Chapter 11
The British Response


British activities continued unabated despite the Persian failure. The shah was still before Herat, the situation in Afghanistan had not improved, and it was not known that the Russians had backed down. The expedition to the Persian Gulf reached Khark on June 17 and troops landed two days later. 1 On June 25 a treaty was signed at Lahore between Shah Shuja, Ranjit Singh, and the Government of India which reaffirmed the Shuja-Ranjit treaty of 1834 and cleared the way for Shuja to try again. This time there was no room for failure so it was decided to send British troops to ensure the success of the operation. 2 British negotiations with Turkey also paid off as on August 18 the Sultan signed a commercial treaty with Britain that caused the Russians to become very concerned about their relationship with the Ottoman empire. 3

The British also sent an ultimatum to the shah threatening war if he stayed at Herat. This was delivered by one of McNeill's aides, Colonel Stoddart, on August 11, 1838. 4 The failure of the assault, the landings at Khark, the recall of Simonich and the loss of Russian support, the obvious difficulties of continuing the siege, news of unrest and rebellion in Persia, British preparations for war in India, and now an ultimatum, all combined to make Mohammed shah give up. He agreed to the British demand to leave.

The actual departure was delayed due to lack of baggage animals until September 9. Then, in the words of Col. Stoddart, "The Shah has mounted his horse 'Ameerij' and is gone. 5 The Persians had camped before Herat for 280 days. On his return to Tehran in October, Mohammed Shah issued a proclamation stating that all his aims had been accomplished: the entire east including Kabul, Kandahar, and a host of minor places had submitted; Herat had been reduced to four bare walls and left power-less; it was his concern, the proclamation continued, for the tranquillity of his provinces, the approach of winter, and the warlike preparations of the British in total disregard for three treaties, that caused him to return. 6

The departure of the Persian ax~ny brought little relief to the long-suffering Heratis. The city had been ruined by Persian bombardment and the Persian army had stripped the country bare before leaving. There was no food and no money even for the 8,000 people who were still alive. To raise revenue Yar Mohammed sold his own citizens as slaves to the Turkmen. Pottinger, and Stoddart who joined him after the Persians left, planned to convert Herat into a bastion of British influence but they did not have much to work with.

Yar Mohammed however, did not resist the Persians only to become subject to the British. The slave trade was a major issue between them since the British wanted it suppressed. They also wanted to regularize the administration of Herat and modernize the army with the help of British advisors. The British were willing to finance these projects and Yar was only too glad to take their money, but that was as far as he was willing to go. He would have none of their projects and frustrated them at every turn. Showing his independence he carried on a friendly correspondence with Mohammed shah, even proposing an alliance to oppose the anticipated British march into Afghanistan. Pottinger and Stoddart tried to get around the vizier by working through Kamran but that proved useless. Yar Mohammed remained in complete control of his own affairs. 7

Although the Shah had left Herat the Persians remained in occupation of Ghurian and several other forts. In Afghanistan Kohendil Khan was still allied to Persia and now planned to attack Herat himself, and Dost Mohammed had not changed his position so it was still necessary to restore shah Shuja. In a declaration justifying his moves, Auckland mentioned the desire of the British to promote trade, the "unprovoked" attack of Dost Mohammed against the Sikhs, the intrigues of Persia through-out Afghanistan, the "unjustifiable" siege of Herat, and the claims of Shah Shuja. In conclusion he stated, "the welfare of our possessions in the east requires that we should have on our western frontier an ally who is interested in resisting aggression, and establishing tranquillity, in the place of chiefs ranging themselves in subservience to a hostile power, and seeking to promote schemes of conquest and aggrandizement. 8

One day after the Shah left Herat the orders were given for the Indian army to assemble for the invasion. Kandahar was to be the first objective since Kohendil Khan was more involved with the Persians and from there the army could strike either at Kabul or Herat as needed. A Sikh army was to march directly on Kabul. On November 27, 1838, Auckland arrived at Ferozepore to meet with Ranjit Singh and review the troops. Several days later the armies marched. 9

