The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
General Remarks On Operations In Afghánistán And Its Value As A Defence To India
General Remarks On Operations In Afghánistán And Its Value As A Defence To India.
Operations in the offensive zone.
If the loss of territory endangers the defence of the central and northern tones it also eventually enables the flank of the line of operations in the southern zone to be turned, and compels a retirement along its whole line.
Further on this question is considered in detail and the following conclusion drawn, viz.:—
That the greatest amount of Afghán territory that can be allowed to pass into Russia's hands without altogether endangering the defence of India is Afghán-Turkistán, to the foot of the skirts of the Hindú Kush and the Herát Province, to the foot of the skirts of the Paropamisus range.
If these considerations be correct, it results that the limits to which the operations in the southern zone should be pushed are the hill passes to the north of the Herát valley commanding the entrances into it, and that anything short of this will give up territory which will render it possible for an enemy so to threaten the line of communications in this theatre as to eventually cause a retirement out of it.
Other offensive theatres possible and effective.
It is not meant that it is the only move, but it is one of three, for either Turkey, Persia or Afghánistán is a shoal against which the Northern wave of advance may be made to break its force and waste its power. Each of these decaying powers must be placed under such relations to the British Empire that they shall produce good government, the strength that results from it, a firm ally, and an integrity of empire that cannot be called in question.
These relations can be engendered peacefully by the construction of the strategical and commercial line of railway, the general direction of which is shown in part on the accompanying map. Such a line forms, as already stated, and which a glance at the map will show, a secondary base to the sea or India as a primary base, for operations to be carried out in Afghánistán, page 8 Persia, and Turkey in Asia, and would be the civilizing influence necessary to enforce just government and the development of the latent resources and material strength of the countries through which it passes.
How this strategical line forms a secondary base for operations conducted from the Persian Gulf or Gulf of Sekunderun is not further considered here (see page 24).
The Hindú Kush, the natural and geographical frontier of Hindústán.
Afghánistán has also been most justly called the outwork of India. Its occupation by a military power can be likened to nothing but the crowning of the glacis in front of the most vulnerable bastion of the fortress and the unmasking of the breaching batteries necessary to open the way into the enceinte of the main work. From the crowning of the glacis to the fall of the fortress is but a matter of time.
It will be said that we have found it impossible to hold Afghánistán, and that where we have failed Russia is not likely to succeed.
In our case it must be remembered the impossibilities were visionary, of our own making, and due to want of policy, of determination, and of faith in our power.
Russia, in her case, has proved her power of overwhelming and pacifying Mahamadan peoples as difficult to rule as the Afghans, her determination to do so, and her faith in her power to do it.
After the occupation of the Herat province for the few years necessary to inaugurate government and develop communications and supplies, the provinces of Afghán-Turkestán, kábal, and Kandahár must fall to her whenever she desires to occupy them, unless previously forestalled.
If lost the invasion of India becomes easy.
The action conceived to be required to prevent the thus gradual and systematic occupation by Russia of the outpost of India, drawn from the principles enumerated, has been sketched. Further details are given later on.
Its attainment easy by means of strategic railways and a settled policy.
The unsatisfactory and chaotic state to which we have reduced Afghánistán by warring with her has been due to our want of policy. A settled policy tranquillizes and cuts short opposition, and such a high authority as Sir H. Rawlinson has stated that he was of opinion that had we governed Afghánistán since page 9 1842 it would now be as orderly as the Panjáb and Scinde; and Lieutenant Broadfoot, after considerable intercourse with the people during and after the first Afghán war, stated it to be his opinion, slowly and deliberately formed, that a better taxation and a strong government would alter the country in a generation. It was at that time believed, throughout Afghánistán, to be written in the Heavens, that our sway was to extend from China to Damascus. The power of such a belief to influence a Mahamadan nation is, in itself, of such great importance, that to allow it to die was an error; to allow it to pass to the credit of another would be one of still greater magnitude.
The general consensus of opinion of officers engaged in the Afghán war of 1878-79-80 is identical with that given above.
This opinion is also borne out by the present condition of the Peshawar border tribes, who now, although not subject to us, find it more profitable to keep the peace than to raid.
And once order and government are established, what is to prevent her from becoming self-supporting, and an addition of power to the Empire and an increase of strength to our armies?
This question of expense would seem to he the chief objection to the Hindú Kush as the frontier of India.
If, however, it should be shown to be the natural frontier as well as the military frontier, it must eventually prove to be the least expensive, because it can be defended by the least number of men and with the greatest chances of success.
A project which when argued out promises the greatest amount of security possible with the expenditure of a moderate amount of means ceases to be ambitious or impracticable or an abstract project, or to be beyond the means of the State seeking security, and requires only for its realization a temporary application of extraordinary means to be hereafter paid back with interest.
To place the fighting strength of Afghánistán in Russia's power would be for us to lose a factor of great military capabilities and to array it against us.
