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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57

Afghánistán Considered, As A Whole, As A Theatre Of Operations

Afghánistán Considered, As A Whole, As A Theatre Of Operations.

Looking finally at the map of Afghánistán, treated as already described, it will be seen that the country, as a theatre of operations, affords an excellent example of an offensive-defensive one, its right and centre constituting the defensive, and the left the offensive, zone; the former zone covered by obstacles (mountains) and difficult to assaíl, the latter comparatively open and opposing no natural geographical features of country as obstacles to movements or difficulties of supply to the active operations of an army, that cannot be overcome by railroads.

The left zone is also favourably situated for the concentration of the forces of the empire, whether from Europe or the furthest points of India.

It is at the same time the most favourable line for the enemy to choose: it presents no physical difficulties, passes through fairly fertile districts, and from it subsidiary enterprises and surprises can be carried out.

A glance at the map will show that it is next to impossible to force the central zone, but that the northern zone is vulnerable at several important points which threaten its main line of communication within Indian limits, and which, however, as well, allow of forces from India threatening a very vulnerable part of Russian Turkistán, i.e., the line Samárkand-Marjilán. The possibilities of invading India through this zone have often been too lightly put aside; its Indian base, Pesháwar, is now well situated for reinforcement by rail from both Karáchi and Calcutta and only requires to be placed in railway communication with Kábal to very effectually counteract them.

Although very difficult, yet the hill roads leading through the centre zone must be held, as by them surprise may be attempted. The chief point d'appui, Ghazni, requires to be connected by good roads with its points of support, Banú and Dera Ismail Khán.

Old map makers and travellers have so often exaggerated the difficulties of mountainous regions that doubtless when we come to make a better acquaintance with the Hindu Kush and its spurs we shall find their difficulties to have been over-estimated and such as will disappear rapidly before sapper and pioneer labour, even to the extent of becoming easy to mules at the rate of eight miles a day and passable to carts as leisure and opportunity offer.

The following, too, would seem to rank as commonsense principles, viz.,—
(1)to trust to those only who have shown themselves worthy of trust;
(2)to arm those only whom we are in a position to control to our service;page 4
(3)not to treat as trusty allies those who have ever held aloof from our friendship;
(4)to mistrust the power of an undisciplined, half trained, Oriental militia, under its own worse trained and apathetic officers, to withstand a trained soldiery in a scientific warfare;
(5)to acknowledge that civilization cannot recede before a nomadic barbarism or be kept stationary by it.

To act contrary to the above sense but causes Oriental nations to become puffed up with a baseless idea of importance and strength, and would appear to be senseless; but rather is it good sense to first discipline those whom we desire to arm and trust, to obedience and into confidence, and then by judicious enrolment as mercenaries to give employment to the most restless and martial spirits, and turn their fighting power, thus controlled, to our own uses.

From the foregoing as guides, all received and well-established military and commonsense principles, it results that, to defend Afghánistán, and through it India, it is required that—
(1)the irregular Afghán troops, properly officered, should hold the mountainous region extending from the line Girishk, Washir, Farah, north and north-east, to the line Maimana, Khulm, Khunduz, and Fyzábád, including posts in Afghán Turkistán fronting the Hindú Kush, i.e., the defensive zone of the theatre, having as their reserve at Kábal, Ghazni and Kandahár, and the selected positions of which they are the centres, the regular British troops, ready to meet the enemy in a general engagement on his emerging from the passes;
(2)and that the main army of British troops should operate vigorously on the line, Quetta, Farah, Herát, in its offensive zone.
This plan of operations, for its efficient prosecution, requires railways

Railways to be constructed.

as below:—
(1)Peshawar to Kábal;
(2)the extension of the Quetta-Indus line viâ Nushki and south of the Halmand (through Baluch territory) to Sístán, with branch lines,
(1)to Kandahár and Kábal;
(2)Farah and Herát and a southern extension from Sístán through Bám or Bámpúr to the Persian Gulf;
(3)and perhaps, as well, a direct military line from Peshín to Kan-dahár.

