Lord Auckland, 1836-42
- Lord Auckland was the Governor-General of India and had decided that Dost Mohammed could no longer be trusted after his invitation of Yan Vitkevich to Kabul in 1837. He sided with the pro-British Ranjit Singh in the border dispute over Peshawar. It was Lord Auckland’s issuing of the Simla Manifesto that made the invasion inevitable. He had been convinced by Macnaghten and others that Shah Shujah would be welcomed as new pro-British leader in Afghanistan. Alexander Burnes had counselled against overthrowing Dost Mohammed and replacing him with Shah Shujah but was overruled.
- Lord Auckland was also feeding on a wider antipathy to Russia in the region and back in Europe. Russian influence was deemed to be taking a decisive influence in the Persian siege of Herat and it was believed that the Russian influence might soon stretch all the way to the borders of India unless challenged. He had the full backing of his Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston for the activist policies that he was about to pursue. He would take much of the blame when the mission came to such a tragic end and was quietly but quickly replaced as Governor General by Lord Ellenborough in 1842
- First Anglo-Afghan War:
- Lord Auckland’s assumption of charge as the Governor-General of India synchronised with the most intractable problem of security of north-west frontier of India. During this period the British Cabinet’s foreign policy had taken a completely anti-Russian turn. This was largely due to Palmerston, the then foreign Secretary, who had an unjustified Russo-phobia.
- This was all the more accentuated when during 1837-38 Persia with Russian support attacked the Afghan Province of Herat. Lord Auckland was a blind follower of Lord Palmerston and he also became unnecessarily scared of Russia and in order to prevent Persia from making more headway through Afghanistan he sent a trade mission to Afghanistan under Capt. Alexander Burnes. Ostensibly it was a trade mission but the real intention behind sending of the mission was to obtain political advantages and to negative indirect Russian influence on Afghanistan. Dost Mohammad, Amir of Afghanistan, was also in his predicament very much eager to establish friendly relations with the English.
- But he sought to strike a bargain through his friendship with the English, namely, to recover Peshwar from Ranjit Singh of Punjab who had conquered it from Persia. Lord Auckland would not substitute the friendship of Ranjit Singh with that of Dost Mohammad, for he considered the former to be more powerful and dependable than Dost Mohammad. Lord Auckland refused to put pressure on Ranjit Singh for return of Peshwar to Dost Mohammad and the latter also refused to have any friendly relation with the English.
- On the contrary he began to show greater inclination towards Russian friendship. Lord Auckland’s refusal to pressurizing Ranjit Singh for the surrender of Peshwar as a condition of Dost Mohammad’s friendship has been criticized by many as unwise, for this would have given him an opportunity to extend English influence of the Khyber Pass.
- But Auckland’s Afghan Policy was influenced by his exaggerated fear of Russian advance towards Afghanistan and through it to the Indian border. Auckland did not consider the geographical aspect of the issue for he failed to realize the great distance between the Persian border and that of the Company’s territories towards the north-west. He also did not study the topography of the region which would itself make it rather impossible for the Persian army even with Russian help to cross over Afghanistan to the Indian frontier.
- This realization naturally would have made too much dependence on Ranjit Singh’s friendship rather redundant. It is also argued that Auckland should have tried to persuade Ranjit Singh to return Peshwar to Dost Mohammad, a course which he did not try at all. All this showed Auckland’s lack of far-sight and pragmatic outlook.
- The failure of the attempt to establish friendly relations with Dost Mohammad and the latter’s increasing friendliness towards Russia very much perturbed Lord Auckland and the only course he thought open to him was to remove Dost Mohammad from his position as Ainir and place a friendly person as Amir instead.
- Auckland decided to place Shah Shuja, a descendant of Ahmad Shah Durrani who had taken shelter with the English at Ludhiana in the Punjab after his dethronement from Persia as Amir. Auckland began to espouse the cause of Shah Shuja and to attempt recovery of the Persian throne for the latter. He thought that replacement of Dost Mohammad by Shah Shuja would further the cause of the English in Afghanistan and thereby make Afghanistan a friendly buffer State against Persian progress towards Afghanistan with Russian help and ultimately to the Indian border.
- Auckland entered into alliance with Shah Shuja and Ranjit Singh and as soon as the triple alliance had been signed he began preparation for attacking Afghanistan. The British Cabinet also approved of the plan and policy of Auckland towards Afghanistan, but the Court of Directors strongly opposed Auckland’s plan. Considered from moral principle, it must be pointed out that refusal of Dost Mohammad to sign a friendly treaty with the English or his friendliness towards Russia could not themselves be any valid grounds for a war against Afghanistan. For as an independent Amir it was certainly his discretion whether or not he would accept any other Power’s friendship. It, therefore, goes without saying, Auckland’s Afghan policy was totally devoid of any moral principle; it was out and out an expression of superior armed strength, a sort of a brigandage and nothing more.