The British invasion of Afghanistan put the Russians in a difficult position. They had backed off in Persia to avoid provoking exactly this kind of reaction. They had lost much prestige because of their involvement at Herat, since all Asia knew that Britain and Russia were in confrontation and Russia had come out looking like the loser. The British invasion almost demanded some kind of response but Russia was powerless to intervene directly in Afghanistan. However, it was felt that a campaign against Khiva could have the desired result of restoring Russian prestige while not further antagonizing the British. Khiva was unconnected with the events at Herat and its conquest would be a direct benefit to Russia since it was a center of the slave trade and was supporting the Kazakh rebellion of Kenesary Kasim. 10

The attention of both Britain and Russia was diverted at this point to the Middle East where the Sultan had renewed the war with Mohammed Ali, lost his army, and died five days later leaving the Ottoman empire both defenseless and leaderless. 11 While European peace hung in the balance at Constantinople the British army in Afghanistan plodded on. Kohendil Khan fled to Persia as the invaders approached Kandahar and Shah Shuja entered that city in triumph. Bowing to the inevitable, Yar Mohammed sent an embassy to congratulate Shuja on his success. The envoys negotiated an agreement with the British that recognized the prerogatives of Yar Mohammed and allowed a British resident to reside at Herat. D'Arcy Todd, who had previously served with McNeill in Persia, was sent with numerous instructions that, if fulfilled, would establish British control over Herat. 12

Todd arrived in July and on August 13 concluded a treaty with Yar Mohammed and Kamran. The treaty recognized both Kamran's and Yar’s positions and pledged the British to non-interference in Herat's internal affairs. Britain was to send money and officers to assist in defence against foreign enemies. Kamran promised to cooperate with Shuja and to submit any disputes to British arbitration. Kamran also promised not to correspond with any foreign powers without British consent, to remove obstacles to trade, and to end the slave trade. The British felt that all their aims were accomplished by this treaty but they underestimated Yar Mohammed. 13

The first serious fighting encountered by the Army of the Indus was at Ghazni which was stormed and taken. As the British approached Kabul, Dost Mohammed’s supporters deserted him and after token resistance Dost fled to Bukhara. On August 7, 1838, Shah Shuja remounted his throne at Kabul after almost thirty years. By and large the Afghans accepted the restoration of Shuja. His receptions at Kabul and Kandahar were sufficiently enthusiastic to convince the British that he had considerable support. There was some unrest among the tribes and a force had to be sent against the Ghilzais in October, but it could now be said that the British had reestablished their defenses on the Northwest frontier. The forward policy was restored. 14

But in December 1838 the Russian General Perovski left Orenburg with 5,000 men and marched on Khiva. The expedition had been especially planned for winter when the deserts around Khiva were more passable. 15 This was widely seen as a countermove to the British thrust into Afghanistan and the British were alarmed. There was even speculation that this was the oft-anticipated invasion of India and the possibility of a direct clash appeared. The British felt that they had to meet this challenge and to do so they had to postpone their planned withdrawal to India. Preparations were begun to move across the Hindu Kush mountains into Central Asia. 16

The serious escalation of the conflict that might have resulted was prevented only by the weather. Perovski's force encountered unusually fierce blizzards and was forced to turn back with heavy losses. 17 The British then abandoned their plans to move across the mountains but for one reason or other they kept postponing their withdrawal from Afghanistan. As time went on, their occupation forces took on a more permanent aspect. A regular cantonment was built and some of the officers even brought their wives and families. The British could never be sure that Shuja could survive without their continued support and Shuja's position seemed to be getting worse instead of better.

