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ART. VIII.—History of the War in Afghanistan. From the
Unpublished Letters and Journals of Political and Military Officers employed in Afghanistan, throughout the entire period of British Connexion with that Country. By JOHN WILLIAM KAYE. 2 vols. London, 1851.
Amongst the features by which our Indian rule is specially distinguished, one of the most conspicuous is the peculiar difficulty to which we are exposed in the maintenance of the frontier. In order to preserve the territory we hold, it has been judged necessary to keep up alliances, to interpose between rival powers, or to plunge into costly wars upon the borders. British India cannot be marked out on the map, and governed like other countries by the ordinary machinery of a domestic system. In the close neighbourhood of numerous races who are at once divided against themselves by antagonistic interests, and united against us by a common faith, the government of India is as much a matter of intricate policy from without as of control and organization from within. To this curious position of an Empire won and sustained in the midst of jealous and hostile tribes, may be ascribed the fact of its rapid and still increasing extension. This extension is considered, in fact, an inevitable condition of its existence. It was necessary to advance our dominions farther and farther for the mere protection of what we already possessed. Feuds on the border must be subjugated as a safeguard against the infection of rebellion at home.
When protection was repaid by treachery or insult, the exaction of punishment or compensation was literally a measure of self-preservation. To have submitted to a wrong, or betrayed a fear, would have been to invite a danger, the remote issues of which might have perilled the fruits of a thousand victories. And thus, through a series of complicated transactions, in which we see the ally, with few exceptions, become transformed into the foe, and the mediator into the master, our Indian Empire presents the singular spectacle of a country deriving its internal safety from external agitation, and its strength and unity from the compulsory extension of its territories, elsewhere a source of weakness and disaster. Even the broad line of the Indus no longer limits our dominion, and the natural boundaries of empire have been swept away before the onward course of our standards. Of all the events that have arrested the attention of the world, in that history of progressive acquisitions, exhibiting in the most remarkable light the energy, skill, and courage of our countrymen in the East, that long train of baffled negocia
The Douranee Empire.
tions and harrowing carnage which is related in the volumes before us, may be considered, if not the most important, certainly the most profoundly interesting—especially at the present moment, when similar scenes appear to be in preparation on the same battle ground. That the interest of this narrative, however, and its direct influence upon the future, should be truly understood, it is necessary to trace back its springs to earlier incidents than the retreat from Caubul or the havoc of Jugdulluck,
Some fifty years ago, there was a vast region in India called the Douranee Empire, comprehending the whole country of Afghanistan, Cashmere, and the Derajata wild, haggard country, thinly populated by turbulent and barbarous races, and haunted by the goules and spectres of their superstitious imaginations. At that time this Empire was utterly unknown in England, and even the European residents in Hindostan knew little more of it than the fact of its existence. The best way of describing the mode of life of the people who wandered over the surface, or clustered in the solitary towns of imperial Douranee, will be by analogy with another form of animal economy. Whoever has seen a drop of New River water under the lens of a microscope, and observed the sanguinary activity and frightful contortions of the animalculæ there developed in a coil of eternal strife, may form some estimate of the domestic and social characteristics of the Douranee population. Fighting was not to say merely the ghastly trade of this people, it seems to have been their pastime. The Afghans, who appear to have been famous for their hospitality and their ballads, and who delighted in a little innocent gossip and gentle love-making at evening-tide in their villages, or the Fakir's gardens, were as fond of civil war, although not so ferocious in their dispositions, as the Rohillas. No vocation was exempt from this universal passion ; even the pastoral classes were as belligerent as the trained soldiers. “Their very shepherds," says Mr. Kaye, “ were men of strife. The predatory and the pastoral character were strangely blended ; and the tented cantonments of the sheep-drivers often bristled into camps of war.”
At the time we speak of, this remote kingdom was governed by a prince whose mind was possessed by one large misty idea
that of extending his possessions to the banks of the Ganges. This prodigious design so entirely engrossed him, that in the panoramic language of our author, he was "continually marching an army upon the frontier.” The phrase is a good one, and expresses with a peculiar descriptive force the uneasiness of the monarch. In India, however, it is not always safe for governors to be marching armies on their frontiers, for the moment they go away out of their own territories, the chances are a hundred to one that some younger brother, or fifteenth cousin, or irritated minister, will take advantage of their absence, and start up in their place; so that when a sovereign makes a speculative excursion of this kind, he may consider himself the most fortunate of men if he do not find his throne occupied on his return.
It was under the operation of some apprehension of this kind that Zemaun Shah, the then monarch of the Douranee, kept “continually” advancing upon the frontier, and as "continually" marching back again in a great fright to his Balla Hissar at Caubul." His movements were calculated to awaken curiosity and wonder, rather than to produce alarm, wherever the actual extent of his resources were known: but the people of British India were so ill-informed respecting him and his dominions, that when a rumour came floating into the Council Chamber of Calcutta, announcing the threatened descent of this fluctuating Sovereign upon Hindostan, we cannot be much surprised to find that it created a strong sensation, which penetrated even to the Governor-General himself. The danger was, of course, magnified by ignorance of the real poverty of a ruler, who, if he could have raised the enormous levies with which he was accredited by report; must have immediately disbanded them again from want of money to pay them. Had they been aware that his menaced invasion bore a close resemblance to the celebrated exploit of the French king and his numerous followers up and down a certain historical hill, they would have given themselves very little trouble at Calcutta about the flourishes of his chivalry.
