Friday, 2 February 2018

British at Kandahar - First Anglo-Afghan War

(Excerpt from "Afghanistan in the age of Empires: the Great Game for South and Central Asia by Farrukh Husain")

"Rather strangely the British Indian army operated an apartheid system for provision of food. British Soldiers received more food rations than Indian troops and the camp followers received less still, Captain Havelock says: “From the 28th of March the load of the European Soldier was diminished in weight, the Native troops received only half instead of a full seer of ottah (that is a pound of flour) …and the camp-followers, who had hitherto found it difficult to subsist on half a seer, were of necessity reduced to the famine allowance of a quarter of a seer."

 “The patience for which with three months and a half the native soldiers and mustered followers of the Bengal force bore their privations, when their ration was reduced to a full moiety, and in truth did not suffice to satisfy the cravings of hunger, ought ever to be remembered to their credit by the Government which they were serving."

It is indeed an odd feature of this war that though people from the Indian sub-continent served loyally to preserve and extend the borders of the British empire, they would still be discriminated against. They would receive less rations than their British counterparts throughout the war and less official recognition for their deeds. This policy bears ample testament to the niggardly and unjust nature of the Honourable East India Company.

In Kandahar the tempting smell of freshly cooked kebabs hung in the air,
 “Instead of the time destroying industry marring custom among the Hindoos of every man preparing his own victuals twice every day, the Afghans buy a flap of bread from the baker…and turns to the cook shop where the Kabobs are transferred all hot from the little charcoal fire…the customer …(folds) his flap of bread and receives the kabob…If the Kabobs do not satisfy your appetite you can have a dish of pilau."
Not all the British officers were so daring however,
 “Some of our officers ventured to taste the delicacies of the cook shops having first administered a necessary oath to the vendor, that by the beard of the prophet, his kabobs were neither made of dead cats, dogs or camel but veritable wholesome quality and they reported very well of the flavour of the same.”
The public bath was a new attraction for the British foreigners who looked with askance at the Turkish style sauna with bathing assistant present, though some officers may well have enjoyed being cleaned by a burly Kandahari man,
“Near the market are the…baths, where I took an early opportunity of subjecting myself to the manipulations and dowsings so admired by the Orientals. I undressed in an octagonal room which had once been stuccoed and gaily painted but now looked dingy and not over clean, and passed thro’ a small door into an other octagonal chamber lighted with a few glass...eyes in the centre of the domed roof…The room was full of steam and so warm that I at first felt a difficulty in breathing, and a sensation of oppression that was speedily removed by the perspiration that broke out. In a minute or two a bowl of warm water was poured over me and a large Afghan…commenced shampooing me-kneading my joints, cracking my bones and placing my limbs in a variety of curious postures, sometimes lifting a leg over his head, then twisting an arm into an equally agreeable position till I cried enough. Then he took a hair rubber or glove and curried me all over in such a style that not only no vestige of dirt could remain but with it I lost a considerable portion of my epidermis. Then the soles of my feet were rubbed with a holy stone or brickbat and bowls of hot water having been copiously dashed over me, Infidel that I was, I was pronounced clean and went home greatly refreshed."

The troops, after enjoying a rest and the delightful fruit of Kandahar, could now turn to other more forbidden fruits. The British were soon occupied by thoughts of exotic Kandahari women,
“It was very scarcely that I met a female except a few of the lower orders in the streets and then they were closely veiled and had a few square inches of fine net work to gaze through. Under cover of this they often stopped and gazed at us in a manner that would not be considered polite in Europe. As to the personal charms of these ladies I can say nothing. Glimpses that I have caught from windows and balconies did not impress me favourably. I saw only one pretty face in Kandahar.”
In contrast, there was fulsome praise for the beauty of the people from another officer,
“The people are very handsome, and in feature, complexion, limbs…resemble, or rather surpass Europeans; the bloom on their cheeks being quite English. A strange custom prevails here, unknown in India, as throughout the rest of Asia - the women, as some in our part of the world, painting their cheeks red, when they fancy themselves deficient in colour."
The example of Leech at Kandahar in 1838 was a stark warning to the people of Kandahar. The British military could not resist women, whether those women were willing or unwilling,
“While the army was encamping at Kandahar it happened that one day a British Soldier got hold of an Afghan virgin and dishonoured her by force. The parents of the girl applied to the King, and demanded justice. He brought the matter to the notice of the British authorities, but could obtain nothing more than mere apologies from the British officials."
Abdul Ghani’s book cited above, first published in 1979, using original Afghan sources, is the earliest English written account of the rape of this unfortunate girl. The rapist on the march to Kandahar had, no doubt, been amongst the “camp fighting men being reduced to half rations were to be seen gouging carrion and picking grains of corn from the excrements of animals!” Now such pathetic vultures preyed upon virtuous Afghan maidens.

While Shuja may have been able to tolerate his daughter-in-law consorting with a British officer in Ludhiana, the people of Kandahar were not ready to have their women abused. The people well knew that it could be their daughter, sister or wife next. Even Haji Kakar Khan repented that he had not fought to protect his city and acts of revenge would surely not be too distant, for this was a city of Pashtuns. There is an Indian saying that the British would have done well to familiarise themselves with,
“a man is never safe from the revenge of an elephant, a cobra, and an Afghan "
Two British officers went fishing six miles from Kandahar on the Arghandab River, but sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted. On the way back to Kandahar they were attacked. One was killed and another just managed to escape. The officer who died was attacked by swordsmen and was named Inverarity. Judging from his name he was an Irish man, the legendary luck of the Irish, in his case at least, had run out. Never again was poor Inverarity to see the Emerald Isle for he died a lonely death far from his home and family. The Afghans had a good catch and made off with the Officer’s horse and kit. To prevent the bounty of the Afghans increasing further, Sir John Keane issued an order forbidding officers to go out into the country on sporting expeditions unless in large parties and well armed. The two officers had made the mistake of thinking they could act as though they owned the country, as though Afghanistan were India."

The watercolour attached depicts an Afghan Prince on horseback and alongside runs a captive British redcoat. By an unknown Afghan artist of the nineteenth century.

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