The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter IV

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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 IV: British relations with Afghanistan


IN the first days of 1839, Shuja-ul-Mulk joined the army of the Indus under Sir John (after wards Lord) Keane, and arriving at Kandahar, after a victorious march by the Bolan, was there crowned Shah, as rightful heir of the "Durrani Empire," on the 8th May, with great pomp and ceremony. In the following month, Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk marched from Kandahar towards Kabul with the British army, which on the way there took Ghazni for him after a short siege and brilliant assault. On the fall of Ghazni, Dost Muhammad fled beyond the Hindu Kush, and the British army advancing entered Kabul in August, and there set Shah Shuja on " the throne of his ancestors" a first grandfather. With this brilliant exploit was secured the first triumph of the British policy. It was short lived, however, and ended in disaster.

For a time all went smoothly, and British gold and justice were much appreciated by the people. But presently, owing to the indiscreet and unwarrantable interference of our "politicals," and their ignorance of the character of this independent people, so different in every particular from the meek and cringing native of Hindustan, a very marked change came over the aspect of affairs.

We had set up a king on " the throne of his ancestors " with every available pomp and parade, had declared him sovereign of the Durrani Empire, and then at once, through our politicals, denied him the exercise of his legitimate powers, and even thwarted his wishes in matters of the most trivial importance errors of judgment, which, though lightly considered by us,


were, nevertheless, unbearably galling to the sensitiveness and pride of an Eastern king.

After the enthronement of Shah Shuja, Dost Muhammad returned to Kabul from his asylum with the ruler of Khulm and tendered his submission to the British Envoy. He was sent off to India with some of his wives and two of his sons, and they became pensioners of the British Government.

With the deportation of Dost Muhammad the most dangerous and only serious factor of hostility was removed, and the Shah naturally looked for the surrender of his kingly functions by the British Envoy, and was impatient for the departure of the British army. His wishes, however, did not suit tho views of the British Government, although the expense of maintaining their troops, at so great a distance from their base, was become a question of serious perplexity. Added to this, the Shah was himself straitened for means to meet the charges on his own government. To obviate these difficulties, measures were set on foot to reduce the State pensions of the Sirdars or Barons pensions which had been originally granted for military service to be rendered whenever the Shah took the field.

These measures, adopted with the object of reducing the expenses of the British occupation, very soon produced a very discontented feeling among the Barons, and they openly expressed their disloyalty and threats of hostility. The ferment among the nobles and chiefs thus created by these measures of 1840 went on increasing all through the following year, but were in a most extraordinary manner neglected by our highest officials, though it was at the time well known that the priesthood were unusually energetic in stirring up the people against us. In this state of the public mind, the Government reduced the allowances of the Ghilzai chiefs in the country between Kabul and Jalalabad. They were the tinder, the Shah the match, and the British Envoy struck the two together. The spark was caught up and immediately


burst into flame, which spread as a great conflagration through all the Ghilzai tribes from Kandahar to Jalalabad. The Ghilzais were joined by the neighbouring hill-men and nomades, and the communications of the British army were cut off on all sides.

The march of Sale to Jalalabad from Kabul to open the road, and his gallant defence of that place, are matters of history and proud memorials. The subsequent course of events at Kabul, and the retreat of the British army, in January, 1842, on the plighted word of a sanguinary and notoriously faithless enemy, are also matters of history ; but we would fain pass them by in silence, and cover them with the veil of mourning. On the departure of the British army from Kabul, dissensions arose in the court of the Shah, and he was murdered.

Then followed Pollock's avenging army. It reached Kabul in September of the same year, and was there joined by Nott's force from Kandahar. Our captives were recovered, punishment was inflicted on the city, and the avenged army set out on its march to India in the following month. The brilliant exploits of Nott and Pollock served as a salve to heal the wounded pride of the British nation, and the nation willingly accepted the vengeance exacted as wiping out the disgrace of our disastrous retreat. It was not so viewed by the Afghans however, who, careless of life themselves and accustomed to scenes of death and destruction, only remembered that a British army came to their country, retreated, and was annihilated on the march out. It is the memory of this success of theirs that has confirmed them in their haughty pride of national prowess, and in their belief in their superionty to us as a military people; whilst, further, it has increased their hatred of us as infidels and aggressive foreigners.

