Lawrence John Lumley Dundas Zetland.

An Eastern miscellany online

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man declared that experts had been at work for
many years considering the question of the extent

^ For the text of the Agreement, see Appendix I.


of the Interests of the two countries in Persia.
It would be interesting to know who were the
experts who were responsible for drawing up the
preamble and Article I. of the particular portion
of the Agreement which refers to Persia. We
are told that in certain provinces of Persia ad-
joining or in the neighbourhood of the Russian
frontier on the one hand, and the frontiers of
Afghanistan and Baluchistan on the other, the
two countries have certain spheres of influence,
where they are desirous of avoiding all cause of
conflict, and have agreed to terms under which
the line which limits the Russian sphere of influ-
ence is drawn from Ksar-i-Shirin and passing
through Ispahan, Yezd, and Kahk, ends at a point
on the Persian frontier at the intersection of the
Russian and Afghan frontiers. It would be very-
interesting to know who are the experts who are
prepared to state that Ksar-i-Shirin and Yezd
are adjoining or in the neighbourhood of the
Russian frontier. It appears that if we are not to
suppose — and I cannot suppose — that the words
of the preamble, "adjoining or in the neighbour-
hood of Russian territory," have been inserted
there for the purpose of misleading public opinion,
the only alternative is that the collective intelli-
gence of his Majesty's Government is altogether
devoid of a knowledge of the geographical features
of a country w^hich, with an almost reckless levity,
they have set themselves to partition. But I pass


from the anomalies of the first -paragraph to the
actual concessions granted by one Power to the
other. We find on the west, that the trade route
from the Turkish frontier running from Ksar-i-
Shirin through Kermanshah and Hamadan to
Teheran, which has been largely built up by the
enterprise of British merchants, and which carries
British trade to the extent of about £750,000 a-
year, is handed over gratuitously to Bussia, our
chief commercial rival in that part of Asia. I
have travelled over every mile of that route, and
having been obliged, according to the custom of
the country, to progress slowly on foot and with
baggage mules, I have had opportunities of study-
ing which nation possesses commercial and polit-
ical predominance in that part of the country.
From the commercial point of view it is un-
doubtedly a great sacrifice which has been made
by this country, and if we look at the concession
made from the political point of view, it is equally
serious. His Majesty's Government seem to be
rather proud of having "scotched" the ambition
of one Power by bringing another Power into the
field of operations. It was quite clear from the
words of the right hon, gentleman that he
attached great importance to putting this terri-
tory into the hands of Bussia on account of the
position which another Power, Germany, had
attained in the neighbourhood by the concession
for the building of the Baghdad railway ; but if


the Government think, by this somewhat Machia-
vellian policy of "scotching" the ambition of
Germany by introducing Russia, they are going
to benefit Great Britain, they are grievously

Sir Edward Grey, who was indistinctly heard,
was understood to declare that he had never
stated that it was the object of this Agreement to
interfere with the Baghdad railway or to prejudice
German interests. His whole point was that if
the Baghdad railway was to be made and
Mesopotamia developed, it must affect that part
of Persia, and the Russian means of communica-
tion and trade could not be shut out.

The Earl of Ronaldshay. — I certainly appear
to have misconstrued the words of the right hon.
gentleman, but the Under-Secretary for Foreign
Affairs, speaking in another place, said that if the
Government had interfered so as to prevent the
route falling into Russian hands, then he thought
they would in all probability have gone out
of their way to bring another Power into the
field against us. I can only put the construction
upon those words which I, apparently erroneously,
put upon the words of the Secretary of State.^

^ The speech here referred to was delivered by Lord Fitzmaurice,
then L'nder-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the House of
Lords on February 6th, 1908. The passage in question runs as


