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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57

II.—Passive Defence Behind the Suleimán Range with the Left Pushed Forward into Peshín

II.—Passive Defence Behind the Suleimán Range with the Left Pushed Forward into Peshín.

This, as in the first case, supposes entrenched camps at Pesháwar, Thal or Banú, Dera Ismail Khán, Sukkur, &c., closing the mouths of the principal passes and covering the Indus bridges.

Can a war of cordons and posts ever be successful? As points d'appui in a first line to aid the initiative; as a final line behind which to gather strength and take breath previous to an onward movement; to secure depots, &c., &c., they are good. As a refuge in which the weaker foe may prolong his defence till a friend comes to his aid, they are also good; but from whence is the friend to come? Will not rather enemies spring up on all sides?

To trust to them as a first line of defence instead of the last refuge would be to waste energy and strength, and by the moral weakness of inaction to sap the spirit of the defence. Did the forts of Belgium or France or Germany ever prevent an enemy from over-running the soil they were designed to page 14 protect? The experience of the last Franco-German war Only need be borne in mind.

The enemy, making feints to pass at one or more main or secondary points, may pass at another, throw up works covering his debouch, and gather in strength until he can take the initiative, leaving behind him entrenched depôts of munitions and provisions. This he can do at not one but many points. As to entrenched camps, he is then on a par with the defender, and having inaugurated his lines of communication to the rear, he has no need to take the field until he is strong enough to do so.

With Russia, in possession of the rest of Afghánistán the advanced position in Peshín is untenable; outflanked, its communication with India can be cut far to the rear and at the outset of hostilities the force occupying it must retire out of it or shut itself up in an entrenched camp at Quetta, or Balózai, unless it accepts battle, with the alternative of facing either to its front or right flank. The shortness of the distances is such that concerted action might be expected from two forces operating from the north and west with good telegraphic intercommunication.

We cannot check the outflanking movement on Peshín and [unclear: Sind] by counter forward movements from our posts at Pesháwar and Bannú, &c., for we shall have relinquished to the enemy all the passes leading from them to Kabal and Ghazni, and it may be assumed that they will be held in such strength that it will be impossible to force them.

The projecting bastion of Peshín becomes the most vulnerable point of the line of defence unless it commands the hills to the north of its right flank as far as the line Kabal-Peshawar. So soon as these hills are occupied by an enemy it can be stormed at any time. They can only be commanded by occupation or by preventing an enemy capable of offence from occupying them.

The possibility of these hills falling into the hands of Russia could never have been contemplated by General Jacob, the first proposer of the occupation of Peshín.

The Ghilzis, the chief occupants of them, number 500,000 or about on an average 40 souls per square mile; allowing that 10 years of settled rule, a re-clamation from a nomadic to an agricultural life, &c., &c. (see page £I), will have increased the productive power of the country 10 per cent., it will be capable of feeding within its limits an army of 50,000 men.