Lord Lytton and the Afghan War


Lord Lytton and the Afghan War is a scathing critique of the Afghan policies of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, the viceroy of India who is credited with provoking the Second Anglo-Afghan War. A poet, novelist, and diplomat, Lytton was appointed viceroy in 1876 by Conservative prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. Lytton purportedly feared the spread of Russian influence in Central Asia. In November 1878 he launched the invasion of Afghanistan from British India by an Anglo-Indian force with the aim of replacing the Afghan amir, Sher Ali, who was reputed to harbor pro-Russian sentiments, with a ruler more favorable to Britain. Published in 1879 by William Joseph Eastwick, a former high-ranking official of the East India Company, the book criticizes the errors of fact and judgment made by Lytton in pursuit of his “forward” policy toward Afghanistan. Eastwick accuses Lytton of misleading Parliament and the British public about the situation in the country, exaggerating the threat posed by Sher Ali, underestimating the duration and ferocity of the resistance the invasion was likely to provoke, disregarding previous diplomatic understandings with Russia, and undermining progress in India, where Eastwick regarded British rule as a force for good. Many of Eastwick’s pessimistic predictions about the war were eventually borne out, as the conflict dragged on until the fall of 1880 with rising human, financial, and political costs.

Last updated: September 30, 2016