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which the inhabitants of the tropical parts of India are not adapted to serve.”
25th Para. “We must therefore accept the fact that our fighting army, so far as a great campaign beyond the North West Frontier is concerned, must be composed mainly of the Sikh, the Punjābi, the Pathān, the Balûchi, and the Gurkha.”
It is clear from the above-quoted extracts, giving expression to the opinion of the Governor General in Council, that a "Forward Policy” is looked upon, both as a political, and military, necessity, in the event of an attempt being, made by Russia to occupy Afghanistan, either by conquest, or with the consent of the Amir.
The bitter experiences of all our former occupations of Afghanistan are to be ignored ; and we are to embark once more in a sea of troubles, as regards our transport and supplies : our relations with the most treacherous nation on the face of the earth ; and, the discontent of that portion of our native troops which may form our army of occupation.
And for what purpose ? If our own natural frontier presented features so weak, and so unsatisfactory, as to render any defence of it almost impossible ; and if, on the other hand, the country beyond our border contained a position, or positions, of exceptional strength, then there might be something to be said in favour of such a plan. As a fact however the very reverse is the case. We have on the North West border of India an exceptionally strong frontier, which can, I believe, be made impregnable; whilst on the other hand Kandahar and its neighbourhood, and Kabul and its surrounding country, are exceptionally weak as defensive positions. By a “forward policy ” we place our army with its back to a succession of most formidable defiles, which, in case of reverse, would most undoubtedly prove its destruction ; and which, under favourable circumstances, would cause a tremendous strain upon the transport service, and a very serious addition to the cost of the campaign. By remaining within our own border we oblige
our enemy to commit himself to those dangerous defiles, and can meet him with every chance of success, as he debouches from them, on our side, in inevitably lengthened, and straggling, array.
The strength of our North West Frontier lies, not only in the formidable obstacle which the Indus river presents to an invading force, and to the strong posts which we hold at Quetta and Peshawur ; but also in the difficult nature of the country which lies between the Indus river and the Afghan frontier proper, which frontier, although not geographically correct, may fairly be represented by the line : Kabul, Ghazni, Kandahar. The distance between that line and the river varies from about 300 miles to 173 miles. The main roads towards India are the Bolan, the Gomal, the Kochi, the Kuram, and the Khyber, but there are numerous alternative routes besides those above-mentioned. All however present formidable difficulties to an European force advancing with artillery and the other necessary impedimenta. Scarcely any supplies are procurable; water is often very scarce, as is also grass. Before reaching the Indus, the Sulimān range of mountains must be crossed, the heights of which vary from 7500 to 11000 feet; and then, should all these difficulties be successfully overcome, a wide, unfordable river stares an invading force in the face.
The essential condition, when a large river is taken as the line of defence, is that the defending force should have the command of both banks. This condition in the case of the Indus is satisfactorily fulfilled. We not only occupy Quetta and Peshawur, well in advance of that river, but we are also in possession of that long and narrow strip of country, 300 miles long and with an average of sixty miles in breadth, which stretches between the Suliman Mountains and the Indus, and is called Daman or the Derajāt.
The Indus river is, as I have already said, practically unfordable ; as although Shah Shujah forded the river above Attock in 1809, his success was considered almost a
miracle. It could only be attempted during the months from October to March, when the river is lowest. During the remaining six months of the year the river rises rapidly, and expanding over the country in numerous parts converts it into an extensive lake. Between Mithankote and Bukkur island the inundation extends sometimes twenty miles from the western side of the river. The width of the river during its shrunken state varies from 480 to 1,600 yards, and its general velocity is about 3 miles an hour in the winter, and six miles an hour in the flood season. An invading force must therefore contemplate the necessity of bridging the Indus within the short time available for that purpose.
