The Retention of Candahar


The Retention of Candahar, published in London in 1881, is typical of the many pamphlets produced in Great Britain as the British Parliament and public debated policy toward Afghanistan in the wake of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80). The war began in November 1878 when the British sent an Anglo-Indian force into Afghanistan with the aim of replacing the Afghan amir, Sher Ali Khan, who was reputed to harbor pro-Russian sentiments, with a ruler more favorable to Britain. After a series of battles won by both British and Afghan forces, the war finally ended in September 1880 with a decisive British victory at the Battle of Kandahar. William Ewart Gladstone, who became prime minister for a second time in April 1880, took office firmly committed to a policy of complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. The policy was opposed by many active and retired officials in Britain and British India, who argued that British Indian troops should permanently occupy Kandahar as a check on possible Russian expansion toward India. One such former official was the Earl of Lytton who, as viceroy of India, had been a keen enthusiast for the war. This pamphlet contains the text of a speech delivered in the House of Lords by the Earl of Derby (Edward Henry Stanley, 1826–93), a British statesman and an influential, liberal-minded intellectual in the Victorian era and afterwards, in rebuttal of Lytton’s argument for retention. The pamphlet argues for abandonment, presenting the military, political, and financial case against retention. Lord Derby sums up his view at the end of his speech stating “I shall vote against the retention of Candahar because I believe it will be a burden and not a benefit—a source of weakness, not of strength.” This argument won out, and in the end the British and Indian governments made good on Gladstone’s commitment to complete withdrawal. The last British Indian troops left Afghanistan in the spring of 1881. The new Afghan ruler, ‘Abd-al-Rahman, conceded British supervision of his foreign relations, in return for which Britain promised him a subsidy and help in resisting unprovoked aggression by an outside power. By this agreement Afghanistan was able to preserve its independence and avoid foreign occupation.

Last updated: August 31, 2016