On neither of the proposed southern extension routes to the Gulf are difficulties of country met with; many districts crossed grow abundance of wheat and barley; pasture and water are generally plentiful. Sístán itself, at the bend of the Halmand, is a mass of irrigated lands rich in grain and fodder.

The above lines are fortunately as commercially important as they are strategically necessary, the Sístán line forming an integral part of the overland railway eventually to traverse Mid-Persia and Mesopotamia—(see further on).

When the cost of 2,000 to 3,000 miles of strategical and commercial railways is weighed in the balance against the value of an empire, its effect on the scales is ridiculously insignificant, even when there is added to it the difficulties of acquiring the concessions necessary to construct the mileage running through Afghan territory.

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The least that will suffice to meet the case is to carry the Indian trunk lines through Baluchistán and to the limits of India's borders, and to keep ready the material necessary for the Afghán branches. These measures will put us in the best possible position to aid the Afgháns to defend their own country short of actually constructing the lines themselves.

No time should be lost when constructing strategical railways in ensuring a perfect road to commence with; a line over which, in the first instance, one or two trains can be passed at a rate of 10 miles or under a day, will save both time and expense enormously, and be of infinitely greater value than one taking longer to construct and over which trains may be run at the rate of 20 to 30 miles an hour. The line being as rapidly laid as due considerations to safety of traffic will allow can be levelled up at leisure.

The line of railway necessary to the prosecution of military operations in the left or southern zone has been taken to the south of the Halmand, because to carry it along the foot of the Afghán hills would be to place it in continuous jeopardy of the tribes inhabiting them. Could these hills be dominated the better line would be viâ Kandahár, Farah, and Sístán.

The great auxiliary strength of strategic railways to the military power

Value of strategic railways.

of a State would seem not to have been grasped by the nation, or money would be more freely spent upon them and less freely on expensive wars leading to no results, and on pack-transport suited only to minor operations, short lines of communication and well supplied countries. In some cases the objects of a war can be peacefully gained by the construction of a railway. The question of ascendancy at Herát, for instance, has ever been one of railways rather than of men, and yet even in this, in what may be termed her own peculiar forte, prosperous, thickly populated and commercial India has been out-distanced by sparsely populated and bankrupt Russia. Every colony of the Empire has gone far beyond her in this matter.

Lord Strathnairn was of opinion that it was "better to have 10,000 men with perfect transport, which insures their efficiency, than double the number with imperfect transport and all the evils which follow in its train,—an embarrassed strategy, neglected sick, and an ill-supplied soldiery."

Full of wisdom as are these words, they have as yet borne no fruits in so far as the question of the great strategical lines of communication are concerned: whilst getting together a nucleus of minor transport, we have neglected major transport considerations.

A government is ill served by, and will have a just cause of complaint against its advisers, if, from short-sighted views of economy, they advocate the construction of commercial lines of minor importance in preference to the, perhaps, less immediately remunerative, but more important strategic lines, because necessary to security and the maintenance of peace and empire.

India's answer to the iron-enveloping band which is gradually tightening around her from the Caspian to the Oxus, Bukhára, and Samárkand, should be the construction of a counter parallel iron road reaching from Quetta to Sístán, and thence to Isfahán, Burujird and Mosul, with feeding lines running northwards and southwards towards Russia's bases and our own, "the sea."

Wherever we try to get at Russia's bases we are met by difficulties of long road communications, suited for pack transport only, 600 to 1,000 miles in length.

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This condition of things requires to be altered, otherwise the great power of "menace" is lost, and the difficulties of the enterprise overcome, except perhaps in the minds of a determined few, all other considerations.

The strategic line advocated forms the secondary base, the breathing stage whence to strike at Russia's vulnerable points. By its aid and its southern feeders, the line being kept in Mid-Persia for both military and commercial reasons, such operations become possible and easy. Without it they are immeasurably more difficult.

To protect this line the important strategic areas are Sístán and South-West Persia, in both of which territories the influence of the naval power, backed by the resources of an empire, can be more easily and profitably employed than that of the northern land power.

The very great, nay immense, imperial importance of such a line, should overcome all difficulties, political as well as monetary and topographical, that may be met with in its inception and construction.