But that is only one concession which we have
made at the dictation of Russia. We have also
admitted that we are no longer prepared to up-
hold our position of ascendancy in the provinces
of Southern Persia, which only a few years ago
a representative of the late Government declared,
in terms which could not be mistaken, we could
not abandon for any cause whatever. We have
also placed the southern capital of Persia, Ispahan,
under Russia. It is entirely British in its sym-
pathies, and the trade of Great Britain is at least
ten times that of Russia, and yet we have placed
it in the hands of the northern Power. But it is
even more astonishing to find that the Govern-
ment have admitted the right of Russia to claim
the town of Yezd as being within her sphere of in-
fluence. I need hardly remind hon. members that
Yezd is the centre of a very important community,
the fire -worshippers of Persia, who have great
sympathy with the great community of Parsees,
who form so important a portion of the population
of one part of our own Indian dominions. What
have we obtained in return for the sacrifices made

follows : " Whatever our individual views on this question may be
we all know that there is another Power, not Russia, which is
taking great interest in the railway communications in the direction
of Baghdad. Undoubtedly, whoever may get a railway concession
and execute it to Baghdad, will desire to carry it up to the Persian
frontier ; and if we had interfered so as to prevent the railway
beyond falling into Russian hands, then, I think, in all probability
we would have gratuitously gone out of our way to bring another
Power into the field against us."


in the south and west ? We have as our sphere
of influence a triangle of territory of about half
the size of the Russian sphere, and in which, before
this Agreement was concluded, the interest of
Kussia was practically negligible in quantity.
The position of Russia in regard to Sistan in
South-Eastern Persia is made a great point of by
the Government in defence of their Agreement.
I may perhaps be able to throw some light upon
that question, because I have had the advantage
of residing at Sistan myself, at a time when Russia
first sought to create particular interests for her-
self in that particular part of Persia, She inaug-
urated the movement by the despatch of a consul
to Sistan. That gentleman lived in splendid iso-
lation in a mud hut, in the capital of Sistan, and
his regular duties must have been exceedingly
light, for he had no Russian trade to foster or
encourage and no Russian subjects whose interests
he was called upon to protect. Hard upon the
heels of this official representing the Russian
Government came an individual who I suppose
must be described as an unofficial representative,
in the shape of a vagrant naturalist, who was
supposed to be searching for birds, butterflies,
and other animalculse in Persia, but whose real
work, I know beyond dispute, was the distribution
of rifles to the Baluchi chiefs on the borders of
Baluchistan. The position of Russia was this —
they were able to annoy Great Britain by stirring


up discontent among the tribes and by raising the
plague bogey, which they did at the time of my
visit, and so to harass Indian trade with Persia
across the frontier. I find nothing in the Agree-
ment in any degree calculated to put an end to
these irregular proceedings if Russia should feel
called upon at any time to resume them. I find
no arrangement to prevent the arrival of consuls
and vagrant naturalists in future. The great
claim the Government make for their Agreement
in this part of Persia is that they have secured
immunity from a menace in the shape of the con-
struction of a railway which, if they had studied
the physical features of the country a little more
accurately, they would, I think, have realised was,
in point of fact, no menace whatever. Having
toiled, as I have done, wearily over the gaunt
succession of forbidding mountain - ranges which
run parallel with one another and transversely
across the whole of this part of Persia,^ knowing
as I do the profound dislike which Russian en-
gineers entertain for anything in the semblance
of a mountain - ridge, I can fully appreciate the
supreme satisfaction which the diplomatists of
Russia must have experienced when they realised
that they had actually succeeded in persuading the
authorities of this country that they harboured
the intention of choosing this, the line of greatest
resistance, to construct a railway across Persia.

