Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
I was informed by the Viceroy's Private Secretary in the beginning of March that, unless satisfactory arrangements could soon be come to with Yakub Khan, an onward move would have to be made. Accordingly I now set about preparing for such a contingency.
Sher Ali had died in Afghan Turkestan on the 21st February, and, in communicating the event to the Viceroy, Yakub Khan wrote that he was anxious matters might be so arranged that 'the friendship of this God-granted State with the illustrious British Government may remain constant and firm.'
The new Amir was told in reply that Lord Lytton was prepared to enter into negotiations for the conclusion of peace, and for the restoration of a friendly alliance between the two Governments, provided that His Highness renounced all claim to authority over the Khyber and Michni Passes, and the independent tribes inhabiting the territory directly connected with the main routes leading to India; that the district of Kuram from Thal to the crest of the Shutargardan Pass, and the districts of Pishin and Sibi, should remain under the control of the British Government; that the foreign relations of Afghanistan should be conducted in accordance with the advice and wishes of the British Government; and that British officers should be accredited to the Kabul Government, and permitted to reside at such places as might hereafter be decided upon.
Yakub Khan's reply was not altogether satisfactory. He agreed to[Page 376] British officers being deputed to Afghanistan on the understanding that they should reside in Kabul, and abstain from interference in State affairs; but he declined to renounce his authority over the Khyber and Michni Passes and the tribes in their vicinity, and refused to consent to Kuram, Pishin, and Sibi being placed under British protection.
The Viceroy now determined to try what a personal conference between the Amir and Cavagnari could effect towards a settlement of these vexed questions, so in answering the Amir Cavagnari was directed to convey a hint that an invitation to him to visit Kabul might be productive of good results, and to point out that the places we desired to occupy were looked upon as essential to the permanent security of the Indian frontier. The Amir replied, expressing his readiness to receive Cavagnari in his capital, and laying stress on his determination to regulate his future conduct in strict conformity with his professions of loyalty, but begged that he might not be called upon to cede any portion of his territory.
Hardly had this letter, dated the 29th March, been received, than a proclamation addressed by Yakub to the Khagianis, a tribe which had been giving much trouble, was intercepted and brought to Cavagnari; in it the Amir praised and complimented the Khagianis for their religious zeal and fidelity to himself. He exhorted them to have no fear of the infidels, against whom he was about to launch an irresistible force of troops and Ghazis, and wound up as follows: 'By the favour of God, and in accordance with the verse "Verily God has destroyed the powerful ones," the whole of them will go to the fire of hell for evermore. Therefore kill them to the extent of your ability.' A curious commentary this on the Amir's protestation of loyalty.
Notwithstanding this piece of treachery, it was decided not to break off negotiations, and Yakub Khan was informed by Cavagnari that a Mission would proceed to Kabul so soon as the necessary arrangements could be made for its reception. At the same time Lord Lytton himself wrote to the Amir, telling him that, as he was willing to receive an Envoy, Cavagnari would be deputed to visit Kabul, and communicate unreservedly with him upon the questions at issue between the two States.
I, personally, was not at all satisfied that the time had come for negotiation, for I felt that the Afghans had not had the sense of defeat sufficiently driven into them to convince them of our strength and ability to punish breach of treaty, and, therefore, that a peace made now, before they had been thoroughly beaten, would not be a lasting one, and would only end in worse trouble in the near future. The Afghans are an essentially arrogant and conceited people; they had not forgotten our disastrous retreat from Kabul, nor the annihilation of our array in the Khurd Kabul and Jagdalak Passes in 1842, and[Page 377] believed themselves to be quite capable of resisting our advance on Kabul. No great battle had as yet been fought; though Ali Masjid and the Peiwar Kotal had been taken, a small force of the enemy had been beaten by Charles Gough's brigade, near Jalalabad, and a successful Cavalry skirmish had occurred near Kandahar, the Afghans had nowhere suffered serious loss, and it was not to be wondered at if the fighting men in distant villages, and in and around Kabul, Ghazni, Herat, Balkh, and other places, still considered themselves undefeated and capable of defying us. They and their leaders had to depend for information as to recent events upon the garbled accounts of those who had fought against us, and it was unlikely they would be shaken in their belief in their superiority by such one-sided versions of what had occurred. On many occasions I had been amused, in listening to Afghan conversation, to find that, while they appeared thoroughly conversant with and frequently alluded to their triumphs over us, they seemed to know nothing, or had no recollection, of Sale's successful defence of Jalalabad, or of Pollock's victorious march through the Khyber Pass and the destruction by him of the chief bazaar in Kabul.