But the fact of an invasion from that quarter was one of the most probable things in the world. It was the centre of a movement and a hope to which the aspirations of every tribe and race in the east were directed. The re-establishment of Islamism, and the rescue of Hindostan from the hands of the Franks, were objects for the accomplishment of which all eyes were turned to Canbul, and all hands were ready to lend their aid. “Every Mahomedan," said Lord Wellesley, speaking of the threatened expedition, even in the remotest regions of the Deccan, waited with anxious expectation for the advance of the champion of Islam.” The most sagacious statesmen of the day recognised the likelihood of such an attempt; and the reputed enthusiasm of Zemaun Shah, for the recovery of the ancient land of the faithful, gave a strong colouring of feasibility to the rumours which, day after day, supplied fresh speculations for the political circles of Calcutta. But his Majesty's phantom appearances and disappearances at various points, created so many groundless alarms that the English grew tired of the cry of “wolf!” His name, and the vague terrors associated with it, were at last very nearly Afghan Feuds and Usurpations.
forgotten ; indeed, the whole empire of the Douranee must have sunk into total oblivion, if sundry ominous reports of French intrigues in Central Asia had not suddenly revived an interest in its existence, and given an importance to its affairs which they could not otherwise by any possibility have acquired.
The French were said to be carrying on secret plots in Persia, with a view to the ultimate subversion of our power in the East; and as Persia was the grand frontier and high road to India in that direction, these rumours no sooner reached us in an authentic shape, than we resolved to send a mission to the Court of Teheran. The agitation produced by the apprehension of a French demonstration on the borders of our Oriental empire, and the treaty negociated by Captain afterwards Sir John Malcolm, with the Persian monarch, by the provisions of which the French were literally prohibited from entering the country upon any pretext whatever, are matters of history familiar to all readers. But an allusion to them is indispensable to the completeness of the narrative. Having thus secured ourselves against the only real danger that threatened us, a season of indifference succeeded. The internal convulsions of Central Asia went on as usual—the Douranee Empire continued to cultivate insatiable domestic feuds, and to threaten its neighbours with flying hostilities; but from the date of the Malcolm
treaty we took no further notice of these exterior races. Prince after prince was deposed, imprisoned, or put to death. It was no affair of ours. Even the formidable Zemaun Shah, while he was actually advancing on one of his chimerical invasions of Hindostan, was stopped short by the rebellion of his brother Mahmoud, ignominiously beaten, cast into prison, and for ever incapacitated from reigning, by having his eyes punctured and blinded by a lancet. Mahmoud in his turn was driven out by a younger brother, Shah Soojah; but these fluctuations in the royal drama exercised no disturbing influence over our repose. So long as we kept the French off the Persian border, and maintained our amicable relations with the Court of Teheran, the population of Afghanistan might play at soldiers in any fashion they pleased. We had other business to attend to. Å change had passed over our whole system of policy. We no longer displayed the bravery of our wealth to dazzle the imagination or bribe the friendship of the native powers; we no longer stepped in amongst them as guardian or arbitrator. A spirit of the strictest economy pervaded our internal regulations, and our new external policy was that of rigid non-interference. We were to govern India by its own resources alone, at a time when these resources were reduced to the lowest ebb, and to abstain from all demonstration of activity on our frontiers, while we were pursuing measures of retrenchment that betrayed our weakness within. Nor was the inexpediency of this change the only grave objection against it. Coming suddenly after the brilliant administration of the Marquis Wellesley, its effects were the more keenly felt, and its poverty the more glaringly exhibited. That such a system could not have been long sustained without endangering the whole framework of our Indian administration soon became sufficiently obvious; and even if the disaffection that it engendered in the army, and the death of Lord Cornwallis, had not brought it to a close, the new and portentous events that were looming upon us from the west must have rendered its abandonment inevitable.
Russia was ravaging Persia; and the Persian monarch, in the last emergency, had applied to France for assistance-to that very France who not very long before was not to be allowed to plant her foot on Persian ground. And to increase the perils of this situation, Napoleon and Alexander were just about this time meeting in a raft at Tilsit to parcel out the world between them. The policy of Persia in seeking the help of France at this juncture was evident, and not a moment was to be lost in the effort to re-establish an influence in the Court of Teheran, or, in the event of failure, to stir up into hostility the intermediate races that lay upon our border. "The domestic system was given up all at once. A voice had gone abroad, from one end of India to the other, to warn us that Russia was striding over the adjacent provinces, and that nothing short of a miracle could save us from impending destruction. The rapidity of our action under the pressure of these terrible omens was equal to the occasion. We despatched missions to every quarter from which we could draw an advantage, or neutralize a danger-to the Afghans, to the Ameers of Sindh, to Teheran, and to the Sikhs, “ a strange new race of men,” as Mr. Kaye calls them, who, in the interval that had elapsed, since our attention had last been attracted to that neighbourhood, had “erected a formidable power on the banks of the Sutlej by the mutilation of the Douranee Empire.” Our main object was to wean Persia from the French alliance, and to recover our influence in that country; failing in that, it was our design to set up Afghanistan and Sindh as barriers against encroachments froin the west, and to strengthen our frontier still more directly, by uniting the Sikhs with us against the French and Persian confederacy. If we have made these projects intelligible, the reader has now the whole state of things as in a map before him up to 1808.
The missions were successful, without a single exception. An extraordinary embarrassment hung over the negociations with Persia, arising from a circumstance unprecedented in the history of diplomacy—that of two ambassadors, with different powers,