H. B. (Henry Bathurst) Hanna.

The second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) online

. (page 14 of 32)
Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


oppose them.

A man of strong affections and violent passions, Shere All's private
life was darkened by sorrows, many of which he brought upon himself.
When the battle of Kajbaz seemed to be going against him, he over-
whelmed his idolized son, Prince Mahomed Ali, with such bitter re-
proaches that the high-spirited youth rushed madly into the thickest
of the fight, and singling out his uncle, Mahomed Amir, engaged him in
single combat, and perished by his sword ; the victor in this unnatural
combat being at once slain by the victim's enraged followers. The
double tragedy so affected its unhappy author's mind that for many
months he was practically insane, fits of deepest gloom alternating
with outbursts of frenzied grief. His son, Yakub Khan, who had been
his right hand during the last years of his struggle for the throne,
turned against him as soon as he had regained it ; and when he stooped
to treachery to punish the traitor, he became his own worst enemy,
since, by shocking Lord Northbrook's moral sense, he drew upon him-
self remonstrances, coupled with threats, that shook his confidence in
the British Government, and led him to adopt towards it an aloofness
of attitude in which a later Viceroy was to find the best defence of the

' Alghayvislan,'ii<i. 1 (1878), pp. 147-149.



THE LAST DAYS OF SHERE ALI 157

policy that brought about the war. He had nothing to reproach
himself with in the death of the darling of his later days, Abdullah
Jan, but his sorrow for the boy's death was intensified by the know-
ledge that its untoward political consequences were of his owti creating.
The place in history to be finally awarded to Shere Ali will be deter-
mined, however, not by the achievements or failures of his internal
administration, not by the loves or hatreds of his private life, but
solely by his foreign policy, and more especially by his refusal
to yield one jot of his own dignity and his country's independence
to the demands of the British ultimatum. That refusal may stamp
him as a madman, or a fool, in the eyes of those who look merely
to the sequel of events as they affected him and his dynasty; but
viewed in the broader light of subsequent history as it affected
Afghanistan, his unbending attitude bears testimony to his foresight
and patriotism. The choice offered him, as he understood it, was not
between war and peace, but between war then, and war at some not
distant date. He knew that if he apologized for the conduct of his
officers, who had done their duty in upholding his authority and
dignity, he would forfeit their respect ; he felt sure that if he consented
to receive a British Envoy in his capital, he would soon be called upon
to permit British officers to reside in his frontier towns, and that when
their presence had inflamed to the highest jDoint his subjects' hatred
of foreigners, and that passion had found its natural expression in the
murder of the intruders, he would either have to bear the responsibility
for their deed, or to become the instrument of British revenge ; and
whether he elected to side with, or against, his people, the result would
stiU be the same — for them, war ; for himself, the certain loss of reputa-
tion, the probable loss of life. And underlying these considera-
tions, was his profound conviction that the new policy of the British
Government aimed at destroying the independence and integrity of
his kingdom, and that he himself was the object of that Government's
special ill-will, or, at least, of the ill-will of the man through whom



158 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

alone lie was able to approach it ; and thus his personal interests and
the interests of his people alike led him to the conclusion that it was
better to have war before suffering humiliation, than after. That he
did the intentions and aims of the British Government, so far as they
were represented by Lord Lytton, no injustice, must be admitted by
all who have read the letter in which the Viceroy, writing to the Secre-
tary of State for India, in January, 1879, declared that the three main
points for which the war had been undertaken were (a) the punishment
of Shere Ali ; (b) the permanent improvement of India's present
frontier ; (c) the establishment of paramount (British) political influ-
ence over all the Afghan territories and tribes between our present
frontier and the Oxus.^ Shere All's mistake lay, not in mistrusting
one of his neighbours, but in placing too much trust in the other. He
had undoubtedly a strong moral claim on the Russian Emperor ; but,
as an experienced statesman, he ought to have known that no prince
will ever allow his regrets and sympathies to override the interests of
his country. He should have remembered, too, that armed inter-
vention on his behalf would have meant, in the end, the same danger
from the North- West which was then threatening him from the South-
East, and that the only assistance Russia could safely give, and Afghan-
istan safely receive — money and arms — was more likely to be accorded
to him, secretly, in his own land than, openly, on Russian soil. Had
he been as clear-sighted in judging one side of the situation as he was
in judging the other; had he remained with his people; had he held
on to his capital to the last possible moment ; and had he then retired to
Ghazni, or beyond the Hindu Kush — the national resistance would
have centred round him, and he, not Abdur Rahman, would have
reaped the fruits of the difficulties which, a year later, were to gather
so thickly round the British forces, that how to retire from Afghanistan,
not how to stay there, became the problem for which the British
Government had to seek a solution.

