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. This pamphlet, written by a retired major general who had served as political superintendent and commandant on the Sind frontier and in Baluchistan, argues for retention. The pamphlet presents the military, political, and financial case for a continued British military presence in Afghanistan and disputes “government arguments for abandonment.” The pamphlet greatly exaggerates the threat to Afghanistan posed by Russia, and concludes with a warning that “Afghanistan must eventually fall under the influence of Russia or England. We have now to decide which it will be.” This argument did not win 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, ʿAbd-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, but Afghanistan was able to preserve its independence and avoid foreign occupation.

Last updated: July 27, 2016