Afghan Treachery 35

In the First Afghan war (1839-42) British India sought to extend its influence by displacing the ruler of Kabul, Dost Mohammed, and replacing him with a puppet ruler, Shah Shujah, who had been deposed by Dost Mohammed in a lengthy civil war some thirty years previously. Both were Dourrani chiefs.

The British also wished to extend their rule by enforcing the sovereignty of Shah Shujah over bits of the old Dourrani Empire that had not been subject to Kabul for many years. To this end they deposed and killed the Khan of Kelat, Mehrab Khan. Here again there was a puppet ruler in our baggage, Nawaz Khan, whose line of the Kelat royal family had been deposed four generations previously.

But Nawaz Khan was soon driven out by popular insurrection led by Mehrab Khan’s 14 year old son, Nusseer Khan. He fought a guerilla campaign in the hills against British occupation for over a year. Finally the British, having spent a huge amount of money on pouring in reinforcements, cornered young Nusseer Khan and about 1200 followers at the head of the valley of Kotra. Colonel Marshall’s Brigade consisted of the 25th N.I> with detachments of the 21st N.I. and second grenadier regiment, plus horse artillery and irregular cavalry.

On 26 November 1840 Marshall caught up with Nusseer Khan and gave him one hour to surrender. Just as the hour elapsed an envoy appeared under a flag of truce and terms were agreed. Nusseer Khan was given three days to disperse his forces, and would then travel to Quetta to submit to Captain Bean, the political officer. As Nusseer Khan was broke, Colonel Marshall advanced him £200 to pay off his men and travel to Quetta. Marshall then retired back down to the mouth of the valley.

The next day, Marshall received this order from his superior, General Brooks:

Sir,—I am directed by Major-General Brooks, commanding the Field Army, to acquaint you that, by information received from Sehun Lal, the native agent at Kotria, it appears that a body of insurgent Brahoes, amounting to about 1200 men, located at the entrance of this Pass not more than 8 miles from your post, have been lulled into fancied security by our apparent inactivity.

2. This state of affairs leads the Major-General, in communication with the Political Agent, to consider that an attack judiciously planned, and with the utmost secresy and caution, will enable you, without fail, to cut up and destroy this body ; and with this view I am to give you the following information.

3. The enclosed Persian letter from Mr. Ross Bell to Sehun Lal, contains that gentleman’s instructions to him to place himself under your orders, for the purpose above mentioned, to furnish you with guides, to accompany you in person, and to procure and furnish you the most specific information as to the position occupied by the Brahoes,—whether on the height, in the hollow, or in the defile, and their state and numbers ; in order to enable you to concoct your plans for surprising them.

4. You will send for Sehun Lal, and deliver the enclosed letter to him—no other person being present, directing him, after he has read and made known its contents to you, to deliver it into your keeping : you will then arrange your plans with him—placing the most implicit reliance on his good faith.

5. You are not to communicate the subject of this letter to any one, as the whole success of the plan depends on the most profound secresy being observed ; and you will endeavour, in preparing your troops, to do so in such manner as to give rise to no suspicions of your objects.

6. You will leave 200 men, under the command of a steady intelligent officer, in your camp ; and you will take with you the remainder of your infantry, and all your cavalry ; and so arrange your march as to fall on the enemy at day-break.

7. You will take no tentt or baggage of any kind : the men to carry one meal in their havresacks, and to fill their canteens ; their pouches are to be well supplied with cartridges.

8. You are on no account to advance more than one day’s march from your camp : you will pay particular attention to the guides ; they are to be well treated, but closely watched, and in case of treachery put to death on the spot ; and you will take care that, if there is the least cause for suspicion, they shall not escape you.

9. In conclusion, I am directed to repeat, that nothing but the most complete secresy, as to your plans and intentions, can give you success,—and the Major General enjoins this above all things: even your officers should not know your intentions till you are close to the Pass. You will, of course, grant quarter to those who surrender.

(Signed) James Holland, Major,
Dep. Qr.-Mr. Genl. of the Army

On the morning of 29 November 1840 Colonel Marshall’s force, quietly and under cover of darkness, surrounded Nusseer Khan’s camp, sleeping peacefully under truce. At daybreak they opened fire. About 500 were killed in the massacre, and many more wounded. Young Nusseer Khan remarkably managed to escape over the mountain with a handful of supporters.

General Brooks argued later that he did not know the terms of the truce when he wrote his order. Nonetheless the massacre took place under truce. It is a breach of faith to rank with Glencoe, and a much bigger massacre, and 150 years more recent. These things help explain why our troops now are so resented in Afghanistan.

