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judice ; Yakub Khan was not, indeed, immediately set free, but his
release was involved in the tone and tenour of the letterwhich, on the
19th of November, after the period of grace accorded to him had virtually
expired,^ he at last brought himself to write to Lord Lytton ; for its
key-note was resentment for wrong done to him and his country, not
contrition for the offences with which he himself was charged. In it
he offered no apology for the rebuff administered to Sir Neville Cham-
berlain and his companions ; on the contrary, he defended the refusal
to allow them to enter the Khyber, on the ground of the fear felt by
the officials of his Government that the coming of the British Mission
would affect injuriously the independence of Afghanistan, and her
friendship with Great Britain ; he declared that he cherished no feelings
of hostility and opposition towards the British Government, that he
sincerely desired to be on good terms with it, but its officials must
refrain from inflicting injury upon well disposed neighbours. Let
them do their part towards maintaining good relations between the
two Governments, and then, if they should desire to send a purely
friendly and temporary Mission to Kabul, with a small escort, not
exceeding twenty or thirty men, similar to that which attended the
Russian Mission, he would undertake not to oppose its progress.^

There was nothing of a conciliatory nature in this letter, yet it seems
to have undergone some softening modifications. " Make peace with
the English if they offer it," Kaufmann had written on the 4th of
November ; and on the 20th, Sliere Ali replied that the advice had

* Yakub Khan's mother was a Mohmand Princess, and Shore Ali had alienated
the Ghilzais by imprisoning his son in violation of a promise given to certain of
their chiefs.— H.B.H.

2 The Amir's letter could, in no case, have reached the nearest British author
ities in time to hinder the invasion of his dominions ; as it happened, however, it
was not delivered at Sir S. Browne's headquarters till the 30th of November, the
messenger to whom originally it had been entrusted, having returned with it to
Kabul on learning, at Basawal, that Ali Masjid was already in British hands.

^ See Appendix I.

li



146 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

reached him whilst he was engaged in answering a letter " from the
Officers of the British Government, containing very severe, harsh and
hostile expressions," and that though he knew " from the conduct and
manners " of that Government that it was vain to attempt to disarm
its enmity, he had " made overtures for peace according to the advice
given him by command of the Emperor ; that was to say," he had
" sent a friendly reply to their letter, containing civil and polite expres-
sions." If the " civil and polite expressions " contained in that reply,
were inserted in it in deference to Russian counsels, then, in its original
form, it must have been a declaration of war, since, after their inser-
tion, it remained an acceptance of the hostilities with which the ulti-
matum had threatened him.

Shere Ali may have flattered himself that his newly created army
would prove a match for British troops, but the fate of Ali Masjid must
quickly have undeceived him ; and, though the news of Roberts's
discomfiture, on the 28th of November, revived his hopes, the final
issue of the fighting on the Peiwar Kotal extinguished them for ever.^
For the moment, he met the crisis with energy and decision. He
ordered his people of all ranks to send away their wives and children
and to prepare to meet the invaders ; he reminded the Russian Govern-
ment of the dishonour it would incur should ruin overtake Afghan-
istan; and he requested Kaufmann to assist him by despatching all
his available troops to Afghan Turkestan. Yet, on the 10th of De-
cember, only two days after the letter to Kaufmann had been written,
Shere Ali held a durbar in which he announced his intention of travel-
ling to St. Petersburg, there to lay his case against the EngUsh before
a Congress to be summoned by the Czar.

* The spirited letters of thanks and encouragement addressed to the Afghan
officers and troops in the Kuram after the news of the repulse of Roberts's first
attack on the Peiwar Kotal, were written, not by Shere Ali, but by his wife, the
bereaved mother of Abdullah Jan. These letters were found in the Afghan camp
on tlie Peiwar Kotal, and are now in tlie possession of Major-General Barry-Drew,
C.B.