1 Lord Lyllon''8 Indian Adininislralion, p. 312.



CHAPTER XVI

January, 1879

The new year brought with it no improvement in the situation by
which the Government of India had been confronted in the old. The
winter rains had failed in the Punjab, the North- West Provinces and
Oudh ; the death-rate throughout the three Presidencies was abnor-
mally high, the poverty of the people widespread and acute. Money,
judiciously expended, might have done much to lessen misery and
restore health ; wise remissions of land revenue would have saved
thousands of peasants from the clutches of the village usurer ; but
no money could be spared for commonplace, every-day objects of
utility whilst the war continued to shake credit, depreciate securities
and swallow up the cash balances in the Civil Treasuries ; and instead
of a generous lightening of the burdens of the people, old taxes were
relentlessly collected, and every rupee produced by fresh taxation,
nominally imposed to form a fund for the protection of the country
against famine, was quickly diverted to military purposes.^

1 " India seems to have fallen on evil daj^s. It has often been observed
that in the wake of an iniquitous and fooUsh war follow a train of internal calami-
ties which, though not always to be traced to a blundering foreign policy,
are still none the less disastrous and aggravate the calamities which
have been wantonly invited. The tlireatened dearth in the North-West Pro-
vinces, now officially recognized, the deficiency of crops now feared in the Pun-
jab, are circumstances sufficient to cause uneasiness, and deserve anxious
attention on the part of our rulers. . . . But are the local authorities really
aware of the agricultural and other difficulties at our doors ? Have they
received any official intimation of the calamities that threaten the eastern and
south-eastern parts of our own Presidency ? The Kharif (autumn) crop in these
parts is said not to have yielded more than a two annas proportion, (one-eighth),
and even this miserably small yield has been damaged by tub, little beast-like

159



i6o THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

But the injury inflicted upon the civil population by the war,
was, for the moment, less embarrassing to the Government than the
military perplexities to which it was daily giving birth. Though
the peasant and the trader should suffer from lack of beasts of
draught and burden, yet agriculture and trade would be carried on
after a fashion ; but a dearth of transport animals might, at any
moment, bring a moving army to a standstill, or threaten the exist-
ence of a stationary force ; and whilst, from each of the lines of com-
munication came the cry for more mules, more camels, the difficulty
of responding to it steadily increased. Already, on the 1st of the year,
when the campaign had lasted barely six weeks and before snow
had fallen, Colonel J. V. Hunt, Sir S. Browne's Principal Commissariat
Officer, had complained that his camels were going to ruin in the
Khyber, and that, unless he could get them back to the plains for a
fortnight's grazing, he should want a fresh lot for work in the spring,
and that the carcases of the thousands that would have died, must
inevitably breed a pestilence. Similar complaints came from the
Kuram, and the state of things on the Kandahar route was even
more disheartening. Supplies of every description were rotting
at Bukkur, on the left bank of the Indus, for want of a bridge,^ and
at Sukkur, on the right bank, for lack of camels. At Dadar, at
Jacobabad, at Quetta, there was the same dearth of transport facili-
ties, and desert and pass were strewn with dead camels and aban-



insects. ... As to rahi (spring crops) tliree-fourths of the fields lie covered
with rank weeds and grass. ... In the beginning the rahi crop promised well,
especially whore ryots (peasants) could afford to prepare the land. But since
the middle of December, rats, in millions, have poured into the fields and
destroyed the crops. . . . The people have been suffering during the last two
years ; their resources are exhausted ; migration has recommenced as the only
means of escape from starvation and death — for death overtakes many victims
of privation." (Bombay Review, February 1st, 1879.)

* The railway had been completed between Kuraclii and Multan, but the
Indus was not bridged till after the war.



