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IT

AFGHANISTAN AND THE GERMAN THREAT

T has for long been an axiom among those who have taken an intelligent interest in Central Asian politics that the Power which holds Herat holds the keys of the 'gates of India.' Those 'keys' are at present grasped by the friendly right hand of Habibullah Khan, Ameer of Afghanistan, and the Government of India has had no cause to harbour misgivings on his account. His Majesty has ever proved himself a strong and enlightened ruler, a lover of peace, and an honourable adherent to treaty obligations. Withal, he has consistently shown that it is his policy to cultivate friendly relations with the Indian Government, and to ensure the future of these friendly relations by developing the natural resources of Afghanistan and by fostering and extending its trade with India. The importance, from the British point of view, of this attitude, is emphasized when it is fully realized that a peaceful and prosperous and powerful Afghanistan is essential to the security of the north-west frontier of India. The maintenance of the integrity of Afghanistan is therefore a prominent feature of Indo-British policy.

The Ameer has already, in connexion with the present World War, clearly demonstrated his ability as a strong ruler and his steadfastness as a sympathetic neutral. Little doubt can remain that he is in favour of peace. He has exercised the great power he possesses to maintain tranquillity all over the rough and difficult area between Orenburg and Peshawar. He has also by his actions given practical proof that he desires no more wars with India. Of great and significant importance is the fact that in 1914 he resisted the attempts which were made to involve him in the present great struggle on the one hand for world supremacy, and on the other for the liberty and integrity of small nations. To the fanatical cries for war ' against the Infidels' he turned a deaf ear, even although the pro-Turkish party had won to their side some of his own near relatives, and the Mullahs had stirred up the prejudices of a

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not inconsiderable section of his people. His Majesty the Ameer effectively stamped out this insidious agitation in a typically Eastern and dramatic manner. Eye-witnesses of what was undoubtedly an historic spectacle relate that the Ameer appeared at the bridge of Kabul river in royal state. Holding in his hands a volume of the Koran, he asked those who were known to him to be the principal advocates of a Holy War to show him a chapter in the sacred book in which the faithful were urged to wage war against friends. No reply was forthcoming. No orthodox reply to such a shrewd and disconcerting question was, in fact, possible. Then in few but memorable words the august Ameer made known his policy. These Feringhis (British),' he solemnly declared, are our friends.' He paused and added, They are my 'friends.' Another pause followed, and in the tingling silence he spoke clearly and firmly, saying, 'I, the "Light of Faith,' I, the "Torch of the Nation," have decreed, and now repeat my decree, that no subject of mine shall lift a finger against the Feringhis.'

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The prestige of the Ameer was not only assured but increased by this bold and determined declaration. As if by the wave of a magician's wand the political situation was immediately transformed. His Majesty turned away from the Kabul bridge, leaving a united people who were ready to follow his lead and give loyal adherence to his august decree. This scene, novel as it may appear to the western mind, affords ample evidence of two things-(1) the supreme control exercised by the Ameer over his people, and (2) the friendly attitude he consistently maintains towards the British Government.

The benevolent autocracy of Habibullah Khan has to be exercised with discretion and maintained with tact. In the palace he finds it necessary to act the part of a diplomatist. Like the eastern potentates of old, he must respect the views of influential counsellors and maintain the balance of power between these representatives of conflicting interests and national ideals. It is an open secret in Kabul that the two main palace parties are led by a man and by a woman. The former is the Ameer's younger brother, Sirdar Nasrullah Khan, who has a strong following among the nobles and is commander-in-chief of the Afghan army, and the latter is his

stepmother, Bibi Halima, who is pronouncedly pro-British in sympathies, and has likewise the support of a powerful section. The Ameer's brother's attitude is difficult to define. He is certainly not pro-British; he is perhaps what a Westerner may describe as a Nationalist.' He combines with his 'Nationalism' anti-foreign, including anti-British, prejudices. A moderating influence in affairs of state has of necessity to be constantly exercised by the Ameer. Happily, he has a strong personality and is capable, as the Kabul bridge incident shows, of achieving in times of crisis a sheer personal triumph.