- The situation within Afghanistan at that moment was propitious for Auckland’s plan. The Durranis and Barakzais, two royal families of Afghanistan, were involved in a serious conflict. Dost Mohammad belonged to the Barakzais family. When this internal conflict had torn Afghanistan into two rival groups mutually antagonistic, Auckland took his chance and declared war against Afghanistan. The declaration of war against Afghanistan, as the sequel proved, was the greatest mistake committed by Auckland.
- At the very initial stage of the war Dost Mohammad was defeated and deposed by the English. He was taken prisoner and brought to Calcutta and Shah Shuja was placed by the English on the throne of Afghanistan. The abject surrender of his independence to the British by Shah Shuja, and the debauchery of Capt. Burnes soon gave rise to popular hatred of the both. The Afghans rose into open rebellion in Kabul and seized the person of Capt. Burnes and tortured him to death for his haughtiness and debauchery.
- Resident Macnaghten was compelled to sign a dishonourable agreement with the Afghans by which Dost Mohammad was to be set free by the British, all British Troops had to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Need-less to mention that Macnaghten was compelled by circumstances to sign this dishonourable agreement and naturally he had the least intention to abide by its terms.
- The Afghans did not take long to realize the intentions of Macnaghten and they killed him. This was followed by a more dishonourable agreement with the Afghans. The British troops had to surrender their arms to the Afghans and leave Afghanistan. While leaving Afghanistan without any arms and ammunition quite a number of the British troops lost their lives at the hands of the Afghans. In Jalalabad and Kandahar the British authority was still maintained but in Kabul no trapes of the British troops or British Residency remained. In this way Lord Auckland met with ignominious failure bringing British prestige to the dust. He resigned and left India thoroughly discredited and disgraced.
- Lord Auckland was succeeded by Lord Ellenborough’s as Governor-General. On reaching India Ellenborough’s first task was to bring the First Anglo-Afghan War to a close and to retrieve the lost prestige of the British government. Meanwhile the British troops at Jalalabad had been kept encircled by the Afghans. Ellenborough despatched General Nott to assist General Pollock at Jalalabad. But before General Nott reached Kabul, Pollock had succeeded in freeing the British troops from the siege. General Nott, however, entered Ghazni and reduced the town into shambles, after which the combined forces of Nott and Pollock proceeded towards Kabul.
- They entered Kabul practically without any resistance and reduced the city into a heap of debris. The Kabul market was blown up with the help of dynamite. The inhuman torture and wholesale destruction perpetrated by the British troops in order to retrieve the lost prestige with the Afghans, in fact, blackened the name of the British all the more.
- Post Mohammad had been set free by the English in the meantime. The Afghans deposed and killed the British stooge Shah Shuja and placed Dost Mohammad on the Afghan throne. Thus ended the First Anglo-Afghan war with the ignominious failure of the British with loss of prestige in the bargain.
- Criticism of Auckland’s Afghan Policy:
- On a dispassionate consideration of the causes, course and effects of the First Anglo-Afghan war, one is bound to find a lack of far-sight and minimum morality expected of a government of great Britain’s standing. The whole thing was born of Lord Palmerston’s unnecessary and unjustified Russo-phobia which his understudy Lord Auckland shared in full.
- There was no mood on the part of Lord Auckland to consider whether the war was at all necessary, whether the situation justified the course adopted. Both Palmerston and Auckland did not betray far-sightedness in rushing into a war with Afghanistan. The policy is also assailable on moral grounds.
- Again, from the political point of view also, the Afghan policy of Auckland cannot be justified, for when Persia with Russian’s support laid siege of Herat, it was the combined forces of the Afghan and British army that compelled Persia to withdraw the siege. Thus the argument that Russia-supported Persia was moving towards Afghanistan made it imperative to bring Afghanistan under British influence does not hold water. On the contrary a friendly Afghanistan would have been a better guarantee of Anglo-Afghan defence against Persia, assisted by Russia. It is, therefore, clear that lack of political wisdom was writ large in Palmerston and Auckland’s Afghan policy.
- It has also to be pointed out that Amir Dost Mohammad did nothing that even smacked of enmity towards the British. By turning him into an enemy on the ground of his friendliness towards Russia and waging war against him Auckland blackened the hands of the British. During the course of the war the British army violated, the agreements signed with the Amirs of Sind by marching through their territories and forcibly realizing money from them. The immortality and short-sightedness of Auckland’s policy towards Afghanistan and the Amirs of Sind have been universally condemned by the British Historians.
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