1.1 An Adventurous Forward Policy

The failures that emerged at the end of the First Anglo Afghan War in 1842 created a period of uncertainty in British policy toward Afghanistan and its tribesmen on the northwest frontier. The writer John C. Griffiths distinguishes between the different schools of thought towards foreign policy. They were the “halfhearted Imperialists and ill-informed Liberals” (Griffiths, 1981). The adventurous halfhearted Imperialists preferred to pursue what was called the ‘Forward Policy’, which was an assertive strategy designed to bring Afghanistan under British control through pushing its frontiers beyond the Indus River and into the mountains of the Hindu Kush. The more cautious Liberal policy termed the ‘Close Border Policy’ exercised restraint on such action, preferring limited involvement in Afghan affairs, believing the defense of its imperial interest India through this way, to be unreasonable. Gradually it was the more popular ‘Forward Policy’ that came to be adopted due to British insecurities about the ambitious Russian empire but which also, ironically, created further insecurities for the country.
Exponents of the ‘Forward Policy’ embarked on an attempt to control Afghanistan inside and out. In 1877 the Afghan ruler, Amir Sher Ali, was informed by the British that they no longer recognised his claim to Dir, Swat, Chitral, and Bajaur. Endeavours to control Afghanistan’s foreign relations resulted in the second Anglo Afghan War in 1878. After similar unsettling Russian attempts, the British issued the Afghan ruler, Amir Sher Ali Khan, with an ultimatum to accept the presence of a permanent British Mission in Kabul. A disappointing response from the Amir, prompted the British to dispatch troops into the country, “This was part of the new ‘forward policy’ aimed at making the northwest of India an integral part of the Empire” (Anwar, 1988, p.13). With no help from the Russians and fearing the worst, Amir Sher Ali left his son, Amir Yaqub Khan in charge, with British forces occupying most of the country.
Fearing an invasion of the rest of the country, Yaqub signed the Treaty of Gandamak in 1879 (which the Afghans call the “Condemned Treaty”) giving the British control over the Afghan areas of Pshin, Sibi, Khyber, Kurram and Michni and control of
external relations in exchange for an annual subsidy and some assurance of assistance in case of foreign invasion.
However, the Afghans resented such of loss of territory and autonomy leading to an uprising in Kabul against the British making the treaty void. Yaqub Khan was soon forced to relinquish the throne, paving the way for his successor, Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1880.
The delineation of borders was also on the agenda of the forward policy. The far north-eastern boundary of Afghanistan was marked in 1891. The British saw danger when Russia attempted to annex the ‘Wakhan Corridor’, which would have created a common boundary between Russia and British India. To prevent such a scenario, the British forced Russia into negotiations, which resulted in an agreement giving Russia all of the land north of the Amu Darya whilst the Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman Khan was forced to accept responsibility over the Wakhan area, South of the Amu Darya. Dupree notes the Amir’s reluctance to accept the ‘gift’ (Dupree, 1973, p.424). A further marking was made in 1895 by the Joint Boundary Commission, fixing Afghanistan’s extreme northeast border, touching China at a point. The Northern boundaries of Afghanistan were settled, giving Britain’s empire a border to watch over.
The time came for the eastern boundary of Afghanistan to be delineated in 1893 when Britain became concerned over the “gateway to India” They once again saw an opportunity to push the Forward Policy when Amir Abdur Rahman Khan attempted to assert himself in the tribal areas. The British Indian Government thus proposed to create a strategic frontier out of the Eastern parts of Afghanistan to subdue the dangerous tribes that threatened the stability in the region. Defence of the North West Frontier, now part of Pakistan, was an essential to the ‘Great Game’ of politics played across the region by the two rivals. It was decided mat it was necessary to demarcate British India’s North-Western boundary to designate the areas of influence for the Afghans and the British. The British Foreign Secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand. arrived in Kabul in September 1893 to discuss the terms and conditions of the treaty that was to be agreed upon. The Durand Treaty carved out the North-Western Frontier of British India, running from Chitral to Baluchistan, cutting through the tribal land and
separating tribe from tribe. The demarcation of Afghanistan’s eastern boundary was an undoubtedly a divisive and controversial affair at the same time, as well as becoming a fiercely disputed matter more than a century later. To put it harshly it was “a classic example of an artificial political boundary cutting through a culture area” (Dupree, 1973, p.425). Misra summarises well, the fatal consequence of the venture, “the object of drawing the Durand Line was to solve all problems relating to the Indo-Afghan border. Instead of solving them, however, the agreement only aggravated them and projected them into the 20th century because of its arbitrary division of Ihe Pushtun tribes between Afghanistan and what was then British India The ruling dynasties of Afghanistan have been of Pushtun stock and therefore bitterly resented and resisted what they considered to be an amputation” (Misra, 1981, p.85-86).

Continue reading – 1.2 Tribal Trouble