JANUARY, 1879 161

doned stores. The advantages to be reaped from General Andrew
Clarke's scheme of a railway, connecting the Indus with the Bolan,
had, by this time, become too apparent for Lord Lytton to continue
to oppose it, and Colonel G. Medley, Consulting Railway Engineer
to the Government of India, was hurriedly despatched to examine
the ground and prepare plans and estimates. But the hot weather
had begun before he could complete his survey and present his
report, and the work had to be postponed until the following cold
season. Meantime, the Governor of Bombay, Sir Richard Temple,
was struggling, in person, with the supply chaos at Sukkur,i and
Colonel Hogg, Deputy Quarter-Master General of the Bombay Army,
with the reorganization of the Transport Service. The Commissioner
of Sind, having provided the military authorities with six thousand
camels over and above the thirteen thousand orginally demanded
from him, had desisted from efforts which were ruining his district ;«
now, under the double pressure brought to bear upon him, he suc-
ceeded in getting together an additional six hundred, and sent up
two hundred and fifty carts to clear out some of the stores that had
accumulated at Jacobabad. But no zeal on the part of the military
officers, no assistance rendered by civil officials could keep the supply
of transport equal to the demand, and, given a sufficient duration of



1 "Sir Richard Temple has had to send all the way to Bombay for carts ;
he has had camel-drivers engaged in northern Gujerat at extravagant pay, and
his emissaries are now scouring Rajpiitana in search of more camels." (Bombay
Review, January 25th, 1879.)

2 " One hears the Commissioner loudly al)used on all sides for having so sun-
denly stopped collecting transport animals, but one must boar in mind that
he looks at the case from a purely civil point of view, and naturally does not wish
to denude the whole of his district of its beasts of burden, representing, as they
do in many instances, the sole means of subsistence of the inhabitants. The
military estimate, framed in solemn conclave at Sukkur, was under 13,000 camels,
and when the Commissioner had handed over 19,000, ho fancied he had done
his duty, and allowed a very liberal margin for all sorts of casualties." {Corre
spondence Times of India.)

M



i62 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

hostilities, the coming of a day when the invading forces must lose
their mobility could clearly be foreseen.

The prospect as regarded the continued efficiency of the troops
was little brighter. Despite, or perhaps in consequence of, the
mildness of the season, there was much sickness in all the columns,
more especially among the men employed on the lines of communica-
tion whose lot was cast in the most unhealthy districts. On all three
lines of advance, there were regiments so sickly as to be unfit for active
service ; and though the courage and resolution of officers and men
enabled some of these to hold out to the end of the campaign, there
were others, no less brave and zealous, who had to submit to the
humiHation of being ordered back to India. In Maude's Division,
this was the fate of Her Majesty's 81st Regiment ; in Browne's, of
the 14th Sikhs ; in Stewart's, of the 12th Khelat-i-Ghilzai ; i and
the carriage of all supply convoys, on their return march, had
to be utilized for the conveyance of invalids, pronounced medically
unequal to further duty in the field. Recruiting for the Native Army
had already begun to fall off; the drafts sent from India to make
good gaps caused by disease in both British and Native corps, were
not in proportion to the casualties incurred ; and though many of the
Independent Princes were eager to take part in the war, considera-
tions of distance and expense had made it impossible for the Indian
Government to accept more than the services of a Contingent fur-
nished by six Punjab Chiefs ^ — the Rajahs of Patialla, Nabha, Jhind,
Kappathala, Nahun and Farid Kot. The four thousand four hundred
and sixty-six troops composing this Force, after undergoing a course of
instruction in the use of the Enfield rifle, were sent to guard the com-
munications of the Kuram Force and to strengthen the garrison of
Bunnu, a British frontier station whose safety had been endangered
by tribal discontent, due to the war.

* This regiment had greatly distinguished itself in the First Afghan War.
^ The Maharajahs of Hyderabad and Baroda were among the Native
Rulers whose offers of troops were declined.



JANUARY, 1879



163



Table showing the Constitution of the Punjab Chiefs'
Contingent as reviewed by Lord Lytton at Lahore in
December, 1878.



13 Guns

8G8 Cavalry

2,685 Infantry

1,913 Followers



10 Elephants
1,145 Horses
825 Camels
240 Mules and Bullocks



Principal Officers.

