Sale’s brigade in Afghanistan

 

 

S A L E ‘ S B R I G A D E IN AFGHANISTAN

 

by George Robert Gleig


CHAPTER I.

Afghanistan—Its Geographical Position, Climate, and Productions.

IT is impossible to fix, with any degree of accuracy, the present
limits of the kingdom of Cabul. When visited by Mr. Elphinstone
in 1809, it was said to extend from the west of Heraut in
longitude 62°, to the eastern portion of Cashmere in longitude
77° E.; and from the mouth of the Indus in latitude 24° to the
Oxus in latitude 37° N. It comprehended, according to the
nomenclature of our best works, the districts of Afghanistan and
Segistan, with part of Khorassan and of Makran; Balk with
Tokerstan and Kelan; Cuttore, Cabul, Sindey, and Cashmere,
together with a portion of Lahore and the greater part of Moultan.
But besides that, even in 1809, the obedience paid to the
king by many of these provinces was rather nominal than real,
the subsequent progress of events has materially crippled his
power, and contracted his dominions. When we speak, therefore,
of the Doorannee empire as being bounded on the north by
the Hindoo Cush, or Indian Caucasus, on the east by Hindostan,
by the Arabian sea on the south, and by Persia on the west, it
must be understood as assigning to it rather the limits by which
in theory it is circumscribed, than the extent of territory throughout
the whole of which the authority of the nominal government
is recognised.

The population of the country thus marked out has been taken at numbers varying from fifteen to nine millions. Probably the latter will be found to come, under existing circumstances, as near to the truth as the former. It is composed of many different races, of which the principal are Afghans, Belochees,

Tartars of all descriptions, Persians, including Tanjiks, Indians, such as Cashmerians, Juts, &c.; besides miscellaneous tribes, which are neither numerically considerable, nor exercise any
great moral or political influence in society.


The face of the country is very much diversified, being intersected in all directions by mountain ranges, which increase in altitude as you descend from the shores of the Arabian sea and the
great plain of the Indus, till you reach the foot of that branch of the Himalayahs, to which the name of the Hindoo Cush has
been given. The principal of these are the Khybeiry hills,
which follow the course of the Indus on both sides as far down
as Korrabaugh, or Callabaugh, in latitude 38° S.; the Suliman
mountains, which lie mainly to the west of this river, and push out
numerous spurs, till they connect themselves with the mountains
of Kund; the table-land, or rugged highlands of Kelaut; the
Khojak mountains; the Gaudava mountains; the Bolan; the
hills about Ghuznee; and, finally, the steep ridges which overhang
the elevated plain of Cabul on every side, and gradually lose
themselves towards the north and east in the great Indian Caucasus.
A country thus ribbed, and of which the elevation is everywhere
considerable, cannot but be, upon the whole, barren and
unproductive. A large proportion of its surface is mere rock ;
and the pasturage in the mountainous districts, though excellent
here and there, is generally scanty. Nevertheless, the valleys
which pass to and fro among the hills are remarkable for the
fertility of their soil, producing in abundance almost all the herbs
and fruits which thrive both in Asia and in Europe: for the
climate of Afghanistan (it may be best to use this term as
generic of the whole) differs greatly for the better from that of
Hindostan ; the heat in summer being generally less intense, and
the cold in winter more severe. Indeed, the snow, which never
melts upon the summits of many hills besides the Hindoo Cush,
comes down in smart showers upon the plains in the season, and
the ice on stagnant waters is often of such a consistency as to
Buatain both men and horses, as in the north of Europe.