THE LAST DAYS OF SHERE ALI 147

Such a radical change of plans, taking place apparently in the short
space of two days, may seem vmaccountably sudden ; it is probable, how-
ever, that it had been long in the background of the Amir's thoughts.
The breach in his diplomatic relations with India had not shut him
out from all knowledge of what was passing in that country, and in the
world beyond. Both from British and Russian sources, he had heard
of the Berlin Congress, and, in Stolietoff and Rosgonoff he had at his
elbow men who would make the most of the part played at it by
Russia, and teach him to see in its decisions a proof of her moral
victory over Great Britain. Out of such lessons, there must have
dawned upon him the thought of appealing, under Russian protection,
to a similar assemblage of Powers ; and the confusion into which hia
kingdom seemed falling under the shock of a threefold invasion, the
loosening of the ties of discipline among his troops,^ the knowledge
that, if he delayed too long, the passes of the Hindu Kush would be
closed against him, the desire not to part from Rosgonoff, who had
received imperative orders to return at once to Tashkent,^ above all, the
repugnance with which he faced the prospect of remaining in Kabul
to share his authority with Yakub Khan— turned thought into resolve.

When once the Amir's journey had been sanctioned by his principal
chiefs and officials, the release of Yakub Khan could no longer be
delayed. He was sent for to the durbar which had just taken so
momentous a decision, and, having solemnly pledged himself to obey
all instructions that he might receive from his father, was formally
invested with the civil and mihtary powers pertaining to Afghan
sovereignty. The change which a single hour made in his position
was enormous, but it must not be imagined that he exchanged a
dungeon for a throne. His captivity had never been rigorous,^ except,

* Afghanistan, No. 7 (1879), p. 7.

2 The Amii- had refused to allow Rosgonoff to depart, and the latter may have
encouraged the former's plan of proceeding in person to St. Petersburg, with a
view to securing his own return to Russia.

^ Letter of Times special correspondent, January 3rd. 1879.



148 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

in the sense, that he was not allowed to go beyond his own garden, and
that opportunities of intriguing with his former adherents were denied
him. His prison was his owti house, and news from the outer world
must sometimes have penetrated within its walls. The din of war
can certainly not have been excluded from it ; and the captive prince
may have known enough of the troubles in which the kingdom was
involved, to guess that he himself might be called upon to assist in
facing them.

The meeting between father and son must have been painful and
embarrassing to both, and Shere Ah's departure may have been has-
tened by his desire to escape from the necessity of pubhcly honouring
his now acknowledged heir. All the preparations for the great journey
that lay before him, were completed in three days' time, and, on the
13th of December, he left Kabul, his last act of sovereignty being to
write a letter to the officers of the British Government informing them
of the step he was taking, and challenging them to establish their case
and explain their desires before a Congress to be held at St. Petersburg.^
He was accompanied by his family, by the Mustaufi and other great
Officers of State, and by Colonel Rosgonoff and the remaining members
of the Russian Mission, and he took with him his treasure, amounting,
according to rumour, to seventy lakhs of rupees.^ On the 22nd of
December, from some vmnamed halting-place, he wrote to General
Kaufmann announcing his approach and issued the following
Firman : —

" Let the high in rank, etc., Sirdar Muhammad Omer Khan, the
Governor of Herat, Tolmshir Sahib and Hasan Ali Khan, the Sipah
Sala-i-Aazim, be honoured by this Royal Firman and know —

" That, having previously announced the result of the fights of our
victorious troops to-day, also that by the Grace of God a series of
victories have been won by the lion-devouring warriors, we have

^ Afghanistan, No. 7 (1879), p. 9.
2 jvioro likely seven.



THE LAST DAYS OF SHERE ALI 149

deemed it necessary to announce the details of the same to you, so
that you may be made fully aware of the facts.

" The state of affairs and of hostilities on the Khyber frontier line
are as follows : — At the outset there were only five regiments stationed
at Ali Masjid as a permanent garrison when the British troops ad-
vanced to attack them. The said five regiments gave battle to fourteen
of the infidel white regiments, and for about eight hours the roaring
of the cannon and musketry, together with the clashing of the swords,
were incessant ; till, in accordance with the words of the holy verse,
' There is no victory except that which comes from God,' the goodness
and strength of the Almighty aided the lion-catching warriors, and
they totally defeated the English army, when a considerable number
being kiUed and wounded on both sides, a stop was put to further
fighting and each side retired to his own camp.

"Six days after, two other engagements took place at Peiwar, where
the victorious troops, again in their zeal to push back the infidel army,
brought on a day like that of the Day of Judgment, and rushing on like
a torrent compelled the infidels to fall back.

