(Referred to in Chapter XLIV, Note *.)
Notes of an interview between GENERAL SIR FREDERICK ROBERTS and the AMIR'S AGENTS, MUSTAUFI HABIBULLA KHAN and WAZIR SHAH MAHOMED KHAN. Dated ALIKHEL, 23rd September, 1879.
After compliments, General Roberts intimated to the Agents that at their desire he had granted them a second interview. He now requested them to be good enough to speak freely all that they wished him to know.
The MUSTAUFI then spoke in the following sense: The interests of England and Afghanistan are the same, and the Amir and his officials are deeply grieved at the late occurrences in Kabul. Moreover, the Amir is anxious to do whatever the British Government wishes, and most desirous that the dignity of the British Government should be maintained by any means which may seem proper to the Viceroy. But His Highness cannot conceal from himself that the mutinous troops and his people in general, ryots as well as soldiers, are in fear of an indiscriminate revenge, which will fall alike upon innocent and guilty. He hopes, therefore, that measures will be taken to guard against the possibility of a general rising consequent on fear.
The Mustaufi was here reminded of the tenor of General Roberts's Proclamation on 15th September. He answered that the people were too ignorant to be acted upon by a Proclamation, and then went on as follows:
Of course, it is possible that no such combination may take place. The Afghans are selfish, and divided against themselves. Still, lest he should be blamed if it should occur, the Amir thinks it right to express his opinion, and give the British Government all the information in his power. On the whole, his advice, as an earnest friend, is that the advance of a British force on Kabul should be delayed for a short time ('Panjroz'). In the interval he will endeavour to disarm the Regular troops, raise new levies, and, by the aid of the latter, punish all concerned in the late abominable outrage. His idea is to get rid of Sher Ali's soldiery--always a source of danger--and keep only 15,000 men for the future. It would be very desirable to delay the advance until he could establish his power. The Amir does not mean to imply that any Afghan army, were it 50,000 strong, could resist the British. The mutinous troops have neither organization nor leaders. But the mutinous troops are of all tribes; and if the British army destroys them, as it would undoubtedly do in case of resistance, the whole country may combine against the British and the Amir. It is for this reason that he advises delay, and that the punishment of the guilty be left to him. The Viceroy may rest assured that he will show no mercy. He will make an example which will be conspicuous in the eyes of the world as the sun at noonday. Already everyone in Kabul regards the Amir as an infidel, because of the way in which he and his have thrown in their lot with the British Government.
Notwithstanding all that has been said, however, things might go right if the mutinous troops would keep together and attempt a stand. But the Amir fears they will not do so. They are more likely to scatter here and there, and raise the country. In that case there will be constant attacks on the communications of the force, and the gathering of supplies will be difficult. They would come chiefly from the direction of Ghazni, partly also from Logar. If the tribes rise it would be hard to collect them. Only one month remains before the setting in of winter. Of course, it is impossible to say what may happen. There may be no opposition, and the Amir is in any case ready to do what the British Government desires. But he feels it is his duty to express his strong opinion that the present season is unsuited for a forward movement.
General Roberts replied that on behalf of the Viceroy he thanked the Amir for his kind advice, which he was confident was the advice of a friend. He said the matter was important, and required careful consideration, and asked whether the Agents had anything more to bring forward.
The Mustaufi then spoke as follows: The Amir's advice to delay the advance is that of a sincere friend, and it is the best he can give. But if the British Army is to march on Kabul, there is one thing more which I am desired to say: let it march in such strength as to crush all hopes of mischief, and put down all rebellion throughout the country. You cannot wait for reinforcements. If you come, you must come in full strength--in sufficient strength to put down all opposition. There may be no opposition, but you cannot count on this.
General Roberts replied: The Amir's advice is of great importance, and must be carefully considered. When His Highness first wrote, announcing the outbreak at Kabul and asking for help, the first desire of the Viceroy was to send British forces without delay. I was ordered to Kuram at once to lead the force here. Simultaneously the Kandahar force was ordered by telegram to return to Kandahar, which it was then leaving, and to advance towards Kelat-i-Ghilzai, and instructions were issued to collect a third force at Peshawar; all this was to help the Amir. The Viceroy from the first contemplated the possibility of such a general rising as the Amir now fears, and the several armies were, therefore, by His Excellency's order, made up to such strength that all Afghanistan combined could not stand against them for a moment. The Kandahar troops were ready in a very short time, and are now beyond Kandahar, on the road to Kabul. The Peshawar force was rapidly collected and pushed on; and the Amir may rest assured that the British army is advancing in ample strength. I will think over the Amir's advice, nevertheless, for it is important. But His Highness must remember that the late occurrences at Kabul do not affect only the English officers and the fifty or sixty men who were treacherously killed--the honour of the English Government is concerned; and so long as the bodies of these officers and men remain unburied or uncared for in Kabul, I do not believe the English people will ever be satisfied. They will require the advance of a British force, and the adequate punishment of the crime. Still, the Amir's advice, which I am convinced is that of a friend, must be carefully considered, and I will think over it and give an answer later.
The MUSTAUFI then said: We quite understand what has been said about the strength of the British army. Doubtless it is sufficient, and all Afghanistan could not stand against it. But the Amir asked us to mention, what I have hitherto forgotten, that there are in Turkestan 24 regiments of Infantry, 6 of Cavalry, and 56 guns. These troops were the first to show a disaffected spirit at Mazar-i-Sharif; and putting aside external enemies, there are Abdur Rahman and the sons of Azim Khan waiting their chance. Herat again is doubtful; when the troops there hear what has occurred at Kabul, there is no saying what they may do. If Abdur Rahman ingratiates himself with these people, Herat and Turkestan will be permanently severed from the Afghan dominions. This is another reason why the advance of the British force should be delayed, in order that the Amir may have time to gain over the Herat and Turkestan troops.
GENERAL ROBERTS replied: All these reasons will have full consideration. The Viceroy's first order was to push on at once to help the Amir; but I am sure His Highness's advice is friendly, and that in any case he will do his utmost to co-operate with the British Government. Therefore every consideration will be given to what His Highness has desired you to say.
The MUSTAUFI: The Viceroy may be sure the Amir will do what he pleases.
The WAZIR: When the Amir learnt from General Roberts's letter that the Viceroy had given General Roberts power to deal with the whole matter, he was very pleased, knowing General Roberts's character as a soldier and his kindness of heart.
GENERAL ROBERTS replied that he would carefully consider the proposals brought forward, and give an answer later on. Meanwhile, he must request the Agents to stay a day or two in camp until he should have thoroughly weighed the Amir's advice, which was of the utmost importance to both the British and Afghan Governments.
The interview then came to an end.
(Signed) H. M. DURAND, Political Secretary to General Roberts, K.C.B., V.C., Commanding Kabul Field Force.
[Footnote 1: The Agents here seemed surprised and anxious.--H.M.D.]