The waters of Afghanistan are the Indus—with, its innumerable 

tributaries,—the rivers of Cabul, Kauskur and Helmund,

the Urghutidaub, the Khashrooa, the Ochus, a lake
near Cabul, and canals and watercourses innumerable, which
have been cut among the hills in different districts for purposes
of irrigation. Its animal productions are as varied as
the varieties perceptible in its soil. In addition to the wild
beasts which thrive among ourselves, there are to be found
here lions, tigers, panthers, hyaenas, wolves, and bears. Both
the lions and the tigers appear to be inferior in point of size
and ferocity to those of Africa, and the plains of the Ganges;
but they do considerable damage at times to the flocks and herds,
and are occasionally, though not often, destructive to human
life. One breed of horses— that reared in the district of Heraut—
is excellent; the rest are for the most part yaboos or ponies, but
they are exceedingly hardy and sure of foot, and, as well as
camels and asses, are numerous. There is no lack of cattle, and
sheep and goats are abundant. We find here, also, dogs, some
of which, especially the greyhounds, would be highly prized in
Leicestershire; hawks, trained and untrained; for falconry is a
favourite sport with the Afghan chiefs; and, as to domestic
poultry, every species which you meet in England is to be met
with here. Insects and reptiles likewise abound; but of the
latter few are dangerous, for all of the serpent kind appear to be
harmless ; and the bite of the centipede and scorpion, though it
may trouble for a while, has never been known to prove fatal.
Finally, the herbage, wherever it finds soil on which to grow,
is to the eye of a European peculiarly attractive, while most of
the trees, shrubs, flowers, fruits, grain, and grasses which come
to perfection in the temperate regions thrive here, with many
which require the suns of a tropical climate to mature and bring
them to perfection.

The state of society in Afghanistan is now, and seems from
time immemorial to have been, entirely different from that which
prevails in other countries of Asia. In name the government
is monarchical; but the authority of the monarch, except in
the great towns and throughout the districts immediately dependent
upon them, extends no farther over his subjects than
the authority of the first Jameses extended in Scotland over the

clans which occupied the most inaccessible of the highland districts.

Indeed, the Afghans bear, in this respect, a striking
resemblance to the Celtic portions of the population both of
Scotland and of Ireland, that they are divided into tribes, clans,
and septs, which pay little or no obedience, in the internal management
of their affairs, to any power except that of custom and
of their chiefs. To be sure, there is a point in which the spirit
of clanship in Afghanistan acts differently, and on principle too,
from its manner of operation either in Scotland or in Ireland.
In the latter countries the head of the tribe used to demand and
obtain the fealty of his clansmen to his person ;’ in the former
this fealty is paid more to the community than to the chief: and
hence it comes to pass that there is much more of individual
independence of character among the Afghans than seems to
have prevailed among the ancestors of the MacNeils or the
O’Connors; for though there are instances in the history of
the Celtic clans of the setting aside by his people of one chief
and the appointment on the same authority of another, the proceeding
was not only rare in itself, but seems never to have been
resorted to except in the last emergency; whereas in Afghanistan
the practice is of constant occurrence as often as by the
representatives of the principal families the chief is held to be
incompetent; or is found guilty of having transgressed those unwritten
laws which are understood by all, and by all reverenced
and obeyed from one generation to another.

The principal tribes among the Afghans are four, which
branch off respectively into a countless number of clans. These
are the Doorannees, the Ghilzies or Ghiljies, the Khyberrees, and
the Belooches, of which the Doorannees have, for the last hundred
years, possessed a preponderating political influence, though the
Ghilzies are perhaps numerically the stronger, and, as individuals,
assert the utmost conceivable share of personal independence.
The latter, indeed, are noted, even among the wild tribes of the
Caucasus, for their ferocity. Portions of them, which inhabit
the regions between Cabul and Jellalabad, have doubtless been
reduced, by the weight of the crown, to a certain show of order;
but the clans which dwell in the districts that extend from
Candahar to Ghuznee are described as removed by a very slight
bar from savageism. Two of these, the Oktaks and the Tohkees,

are said by one who sojourned a good while among them,

to be, as regards their male population, ” unsurpassed by any
other Afghan tribe for commanding stature and strength ;” but
it cannot be added that they use these advantages well, for
“their manners are brutal,” and the violence of their chiefs,
in their intercourse with strangers, is often such ” that they can
scarcely be considered in the light of human beings.” Neither
can much be stated in praise of their gentleness, whatever other
I good quality may be possessed by the Khyberree septs. They
rob all merchants, travellers, and strangers whom they can waylay,
and practise perpetual forays on the lands of their neighbours
; but they never murder in cold blood. An individual may
be slain in the attempt to defend his property ; a whole kaffela
or caravan may be cut to pieces ; but such an event as a deliberate
assassination, except for the furtherance of a political end,
seems to be unknown among them. Like their Celtic prototypes
they are, moreover, hospitable in the extreme, and as ready
to give a cloak to one wayfaring man who may need it, as to
take a cloak away from another whom they may attack. If you
throw yourself upon them in their own homes, you may almost
always assure yourself of protection; but it does not by any
means follow that, having escorted you to the extreme limits of
their territory, and seen you fairly across the line, they shall not
fall upon you the next minute and plunder you of every article
of value that you possess.