July 27, 2016

Afghan Poetry of the Seventeenth Century

Khushal Khan Khatak (also seen as Khwushhal, 1613‒89) was a celebrated warrior-poet, often called the national poet of Afghanistan. He was born near Peshawar, the son of Shahbaz Khatak, chief of the Khatak tribe. By appointment of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in 1641 he succeeded his father as chief of the Khatak tribe, but later was imprisoned by Shah Jahan’s powerful and harsh successor, Emperor Aurangzeb (reigned 1658–1707). Khatak eventually was permitted to return to Peshawar, where he incited the Pashtuns to unite and to revolt against Mughal rule. Afghan Poetry of the Seventeenth Century is a selection of Khatak’s poems, edited and compiled by C.E. Biddulph of Trinity College, Cambridge. The book contains an introduction to the history of Afghanistan and the poet Khatak, a grammatical introduction that explains the fundamentals of the Pushto language, English translations of a selection of Khatak’s poems, and the original Pushto texts written in the Persian script. The translations are either by Biddulph or reproduced from H.G. Raverty’s Selections from the Poetry of the Afghans from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century (1862). In the introduction, Biddulph writes that Khatak’s poems “are characteristic of the national character and the circumstances of his life; they contain the most extraordinary mixture of warlike, not to say bloodthirsty sentiments, and those of a philosophical, religious, or sentimental nature. In the same poems almost one may find the simple and most charming expressions of his appreciation of the beauties of nature and the benefits of the Creator, the most sanguinary rejoicings over the discomfiture of his foes, even when these are of his own countrymen, and reflections of a moralizing description which show the amount of thought he had bestowed on such subjects.”

Tall Tactics: England Affghanistan

Tall Tactics: England Affghanistan is a 50-page essay by an unidentified author on British foreign policy, particularly policy toward Afghanistan, published during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80). The war was initiated under the Conservative government of Benjamin Disraeli (Lord Beaconsfield), who was prime minister from February 1874 to April 1880. Disraeli was preceded by the Liberal William Gladstone (in office December 1868‒February 1874). Written from the Liberal point of view, the essay is an attack on Disraeli’s policies and a defense of those of Gladstone. It begins with a discussion of Anglo-Russian relations and the Eastern Question, i.e., the fate of the Ottoman Empire, noting that Conservative “policy towards Affghanistan has been guided by Tory wishes and watchings in Turkey in Europe.” The remainder of the pamphlet is devoted to a defense of British policy toward Afghanistan under Gladstone and to criticisms of that policy under Disraeli, which it claims needlessly alienated the amir of Afghanistan, Sher Ali (ruled 1863‒66 and 1868‒79), and ultimately culminated in a pointless and costly war. The arguments made are reflective of those that raged in the British press and parliament in the 1870s as the parties debated how to respond to Russian expansionism in Central Asia and whether Russian moves constituted a threat to British India through Afghanistan. The author accuses the Disraeli government of acting contrary to the unwritten English constitution by committing “the country to a new line of political action without consulting Parliament.” The essay concludes with calls for the reform of the British political system, which it argues are needed to ensure that foreign and domestic policy are conducted for the “general good of all the people” rather than for the benefit of private interests.

The Russo-Afghan Question and the Invasion of India

George Bruce Malleson was a British army officer and military historian who had served in India and who wrote prolifically on the history of India and Afghanistan. One of his major works was History of Afghanistan from the Earliest Period to the Outbreak of the War of 1878, a political and military history of Afghanistan that was published in London in 1879, shortly after the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878−80). The Russo-Afghan Question and the Invasion of India, published six years later, has the same theme as the earlier book, namely the strategic importance to the British Empire of Afghanistan as a buffer against Russian expansionism and the growing seriousness of the Russian threat to Afghanistan and by extension to India. The immediate impetus to Malleson’s writing the second book was the Russian annexation of Merv (in present-day Turkmenistan) and the formation of a joint Anglo-Russian boundary commission to determine the northern frontier of Afghanistan. The author argues that the territories recently seized by Russia historically belonged to the amir of Afghanistan and should be returned to him. The key strategic point, Malleson argues, is Herat, “the outlying redoubt of India” and in his view the next objective in the Russian campaign of expansion. Malleson calls for a forceful response to the threat from Russia, and specifically the concentration of “all our available troops in the Pishin valley, ready for a prompt advance” to Herat. Chapter nine, “The Armies on Both Sides,” contains a detailed accounting of the size, composition, and strength of Russian military units deployed in Central Asia and of the British and Indian troops available for the protection of India. The book presented here is the second edition of The Russo-Afghan Question and the Invasion of India, published in 1885.