Premature Negotiations My ideas about the negotiations being premature were freely expressed to Colonel Colley,1 Lord Lytton's Private Secretary, who paid me a visit in Kuram at this time, and had been a constant correspondent of mine from the commencement of the war. Colley, however, explained to me that, right or wrong, the Viceroy had no option in the matter; that there was the strongest feeling in England against the continuance of the war; and that, unless the new Amir proved actively hostile, peace must be signed. He expressed himself sanguine that the terms of the treaty which Cavagnari hoped to conclude with Yakub Khan would give us an improved frontier, and a permanent paramount influence at Kabul, the two points about which he said the Viceroy was most anxious, and to which he assigned the first place in his political programme. Lord Lytton foresaw that, whatever might be the future policy of the two European Powers concerned, the contact of the frontiers of Great Britain and Russia in Asia was only a matter of time, and his aim was to make sure that the conterminous line, whenever it might be reached, should be of our choosing, and not one depending on the exigencies of the moment, or on the demands of Russia.
The Native agent (Bukhtiar Khan), who was the bearer of the Viceroy's and Cavagnari's letters to the Amir, reached Kabul at the moment when the Afghan officials who had accompanied Sher Ali in his flight returned to that place from Turkestan. Counsel was held with these men as to the manner of receiving the British Mission; but there was an influential military party averse to peace, and the Amir[Page 378] was strongly advised to abandon the English alliance and trust to Russia. Upon hearing this, our agent became alarmed for the safety of the Mission, and being apprehensive that Yakub Khan would not have the power to protect its members from insult, he suggested to the Amir that he should visit our camp instead of the British Mission coming to Kabul, a suggestion which was ultimately adopted, the Viceroy considering that it was infinitely the best arrangement that could be made.
The treaty of Gandamak On the 8th May the Amir arrived in Sir Samuel Browne's camp at Gandamak, thirty miles on the Kabul side of Jalalabad, and on the 26th, owing to the tact and diplomatic skill of Louis Cavagnari, the Treaty of Gandamak was signed, and so ended the first phase of the second Afghan war.
Under the terms of the treaty, Yakub Khan agreed to the cession of territory considered necessary by us, and bound himself to conduct his foreign policy in accordance with the advice of the British Government; while, on our side, we promised to support him against external aggression. It was further arranged that a British representative, with a suitable escort, should reside at Kabul;2 that the Amir should in like manner (if he desired it) depute an agent to the Viceregal Court; that British agents with sufficient escorts should be at liberty to visit the Afghan frontiers whenever, in the interests of both countries, it was considered necessary by the British Government; that there should be no hindrance to British subjects trading peaceably within the Amir's dominions; that traders should be protected, the transit of merchandise facilitated, and roads kept in good order; that a line of telegraph should be constructed from India to Kabul, at the expense of the British, but under the protection of the Afghan Government; and that an annual subsidy of six lakhs of rupees should be paid to the Amir and his successors.
The Khyber column was now withdrawn, with the exception of two brigades, and orders were sent to the Kandahar column to prepare to withdraw on the 1st September, the earliest date at which the troops could safely march through the Bolan Pass. I was told to stay where I was, as Kuram, by the treaty conditions, was to remain under our control and be administered by the British Government.
On the 24th May I held a parade in honour of the Queen's birthday, at which 6,450 officers and men were present.3 They were thoroughly fit and workmanlike, and being anxious that the tribesmen should see[Page 379] what grand soldiers I had at hand should an advance be necessary, I invited all the neighbouring clans to witness the display. The Afghans were seated in picturesque groups round the flag-staff, when suddenly, as the first round of the feu-de-joie was fired, they started to their feet, thinking that treachery was intended, and that they were caught in a trap: they took to their heels, and we had considerable difficulty in bringing them back, and in making them understand that the firing which had so upset their equanimity was only a sign of rejoicing on that auspicious anniversary. By degrees they became assured that there was no thought of taking an unfair advantage of them, and at the conclusion of the ceremony they were made happy by a present of sheep. In the afternoon an impromptu rifle meeting was got up. The matchlock men could not hold their own against our good shots armed with Martini-Henry rifles, a fact which evidently greatly impressed the tribesmen, some of whom then and there came forward and promised that if I should be required to advance on Kabul they would not oppose me.
