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How great those anxieties are is well known to every one responsible for the defence of India, and for the maintenance of British rights in China. Within the last few months, Russia has taken various steps of a menacing character, while circumstances have obliged Great Britain to remain passive. In the form of "experimental mobilizations,” Russia has placed a considerable armed force at several points along the Afghan frontier, from Termez on the Oxuś to Kushk in the neighborhood of Herat. If this step stood alone, it would be an unfriendly act; but its significance is greatly increased by the recent acquisition from Bokhara of several districts along the Oxus where Russia is about to establish settlements for colonists and ex-soldiers from Europe. At the Persian end of the frontier she has prepared another unpleasant surprise for us in an arrangement that practically means the cession of the important province of Khorassan by Persia, and that will be published to the world on the occasion of the Shah’s European visit. The main object of the Russians in reducing Khorassan to the same level as Bokhara and Manchuria is to obtain possession of the short, direct route for a railway to Meshed. This passes direct from the Russian town of Askabad to Kuchan, whence Meshed is accessible by an easy valley; and between Meshed and Herat lies one of the great high roads of Asia. The acquisition of this shorter and improved route from the Caspian base to Afghanistan will give Russia an immensely increased striking power at Herat. Fortunately, two years at the most favorable estimate will be necessary for the construction of the Kuchan-Meshed line; but the pass between Askabad and Kuchan has been leveled and prepared for the laying of the rails, which could be accomplished in a few weeks. Russia has been long preparing for this move; but, now that it is on the point of being taken, it is doubtful if British authorities have made up their minds as to the best counter-move.
The Russian movements in the region round Herat bring the question of that far-famed fortress into prominence, and with it the whole subject of British Afghan policy. It is quite clear that Russia aims at encircling that place from the north and west, so that at the right moment it will drop into her lap without an effort. But, if General Kuropatkine gets his way, the Russian military party will precipitate events by seizing “the key of India” with the force now collected in the Murghab and Kushk valleys.
At any moment the country may, therefore, receive the startling intelligence that there has been a repetition of the Penjdeh incident, and that Herat has been seized by a coup de main, for which one of the border fights that have been frequent along the Maimena-Andkoi frontier will be pleaded as an excuse. In whatever form it may present itself, the Herat problem is almost ripe for solution. Is it to be solved by a tame acquiescence in the cleverness and celerity with which Russia will grasp it, or by a firm and positive notification at St. Petersburg that its seizure will be met by a declaration of war? If the latter step is to be taken with the idea of averting war, not an hour should be lost, for so intoxicated are Russian soldiers with a belief in their own superiority that, despite their Peace Emperor, the Rubicon may at any moment be crossed.
The question of Herat stands by itself, and also as part of the larger question of British Afghan policy. In the former aspect, Great Britain has the right to say to Russia that she cannot allow Herat to be turned into a formidable fortress and base for the invasion of India, and that she will fight Russia wherever she can until Russia evacuates it. England could do that in complete indifference to Afghanistan or to the part its prince and people might play in the struggle. But England need not deprive herself of the advantage which the co-operation of the Afghans will provide in defending their own territory against Russian aggression. The Herat question, then, is only the most prominent part of that relating to Afghanistan, which England is bound by her own repeated declarations to defend against unprovoked aggression. This obligation is, of course, dependent on the readiness and intention of the government of Afghanistan to contribute toward the defence of its own country, for it would not be to England's interests to place a British army where it would be exposed to any risk from the defection or duplicity of the Afghans. The essential point in British policy depends on the wishes and views of the Ameer, with whom it would seem that long ere this a common line of action should have been defined and agreed upon by British statesmen. Nothing of the sort, however, has been done lest it might give umbrage to Russia, the only enemy threatening any danger to either India or Afghanistan; and, in consequence, everything is left undecided and unsettled. The Ameer was more far-seeing than Great Britain. In
1887, he wrote the Indian Government a letter asking them certain important questions as to what he should do in the event of Russia's violating his frontier or raising disturbances among the Turkoman tribes along the borders. He repeated the same inquiries later on, but to neither communication has he ever received a reply! Of course, the ruler of Afghanistan could not be expected to know that the British Empire, with all its extraordinary power and success, has never possessed a consistent and continuous foreign policy. It has flourished on a hap-hazard, hand-to-mouth system, which will no longer answer in an age of keen international rivalry. Neither in Afghanistan nor in any other sphere of her responsibilities can England prudently defer the formation of her plans to the hour of combat. In Afghanistan, since the termination of the labors of the boundary commission, the Indian Government has sat with arms folded, intending thereby to show Russia, on the one hand, what an inoffensive and innocent institution it was, and, on the other, to convince the Ameer that it had no designs on his territory. This negation of policy, like the old “masterly inactivity,” leaves everything uncertain till the hour of crisis, when those whom wisdom would have secured for England as friends may be driven into the opposite camp by the precipitancy of her measures and the imperative tone of her demands.