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35 thoughts on “Afghan Treachery

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  • Paul Johnston

    I don’t really think the present insurgents care about history.
    It’s the here and now which concern them, killings of civilians and more importantly foreign troops in their country.
    If a Scot were to complain about Glencoe or a Sikh about Amritsar or as an Irishman once did about Bloody Sunday 1920 I would tell them there are more pressing issues now to deal with.
    Historians sometimes need to see beyond their research as being the explanation when events are more likely to be influenced by things like the price of bread rather than who actually rules over them.

  • craig Post author


    I understand why you think that, but I hear from firsthand sources that both troops and NGO workers are frequently surprised by Afghan references to long ago battles. These old wrongs are particularly nurtured in tribal cultures. Yes, of course there is also an immediate desire to repel the intruder. But resistance movements need a narrative, and history is indeed important.

    And the fact that you would tell a Scot to forget about Glencoe, or an Irishman about Bloody Sunday, is not proof that the Scots and Irish do not care about those things. You are positing that people see the world the way you think they should, not how they actually do.

  • nextus

    I accept your plea of ignorance, PJ; it seems reasonable in your case, though I wouldn’t project it onto others. Momentous events structure the national culture, and frame how people subsequently react to outside influences: and so they should. If you want to know why Scots generally resent the English, it’s no good looking at the price sticker on a Warburton’s loaf, the fitba’ scores or any other everyday preoccupation. Likewise, you may view the troubles in Ireland as thuggishness and degenerate criminality, as some politicians did in recent years, but the seeds of rebellion were sown centuries earlier, reinforced by events such as the Easter Rising, and accordingly preserved in cultural traditions, folklore and local hero worship. If you find any regional characteristics incomprehensible, I suggest you study the history of the area, and all will become clear. Perhaps you’re intent on arguing that cultural attitudes have no bearing on anything in the here-and-now – all the while embracing the attitudes and prejudices of your own society.

    The Afghans are justified in preserving their cultural suspicion because the foreign forces that attack them persist in their imperialist mindset. Of course, it would be better from the POV of Western oppressors to get the Afghans to wipe the slate clean so we’d meet less resistance this time round. But memories persist for good reason.

  • Paul Johnston

    Suppose I did mean to stir the hornets nest :-). I’m not saying history is bunk, just it is sometimes not as important as historians would have us believe. Perhaps working in a Humanities Faculty has something to do with it 🙂 A few years ago I was very lucky to go to Georgia several times, I’ve also been to Estonia over a dozen times and even Uzbekistan and was struck by how little animosity there was to the Russians, just a desire to get on with life. I totally believe in the unconditional removal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan just I think one drone killing a family has a greater effect than all the railing against past crimes. Nextus, I’m not sure where you think I attribute thuggishness to the Irish. The Irish were involved in a legitimate war of independance but what I am getting at it which caused the greatest influence on the outcome, the words of Erskine Childers or the killings at Croke Park in 1920?
    Dreolin you have made what I think is a very important comment that the diaspora which is often the ones who hold the injustices of the past closest. Is that because their cultural identity is define by their outsidedness, i.e. who they are not, rather than who they are.
    At no point did I use the word “forget”, I think I would suggest the past is a topic where it is possible to forgive but not forget, the present is not so easy.

    With that I’ll sign off on this topic.
    Anyway best of luck with the book Craig.

  • craig Post author


    That is precisely the Imperial narrative which is all that we were taught. You won’t find a link to the episode above anywhere – and that was only one of many slaughters of this British invasion of Afghanistan.

    The problem with the safe conduct was that the man who gave it – Akbar Khan – did not have authority over the local Ghilzie tribes whose territory the retreat passed through. The majority of deaths were actually from cold. Interestingly the surviving Brits testified, as eye witnesses, that Akbar Khan genuinely did try to prevent the attacks. Historians have almost unanimously given an opposite verdict to the people who were actually there. But you will have to read my book, which I am glad to say is looking brilliant!!

  • Canspeccy

    “Historians have almost unanimously given an opposite verdict to the people who were actually there.”

    There must be some historians ethical code that requires this!

    “But you will have to read my book.”

