in the late campaign in Afghanistan. They were, first, the disappearance of the danger which had always threatened the North-West Frontier of India, and, therefore, India herself. He had so fully explained that danger on former occasions to their Lordships that it would be waste of time now to enlarge upon it. He would briefly observe that the danger was the union of Sunni Mussulmans and fanatical Afghanistan, the most powerful military State—including Persia and Central Asia—from the east of the Caspian to the China Sea, with the Sunni Mussulman and warlike tribes of the Suleiman ranges, whose difficult and almost inaccessible country was a formidable strategical bulwark for Afghanistan against India, defensive and offensive, and dominating our Trans-Indus Border. Those tribes were so hostile that the Government of India were compelled to keep on a war footing a corps of Jezailchees (Militia) called the Punjaub Frontier Force, garrisoning a line of forts along the whole Frontier to protect the Trans-Indus and Punjaub from their devastations. The danger of that union was exemplified in 1857, when Dost Mahomed, under fanatical influences, was on the point of unfurling the green flag and summoning the Mussulman Border Tribes—numbering some 150,000 men—to march with his army on Delhi to rescue Islam, besieged and endangered there. It was only on the evening before Dost Mahomed marched that his son, Azim Khan, a friend of the English alliance, dissuaded him from his purpose. The belief was universal that if he had fallen like an avalanche on Delhi with the Border Tribes, numbering some 150,000 fighting men, it would have caused a rising of the Hindoo and Mussulman populations; and England must have retreated, at least for a time, on the sea, India being for a while at least lost. If such was the danger of the combination of Af- ghanistan with the Mussulman Tribes of the North-West, how much greater would not have been the crisis if Russia had sided in 1857 with Afghanistan as she did in 1878. But the danger of a combined attack on India by Russia with Afghan troops and the tribes vanished when the Afghan Army was routed. Shere Ali eloped with the Treasury, and Herat returned to its independence, while Candahar was occupied by British troops. Afghanistan, dismembered, lapsed into insignificance. Here he must do an act of justice to Her Majesty's late Government. Profiting by their knowledge of Russian policy in 1838 as regards Central Asia, and the evidence of the sacrifices which that Power had made in persuading the young Shah of Persia, in disregard of so many promises, to besiege Herat and to detach the then Ameer of Afghanistan secretly from his alliance with us, which was the cause of war between India and Afghanistan, and followed by the terrible English disasters in the Khyber Pass and the capture of Cabul—with all that before their eyes, he said that the Government of India could not have done otherwise than act on that warning of which the Russian Mission in 1878 was an unmistakable reminder. It was impossible to imagine that anybody with the slightest instincts of statesmanship or respect for facts could, after such warnings, wish to restore Afghanistan to its former united position. A glance at Lord, then Sir John, Lawrence's able Memorandum of the 25th of November, 1868, would convince that person of its impossibility. He now came to the second advantage gained by England. Shere Ali's defection had upset the balance of power guaranteed by England and Russia, who, according to Count Nesselrode, were the guardians of the destinies of Asia; but the occupation of Candahar restored that equipoise, and who would not prefer Candahar, a strong military and strategical position, and acknowledged as such by Napoleon and Russia, to the utter unreliability of an alliance with Afghanistan, of whose utter unreliability Lord Napier and Sir John Lawrence had in their able and unanswerable Minutes given such convincing proofs? But if Candahar were evacuated, how was the balance of power in Asia to be maintained? Nothing was made more clear by the Russian and Afghan Correspondence than that Shere Ali, who was more the victim of his fears than of his bad intentions, was induced by Russia to abandon his engagement with the British Government, and that the excuse of Russia—that she did so because she thought war was imminent with England—was only another of many proofs of the value which Russia had always placed upon substituting Russian for British influence in Afghanistan. He would now consider the third advantage gained in the late campaigns, which was the protection of another and greater balance of power, of which Constantinople was the pivot—with the Dardanelles and the Mediterranean to the West and the Bosphorus and the Black Sea to the East—from a diversion against England in India in resisting a move of Russia against Constantinople. Here was another strategical and political advantage to England gained by the fall of Shore Ali and his Kingdom; and nothing would so much prevent the realization of such a diversion in Afghanistan as the presence of an English force at Candahar, which gave us action on the Herat and Merv line if driven to war, a direction in which Russia was advancing with rapid strides by the construction of a Central Asian railway from Fort Michael towards Merv. The fourth and last advantage was the great political and strategical exchange of a dangerously unhealthy military station and outwork of our North-Western Frontier at Peshawur for a healthy and very strategical outpost at Candahar. Candahar was as healthy as the Valley of Peshawur was the reverse, with its dangerous fevers and constant ravages of cholera, which not only rendered regiments unfit for duty, but would cause their prostration if they took the field, although the force in the Peshawur Valley was supposed to be always ready for service, as it was frequently called upon to assist the Frontier Force in resisting the invasions of the tribes. Besides, Peshawur was a cramped and bad strategical position, dominated by mountains to the front and on both flanks, which masked the movements of an enemy, and enabled them to make feints and unexpected attacks in other quarters. Candahar was a fortress constructed on obsolete principles; but there was a very strong position on a commanding height on the River Arghandab, about a mile distant, which, if fortified and supported by detached redoubts on low hills round it, would, in the opinion of competent judges, become nearly impregnable. The position of Candahar was in itself very strategical—a cheval across the Afghan high road from Herat to Cabul, and having action on both. Besides, it was a fresh base of operations on the dangerous obstacles on the other sides of the Suleiman ranges, and placed them and their warlike and lawless inhabitants in the position of being between two fires. He hoped Her Majesty's Government would regard as binding the promise which was given that Candahar should never come under the authority of a supreme Ruler in Cabul. The best authority he ever had for the sanctity of engagements was the late Duke of Wellington, who said there was no interest like the interest of keeping your word.