The Ameer has taken Great Britain a little into his confidence through the important political statement published by Sir Acquin Martin. There are many important points in this document, and it shows that the reticent policy of the Indian Government does not command the approval of the astute ruler at Cabul. The Afghan prince betrays no leaning toward Russia, and a very remarkable sympathy with England in South Africa, declaring, with true Oriental hyperbole, that "England's troubles are always my troubles." There is more solid satisfaction in his bold definition of the incompatibility between Russia and Islam. The Mussulmans, he declares, hate her; Russia holds insecurely the Mussulman countries she has conquered; and, above all, "We Afghans prefer death to being enslaved and having our women and children taken by the Russians.” There is no doubt that in those sentences the Ameer speaks his true mind. He has one aim—the independence of his country against Russia, in the first place, but also against England, should a blunder of policy lead that country
to threaten it. But he has also an ambition, and that is to head Islam against Russia for the recovery of those Mussulman countries which she has but half conquered. England's policy should, to a large extent, be based on an appreciation of the Ameer's wishes. Unfortunately, his words make it quite clear that the attempt has not even been made to understand them in matters about which he is specially qualified to give sound advice. On the other hand, Great Britain seems to have ruffled his serenity with some useless and therefore silly questions about his armaments; and the Ameer at once came to the conclusion that the British Government was beginning to be suspicious of his loyalty. This is ominous, and no effort should be spared to remove this impression. The Afghan who thinks himself suspected lashes himself into the mood to justify suspicion, and the alienated friend of to-day is apt to become the enemy of to-morrow.
With the Russian knocking at the gates of Herat and Balkh, the time has come to define and agree upon the lines of common action between India and Afghanistan. The defence of Afghanistan cannot be successfully accomplished by the Afghans alone; but if the co-operation of England is to be made valuable for them and safe for herself, it must not be forced on them. What is done must be done with the prior assent and good-will of the Ameer; otherwise Great Britain will find herself in the position of the invader against whom all the Afghans would unite. The views of the Ameer can only be ascertained by personal intercommunication; and, if the Ameer's health will not admit of his visiting Lord Curzon in India, then he should be invited to receive some high British official as a special envoy at Cabul. The points to be agreed upon relate to the defence of Herat, and to its preparation to stand a siege before the commencement of a war; and, after hostilities have begun, to the movement of British troops into and across Afghanistan. But, at the same time, the Ameer should be encouraged in his own ambitious scheme of rousing Mohammedan Asia against the Russians. Such an object would appeal to the sympathy of all the tribes of Afghanistan and of the lands bordering on India, and a movement might be inaugurated among these warriors that would carry their thoughts and efforts in a direction opposite from India. If the Ameer can repeat Timour's exploit by being crowned Emperor of Central Asia at Samaracand, it is not the British policy to hold him back.
But, after all, it is in Manchuria that Russian rivalry has assumed its most menacing and insolent expression. The hold that Russia has laid on Manchuria is that of a conqueror. At the council of the Mongols, she has superseded the Emperor of China. She is only waiting the completion of the Siberian railway to place her Governor-General at Moukden. In Corea, she has made good her foothold, and hopes to oust the Japanese without having recourse to arms. In five years she has accomplished this marvellous success without any one interfering with her, and by making only one concession to all the diplomatic effort and ink expended between Downing Street and Peking. That concession —the recognition of Talien-wan as a free port—has already been nullified by the astute measure sanctioned by the Czar for the creation of a new Russian town to be named Dalny, a name signifying “the remote city.” Dalny is to be constructed so as to envelop Talien-wan, by which arrangement the goods landed in the free treaty port of Talien-wan" can only reach the interior after paying toll at the Russian Customs barrier of Dalny. This little incident will show the utter hopelessness of any fair or equal arrangement with Russia. She denies, ignores or suppresses the rights of everybody else. The Northern Moukden railway, a British concession worked by British engineers, was a special object of Russian attack a few years ago at Peking, but Sir Claude Macdonald succeeded in upholding the letter of the deed, although only by changing the British concession into a Chinese railway. The other day, however, the Russian engineers engaged on the Russian line passing near Moukden to Port Arthur "discovered” the existence of this line, and resorted to some very high-handed proceedings, of which the British Foreign Office must in due course have been informed. The explanation now given is that this was one of the many Cossack excesses. To all these points of rivalry and contention the imminent revelation of Russia’s acquisitions in Khorassan will bring the climax.
For these reasons, I return to my original point and ask whether the fated moment has not arrived to put an end to the hitherto unchecked aggression of Russia by an appeal to arms, which sooner or later is inevitable. If the struggle must come, why should it not come now, when England is ready, and when the alliance of both Afghanistan and Japan is practically assured to her? Russia, despite all the vauntings of her officers, is not