1 See Chapter VII.


It is open, of course, to any one to tell me that
though I may know these places as a traveller,
I have not that expert engineering knowledge
which is necessary to give an opinion of value
on this question. I am prepared, therefore, to
quote the words of one whose knowledge of the
physical geography of the borderlands of the
Indian Empire will be undisputed — Sir Thomas
Holdich — whose name is so honourably associated
with the demarcation of so many frontiers on
the Indian borderlands. Speaking of this partic-
ular line of country, he declared that a line from
the north throug-h Khurasan to Bunder Abbas

" possesses all the disadvantages from an engineering point
of view that any line directed across a rough, mountainous
country, taking each range in succession at right angles, can
possess. The cost would be enormous. The 750 miles of
direct measurement from Bunder Abbas, via Kerman, Tur-
bat-i-Haideri, and Mashhad, to the Trans-Caspian line would
probably expand to 1000, and that 1000 would cost five
or six times the amount expended over any 1000 miles of
Russian railway elsewhere in Asia. About three-quarters
of it would not only be a mountain line, it would be a
mountain line working at the greatest possible disadvan-
tage, with but little base for gaining gradient on the hill-
sides, and little room to turn round in the intermediate

It was the menace of this practically impossible
railway which his Majesty's Government have
succeeded in securing us against. I would like
to contrast the attitude of the Russian Govern-


ment when dealing with a true and natural line
of railway development in Persia — namely, the
line along the mountain valleys and along the
plateaux from Teheran via Kermanshah to Bagh-
dad. They took up an attitude of non j^ossumus
and said that unless we were prepared to grant
them that line, in which they have no interest
whatsoever, as far at any rate as the southern
part of the line is concerned, either political or
commercial, we should have no agreement at all.
It is impossible, of course, to refuse to make
some mention of the question of the Persian
Gulf. We have been given various reasons by
his Majesty's Government for the non -inclusion
of the status of Russia and ourselves in the
Persian Gulf within the actual limits of the Con-
vention itself. We have been told that other
Powers besides Persia are concerned in the Per-
sian Gulf, but I understand that this Convention
is merely an Agreement between ourselves and
Russia, defining our respective interests in that
part of Asia. I do not understand that the
Government considered it necessary, when par-
titioning Persia, to consult the Persian Govern-
ment as to whether our spheres of interest should
be included in the Agreement, and I cannot see
why, therefore, it should be necessary to consult
Persia or Turkey in defining our respective inter-
ests in the waters of the Persian Gulf. To sum
up the effect of the Agreement with regard to


Persia, we have given up the Kermanshah trade
route to which I have referred ; we have aban-
doned our position in the southern provinces of
Persia, which position a short time ago we
declared in the most emphatic terms we were
not prepared to give up ; and we have retained
in consequence only the naval control in the
Persian Gulf, if indeed we have retained that
for the future ; and naval control, as so able a
strategist as Captain Mahan has said, is an im-
perfect instrument unless reinforced and supported
by the shores upon which it acts. We have given
up a large number of the chief cities in Persia, in
which the interests of this country are infinitely
greater than any interest that Russia ever had
or ever claimed to have in them, and in return
for all this we have received as our sphere a
triangle of desert and sparsely populated country
half the size of the Russian sphere, and, except
possibly for strategic reasons, of very little value.
It can only be claimed that we have gained
anything by the inclusion of the triangle in our
sphere of influence on the ground that we have
secured immunity from attack upon that side of
the Indian Empire, and I fail to see how we have
secured any immunity which we did not possess
before. Sistan, if war is ever to come, is as much
at the mercy of Russia to-day as before the treaty
was concluded, and that the position of Sistan
would ever have become a greater menace to us


than it is at present is sufficiently doubtful in
view of the physical features of the country.

Afghanistan. — A great point made by the
Government is that for the first time in a definite
treaty we have the assurance of Russia that
Afghanistan is outside her sphere of influence.
We must take it from that, that the Government
do not attach very great value to the explicit
assurances of Russia unless they are contained in
the form of a definite treaty. If that is so, w^hy
is it that they are content to accept merely an
explicit assurance with regard to the Persian Gulf,
whereas they have made such concessions in order
to get within the limits of a treaty the assurances
which Russia have repeatedly made, eleven or
twelve times since she first made them in 1872,
that Afghanistan is outside the sphere of her in-
fluence ? There is another point which is an ex-
tremely important one with regard to Afghanistan.
I understand that we are practically pledged to
take no steps to make preparations to defend
Afghanistan in the possible event of any future
attack upon that country. At the same time, as
has been pointed out, Russia is to be permitted
to continue to make any conceivable preparation
which she may consider advisable, not only for
defence but for offence, along the whole length
of the frontier of Afghanistan. The Government
do not seem to realise that when war comes paper
Agreements inevitably go to the wall, and that


