Here's what Winston Churchill had to say
on Afganistan in 1897

Lessons from history

Spoil-sports

Winston Churchill, who fought on the Afghan border in 1897,
warned of the dangers of peacekeeping among the Pathans,
and of mixing politics and war

“EXCEPT at harvest-time, when self-preservation enjoins a temporary truce, the Pathan tribes are always engaged in private or public war. Every man is a warrior, a politician and a theologian. Every large house is a real feudal fortress...with battlements, turrets [and] drawbridges. Every village has its defence. Every family cultivates its vendetta; every clan, its feud.

“The numerous tribes and combinations of tribes all have their accounts to settle with one another. Nothing is ever forgotten, and very few debts are left unpaid...The life of the Pathan is thus full of interest; and his valleys, nourished alike by endless sunshine and abundant water, are fertile enough to yield with little labour the modest material requirements of a sparse population.

“Into this happy world the nineteenth century brought two new facts: the breech-loading rifle and the British government. The first was an enormous luxury and blessing; the second an unmitigated nuisance. The convenience of the breech-loading, and still more of the magazine rifle, was nowhere more appreciated than in the Indian highlands. A weapon which would kill with accuracy at fifteen hundred yards opened a whole new vista of delights to every family or clan which could acquire it. One could actually remain in one's own house and fire at one's neighbour nearly a mile away...



“The action of the British government on the other hand was entirely unsatisfactory”

“The action of the British government on the other hand was entirely unsatisfactory. The great organising, advancing, absorbing power to the southward seemed to be little better than a monstrous spoil-sport.

“No one would have minded these expeditions if they had simply come, had a fight and then gone away again...But towards the end of the nineteenth century these intruders began to make roads through many of the valleys...All along the road people were expected to keep quiet, not to shoot one another, and, above all, not to shoot at travellers along the road. It was too much to ask, and a whole series of quarrels took their origin from this source...

“The Political Officers who accompanied the force...were very unpopular with the army officers...They were accused of the grievous crime of 'shilly-shallying', which being interpreted means doing everything you possibly can before you shoot. We had with us a very brilliant political officer...who was much disliked because he always stopped military operations. Just when we were looking forward to having a splendid fight and all the guns were loaded and everyone keyed up, [he] would come along and put a stop to it.


"My Early Life", by Winston Churchill. Eland, 9.99 (Amazon.com), (Amazon.co.uk)

FROM A LETTER FROM MY UNCLE PHIL BRENNAN, A MAJOR IN THE BRITISH ARMY,
TO HIS FAVOURITE AUNT, RACHEL, RELATING SOME OF HIS EXPERIENCES IN AFGHANISTAN,
45 YEARS AFTER WINSTON CHURCHILL'S

A FEW WEEKS LATER, UNCLE PHIL SADLY DROWNED
WHILST TRYING TO CROSS THE RIVER IRRAWADY ON HIS HORSE IN BURMA, WHILE FIGHTING THE JAPANESE


H.Q. 27th Mtn.Regt.,
c/o Army Base Post Office,
India.

21 June 1942

Dear Auntie,

. . . . . . .

It’s quite a long time since I left Quetta.  From there I went to Ramzak in Waziristan . . . . .

Ramzak is better know as "the hole of the Empire", but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is just a cantonment completely surrounded by barbed wire and no woman has ever been within 40 miles of it.  It is rather amusing really; the nearest station (40 miles away) is known as "the abandoned wives station" where all the wives live and wait for their husbands to think up excuses to sneak away and have the most colossal beat ups.

I concur with Uncle Jack’s opinion of the Pathan (whose home is Waziristan – not Baluchistan).  He has a great sporting instinct and considers careless British officers fair game.  He keeps the troops in Ramzak up to the mark, because it doesn’t pay to bungle a protection scheme when he’s about. His old rifle may be of prehistoric design, but he knows exactly when and how to use it. One of ‘em, known by repute as "Buckshee Bill", shot up about six columns all on his own and then came and sat on a hill slap outside the wire, and amused himself by having pot shots at officers just when he felt like it. But could we find him ?   He knew all the tricks and was a move ahead of us all the time.  It seemed a pity he should be so wasted.  I was friendly with one of them, who used to bring me all sorts of vicious looking daggers and weird shoes made of grass; all of which he made himself.  I have a soft spot for them because they’re all "agin the government".

I liked Ramzak, but the only trouble was that it seemed rather a futile existence when there was a decent war going on somewhere else.

 . . . . . . .

 

Back to Light Relief                                                                                                         Hit Counter