Making Friends with the Tribesmen I took advantage of our improved relations with the Afghans, consequent on the ratification of the treaty, to enlarge our geographical knowledge of the passes which lead from Kuram towards Kabul, and the independent territories in the neighbourhood. The presence of the troops, no doubt, had something to say to the cheerful acquiescence of the tribesmen in these explorations, which they appeared to look upon as the result of a wish to make ourselves acquainted with the country assigned to us by the treaty, and having, to use their own expression, lifted for us the purdah (curtain) of their country, they became most friendly, and took a curious pleasure in pointing out to us the points of defence at which they would have opposed us, had we been advancing as enemies.
Towards the end of June I heard from Lord Lytton that he wished me to be one of the military members of a Commission of Inquiry into army expenditure and organization which was about to be convened at Simla, if I thought I could be spared from my post at Kuram. The people of the valley had by this time settled down so contentedly, and the tribesmen showed themselves so peacefully disposed, that I thought I could safely leave my post for a time, before returning to take up my abode in the neighbourhood for some years, as I hoped to do, when my appointment as Frontier Commissioner should have received the sanction of the authorities in England.
Meanwhile, however, some temporary arrangement was necessary[Page 380] for the administration of Kuram, and I wrote to the Foreign Secretary (Alfred Lyall), pointing out my views upon the subject.
Seeing how much could be done with these wild people by personal influence, and how ready they were to submit to my decisions when disputes arose amongst them—decisions at times literally given from the saddle—I was very adverse to their being handed over to some official who, from his training, would not be able to understand dealing out the rough-and-ready justice which alone was suited to these lawless beings, and who could not imagine any question being properly settled without its having undergone the tedious process of passing through the law courts. Such a rule would, I knew, disgust a people accustomed to decide their quarrels at the point of the sword—a people to whom law and order had been hitherto unknown, and must be distasteful, until they had had time to realize their beneficial effects. Profitable employment and judicious management would in time, no doubt, turn them into peaceful subjects. Friendly intercourse had already done much towards this end, and tribes who for generations had been at feud with each other now met, when visiting our camp, on common ground, without (much I think to their own astonishment) wanting to cut each other's throats. What was further required, I conceived, was the opening up of the country by means of roads, which would facilitate intercommunication and give remunerative employment to thousands who had hitherto lived by plunder and bloodshed.
In answering my letter, the Foreign Secretary informed me that the future of Kuram would be settled when I reached Simla, whither I was to proceed so soon as I had seen the British Mission across the frontier.
Gloomy Forebodings On the 15th July Major Cavagnari, who had been selected as 'the Envoy and Plenipotentiary to His Highness the Amir of Kabul,' arrived in Kuram, accompanied by Mr. William Jenkins, C.I.E., of the Civil Service, and Lieutenant Hamilton, V.C., Surgeon-Major Kelly, 25 Cavalry and 50 Infantry of the Guides Corps. I, with some fifty officers who were anxious to do honour to the Envoy and see the country beyond Kuram, marched with Cavagnari to within five miles of the crest of the Shutargardan Pass, where we encamped, and my staff and I dined that evening with the Mission. After dinner I was asked to propose the health of Cavagnari and those with him, but somehow I did not feel equal to the task; I was so thoroughly depressed, and my mind was filled with such gloomy forebodings as to the fate of these fine fellows, that I could not utter a word. Like many others, I thought that peace had been signed too quickly, before, in fact, we had instilled that awe of us into the Afghan nation which would have been the only reliable guarantee for the safety of the Mission. Had we shown our strength by marching to Kabul in the first instance, whether opposed or not, and there dictated the terms of the treaty, there would have been some assurance for its being adhered[Page 381] to; as it was, I could not help feeling there was none, and that the chances were against the Mission ever coming back.
Cavagnari, however, showed no sign of sharing my forebodings; he and his companions were in the best of spirits; he spoke most hopefully of the future, and talked of a tour he hoped to make with me in the cold weather along the northern and western frontiers of Afghanistan. Other matters of intense interest to us both were discussed, and before separating for the night it was arranged that Mrs. Cavagnari should either join him in Kabul the following spring, or come and stay with my wife and me in Kuram, where I had already laid the foundations of a house near the beautifully situated village of Shalufzan.