On the return of the British army to India, Dost Muhammad was released and forthwith repaired to Kabul, where he was at once received with open arms as Amir, Kuhndil at


the same time returned to Kandahar from his asylum in, Persia. Whilst Herat remained in the hands of Yar Muhammad, who had murdered Kamran at the time the British army evacuated Kabul. And now all Afghanistan was in the hands of the Barakzai.

We need not follow the confused course of family jealousies and contests between Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat; nor need we stop to iuquire into the reasons that induced Dost Muhammad to march to Attock in aid of the Sikhs against the British in the Panjab campaign. It will suffice for our purpose to state that Dost Muhammad, for the first eight years after his return to Kabul, was Amir only of that province from Ghazni to Jalalabad. He did not conquer Balkh till 1851 the first step in his scheme of a consolidated Afghanistan. Three years later, he made overtures for an alliance with the British Government, and these being well responded to, in January, 1855, he sent his son and heir-apparent, Ghulam Hydar Khan, to Peshawar, and a treaty of friendship was concluded there through the Commissioner of the Panjab, Sir John Lawrence. In August of the same year, Kuhndil died at Kandahar, and the Amir, three months later, took the place and annexed it to his dominions. This second step gained, he was now anxious to secure Herat also, which was threatened by Persia, but before he had time to arrange matters, the Persians took possession of the place. On this Dost Muhammad appealed to the Butish Government fox aid to recover this important frontier of his kingdom, and following this up came to Peshawar, and there, in the beginning of 1857, concluded a treaty with Sir John Lawrence. Shortly after his departure, war was declared against Persia, and Lumsden's mission was sent to Kandahar, where it remained for fourteen, months at the court of the heir-apparent, Hydar Khan.

After the evacuation of Herat by the Persians, the place was made over to Sultan Khan, Barakzai, who was an enemy of the Amir, and notoriously a protege of the Shah. In 1858


he received and hospitally entertained the Russian exploring expedition under M. Khamkoff. The Amir, disappointed in his hopes of Herat, turned his attention in another direction, and, in 1859, annexed Kunduz, and secured the submission of Badakshan, a third step towards the consolidation of his kingdom. Herat only remained to complete it, and this place he took in 1863 after a siege of ten months. The Amir, by this last victory of his long, and active, and adventurous life, attained the desire of his heart, a consolidated Afghanistan.

For his success he was indebted entirely to the alliance and support of the British Government. But this fact did not in in any way draw closer the relations between the two States. On the contrary, the Amir never ceased his vigilance in closing his country against the European , and whilst pleading the hostility of his people against the race, lost no opportunity of abusing them himself, and openly encouraged his fanatic priesthood in vilifying them. His repeated, and almost dying, injunction to his heir-apparent, Sher Ali, was to keep on good terms with the British and hold fast by their alliance, but on no account, as he valued his throne, to let an Englishman set foot in the country.

Dost Muhammad was not destined to enjoy the fruits of his success at Herat. He died there on the 9th June, 1863, only a few days after the place fell into his hands. His son, Sher Ali, whom he had nominated heir-apparent, against the advice of his nobles and most loyal adherents, succeeded as Amir. He had, it is true, a consolidated kingdom ready to hand, but with it was to come the storm that had been predicted on all sides for years past. Perhaps it is well it was so, for Sher Ali had no taste for the tame life of home government, and could not have resisted the bent of his desire for foreign conquest had he not been more seriously engaged at home.

He was never a popular man. As a child he was wayward and quarrelsome. As a youth he was under the res-


traint of captivity in India, but his selfish and whimsy temper prevented his deriving and benefit from the cultivated society he was there brought into relations with. As a man in his capacity of Governor of Ghazni, he acquired an evil reputation; his rule was hard, and his punishments were spiteful and cruel ; whilst his temper was such that it was sometimes thought he was wrong in the head. He had fits of vice and piety alternately, with intervals in which his best friends dreaded to meet the whims of his temper. For weeks together he would be shut up in his Harem with drugs and wines, and then for weeks he would be employed with the priests performing prayers, reading the Kuran, and listening to theological dissertations. He hated the English, and did not conceal the fact even when outwardly on the most friendly terms with them , and when the British were in the midst of their troubles with the mutiny in India, he was the most violent advocate in the old Amir's darbar for an attack upon them at Peshawar. Such was Sher Ali at the time he succeeded his father as Amir, not of Kabul, but of Afghanistan.

End of Chapter IV
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