England’s Trouble in the Far East

Daily Intermountain/March 31, 1900

The Ameer of Afghanistan Promises to Defend Her From the Russian Bear

The most interesting personage in the wide world to England is the Ameer of Afghanistan. For twenty years he has held the center of the royal stage and England has watched his moves carefully.

To be liked by the Ameer has been England’s greatest Asiatic desire; and so eager did she become in this regard four years ago that she invited Nasr Uulah Khan, the second son of the Ameer, to come to London and make her a visit.

Dorchester House, in Park Lane, one of the most magnificent houses in London, and the property of Capt. Holford, a member of the Prince of Wales’ suite and a great swell, was placed at his disposal. Its splendors were known far and wide. The interior decorations included rare woods and marbles of priceless value. The bedroom selected for the prince was furnished in pink silk and bird’s maple, and was dazzling. The young Mohammedan prince lived there, going into English society and entertaining. But, in spite of England’s best endeavors, she could not please his young Royal Highness. He went away displeased because Lady Lansdowne, in decollete, attempted to take his arm at a reception. He was offended because a committee, headed by the Lord Mayor, called upon him at the unearthly hour of ten in the morning; and more than all, he was hurt because the Prince of Wales did not come daily to spend several hours upon his knees in prayer with him, for which purpose the Ameer’s son had brought a special prayer rug all the way from Afghanistan with a pointed pattern for the chin of the Prince of Wales and two triangles upon which his hands could rest: while oblongs were carefully worked in the rug for his feet.

Gladstone, Rosebery and Salisbury were deeply chagrined at this failure to please the favorite son of England’s most powerful foe, and for awhile England trembled, but nothing came of the diplomatic disaster. Russia, on the north, has been also for twenty years courting the favor of the Ameer. When Abdur Rahman Khan came into his kingdom in 1880, at the age of thirty-five, he at once gave his people and the world to understand two things. The first was that he, the Ameer, ruled Afghanistan, next to God and the Prophet; and that he proposed to exercise such rule to the extent of his power and pleasure. He crushed all rebellions in the kingdom by arbitrary and cruel means. He raised a large standing army, built military roads, closed his ports to Russia and England and separated himself from Persia. By agreement the shah of Persia was to take the western part of the Iran plateau, while the Ameer of Afghanistan took the eastern part.

The shah of Persia, always supine, acquiesced to the proposed plans and Persia became limited in power, growing smaller by agreement, instead of continuing in virtual control of all the vast peninsula which looks down toward the Indian Ocean.

The Ameer of Afghanistan did more. He raised the price of all exports, and so allowed his people to make money on all the ebony, sandalwood and bamboo which went from his shores.

Always rich in production, Afghanistan suddenly became a very garden for the raising of figs, dates, olives and all kinds of rare spices; and thousands annually came back in good money for the people of Afghanistan. At the same time he raised the taxes and with the immense sums which poured into the royal coffers he maintained armies, purchased military supplies and both astonished and frightened England and Russia by heavily fortifying his borders.

England, fearing an outbreak on the part of the Ameer, which should arouse India, claimed the international right to question and called the Ameer to account for the heavy equipment of army and navy. To this His Royal Highness responded that he considered that he was merely exercising ordinary prudence in carrying out the old precept, “In time of peace prepare for war.” But the smile upon his dark features was mystical.

Home Industries

At the same time the Ameer caused large industries to grow up in the country. By importing machinery and cunningly using it in connection with hand work he turned out in quantities the shawls for which the country is famous. He also manufactured those wonderful Persian carpets and the wools of Beloochistan. The gay cottons of Arabia were known to his workers and England bought thousands of pieces of them annually; and so with the many other oriental fabrics for the production of which the countries along Indian Ocean are famous. Afghanistan became rich and strong as Persia declined, until the former country brought from two to three times as much as those of its neighbors along the Indian Ocean.

The country’s coffers became so swollen that Afghanistan did not hesitate to make a loan to Arabia; and the Ameer’s personal possessions amounted to so much that it was whispered in England he had invested a million or so pounds with the Rothschilds, not having further opportunity for it in his own little country, filled so with wealth that each man had enough for comfort and more.

England all this time had been making herself friendly with Afghanistan to the exclusion of Persia, Beloochistan, Arabia and Turkey, all of which countries came afterward from a diplomatic standpoint and by gifts and negotiations. Her Majesty Queen Victoria and His Majesty the Ameer became very friendly.

Russia declined in the affections of the Ameer, not only because Russia bought fewer of the products of the Orient, but because Russia was growing in friendliness with Persia. Russia’s loan to Persia two years ago settled the matter as far as the Ameer was concerned, and since then he has been openly opposed to the advances and ambitions of that country.

Now that the time has come when Russia will take the initiative steps toward getting the ambition of her life, namely, a passage to the Indian Ocean, the ameer comes out openly and says he will oppose her. In the most remarkable state letter of recent times he declares “England’s interests are my interests; England’s joys are my joys; England’s woes are my woes.”

A Powerful Ally

At the same time he declares that he can bring all Islam to his side to fight with him for England and against Russia; and so he cheers the heart of the Queen.

Afghanistan may be destined to hold an important place in the history of the next century. Surely, if she grows in power and as an ally of England, her prestige will be increased.

The courage and undaunted boldness of the Afghan will bear comparison with that of any nation, and many are the instances of personal bravery known to British officers. There lives in the Yusufzia country an old chieftain, the hero of many fights, who now enjoys a well-earned pension, with the village manor as a reward for honorable service, and who on more than one occasion risked his life to save that of his commanding officer.

Colin Mackenzie, one of the Kabul prisoners of 1842, often told the story of that Afghan chivalry which protected the lives and honor of English ladies in the excitement of a national rebellion. Nor are they slow to appreciate the quality of bravery in others. In the frontier war of 1863, a young English officer was deserted by his native sepoys, and for some time held his own in the midst of a crowd of Afghan warriors. When the brave young soldier fell, covered with wounds, the very men who had cut him down bore testimony to the indomitable pluck of the young Englishman, who, rather than run with his men, faced the foe, and died like a man. They raised one united shout in the Afghan language as he fell: “Bravo! bravo! there’s a brave young fellow!”

But they are revengeful and jealous.

In appearance the Ameer is forbidding, though he has a very pleasant smile. When his lips part the corners of his mouth curl up and he shows a double row of very white and very even teeth. While he is strong in his friendships, he is not at all certain, but is of fiery temper and apt to change. He remembers kindnesses, however, and if treated uniformly well, will not turn upon his friends. But woe to the ruler or nation that trifles with him; the Ameer will not countenance anything like interference with his plans, nor will he allow anyone to dictate to him. Turkey may be the most buffeted nation on earth, but Afghanistan is treated with respect.

In religion the Ameer is a Mohammedan. The followers of Mohammed believe that God rules in Heaven and on earth. They believe that he is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. They believe in the ten commandments and the Golden Rule. They oppose usury, murder and theft. They do not eat pork and believe that a man should mind his mother and his business. They reject Christ as the Son of God, but believe him to have been a great man, next to Mohammed.

With such principles as these, allied to wealth and power, the Ameer has a personality which is not to be slighted, and he controls a country which is worthy to rank high in the world.

(Source: Library of Congress, Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85053057/1900-03-31/ed-1/seq-13/#date1=1789&index=0&rows=20&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&words=EAST+ENGLAND+FAR+TROUBLE&proxdistance=5&date2=1924&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=England%27s+Trouble+in+the+Far+East&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1)

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