Early next morning the Sirdar, who had been deputed by the Amir to receive the Mission, came into camp, and soon we all started for the top of the pass. We had gone about a mile, when we were joined by an escort of Afghan Cavalry, dressed something like British Dragoons, with the exception of their head-gear, which consisted of the discarded helmets of the old Bengal Horse Artillery. They were mounted on small, useful-looking horses, and were armed with smooth-bore carbines and tulwars (Native swords).
As we ascended, curiously enough, we came across a solitary magpie, which I should not have noticed had not Cavagnari pointed it out and begged me not to mention the fact of his having seen it to his wife, as she would be sure to consider it an unlucky omen.
On reaching the Afghan camp, we were received in a large, tastefully decorated tent, where tea was served, and we were afterwards conducted to the top of the mountain, where carpets were spread and more tea passed round, while we gazed on the fine view of the Logar valley which stretched out beneath us.
On descending to the camp, we were invited to partake of dinner, served in Oriental fashion on a carpet spread on the ground. Everything was done most lavishly and gracefully, and nothing was omitted that was calculated to do us honour. Nevertheless, I could not feel happy as to the prospects of the Mission, and my heart sank as I wished Cavagnari good-bye. When we had proceeded a few yards in our different directions, we both turned round, retraced our steps, shook hands once more, and parted for ever.
I did not delay at Kuram; there was nothing to keep me there, and the prospect of getting back to my belongings and to civilization, now that all active work was at an end, was too alluring to be withstood. My wife met me at the foot of the Hills, and we drove up to Simla together. I was greeted by Lord Lytton and many kind friends most warmly, and had the gratification of hearing that I had been made a K.C.B., and that I had been accorded the thanks of both Houses of Parliament.
I was soon deep in the work of the Army Commission, which met[Page 382] for the first time under the presidency of the Hon. Sir Ashley Eden,4 K.C.S.I., on the 1st August. The heavy loss to the revenues of India, consequent on the unfavourable rate of exchange, rendered extensive reductions in public expenditure imperative, and the object of this Commission was to find out how the cost of the army could be reduced without impairing its efficiency.
Very little was done at the first meeting, and at its close Eden confessed to me that he did not at all see his way, and that he was somewhat aghast at the difficulties of the task before the Commission. To me it seemed clear that the maintenance of a separate army for each presidency, Bengal, Bombay, and Madras, was at the root of the evils it was our duty to consider and try to reform; and I promised the President that, before the Commission again assembled, I would prepare a scheme which might form a basis for them to work upon.
I considered it an anachronism, since railways and telegraphs had annihilated distance, to keep up three Commanders-in-Chief, and separate departments, each having an independent head, in the three different presidencies. I put my ideas on paper, and Eden announced himself in favour of my scheme, which substituted for the three presidential armies four army corps, all subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief in India. Portions of my recommendation began to be carried into effect directly they had received the sanction of the authorities in England—such as the amalgamation of the Commissariat, Pay, Ordnance, and Stud departments—but it was not until April, 1895, sixteen years after the proposal had been recommended by the Government of India, and although, during that period, four successive Viceroys, each backed up by a unanimous Council, had declared themselves strongly in favour of the change, that the finishing touch was given to the new organization, by the abolition of the offices of Commanders-in-Chief of Madras and Bombay, and the creation of four Army Corps, namely, the Punjab, the Bengal, the Madras, and the Bombay, each commanded by a Lieutenant-General.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER XLVIII
[Footnote 1: The late Major-General Sir George Colley, K.C.B.]
[Footnote 2: Kabul was expressly selected by Yakub Khan as the place where he wished the Embassy to reside.]
[Footnote 3: At this parade I had the great pleasure of decorating Captain Cook with the Victoria Cross, and Subadar Ragobir Nagarkoti, Jemadar Pursoo Khatri, Native Doctor Sankar Dass, and five riflemen of the 5th Gurkhas, with the Order of Merit, for their gallant conduct in the attack on the Spingawi Kotal, and during the passage of the Mangior defile. It was a happy circumstance that Major Galbraith, who owed his life to Captain Cook's intrepidity, and Major Fitz-Hugh, whose life was saved by Jemadar (then Havildar) Pursoo Khatri, should both have been present on the parade.]
[Footnote 4: Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal.]