The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter V

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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 V: Sher Ali


SHER ALI, having performed the funeral rites of his father at Herat, left the place in charge of his son Yacub, and set out for Kabul. On the march commenced the entangled chain of intrigues, plots, and disaffections which were soon to throw the country into civil war. Sher All reached Kabul in September, and passed the winter there undisturbed. In spring began the looked-for hostilities. His elder brothers, Afzal, Governor of Balkh, and Azim of Kurram, were the first to oppose him. He at once sent a force against the latter, who was defeated, and fled into British territory where he found asylum at Rawal Pindi. Against the former the Amir marched in person. He inveigled Afzal into his camp on fair promises, and then made him prisoner. After securing Balkh and settling the affair of the country, Sher Ali returned to Kabul. He was now opposed by Amin Khan, his own brother, at Kandahar. He took the field against him, and on 6th June, 1865, fought the battle of Kajbaz near Kelat-i-Ghilzai, in which, though he won the victory, he lost both his brother and his son and heir elect, Muhammad Ali nephew and uncle having fallen together ill single combat, Sher Ali went on to Kandahar, and immediately gave himself up to grief for the double bereavement; and it was a grief peculiar to the man's temperament and characteristic thereof. He shut himself up for several months, during which time he continued in a despondent, morose, and irritable state of mind, and was at one time supposed to have lost his reason,


Whilst Sher All was thus inactive at Kandahar, Abdurrahman, son of the imprisoned Afzal, seized Balkh, and pushing forward took Kabul in February, 1866. The news of this loss suddenly roused Sher All from his lethargy, and he set out for Kabul without delay, with Afzal prisoner in his camp Abdurrahman advanced to meet him, and the two armies came into action near Shekhabad, on the Ghazni road, on the 10th May, when Sher Ali was defeated and put to flight. Afzal was now released, and being joined by his brother. Azim, proceeded with his son to Kabul, where he was well received, and at once proclaimed Amir.

Sher Ali, after some stay at Kandahar, proceeded to Herat in the beginning of February, 1867, and thence he joined Fyz Muhammad, who had come over to his side, in Turkestan. It was at this time that Sher Ali sent his son Yacub, Governor of Herat, to meet the Shah of Persia at Mashhad. Whatever the nature of the interview, Sher All and Fyz Muhammad presently advanced towards Kabul. Abdurrahman went out to Hindu Kush to oppose them, and in the fight that ensued Fyz Muhammad was killed and Sher Ali put to flight. He stayed for some time in Balkh and then returned to Herat, where he arrived in January, 1868. Meanwhile, the ruling Amir, Afzal, died at Kabul in October preceding, and was succeeded as Amir by Aznn

The rule of both these temporary Amirs had proved very unpopular, owing partly to their licentious habits and oppressive rule, and partly to the strong measures they adopted to procure the means for carrying on the war. The moment seemed opportune for Sher Ali to essay another attempt to recover his capital. In April, 1868, he sent forward Yacub to take Kandahar, which was held by Sarwar, the son of Azim. This lie did without much opposition, and was joined there by his father in the following June. Some time was spent here in preparations and buying over Azim's troops, and then in September, Sher Ah, Yacub leading the way, recovered


Kabul, avoiding Azim, who had come out to oppose him at Ghazni, by a detour through Zurmat. On this Azim's troops went over bodily to Sher Ali , and he himself fled to Turkistan. Here he managed to raise a fresh force and made an attempt to re-take Kabul, in January of the following year. He was signally defeated and forced to flee with only a few attendants to Persia, where he died some months later.

SHER ALI, having now re-established himself as Amir on the throne of Kabul, at once threw himself on the protection of the British Government, and came to India to meet the Viceroy, Lord Mayo, at Ambala. The reception accorded him was most honorable and splendid, and Sher Ali went back to Kabul highly flattered and pleased with everything except the real business he had come upon. Apart from this disappointment, the Amir had very good reason to be amply satisfied and deeply grateful if indeed there be such a quality as gratitude in the Afghan nature. He had received a reception which was not only flattering to himself, but was an honor conferred on his nation; he was acknowledged before all the world as the Amir of Kabul and the friend of the British Government. The consequence was that the consolidated Afghanistan which he inherited from his father and which he had lost during five years of civil war, came back to his hands in its integrity ; and there was not a man in the country bold enough to raise a finger against the ally of the British.

