(Referred to in Chapter LVIII, Footnote 6.)
Letter from A. C. LYALL, ESQ., C.B., Secretary to the Government of India, Foreign Department, to LEPEL H. GRIFFIN, Esq., C.S.I., Chief Political Officer, Kabul, dated Simla, April, 1880.
I have the honour to inform you that the Governor-General has received and considered in council your telegrams of the 22nd and 23rd instant, forwarding the translation of a letter received by you from Sirdar Abdur Rahman on the 21st instant, together with a summary of certain oral explanations which accompanied that letter, and a statement of the recommendations suggested by it to Lieutenaut-General Sir Frederick Roberts and yourself.
In conveying to you its instructions on the subject of this important communication, the Government of India considers it expedient to recapitulate the principles on which it has hitherto been acting in northern Afghanistan, and clearly to define the point of view from which it contemplates the present situation of affairs in that country. The single object to which, as you are well aware, the Afghan policy of this Government has at all times been directed and limited, is the security of the North-West frontier of India. The Government of India has, however, no less invariably held and acted on the conviction that the security of this frontier is incompatible with the intrusion of any foreign influence into the great border State of Afghanistan. To exclude or eject such influence the Government of India has frequently subsidized and otherwise assisted the Amirs of Kabul. It has also, more than once, taken up arms against them. But it has never interfered, for any other purpose, in the affairs of their kingdom. Regulating on this principle and limiting to this object the conduct of our relations with the rulers of Kabul, it was our long-continued endeavour to find in their friendship and their strength the requisite guarantees for the security of our own frontier. Failing in that endeavour, we were compelled to seek the attainment of the object to which our Afghan policy was, and is still, exclusively directed, by rendering the permanent security of our frontier as much as possible independent of such conditions.
This obligation was not accepted without reluctance. Not even when forced into hostilities by the late Amir Sher Ali Khan's espousal of a Russian alliance, proposed by Russia in contemplation of a rupture with the British Government, did we relinquish our desire for the renewal of relations with a strong and friendly Afghan Power, and, when the son of Sher Ali subsequently sought our alliance and protection, they were at once accorded to him, on conditions of which His Highness professed to appreciate the generosity. The crime, however, which dissolved the Treaty of Gandamak, and the disclosures which followed that event, finally convinced the Government of India that the interests committed to its care could not but be gravely imperilled by further adhesion to a policy dependent for its fruition on the gratitude, the good faith, the assumed self-interest, or the personal character of any Afghan Prince.
When, therefore, Her Majesty's troops re-entered Afghanistan in September last, it was with two well-defined and plainly-avowed objects. The first was to avenge the treacherous massacre of the British Mission at Kabul; the second was to maintain the safeguards sought through the Treaty of Gandamak, by providing for their maintenance guarantees of a more substantial and less precarious character.
These two objects have been maintained: the first by the capture of Kabul and the punishment of the crime committed there, the second by the severance of Kandahar from the Kabul power.
Satisfied with their attainment, the Government of India has no longer any motive or desire to enter into fresh treaty engagements with the Rulers of Kabul. The arrangements and exchange of friendly assurances with the Amir Sher Ali, though supplemented on the part of the Government of India by subsidies and favours of various kinds, wholly failed to secure the object of them, which was, nevertheless, a thoroughly friendly one, and no less conducive to the security and advantage of the Afghan than to those of the British Power. The treaty with Yakub Khan, which secured to him our friendship and material support, was equally ineffectual. Moreover, recent events and arrangements have fundamentally changed the situation to which our correspondence and engagements with the Amir of Afghanistan formally applied. Our advance frontier positions at Kandahar and Kuram have materially diminished the political importance of Kabul in relation to India, and although we shall always appreciate the friendship of its Ruler, our relations with him are now of so little importance to the paramount objects of our policy that we no longer require to maintain British agents in any part of his dominions.
Our only reasons, therefore, for not immediately withdrawing our forces from northern Afghanistan have hitherto been--first, the excited and unsettled condition of the country round Kabul, with the attitude of hostility assumed by some leaders of armed gatherings near Ghazni; and, secondly, the inability of the Kabul Sirdars to agree among themselves on the selection of a Ruler strong enough to maintain order after our evacuation of the country.
