The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter I

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The Races of Afghanistan

Being a brief account of the principal nations inhabiting that country.

By: H. W. Bellew, C.S.I.

Publisher: Thacker Spink And Co. Calcutta.1880.
Chapter I: Introduction


Now that our armies are in possession of Kandahar and Kabul the earlier and later capitals, respectively, of the lapsed Durrani Empire, and, as regards the latter, the seat of government of the succeeding Durrani Rulers, that is to say, the capitals of the Saddozai Shahs and Barakzai Amirs the question arises, "what are we to do with the country heretofore governed from these seats of authority, and latterly in the possession of the Ruler seated at Kabul.

The question is one which must before very long be answered by the logic of accomplished facts, consequent on the stern demands of necessity more than of mere policy. For having, as we have now done, completely destroyed the authority and government of the tyrannous and treacherous Durrani Rulers, whose power it has been our policy to maintain and strengthen during the past quarter of a century, it is now incredible that we shall deliberately abandon the vantage ground gained, ignore the great danger we have now thereby staved off, and leave the country a prey to internal anarchy, and a prize to the first external adventurer. It is equally incomprehensible that we should again commit the folly of restoring the destroyed government of the Amirs


of rulers who have successively proved themselves faithless to their engagements, treacherous in their dealings, and hostile in their conduct towards the British Government. The other alternative is to administer the country ourselves, either directly, or through the medium of native agency under our own supervision. And in the belief that this is the responsibility which we must sooner or later take upon our- selves, I venture to offer to the notice of the public the following breef account of the principal nations inhabiting Afghanistan, by way of a small contribution towards properly understanding their several tribes and their divorse national interests and political tendencies

The political pleasures initiated at Simla before our avenging army crossed the border on its righteous errand, and which brought the Durrani Amir into the British camp and placed his capital in the hands of the British General and this without opposition, for the demonstration made at Charasrya on the 6th October by a hastily collected rabble is not to be seriously considered in the light of an effort to defend the city put us in possession, without serious resistance, of not only the person of the Amir, but of his vast Stores of military munitions guns by the bundled, rifles by the thousand, cartridges by the million, and powder by the ton. In fact, by our unopposed march to Kabul we knocked down what we had built up the power of the Amir over a consolidated kingdom; and we destroyed what we had helped to create vast stores of war material.

And all this not a moment too soon. For we now know for a certainty, what was only suspected before, that the one was nurtured in the deepest treachery to his publicly pledged alliance and friendship, and that the other was diligently increased from day to day for the opportunity to be expended against us. But it is not my object in these pages to dis- cuss this subject, nor yet the conduct of our operations in Afghanistan. These topics can be more conveniently and


advantageously dealt with, hereafter, when the history of the present and preceding campaigns in this country comes to be written as the final issue of a quarter of a century of political relations with the Durrani rulers of Afghanistan

It is more to our present purpose to consider who the people are with whom, under the comprehensive term Afghan, we are now brought into direct contact, and whom it will ere very long be our inevitable duty to govern as subjects of our Indian Empire. Of the necessity of this issue of our past and present dealings with this country there is no longer any advantage in blinking the conviction And the sooner we declare our will, the more promptly will the people accept the situation, and accommodate themselves to the new regime of British rule, justice, and protection.

In the composition of the Afghan nation there are many conditions favourable and advantageous to the peaceable and secure establishment of our rule, if we only set about the work with earnest and intelligent purpose. And the due appreciation of these conditions will be the crucial test of our success or failure.

As an aid towards arriving at a correct judgment on this all-important question, an enquiry into the origin and ethnic affinities of the various peoples composing the complex. Afghan nationality apart from the inherent interest of the subject itself may perhaps at the present juncture prove useful The enquiry will at the same time make clear to the reader the prime causes of the anarchy and instability which have characterized the history of the country ever since it emerged from a position of subordination to its neighbouiing empires on the side of Persia and India respectively, to one of absolute independence under native sovereigns causes which owe their origin to the diversity of race and the antagonism of tribal interests among a heterogeneous and barbarous people, who have been only brought together as a nationality by the accident of position and the bond of a common religion.


Before entering upon this enquiry, it is necessary to premise less as a hint to the captious critic than as an apology to the earnest student that the work has been written for the most part from memory at odd intervals of leisure from official duties during the course of the present campaign in Kabul, and, with the exception of some note-book memoranda which I happened to have at hand, without the means of reference to authorities for dates and details. The account is, therefore, necessarily of a brief and summary nature , but such as it is, however, I trust that it will be found to embody sufficient information much of which is entirely new, and, so far as I am aware, now for the first time published, being the result of personal enquiries and research during several years' service on the Afghan Frontier to enable the general reader to understand the mutual relations towards each other and towards ourselves of the several distinct peoples comprised in what is known to us as the Afghan nationality.

For the purposes of this enquiry it will suffice to consider as Afghanistan all that region which is bounded on the north by the Oxus, and on the south by Balochistan ; on the east by the middle course of the Indus and on the west by the desert of Persia. The inhabitants of the area thus defined are not a united nation of the same stock and lineage; nor do they possess the same political interests and tribal affinities. On the contrary, they consist of different races, and diverse nationalities, with rival interests and antagonistic ambitions as towards each other.

The only common bond of union among them is that of religion, and to this their devotion is of a fanatic kind, owing to the blindness of their ignorance and the general barbarism of their social condition. It is a devotion, too, which has been fostered and stimulated in no small degree though not always with uniform earnestness of response through the priesthood by the persistent and determined efforts of the dominant race, of the Durrani, who has owed the continuance


of his authority and power to our consistent support in return for a pledged friendship which has at last been discovered to the world as false and treacherous from beginning to end.

The cohesion, however, which the several distinct races derive from the influence of a common religion is not very strong nor very durable, owing to the classification, somewhat unequal though it be, of the people under the two great and hostile sects into which the church of Muhammad, known by the term Islam (whence Muslim, plural Muslimin, vulgo Musalman, the name for its professors), is divided. In other words, owing to their division into the orthodox Sunni and the heterodox Shia. So great and so in reconcilable are the jealousies and animosities of these two rival sects, that they destroy, to a considerable extent, the strength otherwise derivable from the profession of a common religion. And thus it is we find that the religious element alone fails completely to dominate the divergencies of race instincts and tribal interests.

To the operation of these causes combined is to be attributed the fact that the Afghan nationality remains a disunited agglomeration of deferent races, which are only loosely held together, so long as one or other of them, propped by external alliance and support, is maintained in a position of dominance as the ruling race For the last hundred and thirty years, more or less, this dominant position has been held by the Afghan, or, as he is generally styled in reference to his being of the ruling race, the Durrani , and it is from him that the complex nationality, as well as the country itself, have received their names Afghan and Afghanistan.

The principal nationalities which together compose the inhabitants of Afghanistan, are the Afghan, the Pathan, the Ghilzai, the Tajik, and the Hazarah. There are besides the lesser nationalities of the Char Aymc on the western frontiers about Herat, the Uzbak on the southern bank of the Oxus, and the Kafir on the southern slopes of Hindu Kush. These,


however, exercise little, if any, influence in the affairs of the country as a whole, and need not now engage our attention. Let us proceed to notice as briefly as possible each of the first set in turn.

End of Chapter I

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