" Since then to the present moment the English troops have not
dared to show fight, nor to make any advance. In fact, on account
of the severity of the winter and especially by the action of Ooloosat
people and the Afridi tribes, who are anxious for the infliction of loss
on their (the English) lives and property, it is quite certain that they
will not make any forward advance.

"As perfect harmony exists in all the affairs of this mighty Govern-
ment, most of the Nobles and Chiefs of this country have made certain
representations to us in person with the view of putting a stop to this
mischief wliich may affect the peace of this Government. The opinion
of our ministers and military officers being also in conformity with our
royal views, we have decided that to put a stop to the present trouble
there is no alternative but to have recourse to friendly negotiations as
opposed to hostility and warfare ; for instance, although our enemy



150 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

should give up his hostile attitude and the idea of interference in
Afghanistan, yet having taken up arms against us he ought to be bound
down by diplomatic action.

"It now being winter and his advance difificult, and, as in the spring
this evil will be sure to break out afresh, there is no better opportunity
than the present, when the enemy has not the power of moving in
consequence of the severity of the winter, that our royal self should
proceed to the capital of Russia, and open an official correspondence
with the British Government. We have accordingly, in conformity
with the approval of our ministers and a number of our well-wishers,
decided on proceeding to St. Petersburg, the capital of the Russian
Emperor, and have appointed our elder and beloved son, Sardar
Muhammad Yakub Khan, to act in our absence, leaving the whole of
our Sardars . . . under his immediate orders. We also, under an
auspicious fortune, and putting our trust in Almighty God, left Kabul,
on the 13th December, accompanied by our illustrious brother {sic)
Sardar Sher Ali Khan, Shah Muhammad Khan, our Minister for For-
eign Affairs, Mirza Habibullah, the Mustaufi-ul-Momalek, Kazi Abdul
Kadar Khan, a few servants, and one ' Namadek Kadek Uptur,' the
Russian envoys who also took part in the council we held respecting
this journey, together with the High Princes, Sardar Muhammad
Ibrahim Khan and Sardar Muhammad Taki Khan.

" We received letters from the Governor-General, General Stolietoff,
at the station named Sir Cheshmeh ; Stolietoff, who was with the
Emperor at Livadia, having written to us as follows : —

" The Emperor considers you as a brother, and you also, who are on
the other side of the water,i must display the same sense of friendship
and brotherhood. The English Government is anxious to come to
terms with you through the intervention of the Sultan, and wishes you
to take his advice and counsel ; but the Emperor's desire is that you
should not admit the English into your country, and, like last year,

^ i.e. Oxus.



THE LAST DAYS OF SHERE ALI 151

you are to treat them with deceit and deception until the present cold
season passes away, then the Almighty's will will be made manifest to
you, that is to say, the (Russian) Government having repeated the
Bismillah, the Bismillah will come to your assistance. In short, you
are to rest assured that affairs will end well. If God permits, we will
convene a Government meeting at St. Petersburg, that is to say, a
congress which means an assembly of powers. We will then open an
official discussion with the English Government, and either by force
of words and diplomatic action we will entirely cut off all English
communication and interference with Afghanistan for ever, or else
events wall end in a mighty and important war. By the help of God,
by spring not a symptom or vestige of trouble and dissatisfaction will
remain in Afghanistan.

" It therefore behoves our well-wishing servants to conduct the affairs
entrusted to them in a praiseworthy and resolute manner better than
before, and having placed their hopes in God, rest confident that the
welfare and affairs of this glorious Government will continue on a firm
footing as before, and the mischief and disaffection which seem to
have arisen in the country will disappear.

" Let it be known to the high in rank, Tolmshir Bahadur and HafizuUa
Khan, Secretary to the Sipah Salar-i-Aazim, that, thanks to God, the
trouble we have been taking for a series of years in instructing and
improving the officers of our victorious regiments has not been lost,
and in fighting the English troops they have displayed the same bravery
as the force of the civilized nations. Not one of the victorious troops
went to Heaven until he had himself slain three of the enemy. In
short, they fought in such a way, and made such a stand, that both
high and low praised them. We are fully confident that our victorious
troops wherever they may fight will defeat the enemy.