The first-named of these reasons has now ceased to exist. In a minute dated the 30th ultimo the Viceroy and Governor-General stated that 'the Government is anxious to withdraw as soon as possible the troops from Kabul and from all points beyond those to be occupied under the Treaty of Gandamak, except Kandahar. In order that this may be done, it is desirable to find a Ruler for Kabul, which will be separated from Kandahar. Steps,' continued His Excellency, 'are being taken for this purpose. Meanwhile, it is essential that we should make such a display of strength in Afghanistan as will show that we are masters of the situation, and will overawe disaffection.'... 'All that is necessary, from a political point of view, is for General Stewart to march to Ghazni, break up any opposition he may find there or in the neighbourhood, and open up direct communication with General Sir Frederick Roberts at Kabul.' The military operations thus defined have been accomplished by General Stewart's successful action before Ghazni.
With regard to the second reason mentioned for the retention of our troops in northern Afghanistan, the appearance of Abdur Rahman as a candidate for the throne of Kabul, whose claims the Government of India has no cause to oppose, and who seems to be approved, and likely to be supported, by at least a majority of the population, affords fair ground for anticipating that our wishes in regard to the restoration, before our departure, of order in that part of the country will now be fulfilled.
The Governor-General in Council has consequently decided that the evacuation of Kabul shall be effected not later than October next, and it is with special reference to this decision that the letter and message addressed to you by Sirdar Abdur Rahman have been carefully considered by His Excellency in Council.
What first claims notice in the consideration of that letter is the desire that it expresses for the permanent establishment of Afghanistan with our assistance and sympathy under the joint protection of the British and Russian Empires. This suggestion, which is more fully developed in the Sirdar's unwritten message, cannot be entertained or discussed.
As already stated, the primary object and declared determination of the Government of India have been the exclusion of foreign influence or interference from Afghanistan. This cardinal condition of amicable relations with Afghanistan has, at all times and in all circumstances, been deemed essential for the permanent security of Her Majesty's Indian Empire. As such, it has hitherto been firmly maintained by successive Governors-General of India under the explicit instructions of Her Majesty's Government. Nor has it ever been ignored, or officially contested, by the Russian Government. That Government, on the contrary, has repeatedly, and under every recent change of circumstances in Afghanistan, renewed the assurances solemnly given to the British Government that 'Russia considers Afghanistan as entirely beyond the sphere of her influence.'
It is true that negotiations at one time passed between the two Governments with a view to the mutual recognition of certain territories as constituting a neutral zone between their respective spheres of legitimate influence and action, and that at one time it was proposed by Russia to treat Afghanistan itself as a neutral territory. Those negotiations, however, having proved fruitless, the northern frontier of Afghanistan was finally determined by mutual agreement, and in 1876 the Russian Government formally reiterated its adherence to the conclusion that, 'while maintaining on either side the arrangement come to as regards the limits of Afghanistan, which is to remain outside the sphere of Russian action, the two Cabinets should regard as terminated the discussions relative to the intermediate zone, which promised no practical result.'
The position of Afghanistan as defined and settled by these engagements was again distinctly affirmed on behalf of the Queen's Government by the Marquis of Salisbury in 1879, and the Government of India unreservedly maintains it in the fullest conviction of its essential necessity for the peaceable protection of Her Majesty's Indian dominions. It is therefore desirable that you should take occasion to inform Abdur Rahman that the relations of Afghanistan to the British and Russian Empires are matters which the Government of India must decline to bring into discussion with the Sirdar. The Afghan states and tribes are too contiguous with India, whose North-Western frontier they surround, for the Government of India ever willingly to accept partnership with any other Power in the exercise of its legitimate and recognized influence over those tribes and States.