None but a foreign power can weld together into a homogeneous whole and satisfactorily administer for the general good the discordant elements of which Afghanistan is composed. Should the efforts made to introduce a satisfactory rule be resented, a defeat, followed by a general disarming of the population, the deportation of hostages, and a proclamation of the assumption of rule, and the backbone of resistance will be broken. Partial risings may occur, several may die by the hands of fanatics, yet the great majority will be benefited and content, and be drawn to serve their rulers by self-interest and a strong and just government.
It must be remembered that but one-half of the five millions inhabitants of Afghánistán are Afgháns; the other half are Hazáras, Aimákhs, Turkománs, Usbaks, Kizilbásh, &c., with no love for their Afghán masters and ready to array themselves against them.
Military importance of the Herat Province.
The value of the Kábal and Kandahár Districts in immediately blocking the exits of the passes and roads leading through the right, centre, and southern zones of operations and in closing the mouths of the main passes penetrating the hills between Peshawar and Quetta and as bases for initiative action, is seen at a glance, but not so apparent in the very great importance of Herát.page 10
The Herát District has been called the key of India because of its advantages to the invader.
Its fertility and great latent resources.
This estimate is a very moderate one. From the neighbouring districts of Khorásán and Sístán could be drawn supplies, on a very moderate estimate, for 20 to 30,000 men.
All the materials (lead, iron, sulphur, saltpetre; willows and poplars—best wood for charcoal), necessary for the organization of such an army and the formation of its depots (supplies of grain, fodder, sheep, &c.; hardy and docile soldiers, can be drawn from the population, &c.) are to be found in the neighbourhood of Herát.
All the roads leading through the hilly Hazára country on Kábal, Ghazni and Kandahár, as well as the southern road on Kandahar and the northern road viâ Balkh on Kábal, threatening Afghánistán's main towns, are commanded by it.
Although the roads through the Hazára hills are easy as at present to infantry only and difficult to cavalry, they would not long remain impassable to guns were Herát in the hands of a military power; indeed, it is said that artillery has been taken viâ Obeh, Daulatyár, Besud, Gardan-i-diwár, and Bamian to Kábal, and by this road the Amír's post, escorted by cavalry, reaches Kábal from Herat in ten days.
The province of Herát, therefore, commands Afghánistán, and Afghánistán commanding all the passes leading into India, it is said that Herát (Province) is the key to India. Notwithstanding the ridicule with which this statement is often now met, the military reasons given above and political reasons not touched upon (dangers of intrigue, &c.), prove it to be no vain idea, but rather a very unpleasant truth.
Looking further afield, and considering the necessity of rendering Persia strong, its administration and occupation are necessary, to watch over her integrity and prevent Russia drawing supplies from Khorásán. It covers a railway connecting India with Mid-Persia.
The above considerations will suffice to show its imperial strategic importance. Sir H. Rawlinson has said that he would give up all Afghánistán page 11 rather than that Herát should be in the hands of Russia. Herát and Kandahár, he stated, were the Malakoff and Mamelon of India, the former of paramount importance to the latter.
To Russia and to Persia the value of Herát is clear, and to ignore it ourselves under the false idea that to acknowledge it would be to raise its importance in the eyes of others is impolitic and inadmissible, inasmuch as its value, both as a military position and political lever, is unfortunately only too well known a already.
Objection to the Herát Provinces as a theatre of operations.
The latter objection has been met elsewhere. If it is the best theatre to operate in for the defence of India, it is also the cheapest.
As to the first objection, it is proposed to operate by railways connecting Sístán with Quetta, and if necessary with the Persian Gulf, running out branch lines to the northward to suit military requirements.
Railways annihilate both time and distance, and if not open to raids are the best of all lines of communications, multiplying both men and means. The railways best calculated to further operations in the Herát Province answer the requirements of good military lines of communications and serve at the same time commercial aims. Such a line, with northern branches, would tap the trade of Central Asia, draw it to Kábal and Herát, and develop thousands of square miles of fertile lands.
Necessity for having the most secure frontier,
It is thus with the defence of Afghánistán,—no one of its provinces can be given up without endangering the defence of the whole.
No one ever dreamed of allowing the Kandahár Province to pass into Russian hands, and yet it is of no greater military importance than that of Herát or Kábal or even of equal importance.
Give up Afghan Turkistán and you give up the glacis of the fortress. This is the least dangerous to its security. Give up the Herát Province and the ravelin is gone; not an empty ravelin, but one stocked with supplies and with munitions of war. Nothing but a sally of the garrison to recover it can save the fortress. Give up Kábal, and the covered way of the fortress in front of its most vulnerable bastion is lost, and nothing can prevent its being crowned and the batteries opened, except, again, a sally of the garrison and the driving of the besieger to the very extreme slope of the glacis.
and the one which is also the cheapest in the end.
Examine now alternative plans of defence.