The Afghan Frontier


George Campbell (1824−92) had a long career as an administrator in India, where he first went in 1843 in the service of the East India Company. He eventually rose to become lieutenant-governor of Bengal (1871−74). Campbell wrote several books about India, where he established a reputation as an administrator who, while paternalistic and authoritarian, was genuinely interested in the welfare of the Indian people. Campbell left India in 1874 to return permanently to England. He joined the Liberal Party and in 1875 was elected to Parliament as the member for Kirkcaldy. The Afghan Frontier, published in 1879, early in the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878−80, is a short book containing Campbell’s sweeping critique of the errors and inconsistencies that in his view marked British policy with regard to Afghanistan. After a brief overview of the situation before the war, the military and political situation in the spring of 1879, and the history, geography, and ethnography of the country, Campbell presents his argument that the British should accept a compromise accord with the new Afghan leader, ‘Abd al-Rahman Khan, and withdraw from the country. Campbell’s philosophy is summed up in the concluding sentences of the book: “I am myself all for economy, peace, and quiet at home, and would only seek to hold India so long as we can do so without being forced into ambitious projects beyond the Indian border. That was my view in 1849, and that is my view in 1879.”

Last updated: September 30, 2016