The Governor-General in Council is, nevertheless, most anxious that the Sirdar should not misunderstand the light in which his personal sentiments and obligations towards Russia are regarded by the Government of India. So long as the Rulers of Kabul were amenable to its advice, this Government has never ceased to impress on them the international duty of scrupulously respecting all the recognized rights and interests of their Russian neighbour, refraining from every act calculated to afford the Russian authorities in Central Asia any just cause of umbrage or complaint. The intelligence and good sense which are conspicuous in the Sirdar's letter and messages to you will enable him to appreciate the difference between conduct regulated on these principles and that which cost Sher Ali the loss of his throne. This Government does not desire, nor has it ever desired, to impose on any Ruler of Kabul conditions incompatible with that behaviour which Russia, as a powerful and neighbouring Empire, is entitled to expect from him; least of all can we desire to impose such conditions on a Prince who has received hospitality and protection in Russian territory. I am therefore to observe that, in the natural repugnance expressed by Abdur Rahman to conditions which 'might make him appear ungrateful' to those 'whose salt he has eaten,' the Governor-General in Council recognizes a sentiment altogether honourable to the Sirdar, and perfectly consistent with the sincerity of his professed goodwill towards ourselves.
These observations will furnish you with a sufficient answer to the question asked by Abdur Rahman as to the 'nature of our friendship' and 'its conditions.'
The frankness with which he has explained his position entitles him to receive from us a no less unreserved statement of our own. The Government of India cordially shares the wish expressed by Abdur Rahman that, between the British and Russian Empires, his 'tribes and countrymen may live quietly in ease and peace.' We do not desire to place them in a position of unfriendliness towards a Power which is pledged to us to regard their country as 'entirely beyond the sphere of its action.' The injury to Afghan commerce caused by the present condition of Afghanistan, to which the Sirdar has alluded, is fully appreciated by the Government of India, and on the restoration of peace between the two countries the revival and development of trade intercourse need present no difficulty. As regards our own friendship, it will, if sincerely sought, be freely given, and fully continued so long as it is loyally reciprocated. But we attach to it no other condition. We have no concessions to ask or make, and the Sirdar will therefore perceive that there is really no matter for negotiation or bargain between him and us.
On this point your reply to Abdur Rahman cannot be too explicit. Previous to the Sirdar's arrival in Turkestan, the hostility and treachery of those whose misconduct he admits and deplores had compelled the Government of India to make territorial arrangements of a material and permanent character for the better protection of our frontier. The maintenance of these arrangements is in no wise dependent on the assent or dissent, on the good will or ill-will, of any Chief at Kabul. The character of them has been so fully explained by you to all the other Kabul Sirdars that it is probably well known to Abdur Rahman. But in order that our present intercourse and future relations with the Sirdar may be perfectly clear of doubt on a point affecting the position he aspires to fill, the Governor-General in Council authorizes you, if necessary, to make him plainly understand that neither the district assigned to us by the Treaty of Gandamak, nor any part of the province of Kandahar, will ever be restored to the Kabul Power.
As regards this last-mentioned province, the Government of India has been authorized by that of Her Majesty to give to Sher Ali Khan, the present Wali of Kandahar, a distinct assurance that he will be not only recognized, but maintained, by the British Government as the Ruler of that province. Sher Ali Khan is one of the Native nobles of Kandahar. He is administering the province with ability, good sense, and complete loyalty to the British Government, which has promised him the support of a British garrison so long as he requires such support. The Governor-General in Council cannot doubt that Sirdar Abdur Rahman will readily recognize the obligation incumbent on the honour of the British Government to keep faith with all who, whether at Kandahar or elsewhere, have proved themselves true and loyal adherents. Yakub Khan forfeited our alliance, and with it his throne, by mistrusting the assurances we gave him, and falsifying those which he had given to us. If, misled by his example, Yakub Khan's successor attempts to injure or oppress the friends of the British Government, its power will again be put forth to protect or avenge them. Similarly, if the next Kabul Ruler reintroduces into his Court or country foreign influences adverse to our own, the Government of India will again take such steps as it may deem expedient to deal with such a case. These contingencies, however, cannot occur if the sentiments of Abdur Rahman are such as he represents them to be. Meanwhile, the territorial and administrative arrangements already completed by us for the permanent protection of our own interests are not susceptible of negotiation or discussion with Abdur Rahman or any other claimant to the throne of Kabul.