    I look forward to doing so.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    Thinking with both your historical hat on, and your contemporary political hat on – I want to stretch your mind from the past to the present.
    You have written about “breach of faith” relative to Afghanistan in a historical context, and obviously have a moral position on same.
    I learn from what you have posted and see a line of continuity from past to present.
    I have just finished watching Richard Gage being interviewed on Press TV about 9/11. I tried to find it online to post here, but suffice to say that you will get the gist of what this man is saying from a quick google search and, by way of example, a quick look at say – this:-
    I, as you will accept ( I hope that you do) am one of your regulars on your blog. A lot of things that you state, I agree with you, and feel somehow that we stand on a lot of common political and philosophical ground. Some of the views that you express, I disagree with, and I am willing to say so, but always set out to back my dissent with reason and facts. I am prefacing where I want to go with this – because what I listened to, quite intently, when I watched the interview with Gage, brought two(2) names into mind – Chomsky and Murray. I just don’t get it. A lot of persons who are not “kooks”, “nut cases”, “politicos/political animals” are able to state with reason and factual professional knowledge that something is amiss with the 9/11 narrative as officially presented. Yes – I am going there – from the historical account of events in Afghanistan which where occasioned back then – which outraged and annoyed you – to the contemporary contrast with a casus belli ( some might say so) of the events on 9/11.
    I do not understand why Chomsky approaches this very important issue as he does. I do not understand why Craig Murray approaches this very important issue as he does. Look at the evidence referenced by these architects and engineers ( not exactly your run of the mill “conspiracy theorists”) and then consider seriously that as scientific and professional persons – they do see something more in the collapse of those three(3) buildings than is explained in the official narrative.
    You – Murray – stand for truth. You Murray – stand for justice. You – Murray – stand for human rights.
    Surely, if this 9/11 event that leads from Afghanistan – in a historical context ( as we have here referenced) to a bombing and invasion in a contemporary context – to the loss of so many lives – must warrant from a person with not just good – but very good – human rights credentials – some more comment – some more thoughtful expression, based on that which has been credibly stated. By whom – you may ask. The list is long, and again, I say that unlike overnight politicos, these are not just comments from academics, intellectuals, professors, professionals, who went on the regular protest marches as students – but from some formerly very conservative types – who have evolved into genuinely concerned persons about 9/11. Guess where Murray stands – come on Craig – nothing like a good debate.
    Let the debate begin.

  • glenn

    Courtenay, the answer is that such people as CM and Chomsky want a clear, unarguable record of only dealing with officially accepted fact. Even if that fact is not exactly broadcast, common knowledge, or used in the required context for historical perspective. Like the Nuremberg trials, the fact that a war of aggression is the most serious offence (containing within it all other offences), and that the civilian leaders are the most responsible for the acts their forces undertake. That makes our leaders clearly responsible for crimes comparable to those warranting death sentences at Nuremberg, but we don’t talk about such things. We occasionally punish low-ranking individuals for being “excessive”, never the people that put them there for no legal reason.
    These examples of clear violations of law are unarguable, our very few Chomskys and Murrays have plenty to go on, without the need to besmirch themselves by questioning Official Truths. It’s not as I would prefer it, but it’s an understandable position. Suppose they questioned the Official Story. Nothing they said could thereafter be considered outside the context of, “Oh – oh! But this is from the conspiracy nut who reckons /yuk/yuk/snark/” – and any valid point falls down the “poisoning the well’ logical fallacy, always, forevermore and retroactively.
    Consider that the likes of that teabagger Larry – he’s desperate to get CM on the record denying Official Truths on this subject, and has spent nearly two years trying. Apart from demonstrating a pathetic way to make a living, he’s illustrating the real danger to anyone’s credibility in questioning any Official Truth.
    You might get away with pointing out awkward things about the Official Truth, but don’t you ever dare question it directly. For instance, questioning an Official Truth concerning the Iraq Dossier, saying it was “sexed up”, caused some serious problems for the BBC. Questioning our Official Truth that we don’t torture, or benefit from information received through torture, caused some serious problems for our host Mr. Murray.
    Questioning an Official Truth such as why did three steel framed buildings usefully fall down one day in quite such an unprecedented manner, would be almost as insane as wondering why nobody has pulled off a Moon landing lately, even though it’s been 40 years since that record of perfect accomplishment was last tested. For instance, if you said, “We were knocking those Moon-landing craft out like Coke-cans back in the ’60s, every one worked just fine. Worked first time, worked every time. But we’ve lost that technology now, and no country will ever manage it again, the current record proves it.” – you’d look insane right? Err, actually, forget that example. That particular one is the Official Story.