the whole object of a treaty of this kind should
consequently be either to prohibit the Power with
whom you are negotiating from making prepara-
tions for war on the frontier in time of peace, or,
if that is impossible, at any rate to secure for
yourselves the right of preparing defences. It
does not seem to have been sufficiently recognised
that we are pledged by the most solemn engage-
ments to defend Afghanistan from any attack
from without. There are, of course, many minor
points open to criticism in the Convention. It
seems to me to be a rather one-sided agreement
when we give Russia freedom of trade in Afghani-
stan, but apparently ask for no similar advantages
in Turkestan, Bokhara, and Trans-Caspia, which
are the possessions of Kussia lying along the
Afghan frontier. There also appears to be a great
deal of doubt with regard to agents, as in one part
of the Agreement we are told that Russia pledges
herself not to send them into Afghanistan, and in
another part that if commercial expansion should
justify it in the future, the question of sending
agents there will be duly considered. The
Government failed to realise that in the Russian
service there is no difference between commercial
and political agents. If Russia is to be permitted
in the future to send commercial agents into
Afghanistan, that country will inevitably cease
to remain outside the sphere of her influence.
Tibet. — In Tibet we, with a long coterminous


land frontier, with trade relations extending back
over a long period of years between India and
that country, with treaties and agreements, with
the expedition which has cost no small sum of
money and no few lives carried out to enforce
respect for those treaties, have placed ourselves
upon a mere equality with Russia, the nearest
point of whose frontier is not within hundreds of
miles of the northern part of the country. There
is only one word which can adequately describe
the diplomacy which boasts of such an achieve-
ment — the word " grotesque." I cannot conceive
on what ground the Government have admitted
that Russia should possess a position of equality
with us in that country. If her claim to equal-
ity is admitted on the grounds that a large
number of her subjects look to Lhasa as the
central point of adoration of their religion, a very
large question is opened and a very dangerous
precedent set. Are we to understand that in
the future, supposing some question in another
part of Asia arises, Russia, because she has a large
number of Mohammedan subjects, is to be able to
claim equality of interest with us in the great
centres of the Mohammedan religion ? Are we to
understand that this is to be a precedent for
Russia claiming equality of interest in Mecca
or other centres in which Great Britain has in-
terests of paramount importance ? This question


presents many very serious difficulties for the
future. The Chumbi Valley has been singled
out as a specific case in which there is to be
definite equality of interest between this country
and Eussia. I do not need to remind the House
that prior to 1890 a violation of the Indian
Frontier Treaty by the Tibetans necessitated the
Convention of 1890, and that the Convention of
that year was followed by the Trade Eegulations
made in 1893. One of the provisions of that
Agreement granted free trade between the two
countries for a term at any rate of five years.
The Tibetan officials did not attach the same
meaning to free trade which I presume is attached
to the word by the members of the Government,
because it was found that one of these officials in
contravention of the Agreement was levying a
ten per cent ad valorem duty on all British and
Indian goods which passed through his district.
The result of this and of the violation of our
frontier by the Tibetans was the despatch of a
mission to Lhassa under Colonel Younghusband,
the outcome of which we all know. The point I
wish to make is, that when next our Agreements
with Tibet are travestied or our frontier violated
by the Tibetans, we are apparently to consult
with Russia before we take any steps to secure
the carrying out of our legal rights. That appears
to me to be a position of intolerable humiliation.



