« PreviousContinue »
-Great Britain and Russia—both of whom are year by year approaching closer to each other, renders it a territory not likely to be less eagerly contested for as years roll past. The Bolan Pass to Quetta in Baloochistan—now practically British ground, the Khan of Khelat, who nominally governs the country, having ceded to the English the right of garrisoning that pass—and the Khyber, which is the highway to Cabul, and is likely to remain British territory, have been with justice styled the north-western gates of India.
Baloochistan is a territory larger than Great Britain, and is for the most part a sandy plateau, unwatered by regular rivers, though traversed by torrents during the rainy season, enclosed between ranges of mountains, which on one side mark the boundary of Sindh, and on the other descend in pastoral terraces to the low-lying district of Mekran, by the shores of the Arabian Sea. Thus while the upper regions of Baloochistan
are cold and uninhabitable in the winter and hot in the summer, Mekran is for some months in the year one of the most furnace-like parts of the whole world. The CutchGandava, in the north-east, is, however, a fertile and pleasant district; but though the coast extends for 600 miles, there is no good harbour in its whole extent, the roadsteads of Sonmeanee Bay, Homara, and Gwadur being about the best holding grounds along the shores of the Arabian Sea. The country cannot, however, be characterised as an extremely poor one. Gold, silver, lead, antimony, iron, tin, and various other metals and mineral substances are found in more or less abundance, and although most of the land is stony, the Province of Cutch-Gandava, if properly cultivated, is alone capable of rearing all the grains required by the population. But there are few parts of Baloochistan which do not yield some crops. Of the numerous Indian cereals there is raised a sufficiency, vegetables are abundant, and the gardens of Khelat, the capital, produce a profusion of temperate and sub-tropical fruits, and the Baloochistan indigo is reported to be superior to that of Bengal. Cotton and madder are grown, and in the hot region of Mekran the date culture is an important industry. Khelat is a town of about 3,700 houses, built on the edge of a plain some 5,540 feet above the sea. The houses are mostly built of sun-dried brick, or of wood plastered over with mud. The walls and bastions are also of mud, and though sufficient to defend it against an uprising of the native tribes, would be valueless against artillery planted on the hills which command it on all sides. The streets are broader than is usual, the bazaar is large and well supplied, and though the town is not remarkable for greater sanitary appliances than most other Eastern cities, it has the redeeming quality of being well supplied with excellent water, derived from a spring which, arising in a bill, meanders through the centre of the town. Its water has this peculiarity—that before sunrise it is rather tepid, but immediately on the heat of the day setting in, the waters at their issue from the smaller springs become exceedingly
cold, and so remain until next morning. The population of Baloochistan is made up mainly of the Baloochees and the Brahuis. The latter are, however, the dominant race, and from them the rulers are always selected. Indeed, such is the marked distinction between them that when the Khan assembles the tribesmen for war the Brahuis demand of their right rations of wheaten bread, the Baloochees having meantime to be content with flour made from the coarse grain known as jowar (p. 198). The number of the people it is, however, difficult to ascertain. The area of the country, according to the boundaries fixed by the commission under Sir. F. Goldsmid, is about 106,500 square miles, while the tribesmen may be estimated at 400,000, this number including the Persian colony called Dehwars, and the Hindoos long settled on the Brahui mountains. The population is, however, divided up into a multiplicity of tribes, who, like those of Afghanistan, do not readily brook a master. Indeed, the fluctuation of power is such that, though the Khan of Khelat is nominally the ruler of the country, he is often not much more influential beyond the range of his matchlocks than is Abdur Rahman, Ameer of Cabul, over “the tribes” supposed to be his liegemen. The Sirdars, or tribal chiefs, though owing military service to the Khan, and recognising him as a final court of appeal, in reality exercise supreme control within their own districts, and the Khan has long ago allowed his right of vetoing the election of a tribal head to fall into abeyance. The revenue of the Khan, derived mainly from his profits as proprietor of lands and towns, from taxes paid by the foreign cultivators settled in the country, from customs dues, and from irregular extortions, is believed not to exceed £30,000 per annum. Hence, when he goes to war he is compelled, like his brother sovereign in Afghanistan, to ask assistance of the tribes, and to submit with what grace he is capable of to the refusal which his request not unfrequently meets. These irregular levies are, however, brave and ferocious. They fight chiefly on foot, horses not being convenient in so mountainous a country, and camels are used solely by the western tribes in their predatory excursions. Mr. Andrews has, perhaps, very happily described the relations of the Khan of Khelat to his subordinate chiefs, when he describes him as only one of many petty tribal headmen, who wields among his neighbours a kind of lordship as unstable as that which the earlier Kings of France exercised over the Dukes of Burgundy and other powerful vassals of their day.