General von Clausewitz, the highest strategical authority of this century, says in his work—“ On War":"As the equipment for crossing rivers which an enemy brings with him, that is, his pontoons, are rarely sufficient for the passage of great rivers, much depends on the means to be found on the river itself, its affluents, and in the great towns adjacent, and lastly on the timber for building boats and rafts in Forests near the river. There are cases in which all these circumstances are so unfavourable, that the crossing of a river is by that means almost an impossibility." There are no great Towns; there are no Forests within 60 miles of the Indus river; and there are only a few insignificant affluents on the right bank. It would therefore be the grossest negligence on the part of the military commanders, if an enemy, arriving at the Indus, were allowed to secure a single boat available for bridging purposes.
Assuming, however, for the sake of argument, that an enemy has been able to secure the requisite number of boats and bridging material, which would enable him to bridge the Indus, let us consider the nature of the work which would then lie before him.
During the campaign in Afghanistan of 1839-40 the Indus was bridged between Sukkur and Rohree. 74 large
. boats were employed ; 19 from Sukkur to the island of Bukkur; and 55 from the island to Rohree on the left bank. These boats averaged 7 tons in weight on the Sukkur side ; and 17 tons in weight on the Rohree side.
The extent of river bridged was about 500 yards, the site chosen being the narrowest available part of the river, the island of Bukkur much facilitating the operation.
The Sukkur side was bridged in four days; the Rohree side took sixteen days, but it ought to have been done in ten. It may be said therefore that the operation required fourteen days to be completed.
The river rose on the 27th January and again on 3rd February, when danger for its safety was apprehended.
The above facts taken from Hough's “Campaign in Afghanistan” and the “ Professional papers of the Royal Engineers” show the difficulties that had to be faced by our Engineers, when they had peaceful possession of both banks of the Indus, a friendly population to deal with, and the unlimited resources of India to draw upon.
Without boats; without timber; with a hostile force on both flanks of the right bank; and a powerful army on the left bank, ready to oppose any attempt to cross the river, what chance would an enemy have of being able to transport from one bank to the other all the men and material requisite for such a task as the invasion of India ?
If then General von Clausewitz's opinion is to be accepted, the crossing of the Indus by an enemy, in such force as to endanger the safety of India, should be considered, not as almost, but as entirely, impossible.
It may be argued however that Russia, assuming that she had full possession of Afghanistan as a base, from which she could move forward to the conquest of India, would not attempt to cross the Indus during her first move forward from that base, but would content herself with gaining possession of all the country lying between the Indus and the line Kandahar-Ghazni ; in other words, the whole country lying between the Bolan and the Kuram
passes and from that advanced base complete her preparations for bridging the Indus, so as to enable her to move across that river immediately the state of its waters would permit of the attempt being made.
It will be necessary therefore to consider the strength of our position on the right bank of the Indus; what has already been done in the way of improving its naturally strong features ? and then, what remains to be done? so that it may be made, as it is capable, the strongest military frontier in the world.
An invasion of India, such as to endanger its safety, can, I contend, only be made from the West. An advance upon India from the North, over the Hindu-Kush mountains, by the Baroghil or Dorah passes, either upon Gilgit into Kashmir; or upon Chitral into the Peshawur valley, could only be attempted, and that with great risk, by small bodies of troops :-as the physical difficulties on that line are tremendous, and would effectually preclude the possibility of advancing in any formidable force. At the same time it seems unwise to make those routes easier by constructing military roads from our territory towards those points as is being done. There, as elsewhere, we should meet the enemy, as he debouches from the pass nearest to our own frontier.
Assuming my contention to be true that danger to India is only to be looked for from the West ; it remains to be seen whether our advanced posts at Quetta and Peshawur, can effectually bar any attempt on the part of an European enemy to advance towards India from its base: Kandahar, Ghazni, Kabul.
I propose to deal first with our entrenched camp at Quetta, which can exercise no influence over an advance from Kabul upon Peshawur-and which route will be considered later on.
The late Major-General Macgregor in his so-called “ confidential work, “ The Defence of India-a strategical study,” lays down at page 203 six routes leading