In the case of the Chumbi Valley, for instance,
if the evacuation is not carried out for any par-
ticular reason, is it to be the subject of discussion
between the two Governments ? I should like to
know, if a similar case arises in the future, are
we still to be bound to ask the Russian Govern-
ment's advice in dealing with these questions
affecting the frontier ? If that is so, all that the
critic can ask is, What in Heaven's name has
Russia got to do with the Chumbi Valley or the
Indian frontier? I wish to mention one more
absurdity before I resume my seat. We have
bound ourselves by a solemn pledge to the Govern-
ment of a third Power never to send a represen-
tative to Lhassa. It appears to me to be an
unreasonable thing to bind this country to any
third Power never to send a representative to
the capital of a country which is coterminous
with our own for many hundreds of miles. Such
an agreement can only have been made on the
assumption that China always has been, is now,
and always will be, able to control the action of
the Tibetans. The whole teaching of history tells
us that that is not the case, and that the future will
falsify the teaching of the past I do not believe,
judging from certain happenings on the frontier
of China and Tibet which came to my knowledge
when travelling through those countries not long
ago. If it is found at some future time that


China is unable to answer for the Tibetans over
whom she holds a shadowy suzerainty, what is
to be our position now that this country has
bound itself not to deal with the Government of
Tibet ? I would like to say a word upon two
aspects of the Agreement looked at as a whole.
I think his Majesty's Government has not been
very successful, either in this House or in another
place, in defending the particular articles of their
Convention dealing with the particular countries
in regard to which the Agreement has been drawn
up. We have been repeatedly asked not to look
too microscopically at the details of the Agreement,
but to consider the value of the Agreement as a
whole. If the Agreement is able to bring about
that amelioration between the relations of Kussia
and this country which his Majesty's Government
appear to think it will, I shall be inclined to say
that even these rash concessions which they have
made will not prove in the long-run to have been
too great. But there are two other aspects to
be considered, when we look at the results regarded
as a whole, which have not been touched upon
and have received very little attention. What
is going to be the result of this Agreement upon
British enterprise throughout the Eastern world ?
I think it will be admitted that the British Empire
in the past has been built up very largely, if not
almost exclusively, by individual action and in-


dividual enterprise. Our position in Persia has
been built up very largely by the enterprise of
Anglo-Indian and British merchants, and when
they see the result of much patient labour and
toil, upon which many valuable lives have been
spent, dashed to the ground with a single stroke
of the quill of an uncomprehending Government,
the result will be that of a douche of cold water
thrown upon British enterprise, not only in those
particular districts, but in other corners of Asia
and the world in general. What is going to be
the result of this treaty upon the prestige of
Great Britain in Eastern countries, and more
especially in India itself? Only those who have
lived amongst Eastern people can realise what
prestige means to them. It is impossible for
anybody who has not been in Eastern countries
to realise what the effect will be of what is doubt-
less looked upon as a retreat by Great Britain
before Bussia upon those people who dwell upon
the borders of the North -West frontier of India.
Hon. members who have had personal experience
in India, and others who have heard of the extra-
ordinary rapidity with which news of this kind
travels in Eastern countries, independently of the
material assistance of telegraphs, the post, or
railways, know how stories of this kind ring
round the bazaars of an Eastern city ; anybody
who knows the North -West frontier of India


knows that the one absorbing topic of conversa-
tion in its bazaars for many years has been the
respective power of Russia and Great Britain in
that part of Asia. I have laid stress upon that
point because it seems to me that at the present
time the peoples of the East are beginning to
treat with rather less respect than in the past
the prestige of the white man ; and knowing that
we must continue in the future, as we have done
in the past, to govern India almost exclusively
by prestige, I have no hesitation in saying that
the result of what will be looked upon as a retreat
before the power of Russia will have a very un-
desirable effect upon the unruly tribes we are
called upon to govern on those frontiers. In
criticising this treaty I have regarded it as a

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Online LibraryLawrence John Lumley Dundas ZetlandAn Eastern miscellany → online text (page 10 of 24)