Afghanistan. By Angus Hamilton. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. $5 net.
Angus Hamilton, the author of the volume entitled “Afghanistan,” is a serious student of Central Asian politics. His latest book is the result of patient, laborious study, and investigation of the modern historical, political, and geographical conditions of the buffer state between India and Russia. The book is heavy reading, for Mr. Hamilton is not concerned with the usual traveller’s picturesque account of the strange manners and customs of a strange country. He gives us statistics on trade routes, railways, trade movements, trade values, duties, products, population, systems of government, strategic communications, minute descriptions of towns and cities, tables of weights and measures–such data as appeal to the man who wants a thorough working knowledge of Central Asian affairs.
The main subject of discussion in the book is the growth of railway systems to and in Afghanistan. Until recently Russian Turkestan was at a disadvantage from being too remote from its base of supplies. European troops to reach Central Asia had to travel the long route from Moscow to Baku, thence over the Caspian Sea by a twenty-four hours’ passage, and then to the end of their journey by the long Trans-Caspian Railway. This tedious journey is now a thing of the past. The Orenburg-Tashkend Railroad makes the continuous trip from St. Petersburg to Tashkend, 2,400 miles, and joins the southern-central Russian depôts with the bases in Central Asia. Such an advance is, of course, a decided help to Russia in pushing southward. This route, be it noted, is in the direction of the shortest line to India. Were there no international difficulties, as a present, the line could be carried from Kushk, the present terminus of the Murgab Valley division in northwestern Afghanistan, to Herat, the key of India, thence to Kandahar on the southern boundary, and to New Chaman where it would join the Indian system of railways. With this line completed the Anglo-Indian traveller could shorten his journey by seven days’ travel via Calais, Berlin, Warsaw, Baku, Merv, Kandahar, thence into India. He would thus avoid those bad dreams–the horrors of the Red Sea and the monsoon. But for the time being the scheme is an idle dream. Russia will devote herself to strengthening her advantage along the Northern Persian and Northern Afghan border by bringing her railway resources to the edge of the glacis, and, incidentally, by controlling all trade from the north.
As Herat, the key to India, is the most obvious objective of Russian railway policy, Mr. Hamilton gives careful attention to that city and to the western border of Afghanistan. His account of Herat and of the Herati is not optimistic. Herat, quite in contrast with Vambéry’s brilliant account of it, is described as being declined from its quondam opulence. It is no longer the great central trade mart between India and Persia. The Herati, too, have been so dulled by misfortune, pestilence, and famine, that they are willing to surrender unconditionally to the highest bidder–to Russia. They have been intimidated by Russia’s impressive show of strength in Central Asia. Mr. Hamilton’s view of the situation in Herat, as well as in the whole of Afghanistan, is summed up thus: “Russia is really the supreme and dominating factor in the whole of Afghanistan, not only along the northern, eastern, and western frontiers, but throughout the kingdom.”
As Kandahar is a rich trade centre, Mr. Hamilton advocates a railway to it, both for commercial and strategical purpose. Such a line would, he asserts, offset Russia’s schemes of aggression. Substantially, Mr. Hamilton’s view is that every advance made by Russia in the Middle East should be measured equally by England in the South. It cannot be denied that the author makes a plausible argument, but it can be argued with equal force that such schemes do not insure the desired integrity of British India. Recent writers, notably Prof. Godwin Smith and F.G. Abbott, editor of the Calcutta Statesman, take another view. If disintegration occurs, they argue, it will come largely from within the country. Professor Smith urges that “no race can forever hold and rule a land in which it cannot rear its children.” Mr. Abbott sees that sincere coöperation between the natives and the English is the solution of the troublesome question. In only one State–Baroda–has this sincere coöperation been successfully tried. In connection with the political status of Afghanistan Mr. Hamilton writes entertainingly of Amir Abdur Rahman, and of his son, the present ruler, Amir Habib Ullah. In his final chapter he traces in detail the various Anglo-African relations. His account of Sir Louis Dane’s recent mission to Kabul shows how fruitless was England’s endeavor to gain the master hand in Afghanistan. Mr. Hamilton is sanguine enough to write concerning the mission “that the subjugation of Afghanistan to the interests of India is incomplete.” As a matter of fact it is evident to everybody, as well as to Mr. Hamilton, that the purposes of British policy in Central Asia have received a decided check. The one British statesman who opposed sending the mission, and who thereby showed sound political sense, was Lord Curson–to whom Mr. Hamilton, by permission, dedicates his volume.