The confidence reposed in the Ameer by the masses of the people is undoubtedly a source of strength to him. Like his father, he has ever promoted peaceful and orderly conditions of life. In the old days, lurid memories of which are now recalled with shrugs of horror, tribal warfare was frequent and bloody in Afghanistan. Prince rose against prince in the palace and waded his way through the blood of kinsmen to the throne. A nightmare of persistent intrigue and disastrous feuds enveloped the whole land. In short, in those bad old days no one, as the Eastern proverb puts it,' trusted even his own shadow.' Generations were born simply to fight; the Afghans fingered keen-edged weapons from their infancy. The administration of the late Ameer, continued by his enlightened successor, Habibullah Khan, has happily transformed Afghanistan and turned the energies of a virile people towards peaceful and elevating pursuits. The Ameer's policy, both in home affairs and in his foreign relations, is fully understood and appreciated by the Indian Government. His friendly attitude is a continuance of his father's policy. The late Ameer cultivated friendly relations with the British Government, which recognized him as an independent ruler, permitted the importation of munitions of war through British India so that the internal government of Afghanistan might be strengthened, and granted him an annual subsidy which now amounts to £120,000. The Ameer adheres strictly to this treaty, and the British Government in turn has dealt honourably with the Ameer.

It seemed even after the outbreak of the present war that nothing could possibly disturb the wonted attitude of the buffer state of Afghanistan, and that the security of the north-west frontier was assured, especially when the holder of the keys

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' of the gates of India' made his dramatic declaration on the Kabul bridge. But the whole situation has undergone a change in consequence of the Russian revolution. Central Asia has suddenly been drawn into the vortex of international politics. There is now good cause to fear that a stronger hand than the Ameer's may endeavour to snatch from him 'the keys of the gates of India,' by first threatening and then occupying Herat, and even by threatening it alone. And that hand is Germany's-'the mailed fist.'

The first murmur of what may be, or what is really intended to be, a coming storm has already been heard. In its latest scrap of paper,' the peace treaty with one of the mushroom Russian republics, the German Government has gone out of its way to give what should be considered a wholly unnecessary guarantee that it will respect the integrity of Persia and Afghanistan. This seems to be a case of protesting too much.' It certainly engenders suspicion and, as will be shown, not without sufficient cause.

Taking Germany's promise for what it is worth, one may note two things-(1) that it has been considered necessary to make it so as to justify some move not yet unmasked, and (2) that no mention is made of Russian Turkestan or of the Khanate of Bokhara, which is a protectorate of Russia, and really, in all but name, a Russian province, although governed by a native Khan. The Ameer cannot help feeling that Germany's unsolicited interest in the integrity of his kingdom is far from reassuring. Just as the security of the northwestern frontier depends on the continued maintenance of a free, independent, and strong Afghanistan, so does the security of Afghanistan depend on the maintenance of an unviolated Bokhara and a friendly and unaggressive Turkestan.

Russia's political collapse, which has brought about chaotic conditions in the provinces bordering on Persia and Afghanistan, has therefore raised problems which are a source of grave anxiety to the Ameer. He is well aware that the German threat is not only a possibility but is already, to a certain degree, a reality. For several years past German agents, in the guise of commercial travellers, have conducted a close investigation of Bokhara and Turkestan. They have hovered like flies, attracted by tempting food, round the borders of Afghanistan, and their propaganda has been scattered broad

cast, penetrating even to quarters that the agents themselves have never been able to reach. Berlin has little to learn regarding the sentiments and political aspirations and prejudices of the Khanates and Turkomans and the commercial and industrial potentialities of Bokhara and Russian Turkestan. No doubt, the German Central Asian policy is already well and clearly planned.

Full advantage is certain to be taken by the Germans of the present confused situation. The Russian grip having been relaxed, the first step likely to recommend itself to them is to create a still greater state of chaos in Central Asia which would necessitate or, at least, excuse their active intervention. The diffusion of fresh German propaganda, as was clearly indicated recently by the Viceroy of India in his address to the Council of Princes at Delhi, is known to be already in progress, and the Kaiser's military forces are evidently making frantic efforts to reach the western shores of the Caspian Sea. Russian Turkestan, were that the only ultimate goal of German ambition, would in itself prove to be a rich prize well worth making an effort to secure. Nor would the effort require to be as great as might at first thought appear, to cause this province to drop like ripe fruit into German hands.

Once Turkestan was occupied, Bokhara would prove an easy prey. Indeed, it is probable that the Khan may be drawn into the German net by means of hypocritical promises and professions of friendship so as to co-operate in securing the penetration of Turkestan. An autocrat by temperament, the Khan of Bokhara has long fretted under the overlordship of Russia. His own and his subjects' politics are pronouncedly anti-Russian. But for the fact that the Czar's Government kept strong Cossack and European forces in Turkestan he would have asserted, long ere the Russian revolution broke out, the complete independence of his country, which at present is no doubt a reality. Bokhara, remembering the past and fearing a revival of Russian power, might well be prevailed upon to side with Russia's destroyer.

This spirit of hostility against Russia is shared by the Turkomans of Russian Turkestan. Although the Russians have done so much to develop the commerce and the industrial and agricultural resources of that country, and although they have converted great stretches of erstwhile barren soil into

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