(Referred to in Chapter LIII, Footnote 3.)
From LIEUTENANT-GENERAL SIR F. ROBERTS, K.C.B., V.C., Commanding Kabul Field Force, to A.C. LYALL, ESQ., C.B., Secretary to the Government of India, Foreign Department.
KABUL, 22nd November, 1879.
1. I Have the honour to submit a brief account of an interview which took place between the Amir Yakub Khan and myself on the 22nd October. The interview was a private and informal one; but recent events have lent some interest to what passed on the occasion, and I have, therefore, thought it desirable that a report should be prepared for the information of the Governor-General in Council.
2. After some conversation upon matters of no special importance, the Amir introduced his father's name, and thus gave me the opportunity I had often wished to have of leading him on to speak naturally and unconstrainedly about Sher Ali Khan's feelings and policy during the last ten years. I was most careful to avoid any expression of my own views upon the subject in order that I might, if possible, obtain from the Amir a perfectly spontaneous and truthful account of the circumstances which led, in his opinion, to Sher Ali's estrangement from ourselves and rapprochement to Russia. In this I think I succeeded. Yakub Khan spoke readily and freely of all that had passed, and needed no question or suggestion from me to declare his conviction regarding the cause of his father's unfriendly attitude towards us during the past few years.
3. The substance of the Amir's statement was as follows:
'In 1869 my father was fully prepared to throw in his lot with you. He had suffered many reverses before making himself secure on the throne of Afghanistan; and he had come to the conclusion that his best chance of holding what he had won lay in an alliance with the British Government. He did not receive from Lord Mayo as large a supply of arms and ammunition as he had hoped, but, nevertheless, he returned to Kabul fairly satisfied, and so he remained until the visit of Saiyad Nur Muhammud to India in 1873. This visit brought matters to a head. The diaries received from Saiyad Nur Mahomed during his stay in India, and the report which he brought back on his return, convinced my father that he could no longer hope to obtain from the British Government all the aid that he wanted; and from that time he began to turn his attention to the thoughts of a Russian alliance. You know how this ended.
'When my father received from the Government of India the letter informing him that a British Mission was about to proceed to Kabul, he read it out in durbar. The members of the Russian Embassy were present. After the reading was finished, Colonel Stolietoff rose, saluted the Amir and asked permission to leave Kabul. If permitted, he would, he said, travel without delay to Tashkent, and report the state of affairs to General Kauffmann, who would inform the Czar, and thus bring pressure to bear on England. He promised to return in six weeks or two months, and urged the Amir to do everything in his power meanwhile to prevent the British Mission from reaching Kabul.
'Colonel Stolietoff never returned to Kabul. He lost no time in reaching Tashkent, where he remained for a few weeks, and he then started for Russia.
'The Afghan official, Mirza Mahomed Hassan Khan, generally known as the "Dabir-ul-Mulk," who had travelled with Colonel Stolietoff from the Oxus to Kabul, accompanied him on his return journey to Tashkent. Here the Mirza was detained under pretence that orders would shortly be received from the Emperor, until the news of my father's flight from Kabul reached General Kauffmann. He was then permitted to leave. Two Aides-de-Camp were sent with him, one a European, the other a Native of Bokhara.
'My father was strongly urged by General Kauffmann not to leave Kabul. At the same time the members of the Embassy were ordered to return to Tashkent, the Doctor being permitted to remain with my father if his services were required.
'Throughout, the Russian Embassy was treated with great honour,' and at all stations between Mazar-i-Shariff and Kabul, orders were given for the troops to turn out, and for a salute to be fired on their arrival and departure.'
4. I cannot, of course, vouch for the exact words used by Yakub Khan, but I am confident that the foregoing paragraph, which is written from notes taken at the time, contains a substantially accurate record of the conversation.
5. It would be superfluous for me to advance any proof of the fact that for one reason or another Sher Ali did during the latter part of his reign fall away from us and incline towards an alliance with Russia. But I think the closeness of the connection between Russia and Kabul, and the extent of the Amir's hostility towards ourselves, has not hitherto been fully recognized. Yakub Khan's statements throw some light upon this question, and they are confirmed by various circumstances which have lately come to my knowledge. The prevalence of Russian coin and wares in Kabul, and the extensive military preparations made by Sher Ali of late years, appear to me to afford an instructive comment upon Yakub Khan's assertions. Our recent rupture with Sher Ali has, in fact, been the means of unmasking and checking a very serious conspiracy against the peace and security of our Indian Empire.
6. The magnitude of Sher Ali's military preparations is, in my opinion, a fact of peculiar significance. I have already touched upon this point in a former letter, but I shall perhaps be excused for noticing it again. Before the outbreak of hostilities last year the Amir had raised and equipped with arms of precision 68 regiments of Infantry and 16 of Cavalry. The Afghan Artillery amounted to nearly 300 guns. Numbers of skilled artizans were constantly employed in the manufacture of rifled cannon and breach-loading small arms. More than a million pounds of powder, and I believe several million rounds of home-made Snider ammunition, were in the Bala Hissar at the time of the late explosion. Swords, helmets, uniforms, and other articles of military equipment were stored in proportionate quantities. Finally, Sher Ali had expended upon the construction of the Sherpur cantonments an astonishing amount of labour and money. The extent and cost of this work may be judged of from the fact that the whole of the troops under my command will find cover during the winter within the cantonment, and the bulk of them in the main line of rampart itself, which extends to a length of nearly two miles under the southern and western slopes of the Bimaru hills. Sher Ali's original design was apparently to carry the wall entirely round the hills, a distance of nearly five miles, and the foundations were already laid for a considerable portion of this length. All these military preparations were quite unnecessary except as a provision for contemplated hostilities with ourselves, and it is difficult to understand how their entire cost could have been met from the Afghan treasury, the gross revenue of the country amounting only to about eighty lakhs of rupees per annum.
7. I have referred to the prevalence of Russian coin and wares in Kabul as evidence of the growing connexion between Russia and Afghanistan. I am unable to find proof that the Czar's coin was introduced in any other way than by the usual channels of trade. It is quite possible that the bulk of it, if not the whole, came in gradually by this means, the accumulation of foreign gold in particular being considerable in this country, where little gold is coined. Nevertheless, it seems to me a curious fact that the amount of Russian money in circulation should be so large. No less than 13,000 gold pieces were found among the Amir's treasure alone; similar coins are exceedingly common in the city bazaar; and great numbers of them are known to be in possession of the Sirdars. Of course English goods of all kinds are plentiful here--that is inevitable, particularly with a considerable body of Hindu merchants settled in the city, but Russian goods also abound. Glass, crockery, silks, tea, and many other things which would seem to be far more easily procurable from India than from Russian territory, are to be found in great quantities. A habit, too, seems to have been growing up among the Sirdars and others of wearing uniforms of Russian cut, Russian buttons, Russian boots, and the like. Russian goods and Russian ways seem, in fact, to have become the fashion in Afghanistan.