For the first three years the renewed relations of the two Governments proceeded smoothly enough, and with high promise for the future. The success of the policy initiated by Lord Mayo was proved by the fruit it bore. The former professed enemy of the British seemed to have changed his dislike, and was lavish in his professions of devotion and attachment, and equally lavish in his expectations of further favours. The province of Badakhshan and the northern "boundary of Afghanistan were secured for the Amir by the


British Government after long negotiation with the Russian Government. Sistan remained a question in dispute between the Amir and the Shah of Persia. Its settlement was submitted by the contending parties to the arbitration of the British Government. Their decision was given against the Amir, and it was more than he could bear. It undid all the good effected by the Ambala interview , and the newly -made friend reverted to the professed enemy of old.

The glowing confidence and freer communications which were the first results of the salutary influence effected by Lord Mayo's most successful treatment of the fickle Afghan, were at once nipped in the bud, and replaced by a sulky re- serve which it was impossible to remove by any reasonable amount of conciliation or forbearance. Russian advances and intrigues, which Slier All had, since his return to Kabul from the Amballa interview, either rejected or played with at arm's length, were now courted and entered into with a freedom which was incompatible with his friendship with both parties, and directly menacing to that with the British.

At the time of Dost Muhammad's death the Afghan regular army was less than thirty thousand infantry, with perhaps a hundred guns and six or eight thousand cavalry. At the close of his reign, Sher Ali's army was more than sixty thousand disciplined infantry, with fully three hundred guns, and perhaps sixteen thousand cavalry It was a force five times greater than was needed for the home requirements of the country, and double the strength that the revenues of the country could support.

With this force at his command, Sher Ali felt himself strong, and fancied he could treat the great British Government, which had made him the Amir he was, with the indifference he might show to a petty state. Nay more, as his communications and relations with Russia increased and became more intimate, rumours floated about of a demand of a cession to



the Kabul Government of the former Afghan possessions in India, which were now held by the British Government and formed part of the Indian Empire down to Jhelam some reports said, and others down to Lahore itself.

The forbearance of the British Government, and their most earnest efforts to come to a satisfactory understanding with the Amir, were tieated by Sher Ah with studied indiffer- ence and insulting delay ; whilst access to his country from the side of India was ligidly closed to all but his own sub- jects, who came and went as if the two States were on the best of terms Meanwhile, Russia, being encouraged, was no way backward in les ponding with big promises and allur- ing pictures of the future And the pioud and ignorant Sher All, after refusing to receive an English envoy at his court, filled the measure of his offences against the Biitish Government by receiving a Eussian mission at Kabul, enter- taining them with marked honors and hospitality, and intro- ducing them in public darbdr to the principal nobles of the nation, summoned for the purpose from all parts of the kingdom- Even this did not at onc$ turn the tables of British for- bearance Yet another opportunity and time for reflection were to be allowed the obdurate Amir, and he was asked to receive a British Mission. The lequest was rejected in a very insulting manner, and then went forth the order for the British troops to invade Afghanistan. The Amii's forces at the Khybar and Pewar Passes were defeated with the loss of all their artillery arid camps , and Sher Ali, with his Russian guests, quitting the capital, hurried across the Hindu Kush. Kabul, which the fugitive Amir had left in charge of Yacub, whom he had just liberated from prison, was at our mercy ; but we did not exercise that meicy Instead of being so merciful as to march to Kabul, as we had done to Kandahar we were content to stop midway, not only in our road, but in our work as well. The Afghan, who was thoroughly cowed


by the rapidity and brilliant character of the exploits of our armies at Kandahar, Pewar, and the Khybar, now plucked up courage in the very natural however false it were idea that we were afraid of him after all.

YACUB KHAN came down to the British camp at Gandumak to be acknowledged as Amir, and make a treaty of peace, with this idea of our timidity uppermost in his mind. His whole conduct whilst there proves that he did not consider himself or his country in our power He saw us eager for a peace and a treaty. He on his part was eager to get us out of his country and take up the role which his father, who died in his refuge at Mazari Sharif beyond the Hindu Kush whilst these operations were in course of prosecution, had left him to carry to completion. To him a treaty with the British) whilst the relations of the Kabul Government with Russia were still unbroken, was not the serious thing he should have understood it to be. He had never been a friend of the British, his tendencies were on the other side. Though an intriguer, and ambitious from his youth up, he had never evinced any partiality for the British alliance. And it was his hostility against his father, after the Amir's return from Amballa, that drove Sher Ali to make a close prisoner of him.

