William Norman Ewer

Delhi and Kabul


Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 11, February 1929, No. 2, pp. 82-84 (1,408 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


The abdication of Amanullah was a big victory for Anglo-Indian Imperialism. The British papers for the most part have been wise enough to conceal their exultation. But the Morning Post, whose self-control is not its strong point, burst into exuberant joy, and, with the exquisite manners so characteristic of the English gentleman, compared Amanullah, on whom it was fawning only a few months ago, to Jezebel.

London and Delhi had never forgiven Amanullah for snatching recognition of full independence from them in the dangerous days of 1919. They could not forgive his friendship with the Soviet Union. They dreaded the prospect of his building a strong, independent and progressive State on their borders—an example to the Moslem population of India. They learned uneasily of plans for the formation of a Turco-Persian-Afghan alliance.

For ten years Amanullah had been a thorn in their flesh; their hope that he would be overthrown by his subjects vanished when the Khost rebellion of 1925 was suppressed. Then, three years later, came a new hope. Amanullah, who had seen no city larger than Kabul, decided to visit Europe. If he could be properly impressed with the power and wealth of England: if he could be seduced by flattery and fine gifts; if, above all, he could be tempted to accept a loan, all might even now be well. There had never yet been an Oriental monarch who had been immune to such temptations. Temptation, extravagance, loans, control, occupation, was the regular programme, It had taken the British to Cairo: why not to Kabul?

But Amanullah may have heard of the history of Ismail while he was in Egypt. He listened politely to the flattery. He saw the aeroplanes and tanks and submarines, and drew his own conclusions. He accepted hospitality and gifts. But—as shopkeepers, of Bond Street and the Rue de la Paix angrily complained when presenting Foreign Offices with unpaid bills—he would not squander his money. He smilingly declined the offer of a 10,000,000 loan. And he was politely deaf to hints that it would be unwise to return home via Moscow, or that he would find British “advisers” helpful in his work of reform.

The visit, from the point of view of the British Government, was a terrible fiasco. And such high hopes had been built upon it. If only he had been amenable such great things might have been possible.

Nawab Sir Zulfigar Ali Khan, K.C.S.I., M.L.A., one of the Viceroy’s nominees to the Committee which is to co-operate with the Simon Commission, has indiscreetly put into public print what Delhi had been privately thinking:—

It cannot be forgotten that Afghanistan has the greatest scope for expansion towards the North and North-East. She must reclaim her fertile province of Merv from the Russians, who, by annexing this great province, have come within dangerous proximity to her frontiers. British statesmen would be relieved of a gnawing anxiety if the Russian frontiers are pushed back behind the Caspian Sea and the Afghans can incorporate all this vast territory into their own State by skilful diplomacy and organised strength.

The Moslem populations under China in Central Asia can no longer remain in servitude, and the Afghans would be rendering them great service if they bring about their reunion with their Tartar brethren under the Russians.

A magnificent conception. And it collapsed because of Amanullah’s obstinate unwillingness to play the role which Delhi had assigned to him. Small wonder that from the moment of his return he was regarded as an enemy whose fall was decidedly to be desired.

Amanullah reached home in June. In July there were reports in the Press that Indian Government agents were at work in Afghanistan trying to stir up unrest by inflammatory propaganda on the question of the unveiling of women. The reports were officially denied.

In August unrest began to develop in the districts near the Indian frontier. The unveiling of women was denounced by itinerant mullahs. Many of them were arrested. The notorious Abdur Rahman, Hazrat Pir Sahib and others were reported to have been shot.

In September came the news that “Lawrence of Arabia” serving as “Aircraftsman Shaw” at Miranshah, a few miles from the frontier; had developed strange habits of absenting himself suddenly from duty and of returning weeks later as suddenly and mysteriously as he left.

Colonel Lawrence (said the Daily Express, on September 30) is making an intimate study of the views of the hillmen, the merchants and the peasants. He is living with them, concealed beneath a mocha stain and the turban and robes he knows so well.

October saw new rumours of trouble brewing in the frontier districts. And then suddenly at the end of November the storm broke around Jalalabad.

There is no need to trace its progress. But it may be noted that from the beginning the news from India was weighted against Amanullah, and that the London Press began to mention with obvious pleasure that the rebel movement had an anti-Russian character, and that hints were dropped that after all Amanullah was only a usurper and that his brother, the easy-going Inayatullah, was the rightful heir. Even for legitimists the point is in fact a nice one. Inayatullah was the eldest son of Habibullah, but Amanullah’s mother—an important and powerful personage—was the principal wife of the dead Amir, and as such could claim precedence for her children.

As the revolt went on possibilities of actual intervention began to be canvassed at Delhi. There were two possibilities. If Amanullah were going to win, it might be advisable to offer him help, so as to have a claim on his gratitude. On the other hand if he were going to lose, it would be better to wait for the event, and to keep on good terms with the rebels. The chaos that would probably follow might always provide opportunity for action.

So Delhi for the time being temporised. Amanullah’s permission was asked for the despatch of aeroplanes to Kabul, and Sir Francis Humphrys was instructed to keep relations with the king as friendly as: possible. But at the same time the ‘planes scattered proclamations on their way assuring the tribesmen of their friendship; and, as The Times tactfully phrased it, “there was reason to believe that at an early stage some communications passed between Sir Francis Humphrys and the rebels.”

The rebels took Kabul. Amanullah abdicated. Delhi was delighted, and exultant reports came that the rebel leader, Bacha-i-Sago, was by no means unfriendly to Great Britain, while he detested Russians like poison. He proclaimed himself Amir as Habibullah Khan, and the British Minister at once entered into relations with him. All was going splendidly.

And then came disappointment. Amanullah’s abdication, it turned out, was only a ruse. It enabled him (Bacha being a somewhat slow-witted gentleman) to get clear away to Kandahar and there to rally his forces for the recapture of Kabul. And the tribesmen—even in the discontented Kabul-Khyber area—began to turn against Bacha, a foreigner himself (he is Persian by race) and now reputed everywhere to be the agent of a foreign power.

There, at the moment of writing, the position stands. Amanullah is strong in his following and in his prestige, but he lacks munitions and he lacks money. Bacha captured the arsenal and the treasury. Within the next two months anything may happen. Amanullah may come back: Bacha may (though it is very doubtful) win the rubber: there is, somewhere in Afghanistan; the pretender, Omar Khan, of the elder branch of the Durani house, who escaped so conveniently from Allahabad. Anything may happen: and Delhi, puzzled and a little dismayed, is hesitating to act.

But if it is hesitating to act, Delhi took care to make all preparations for action. The calculation of the military is that two divisions would be required, in addition to the Air Force. The two divisions have been quietly got ready: Air Force units are held in readiness at Peshawur and Miranshah. Reinforcements have been sent both from Iraq and from England. In the north fresh troops have been sent to Gilgit and Chitral to watch the passes of the Hindu Kush.

Everything is in readiness for immediate action if intervention should be thought desirable. And nobody can tell from day to day if and when the moment will come.