Moved for— A Return of the number of men invalided from the effects of the Peshawur fever and cholera in the Peshawur Valley from 1862 to 1878."—(The Lord Strathnairn.)


thought their Lordships would agree with him in thinking it was a pity that the noble and gallant Lord, whose distinguished services entitled him to be heard on questions of this kind, had not delivered his speech a week ago, when it would have been listened to with the greatest attention and interest by a larger House than was now present. He hoped the noble and gallant Lord would not think him wanting in respect, which he most unfeignedly felt for him both in his private and public capacity, if he did not follow him throughout the speech with which he had prefaced his Motion. The noble and gallant Lord seemed rather to complain that the promise which was made by Sir Donald Stewart on behalf of Her Majesty's Government as to Candahar not coming under the authority of a supreme Ruler in Cabul was not kept; but he (Viscount Enfield) thought that upon a fair consideration of the facts of the case, the noble and gallant Lord would be of opinion, and he hoped their Lordships would agree, that no promise had been violated as far as Her Majesty's Government were concerned. He should be the last person to say that any promise made by an English Minister or General should not be observed; but it would be a dangerous doctrine to lay down that statements made by a General Officer, not fully conversant, perhaps, with all the political difficulties of the situation, should be binding upon all future Administrations. The promise made by Sir Donald Stewart had been faithfully kept. If the noble and gallant Lord had read the concluding words of the despatch, it would have been seen that before the Government redeemed their promise the people of Candahar must keep theirs. At the end of the despatch it was stated that the General, after the Durbar, dismissed the assembly, and told them that the policy inaugurated by him would certainly be continued as long as the people remained loyal to the Sirdars and the Government. Accordingly, the British Government had kept its promise at Cabul and other parts of the country; but what did the people of Candahar do? In the first place, as they knew, there had been a revolt; and, in the second place, after the Maiwand disaster, those very persons who had taken the oath of allegiance to the British Government behaved so badly that the General commanding had to turn them out of the city. This question had been ably and exhaustively dealt with in the debate of last week, and he did not feel justified in trespassing on their Lordships' time in going over the same ground. With regard to the retention of Candahar, Her Majesty's Government thought that, on this question, the military opinions were divided, the financial difficulties considerable, and the commercial advantages very doubtful, as was also the political morality, if he might say so without incurring the censure of the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury). Under these circumstances, Her Majesty's Government did not think it right or expedient to retain Candahar; but they were making such arrangements as to leave Candahar and the district under competent government. As to the Return moved for, its preparation by the Indian Government would entail much time and considerable expense; and, therefore, he hoped the noble and gallant Lord would not press for it.


thought attention should be called to the subject of the abandonment of Candahar at every step and every stage. Heedless of Russia, China, or any other Power, they should remain at Candahar, put down their foot, and state their determination to retain it, and not depart from the policy of Clive, Cornwallis, and Wellesley. The policy of making other people do our work in Afghanistan was a mistake, as was also that of making that country a buttress between ourselves and. Russia in Asia.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.