This other kingdom of the great sea of mountains between India and the plains of Central Asia has for us ever had an even greater interest than Baloochistan. With its rulers the English have several times been compelled to go to war, and at this moment of writing our last campaign with Shir Ali, bis son Yakoob Khan, and the masterless men who have continued the struggle since the death of the one and the deposition of the other, is only approaching temporary settlement to the election of Abdur Rahman, Shir Ali's nephew, to the vacant "musnud.” It is even a more rugged country than Baloochistan, and in size is nearly as large as the Punjab, Oudh, and the North-western Provinces together. The Suleiman Mountains separate it from India proper, and across its northern parts project spurs of the Hindoo Koosh. Afghanistan is nowadays peopled by a peculiar people, whose features are decidedly Hebrew, though whether they are actually Semitic is likely ever to remain an open question. They themselves assert their Jewish origin; but their traditions prove nothing, and are moreover of very recent date. It is, however, certain that mingled with the original stock are many Aryan elements—that is, people of the same origin as the Hindoos and most European nationsin addition to a large admixture of Persians and other races living in their immediate vicinity.* Be the Afghans' origin what it may, the most casual reader of the current history of the last two years need not require to be told that they are among the fiercest and most intractable people with whom we have ever come into collision. Poor and stony as Afghanistan is, from the earliest times it has been the prey of successive conquerors. The soldiers of Alexander the Great colonised Balkh, on the confines of the Amu Daryia or Oxus, and to this day traces of this ancient Greek settlement of Bactria are ever and anon dug up. From Persia and Turkestan later conquerors, from the days
* Bellew : “ The Races of Afghanistan" (1880).
of Mahmoud of Ghuzni and Mahomed Ghori, have in later times seized Afghanistan as their prize, and from its mountain fastnesses have swept down on the rich plains of India, while the events of the last half-century are too well known to be narrated afresh.
The area of the country is greater than that of France, but four-fifths of its surface are covered with a confused mass of mountains and valleys, which may be described as in general diverging from the central knot of the Pamir to the more level deserts of the Persian platean. The great range of the Hindoo Koosh extends along its northern border, and beyond the Haji-Gak Pass is continued westward under the name of the Kohi-i-Baba, Safed-Koh, and other ranges, until they form the northern edge of the Persian plateau, and meet the Elburz Range south of the Caspian. On the side nearest to India, the Suleiman Range bars the way East, and between the two great boundary mountain barriers lie many well-watered and fertile valleys, as well as "high, cold, treeless, pastoral table-lands, which merge to the south-west into the bare deserts of Baloochistan and Eastern Persia.” The country, as a whole, is well watered, though the rivers which intersect it do not in every case add much to the fertility of the arid country through which they flow but do not irrigate. They are formed, not by rainfall, but by the melting of the mountain snows, and hence are inconstant, and partially valueless to the agriculturist. However, in many cases these waters are drawn off into canals for irrigating purposes. Hence the Dehas is spent in reviving the soil of Balkh, the Nari or Sangalak in irrigating the vicinity of Andkhui, and the fine stream of the Murghab is exhausted in making Merv the oasis of Eastern Central Asia.
The country varies much in different parts. Cabul (p. 272), for example, presents a splendid panorama of lofty, pine-clad, snow-capped mountains, enclosing luxuriant valleys and glens, watered in
every direction by numberless mountain streams, and profusely rich in vegetable productions, including a variety of fruits and cereals.* Again, in other parts of the country there are low ranges of rocky bills skirting sand or gravelly plateaux, either in themselves arid wastes or which end in genuine deserts. In such a region cultivation is mainly confined to the vicinity of the natural or artificial watercourses, and pastoral operations, for which the country is more suited, are only available during the winter and spring seasons, and then for the most part only on the hills. These elevations are usually either treeless, or only covered with a sparse growth of stunted shrubs or diminutive firs, but they furnish food for the flocks of various nomad tribes, who in their elevated recesses find pasture for their flocks, and a refuge from the terrible heat of the plains, or shut-in valleys, the temperature of which during the summer months is akin to that of a furnace. The climate is equally varied-so varied, indeed, as to deserve the description which the Emperor Baber gave of it nearly 400 years ago, when he characterised Afghanistan as a country in which, at one day's journey from Cabul, you may find a place where the snow never falls, and at two hours' journey a place where the snow almost never melts. For instance, at Cabul and Ghuzni the winter is usually very severe, though the summer heats are tempered by cool breezes from the adjacent snow-clad mountains. At Candahar and the south-western portions. of the country the winter is comparatively mild. Snow falls but rarely, and even then it lies but for a short time. In Cabul and Ghuzni the temperature is also mitigated by the influence of the south-east monsoon, which, after blowing over Hindostan, exhausts itself in
* Bellew: “Journal of a Mission to Afghanistan," p. 6.
this portion of Afghanistan in clouds and occasional showers. In the eastern part of the country, in the direction of the region known as Khorassan, the
hot winds, laden with dense clouds of dust, render life almost insupportable. The high temperature is farther increased by radiation from the “bare rocks and a dry sandy soil, whilst the country unreached by the influence of the monsoon is not favoured with any regular supplies of rain to cool the air or to moisten the parched ground.”
We have spoken of the rivers of Afghanistan. These are not many, and of small calibre.
Tbe great evaporation in such a dry climate, as well as the continual tapping to which they are subjected also, decrease their volume to such an extent that, with the exception