Bimshee Gunda Singh )

Syud Jurdan Ali ^Patiala Contingent

Lalla Bhugman Doss J

Sirdar Juggat Singh ->-,,., ^

Q- ^ 15 f^ o- jJhind Contingent

Sirdar Ruttan Smg / *

Dewan Beshun Sing ^

Bunshee Budroodun Khan J^Nabha Contingent

LaUa Nuthoo Lall j

Dewan Ram Jas >

Sirdar Nubbi Bux > Kapathala Contingent

Colonel Mahomed Ali ^

Sirdar Golun Singli "V

Sirdar Albail Singh } Farid Kot Contingent

Sirdar Buh Singh

Colonel Whiting Nahun Contingent

British Officers attached to Contingent.

Brigadier-General J. Watson, V.C., C.B., Commandant and Chief Political

Officer.
Major W. C. Anderson, 3rd Punjab Cavalry, Assistant Adjutant-General.
Captain V. Rivaz, 4tli Punjab Infantry Deputy Assistant Quarter-Master

General.
Captain J. Pearson, R.A., Brigade-Major.
Captain F. C. Massey, Political Officer.
Captain J. D. Tumbull, 15th Bengal Cavah-y, A.D.C.
Surgeon-Major J. R. Drew, in Medical Charge.
Captain F. Burton, 1st Bengal Cavalry, and Captain A. K. Abbott, 42nd

Bengal Infantry.



Native Aides-de-Camp to the General.



Sirdar Mahomed Enzat Ali Khan.
Sirdar Gholab Singh.



1 64 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

That discontent extended the whole length of India's North-
West frontier. In Buner and Swat mullahs were preaching a jehad
against the enemies of their religion, and only the influence of some
of the chiefs kept the people's excitement within bounds. Mohmands
and Afridis were vying with each other in obstructing the movements
of Maude's and Browne's forces. The Orakzais, long friendly, were
preparing to raid upon Roberts's communications, and the Zymukhts,
a tribe that had given no trouble since 1856, were busy attacking that
General's convoys and driving off his camels from their grazing-
grounds. Last, but not least, four thousand Malisud Waziris, con-
sisting largely of Powindars — men of the carrier class — many of whose
camels had been seized for Government purposes, had entered British
territory on New Year's day, burnt Tank, and taken up a strong position
between that town and the Zam Pass ; and, though General G. J.
Godby employed five thousand Infantry and two hundred Cavalry
against them, it was not tiU the 20th of January, and after several
skirmislies, in which the British loss was two men killed, and
Captain T. Shepperd and nine men wounded, that the invaders
were finally driven back into their hills.

A further source of increasing regimental weakness was the growth
in the normal disproportion between the Native troops and their
European officers. Not a single Native corps had taken the field with
its full complement of British Officers, and many of these had already
been removed by death, wounds, or sickness, or had been absorbed by
one or other of the Army Staffs . At the attack on the Peiwar Kotal, the
29th Punjab Infantry had gone into action with only five European
Officers, the Gurkhas, with but four ; and according to a report furnished
to Government by General Maude, four came to be the number both
in the 10th Bengal Lancers and the 24th Punjab Infantry — a state of
things aggravated by the fact that each of these regiments was broken
up into small, widely separated detachments, so that many of the
men were entirely removed from what ought always to be the ruling



JANUARY, 1879 165

influence of the sepoy's professional life.^ Maude's report was not
written till almost the end of the first phase of the war, but he and
the other Commanders had all along striven to impress the Indian
Government with the evils resulting from the paucity of European
Officers ; and though Lord Lytton could not be brought to face the
expense of a permanent addition to their number, he did, in January,
throw open the Indian Staff Corps to Officers of British regiments
other than those serving in India. Little advantage, however, was
taken of the concession, and the failure of what was, at best, but a
temporary expedient, can hardly be regretted, for, if successful, it
would have furnished the Native regiments in the field with leaders
ignorant of the country in which they had been called upon to serve,
and of the language, character and habits of the men whom they
were expected to command.

Under the sobering influence of growing difficulties and waning
resources, the thoughts of the Home and the Indian Governments
had begun to turn towards peace, only to discover that it was easier
to begin a war than to end one. " We cannot " — wrote Lord Lytton to
Lord Cranbrook — " we cannot close the Afghan war satisfactorily, or
finally, without an Afghan Treaty ; we cannot get an Afghan Treaty
without an Afghan Government willing to sign and fairly able to
maintain it. It is only, therefore, in the early establishment of
such a Government that we can find a satisfactory solution of our
present difficulties. Its early establishment mainly depends on our
policy; and we must, I think, be prepared to do whatever may be
necessary on our part to promote and maintain the existence of such
a Government at Kabul." ^

* " Under the foregoing circumstances, I am at a loss to imderstand how
either of these two fine regiments can be considered to have been in a state of
efficiency for active service in the field as regards the nimiber of British Officers,
on whom devolves the all-important duty of commanding and leading their
men in the day of battle." [Report of Sir F. Maude, May, 1879.)