It was out of prison that he came to Gandumak to sign a treaty with a subordinate British officer, and to get rid of us. He accepted our articles, even to the forgiving of his enemies, and to the reception in his capital of a British Embassy , but he had no intention to carry them out. And this, as was at the time predicted, and in many instances openly stated by those of his sirdars in our interest, has now been proved, badly to our cost by the massacre in one day of our Envoy, his staff, and escort, to the number of one hundred and twenty-three souls all within a stone's throw of his own palace, without the Amir so much as moving a finger to help his overwhelmed guests, fighting as they were for their lives like heroes of the Homeric period,


YACUB KHAN, on the 26th May, 1879, signed the Gandumak Treaty. On the 24th July he received the British Envoy, and installed him in the embassy assigned for his residence in the Bala Hissar of the city. On the 3rd September they were all destroyed by two regiments of his own household troops supposed to be in open mutiny, though they furnished guards around the Amir's palace at the very time that their comrades were doing to death a handful of strangers, the confiding guests of their master Yacub, after the dastardly tragedy had been enacted, punished not a soul. His thoughts were turned to the subject of British vengeance, and, with strange ignorance, he satisfied himself that no British army would come to Kabul at least till the winter were past, during which interval there would be ample time to make arrangements to oppose it. How far he was out of his reckoning he has now learned very practically.

Within one month of the receipt of the particulars of the appalling fate of our Envoy and his party, a British army was before the walls of Kabul, and the Amir secure in its camp.

Such is the history, in briefest terms, of the Durrani Empire, and of the Durrani Principality to which it sunk in an ordinary lifetime. It is instructive, and affords food for reflection. And the question suggests itself why, after such a course of proved incapacity and faithlessness, should the Afghan be permitted to misrule any longer ? or, why should he be permitted to hold the dominion and rule over better races of his compatriots. He is certainly not worthy of being entrusted with independent rule, and is as certainly not likely to submit to control until he has first been subjugated. Subjugation then is what is required for the Afghan. With him subjugated, all the races of the country will be easily controlled and governed. His subjugation is now to us a matter of no difficulty, and can be effected by placing in positions of command and rule men of other races,


It is the Afghan governors, from the Amir in his darbar to the meanest of his employees in the village police, who have diligently stirred up the animosity of the people against us, and excited their hatred by habitually abusing us. It has been the custom of each of the successive Amirs to vilify our name in public darbar and to encourage their courtiers in the same course. And any one who refrained from joining in this indiscriminate mode of expressing hostility was at once a marked man, and treated to the cold shoulder, with taunts of being an infidel at heart a friend of the Farangi.

Yet the Amirs, whilst adopting this course of covert hostility as the rule of their conduct at home, had no hesitation in making treaties with us, in accepting subsidies from us, in strengthening their position by our too easily granted aid and support. In a word they had no hesitation in maintaining their position as the dominant race through our aid and countenance by a studied deception. Deception has all along been the guide of their conduct. Their constant references and appeals to the hatred and hostility which their people entertained against us was a mere excuse incuminating themselves, and proving their awn double-facedness. With their hollow and self-interested professions of friendship and loyalty of alliance with us they have never once given us any tangible proof of the sincerity of their words. In so simple a matter of justice as the extradition, or even punishment at home, of a murderer, who, excited by their own evil example and the publicly-encouraged hostility of their priests, has come across the border in a fit of fanaticism and killed some unoffending European, they have never rendered us any justice. Our Government has tamely submitted to the indignity, and the Amirs have thus been encouraged in their course. The people take the cue from their leaders and rulers, and it is these who are really responsible for the worked-up hostility of the people. It is the Amirs, Sardars, and Khans who require to be subjugated by reduction from


the position of dominance they hold, by exclusion from office in the administration of the country a measure which there is no necessity to carry out at a swoop, hut one which can be worked out gradually to the lasting advantage and salvation of the country.

The Afghans as a race certainly do hate us, mainly because from infancy they have been taught to do so. But they are not all so minded. There are many whom self-interest and acquaintance with us have taught to respect us, and if not to like us, to be at least friendly disposed towards us.

We have judged the Afghan as we have found him; and we have found him very wanting. He has his virtues and he has his vices, and to our mind the latter overbalance the former very heavily. He is not fit to govern either himself or others, and sadly wants a master. If we don't take up that role, Russia will. For a master the Afghans want, and a master they must have sooner or later. Which is it to be ?

End of Chapter V
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