To the settlement of Herat, which is not included in these completed arrangements, the Governor-General in Council cannot authorize you to make or invite any reference in your reply to Abdur Rahman. The settlement of the future administration of Herat has been undertaken by Her Majesty's Government; with those present views in regard to this important question, the Government of India is not yet acquainted.
Nor can our evacuation of Kabul constitute any subject for proposals in your correspondence with the Sirdar. This measure was determined on by the Government of India long before the appearance of Abdur Rahman as a candidate for the government of the country we are about to evacuate. It has not been caused by the hostility, and is not, therefore, conditional on the goodwill, of any Afghan Power.
The Government of India is, however, very willing to carry out the evacuation of Kabul in the manner most conducive to the personal advantage of Abdur Rahman, whose interests we believe to be, more than those of any other Sirdar, in accordance with the general interests of the Afghan people. For this reason it is desirable that you should inform Abdur Rahman of our intention to evacuate Kabul, and our desire to take that opportunity of unconditionally transferring to his authority the whole of the country from which our troops will be withdrawn. You are authorized to add that our military and political officers at Kabul will be empowered to facilitate any practical arrangement suggested by the Sirdar for promptly and peaceably effecting, in co-operation with him, the transfer thus contemplated on his behalf. Such arrangement must, however, be consistent with our obligations towards those who have served and aided the British Government during our occupation of those territories.
For this purpose, it appears to the Governor-General in Council desirable that the Sirdar should lose no time in proceeding to Kabul, and there settling, in conference with General Stewart and yourself, such preliminary arrangements as may best promote the undisturbed establishment of his future government.
The Governor-General in Council has, however, no desire to press this suggestion, should it appear to the Sirdar that his presence at Kabul, previous to the withdrawal of our troops for the purpose of personal conference with the British authorities, might have the effect of weakening his popularity, or compromising his position in the eyes of his future subjects.
The point is one which must be left entirely to the Sirdar's own judgment and inclination.
But Abdur Rahman is doubtless aware that there are at present, in and around Kabul, personages not destitute of influence, who themselves aspire to the sovereignty he seeks, and that the family of Yakub has still numerous personal adherents, who may possibly take advantage of the withdrawal of our troops to oppose the Sirdar's authority if he is not personally present to assert it.
It should on both sides he remembered and understood that it is not the policy of this Government to impose upon the Afghan people an unpopular Ruler or to interfere uninvited in the administration of a friendly one. If Abdur Rahman proves able and disposed to conciliate the confidence of his countrymen, without forfeiting the good understanding which he seeks with us, he will assuredly find his best support in our political appreciation of that fact. Our reason for unconditionally transferring to him the government of the country, from which our forces will in any case be withdrawn a few months hence, is that, on the whole, he appears to be the Chief best able to restore order in that country, and also best entitled to undertake such a task. In his performance of it he will receive, if he requires it, our assistance. But we neither need nor wish to hamper, by preliminary stipulations or provisoes, his independent exercise of a sovereignty which he declares himself anxious to maintain on a footing of peace and friendship with the British Government.
The present statement of the views and intentions of His Excellency the Governor-General in Council respecting Abdur Rahman will enable you to represent them with adequate accuracy in your reply to the Sirdar's friendly overtures, and it will now be your duty to convey to Abdur Rahman, without any avoidable delay, the answer of the Government of India to the letter and message received from him. His Excellency feels assured that you will give full expression to the spirit of candour and goodwill in which these communications have been received and are reciprocated.
But I am to impress on your attention the importance of avoiding any expression which might appear to suggest or admit matter for negotiation or discussion in reference to the relative positions of the Sirdar and the Government of India.
In conclusion, I am to request that on receipt of this letter you will be so good as to lose no time in submitting its contents to General Sir Donald Stewart, should he then have reached Kabul. In any case, you will, of course, communicate them to General Roberts, and act upon them in consultation with the chief military authority on the spot.