" The Herat Army is also noted for its bravery and discipline, a result
of your devoted services. You will convey otir royal satisfaction to
all the troops and inhabitants of Herat, high and low, and tell them



152 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

that our hope is that God and His Prophet may be as satisfied with
them as we are." ^

The interest of this Proclamation lies not so much in its distortion
of tlie facts of the war — for the device of keeping up the spirits of an
army, or a nation, by concealing defeat or exaggerating successes, is not
confined to Eastern potentates — but in the use made in it of Stolietofif's
letter of the 8th of October to Wazir Shah Muhammad Khan, the
vague promises in which it translated into the proposal of a Congress,
and an invitation to the Amir to visit St. Petersburg.^ It may be
that the Amir read into the letter what he desired to find there ; it
may be that he deliberately falsified its tenour ; in either case the para-
phrase of it given in the Firman, shows how keenly he felt the need of
strengthening the defence of his conduct in abandoning his country,
by adducing evidence to prove that he had reason to believe that he
could best serve his people by leaving them.

The 1st of January, witnessed Shere All's arrival at Mazar-i-Sharef,
the chief town of his province of Turkestan. Only three hundred and
eighty-one miles of the five thousand seven hundred which separate
Kabul from St, Petersburg, lay behind him, and already his strength
was failing fast. A pause for rest and medical treatment had become
imperative, and during the first weeks of that pause he received, in
rapid succession, three letters from Kaufmann, which destroyed the

1 Afghanistan, No. 7, pp. 8, 9.

2 See vol. i. pp. 252, 253. The second half of Stolietoff's letter, which is
the part epitomized in the Firman, runs thus : — " Now, my kind friend, I inform
j'ou that the enemy of your famous religion wants to make peace with you througli
the Kaiser (Sultan) of Turkey. Therefore you should look to yovu" brothers who
live on the other side the river. If God stirs them up and gives the sword of fight
into their hands, then go on in the name of God {Bismullah) ; otherwise you
should be as a serpent ; make peace openly and in secret prepare for war ; and
when God reveals His order to you, declare yourself. It will be well when the
envoy of your enemy wants to enter the country, if you send an able emissary,
possessing the tongue of a serpent and full of deceit, to the enemy's country, so
that he may, with sweet words, perplex the enemy's mind and induce him to
give up the intention of fighting with you."



THE LAST DAYS OF SHERE ALI 153

hopes that had so far supported him.i The first of the three, dated
the 2nd of January, 1879, written after Kaufmann had heard that the
Amir had come out of Kabul, but whilst he was still in the dark as to
the motive which had prompted that step, did, indeed, contain the
good news that the British Ministers had promised the Russian Am-
bassador in London not to injure the independence of Afghanistan ;
but it also conveyed the information that the Emperor had decided
against the possibility of assisting him with troops. The second,
dated the 7th of January, urgently entreated him not to leave
his kingdom, but to preserve its independence by coming to terms
with the English, either in person or through Yakub Khan, and
ended with the warning that his arrival in Russian territory would
make things worse. The third, written on the 11th of January, curtly
informed him that the writer had been directed by the Emperor to
invite him to Tashkent, but that he had received no instructions with
regard to his journey to St. Petersburg.

Shere Ali must have felt that the advice to preserve the independence
of his kingdom by making terms with the English, was a mere mockery
of his troubles. If he had not been convinced that the British Govern-
ment's terms, whatever form they might assume, would be such as he
could not accept, he would not have allowed himself to be goaded into
war, and the promise given to the Russian Ambassador failed to
reassure him. Independence was an elastic term that might mean
much or little, and he could not trust the Russian Government to look
too closely into the interpretation that the British Government might
see fit to give to it. Kaufmann's second letter made it too clear that
the Amir would be an unwelcome guest, for the permission to visit
Tashkent, contained in the third, to afford him any gratification. Yet
his disappointment found no expression in the one letter — his last —
which served as an answer to the three communications.^ In his

^ Central Asia. No. 1 (1881 ), pp. 24, 25.
2 Ibid. p. 25.



