Source: the Internet Archive version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. The somewhat rough OCR text has been proof-read against the text images, and section headings have been added. — George P. Landow]

Basic geophysical characteristics of Afghanistan

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ur readers will endeavour to form a correct idea of the country which before long may be entered by a British army. Afghanistan is, on an average, about 130 miles from east to west, and 460 miles long from south to north. On the north it is bounded by the Oxus till a few miles below Kilat, and thence the boundary line dividing it from Khivan territory runs east and by south to a point afew miles west of Sarrakhs. On the west it is bounded by Persia, on the south by Khelat. From its south-easternmost extremity the frontier runs in a north-easterly direction along British territory as far as Swat. On the east it is bounded by Swat, Kaffiristan, and Kashgar. A glance at the map shows that there is a long narrow promontory, as it were, of Afghan territory, which is bounded on the south by Kaffiristan, on the east by Kashgar, and on the north by some minor khanates, more or less subject to Kokand and Bokhara. At one point this promontory is only 200 miles distant from Cashmere. As, however, we do not anticipate invasion from Afghanistan we may leave out of consideration the above-mentioned tongue of territory. The main features of Afghanistan are the mountain chains, the general direction of which is east and west, but which throw out buttresses to the north and south. Afghanistan is traversed across the centre from east to west by a chain of mountains, which may be viewed as an offshoot of the Himalayan system. This chain, called the Hindoo-Koosh, or more properly the Hindoo-Koh. ends in the Koh-i-Baba, a huge mass north-west of Mid at no great distance from the city of Cabul. It is covered with perpetual snow, and its loftiest peak is nearly 18,000 ft. high. Thence run two parallel chains, one called the Safed Koh; the other——the southernmost one-—the Siah Koh. The northern range terminates just north of Herat; and the southern range, when it reaches a point just south of that city, trends off to the south-west and by south. These mountains are of no great height. North of the Koh-i-Baba the Safod Koh is a high plateau, intersected by minor ranges, and called the Huzareh district. Running in a south-West direction from Cabul past Kandahar to Girishk is another chain of mountains. Practically, almost the whole of Afghanistan is a mass of mountains interspersed with valleys, of which some are of considerable size. The main watersheds of the country are, however, the crests of the two chains which run, one from east to west, and the other diagonally from north-east to south-west.

Afghanistan’s chief rivers

Decorated initial The chief rivers of Afghanistan are the Murghab, the Heri Rud, the Balkh, the Cabul, and the Helmund. The Murghab, rising near the north-eastern extremity of the Safed Koh, flows to Merv, a little beyond which the stream, whose waters in its course have been greatly drawn off for purposes of irrigation, loses itself in the sandy desert of Khiva. The Balkh, rising in the northern slopes of the Koh-i-Babs, is exhausted in a similar manner soon after it reaches the town of Balkh, and before it can effect a junction with the Oxus. The Cabul river rises in the mountains near the city of that Ynanie, lmdi passing by Jellalabad, makes its way through the Khyber Pass into British territory, falling into the Indus close to Attock. The Heri Rud, taking its rise in the north-easterly slopes of the of the Siah Koh, traverses the long narrow valley formed by the Safed Koh and the Siah Koh, runs close to and south of Herat, a few miles past which it turns to the north, following for some distance the boundary of Afghanistan, then, quitting that country, turns north-west and falls intro the Tojend. The Helmund rises in the south-eastern slopes of the Koh-i-Baba, near Cabul, and, running in a south-westerly direction to Girisbk, about one hundred miles south of that city, makes a sudden turn to the west, and, after flowing in that direction another hundred miles, emerges Afghan territory. There are other rivers besides those we have named, but they are of no great import. As a whole, it may be said that Afghanistan is well watered, and that in consequence the valleys are fertile. Unfortunately, we are able to give but scant details of even the principal rivers. The Murghab is described as a clear and rapid mountain stream. Of the Balkh river we can say little. Of the Cabul River we know that from Tezeen the body of General Elphinstone was, at the end of April sent down on a raft to Jellalabad. We also know that in the same month the Cabul River was forded by cavalry with great difficulty opposite Lalpoora, at the Afghan end of the Khyber Pass. It is probable, therefore, that the river throughout the greater part of the course from Cabul to the Indus is navigable for small boats even m the spring. According to Captain Marsh, who_ travelled from Meshed to Herat about five years ago in the month of April, the Heri Rud, where he crossed_ it at the Afghan frontier, had very little water in it, benig exhausted by the irrigating canals higher up. The stream itself was only two yards wide and 1 ft, deep, but the bed was more than 1000 yards broad. The piain of Herat is watered by canals from the river and one of these enters the city. The same author says’that during the winter, which sets in early and lasts four months all the streams near Herat are frozen. Concerning the Hclmund, which would have to be crossed by an army marching from the Bolan to Ilerat, Captain Marsh, who passed it at Girishk in the beginning of the month of May, says that at that season it is 100 yards broad and 3% ft. deep. It is then at its lowest, and split up into many small streams. At the end of May or beginning of June, when the river is swollen by the melting of the snow, its breadth is computed at about a mile. The left, or south bank, is higher than the right, or northern bank.