Causes of the Afghan War

Causes of the Afghan War is a compilation of documents assembled by the Afghan Committee of the British Parliament to examine the events leading up to the Second Anglo-Afghan War, which began in November 1878 and lasted until September 1880. The committee was comprised of members of Parliament from all parties who were critical of the secrecy with which the British government had initiated the war and its reasons for doing so. As stated in the preface: “We believe that this war is unjust; and injustice is certain, sooner or later, to bring disaster in its train. We believe that, even if just, it is inexpedient; that the policy which brought it about is unwise, and will imperil our rule in India.” The stated purpose of the book is to help the British public at large understand the war by making available to it the same documents (“papers”) presented by the government to the Parliament or assembled by the Afghan Committee in the course of its own investigations. The book is in three parts. The first deals with the causes of the Anglo-Afghan War, beginning with events in 1855 and leading up to the outbreak of the conflict in 1878. The second part deals with the Anglo-Indian occupation of Quetta (in present-day Pakistan) in 1876 and its incorporation into British India. The third part, entitled “England and Russia in Central Asia,” concerns the understanding reached between the British and Russian governments in 1876 regarding their respective spheres of influence in Asia and the subsequent breakdown of that understanding as a consequence of competition for influence in Afghanistan. The texts reproduced here include diplomatic dispatches, correspondence between British and British Indian officials and their Afghan and Russian counterparts, articles or reports from newspapers and periodicals, and other documents, excerpted from a series of parliamentary “Blue Books” (so called because they were printed with blue paper covers) on Afghanistan and Central Asia. The texts are elucidated and commented upon in an anonymously written connecting narrative.

Grammar and Vocabulary of Waziri Pashto

Grammar and Vocabulary of Waziri Pashto is a textbook intended for British officers with knowledge of the Pushto of Peshawar and seeking to learn the Pushto spoken in the Bannu District and in Waziristan (in present-day Pakistan). The author, a political officer in the British Indian army, notes the significant difference in the way the language is spoken in the two locales, which, he ventures, “is hardly less than that which separates broad Scots from cockney English, and like it extends to grammar and idiom as well as vocabulary.” Following a summary overview of Waziri grammar, the bulk of the book is taken up by a vocabulary, in which transliterated Waziri words are listed in alphabetical order with their English equivalents given. The book is intended strictly for learning to speak and to comprehend speech, as the Pushto alphabet is not used and no attention is paid to the written language. Two appendices give examples of an English text translated into Waziri Pushto and a Waziri Pushto text rendered into English. A third appendix, entitled “Some Leading Waziri Characteristics,” discusses what the author regards as the qualities of the people of Waziristan, which he sees as having been formed by the rugged and impassable nature of the territory in which they live. Among the topics discussed in this essay are Islamic religious practice and the role of women in Waziri society. Waziri Pashto is today spoken in Waziristan and Bannu, Pakistan, and adjacent parts of Afghanistan. The book was published in Calcutta (present-day Kolkata), India, by the government of India.

The Frontiers of Baluchistan

George Passman Tate was an assistant superintendent employed by the Survey of India who headed the surveys undertaken by two missions that determined large parts of the borders of Afghanistan, the Baluch-Afghan Boundary Commission of 1895‒96 and the Seistan Arbitration Mission of 1903‒5. The first of these surveys was carried out to delimit the so-called Durand Line, the border between Afghanistan and British India (present-day Pakistan) that was negotiated during the 1893 mission to Kabul by Sir Mortimer Durand of the Indian government and codified in an agreement signed by Durand and the ruler of Afghanistan, Amir ‘Abd al-Rahman Khan. The second survey was to Seistan, or Sistan, a region that straddles eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan (and parts of Pakistan). It was undertaken after the governments in Kabul and Tehran asked Great Britain to arbitrate the border between the two countries in this region. The book contains an introduction by Colonel Sir Henry McMahon, the British commissioner on both missions. Most of the book is taken up by Tate’s account of the Seistan Mission. He describes the journey overland from Quetta (in present-day Pakistan) to eastern Iran and the region of the marshy Hamun-i Helmand (present-day Daryacheh-ye Hamun) fed by the Helmand River. Tate offers vivid descriptions of the harsh and forbidding climate, the famous “Wind of 120 Days,” and the people, economy, and social conditions of the region. The final chapter is devoted to the Helmand River. The book includes illustrations and two fold-out maps, one showing the route of Tate’s travels, and another the region of the Daryacheh-ye Hamun. Tate describes the work of the surveying parties, but he offers little insight into the politics surrounding the determination of the borders, a topic which, as Sir Henry McMahon phrased it in his introduction, he “felt himself debarred from touching.” Tate filed a number of official reports in which these topics were discussed.