The treaty signed with Herat in August did not end the British difficulties with Yar Mohammed. British money flowed into Herat, commerce resumed, agriculture recovered, and repairs on the city began. But the slave trade was not ended, no army or administrative reforms were undertaken, and worst of all Yar resumed his correspondence with Mohammed shah, professing friendship and even offering to place Herat under Persian protection. Yar also gave aid and reinforcements to Aktur Khan Alizai who led a rebellion of the Durranis against Shah Shuja beginning in December 1840. Herat seethed with intrigue as Todd, Yar Mohammed, supporters of Kamran, and enemies of the vizier plotted and counter-plotted against one another. Through it all however, Yar was in control. 18

By 1841 the situation at Herat had deteriorated to the point where the British were simply pouring money down the drain. Todd realized this but he could do nothing with Yar Mohammed. The British wanted a connection with Herat and Yar took advantage of this to get all he could out of them while preserving his oun independence. Finally Todd gave Yar an ultimatum and witheld the subsidy until the vizier gave guarantees for his conduct. The specific guarantee Todd had in mind was the stationing of British troops in the citadel of Herat. Yar of course would not agree to this and told Todd either to resume the subsidy or leave; Todd left Herat on February 10, 1841. 19

Todd’s action in breaking with Herat was repudiated by the Government of India but the connection was not restored. There was a reaction against the British at Herat and many who had done business with Todd found their profits confiscated by Yar Mohammed. With the British envoy also departed the last hope of Kamran’s party to regain power. The prince’s sons made a desperate attempt to seize control by themselves but their plot was discovered and they found themselves besieged in the citadel by troops loyal to the vizier. Kamran’s sons appealed to the British but to no avail. After a siege of fifty days Yar captured the citadel. Kamran was stripped of his treasures and imprisoned and his sons were exiled. Yar Mohammed only awaited a favorable moment to put an end to his nominal sovereign. 20

Relations between Britain and Persia were in a state of suspended hostilities after the siege, mainly because of the continued occupation of Ghurian by the Persians. The Persian army had to be disbanded after the war for lack of funds, and revolts had broken out in many areas. By 1841 it was becoming apparent to the Persians that continued hostility with Britain was doing them no good, and the British for their part still wanted to maintain some Persian strength against Russia. Perhaps it was Yar Mohammed’s friendly correspondence that allowed the Shah to withdraw from Ghurian; in any case this cleared the way for a settlement and McNeill returned to Tehran. One of his first accomplishments was the signing of a commercial treaty in October 1841, and by March the following year the British felt safe enough to withdraw from Khark. 21 The Middle East crisis also faded away as Britain and Russia came to see a common interest in preserving the Ottoman empire. British troops landed in Palestine and Mohammed Ali's challenge to the Sultan collapsed. 22

After his restoration, Shah Shuja was confronted with the old problem of tribal versus royal power. Backed by British troops and aided by British efficiency he was able to consolidate the central power. But the tribes resented their loss and felt that Shuja was a mere puppet in the hands of the British. The most serious challenge to his rule came from the rebellion of the Durranis under Aktur Khan. This was suppressed by British troops from Kandahar but it flared up again and Aktur Khan was finally defeated only in August 1841. Shuja was actually in an impossible position, surrounded as he was by British advisors and troops. The real ruler of Afghanistan was William Macnaghten, Auckland’s chief aide whom he had sent as the senior political agent in Kabul. 23

Auckland had intended to stay in Afghanistan only until Shuja was established but the longer the British stayed the more precarious Shuja's position became. The British invasion had been accompanied by an inflow of money which caused inflation, especially at Kabul. This undermined the position of the city classes and turned them against Shah Shuja. The occupation was also causing huge deficits in the Indian budget and there was an attempt to cut back. 24 On November 2, 184l there was a demonstration against the British in Kabul that turned into a riot. Events got out of control before Shuja could do anything, the British garrison did nothing, and the riot turned into a rebellion. 25

During December the whole country around Kabul was in arms against the British but still they did nothing. Mohammed Akbar Khan, Dost Mohammed's son, came out of the hills where he had been hiding and took charge of the revolt. Macnaghten was killed while trying to negotiate with Akbar, the army was isolated in its camp, and Shuja's authority vanished. On January 6, 1842, the British commander negotiated with Akbar for safe passage back to India but while winding through the passes during the next few days, the British army was attacked and destroyed. 26


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