The climate and soil of Afghanistan

Decorated initial The climate and soil of Afghanistan are very variable. In the valleys the climate is very hot in the summer, and fruit and grain are abundant. There is also a good deal of cultivation on terraces on the lower slopes of the mountains. Throughout the country, however, an especially in the north, there are frequent tracts of desert or rough rock-strewn plateaus, where nothing is cultivated. The valley of Cabul is remarkably fertile and highly cultivated—at all events, near the city of that name. The climate is, however, colder than than of Afghanistan generally, but is very regular. There are three months of the winter, three of spring, three of summer, and three of autumn. During the winter, which sets in about the beginning of December, the town is regularly blockaded by the snow, which completely blocks up the streets, so that business is at a standstill. The present ruler of Cabul, who bears the hereditary title of the Ameer, is Shere Ali, one of the sons of Dost Mohammed, our enemy from forty to thirty-five years ago, but who afterwards became a peaceful neighbour. The Ameer Shere Ali once visited a late Governor General of India at Lahore, and received large gifts of money and guns from the Indian Government. We give his portrait, from a photograph by Mr. W. Baker, of Murrce and Peshawur. He is shown wearing a head-dress of the Herat fashion.

Early History of the Afghans

Decorated initial It seems that history first recognises the existence of the tribes called “Afghans” when they were settled at Ghor, in Western Khorassan, in the eighth century. Here they were invaded by the Mohammedans, and, embracing Islam en masse, continued to flourish. About two hundred years later a Tartar invasion of Cabul proper succeeded in driving out thence the Hindoos who then possessed it, and in establishing a Tartar dynasty at the city of Ghuziii. The Afghans assisted the Tartars in the work of conquest, and with them spread, not only over the present Afghanistan, but across the Suleiman range into the present British districts of Moultan and Rohilkund, where their descendants still form a considerable proportion of the inhabitants. In time, however, they grew stronger than the conquerors, and in the twelfth century overthrew the Tartar dynasty of Ghuzni. One portion of the Afghans settled down as rulers of Cabul, while another entered India, where they founded at Delhi a dynasty that ruled in Upper India until 1526, when the Mogul conqueror, Baber, overthrew both kingdoms. After his death Western Afghanistan fell to the Persians, the Eastern portion remaining nominally under Delhi. 1740 Nadir Shah brought the whole under his sway, only, however, for seven years, for he was assassinated in 1747. His commander-in-chief, Ahmed Shah, an Afghan, at once seized the vast treasure which the Persian army was carrying home from the plunder of India, and, proclaiming himself King of the Afghans, readily united under him all the tribes of that name, and established within its present limits the independent kingdom over which Shere Ali now rules. Between the dates of Ahmed Shah and Shere Ali a hundred and forty years have elapsed, marked throughout by violent internal dissensions an resulting in frequent temporary changes of dynasty and frontier. The most important of these was the overthrow of the Suddozai family in 1839, which led to British interference.

British interference” in Afghanistan and the disasters of 1842

Decorated initial Under the impression that the restoration of the Suddozai dynasty would be pleasing to the Afghans, the British Government attempted the reinstatement of the deposed Ameer, Shah, Shoojali, hoping also, by thus constituting a friendly Power in Afghanistan, to obtain a permanent guarantee against the intrigues of Russia, then threatening to occupy Khiva and to disturb the peace of Afghanistan. The history of that attempt and its results is now recalled to memory. The British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839, with an army commanded by Sir John Keane, was for the time a brilliant success. Ghuzni was taken by storm—the citadel being captured after a desperate combat of three hours’ duration, and Hyder Khan, the Governor, one of the sons of Dost Mahamoned, the then ruler of Cabul, being taken prisoner. The consequence was that Dust Mohammad, on receipt of the news of the fall of Ghuzni, abandoned his throne and fled, with only 600 horsemen, to seek a refuge beyond the Oxus.

The Remnants of an Army by Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler), 1846-1933. 1879. Oil on canvas. 132.1 x 233.7 cm. Courtesy of Tate Britain. Click on image to enlarge it

When Shah Shoojah, under the protection of the victorious British army, made his formal entry into his former capital of Cabul, the Afghan war appeared to be at an end. But the disasters which subsequently befell the British forces in Cabul, isolated and surrounded by hostile tribes — the assassination of Sir Alexander Burnes and Sir William Macnaghten, the convention under which Major Pottinger and Captains Laurence and Mackenzie were delivered up as hostages to Akhbar Khan, and the massacres which ensued—are also matters of history. Twenty-six thousand men, women, and children fell in the rocky defiles and mountain gorges of Afghanistan, partly under the incessant attacks of the Afghan troops and the wild hill tribes, but more from hunger and the deep snows and wintry blasts of that region. Of all that host only one, Dr. Brydon, made his way alive to Jellalabad, bringing the news that the army of Cabul had ceased to exist. Seven or eight only of the survivors were taken prisoners; the rest were killed. The campaign of 1842, conducted by General Pollock and General Nott, vindicated the superiority of British arms, and compelled the Afghans to submit to the terms imposed on them. It is scarcely probable that they will be enabled to resist the military power of our Indian Empire, backed by that of England, upon the present occasion. [326-27]

Last modified 23 May 2017