154 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

correspondence with Foreign Governments he had always maintained
a dignified reserve, more or less tinged with irony, and he preserved
that attitude to the last. There was irony in his brief acknowledg-
ment of " the royal favours of the Emperor," and of Kaufmann's
" sweet expressions," and in his assurance of his own " desire for a
joyous interview with the latter" ; and no one can deny dignity to the
brief reference to his own illness, " sent by the decree of God," to
the request to Kaufmann to consider as true whatever the Ministers
whom he was despatching to wait upon him, might state regarding the
affairs of his kingdom, or to his praise of the " noble qualities and good
manners " of General Rosgonoff and his companions. Sick, helpless,
and deserted, he was yet a prince whose word was to be accepted, and
whose praise honoured him on whom it was bestowed.

Shere Ali might write that his intention to continue his journey was
unchanged, but he knew that his travels, hardly begun, had already
ended. There was nothing to be gained by going on, and it was idle to
think of going back. A sovereign who, in the crisis of his country's
fate, had misjudged his duty, could never again sit on the throne of
Afghanistan. The news that continued to reach him from Kabul, must
have added to his self-reproach. Everywhere the English advance
bad been checked by natural difficulties. One part of Stewart's army,
which had begun to push forward towards Herat, had come to a stand-
still on the Helmand ; another portion had occupied Khelat-i-Ghilzai,
only to fall back upon Kandahar. Browne's forces were still station-
ary at Jellalabad, unable to move for lack of carriage. Roberts's
troops, compelled to withdraw from Khost and weather-bound on the
Peiwar Kotal, were daily being thinned by disease ; there was no sign
of that rapid advance on Kabul, of that general occupation of Afghan-
istan, the expectation of which had seemed to justify him in placing
the Hindu Kush between himself and his enemies. Wliat might not
have been achieved against them if he had remained at Kabul, and,
sinking his differences with his son, who had even less love of British



THE LAST DAYS OF SHERE ALI 155

domination than himself, had worked with him for tlieir common
cause ?

It is easy to believe that thoughts such as these must have crowded
upon the Amir's failing mind and reconciled him to death ; and there is
nothing improbable in the story told by one of his companions at Mazir-i-
Sliarif to an officer of the British Survey Department/ of how he made
no effort to recover, but refused food, medicine and consolation, and
died lamenting his folly in having left his friends to seek aid from his
enemies. He passed away on the 21st of February, 1879, in his fifty-
sixth year, after a life of exceptional activity, marked by varied vicissi-
tudes of fortune. In his childhood, he had witnessed the first British
invasion of Afghanistan, and had shared his father's Indian exile. In
his early manhood, he had contributed to the successes which crowned
Dost Mahomed's steady determination to reconstitute and consoHdate
his former kingdom, and on the death of his brother, Gholam Hyder
Khan, he was rewarded for his ability and valour by being appointed
heir to the throne ; a costly reward, which involved him in years of
sanguinary struggle with his two elder half-brothers, who had been
passed over in his favour. Driven from his capital and, again and
again, defeated in his attempts to return thither, he showed himself
resourceful in raising fresh armies, and brave and skilful in leading
them ; and though, in his nephew, Abdur Rahman, he encountered a
man as bold and capable as himself, that prince, handicapped by the
tyranny of his uncle Afzul and the vices of his father, Azim Khan,
had to fly the field when popular feeling in Kabul veered round to the
side of the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan.

The subsequent events of Shere Ali's life, so far as they
brought him into contact with the British and Russian Govern-
ments, have been told in the foregoing pages. Of his internal
government comparatively little is known, but that it did not
entirely disappoint the hopes with which he had inspired Lord

1 Mr. G. B. Scott.



156 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

Mayo, is proved by the testimony borne to its fruits by Lord
Northbrook, in 1876. He may not always have shown himself per-
fectly just and merciful ; but, at least, he consohdated his kingdom,
commanded the loyalty and devotion of the officers who helped in its
administration, and taught the most lawless of his subjects to appre-
ciate the advantages of a firm rule.i If his firmness effected fewer
improvements in the condition of his people than Abdur Rahman
afterwards carried through, it must be remembered that he had a much
shorter reign, and, that by entering into an alhance with a civilized
State, he deprived himself of the liberty to clear the ground for reforms
by cutting off the heads of all who might be suspected of wishing to



Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 32)