^ Lord LyttorC 8 Indian Administration, p. 312.



i66 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

By the expression, " whatever may be necessary on our part,"
Lord Lytton evidently meant promises of support, and gifts of money
and arms. To the gifts the Beaconsfield Mnistry were not Hkely
to take exception ; however large, they would be cheap compared
to the expense of an indefinite prolongation of the war ; but where
was the Amir on whom to bestow them ? No sooner had the news
of Shere Ali's virtual abdication reached India than Cavagnari had
been instructed to make cautious advances to Yakub Khan, but
Yakub Khan had shown no inclination to allow himself to be
approached. His coldness might be due to the pledge exacted from
him by his father, and might disappear if circumstances should release
him from his oath ; but he was known to be incensed at the invasion
of his country, and Lord Lytton doubted his abihty to maintain
himself in power, and thought it probable that he would soon follow
his father into exile. Actuated by these misgivings, the Viceroy
looked about for some member of the Barakzai House whom he
could have under his hand, ready, at an opportune moment, to be
put forward as a successor to Shere Ali; though, meantime, he left
the door for negotiations with Yakul Khan open, and, to avoid com-
plicating an already tangled situation, ordered Cavagnari to abstain
from intriguing either with parties in the Afghan capital or with
any of the Afghan tribes. The Viceroy's choice of a possible British
nominee fell upon Shere Ali's half-brother, Wali Mahomed Khan,
who had let it be known that, if he could escape from Kabul and
reach the protection of a British Force, he would be found willing
to play the part filled by Shah Sujah in the first Afghan war.

There had been a difference of opinion between the Viceroy and
the Home Government as to the lines on which Afghanistan should
ultimately be re-settled ; the former desiring to split her up into
several weak states, the latter preferring to retain her as a strong
and united kingdom. The views of the higher authority had prevailed
on paper ; but wlieii Lord Lytton, in recommending his protege,



JANUARY, 1879 167

honestly warned Lord Cranbrook that Wali Mahomed, though prob-
ably strong enough to establish himself in Kabul, was hardly the
man to extend his rule to Kandahar and Herat, Ministers, having
no one else to propose, gave a provisional consent to the Viceroy's
request to be allowed to make use of the uncle against the nephew,
should circumstances -seem to render such a course advisable.^

It must have added to Lord Lytton's vexations, if not to his
anxieties, to know that whilst he was casting about to find some
safe ground from which to take the initial step in the direction of
peace, the Government Press, both at home and in India, was treat-
ing the war as a thing concluded and done with, and counting up
the gains, financial and political, which must accrue to India from
a rectified frontier.^ It was hard for a man oppressed by the know-
ledge of India's growing expenditure, and harassed by the diffi-
culty of temporarily keeping open the Khyber, to be told that, as
a consequence of the permanent occupation of that and other passes,
he would be able to reduce the Indian Army and cut down Indian

^ It is curious that Lord Lytton, whose pohcy of weakening Afghanistan
was based on the conviction that, if strong, she would gravitate towards an
" alliance with the ambitious, energetic and not over-scrupulous Government of
such a miUtary empire as Russia," rather than towards an alliance " with a
Power so essentially pacific, so sensitively scrupulous as our own," (Lord Lytton's
Indian Administration, p. 311) should have failed to perceive that the dis-
integration he aimed at was incompatible with one of the three main objecta of
the war ; yet it is an absolute certainty that a break-up of Afghanistan would
have resulted then, would result now, in the annexation of Herat and Afghan
Turkestan by Russia, after which annexation thei'e could be no more dreams
of extending British influence to the Oxus. Even Lord Lytton could see that,
when Russia was once in actual possession, it was vain to think of ousting her
influence by ours. (Vide the allusion to Merv on page 254 of Lord Lytton's
Indian Administration.

^ See Times and other Journals for January and February, 1879.



Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 32)