  • Ivan

    Craig, pleased to read a former British official with some glimpses of conscience. Unfortunately Afghanistan is not the only ‘treachery field’ of the British foreign policy conforming to the only rule: ‘Britain crown does not have permanent friends, there are only her permanent interests.’ Any former British colony or ally can recall a number of metropolian or ‘friendly’ treacheries. E.g. the intrigues by Sir Edward Grey triggered the bloodshed of WWI: Turks, Arabs, Malaysians, Indians, may relate their own stories…

  • YugoStiglitz

    Right, but 19 Arab Muslims did 911. It wasn’t the Jews and the Saudis and the Americans as your tax cheat Mark Golding stated a few threads back.

  • Ivan

    We shouldn’t mess perpetrators and masterminds. It would be an utmost stupidity not to use false flag for 9/11. Study players, aims, results. Enjoy thinking 🙂

  • mary

    Courtenay – It says a great deal that, at the talk by Richard Gage at RIBA in London recently, David Aaronovitch (author of Voodoo Histories) attended. He was in the back row twittering away on his gadget! Gage is simply asking for an investigation and does not accept the fiction of the ‘official’ version. He has just been on Irish TV.
    ‘When question time began, quick on his feet and first to the microphone was David Aaronovitch, Times columnist and self-styled expert on ‘conspiracy theories’. Charlie Skelton a freelancer who writes for The Guardian observed that of all Aaronovitch’s four points, presented as questions like ‘what happened to the passengers on the planes?’, none addressed the subject matter of the presentation. Gage’s bald answer to each was essentially: ‘I don’t know. I’m not an expert on conspiracies but on building design.’ When Aaronovitch complained that the meeting was biased against the official story of 9/11, he was challenged to take part in a balanced debate with Richard Gage. Two hundred people heard him say yes, but one organiser predicted that he never would.’

  • YugoStiglitz

    Richard Gage is a dumb failed architect. Everything he says is bullshit, and his collection of Internet petition goons are not actually proper architects or engineers.

    Why do you keep pushing very dumb right-wing American conspiracy theories?

  • ingo

    Oooooo, Larry in full flow. Fact is Larry, the Bojinka atempt was the blue print and the target was chosen after the first attack on the twin towers, they had become a legitamite target.
    The deliberations to let known terrorist continue with flight training, the castration of those FBI officer flagging it up, the procrastinations of gen meyers on the day and and and, a whole plethora of facts, long before the fastest demolition job/ mass murder ever, all point to machinations behind the scenes.

    Do you dispute this? are you calling experienced FBI officers of various ranks liars? why are you not engaging in what actually happened but focus on the physicallities and those who question it.

    If you have any beef, its with those who covered up the first signs of terror training in the US, although strictly speaking there is a history of training terrorists at the school of the Americas, not with those trying to find answers.

    Still this in a different league, these officers were called back and told to keep quiet by politicians who were eager to find reasons for a massive calamitous and world shattering event to justify a lets say 50 year period of geostrategic resource hysting.

    These industrial military movers and shakers behind the scenes would make the perfect target to be rolled over next, spatchcocked so to speak, once Murdoch has had his fat, what do you think?

    Should the large amount of disaffected people all over the world, who do not believe or trust their Governments much more, try and dismantle these warmongering civilians, who never put themselves in the frontline, the arms pushers trying to market their iron domes and concrete walls, should they be next in line for exposure?

    Wonder what the hacking community thinks of such a concerted action, should one be showing the world what these murderers are up to?

    BTW. whats the latest on the flotilla?

  • Sunflower

    “Heh Murray, one of your few commenters here with some claim to a profession (Courtenay Barnett, lawyer) is a 911 nutcase. You’ve praised him; you’ve interacted with him. Yet you believe that he’s a conspiraloon because he believes in 911 truth garbage. How do you square this?”

    This line of argument we’ve seen many many times. The modus operandi of dealing with people questioning the “Official Truth” is exactly the same as the one used with people who have the audacity to criticise Israel and/or zionism.

    Which tells me that there seems to be a strong interest from that part of the world to keep the “Official Truth” untouched.

    You are not arguing on based on facts, you are just stating that Courtney is insane and therefore have no credibility.

    Not hard to figure where you are coming from 🙂 Pathetic.

  • mary

    Ingo do you think there is anything more behind the story that the explosion in Cyprus which has knocked out their electricity supply was caused by ammunition confiscated from an Iranian ship on its way to Syria? Seems all a bit too ‘pat’ to me. The provenenance is more likely from a dump of junk from Iraq or other countries where the USUKIsNATO coalition has done its worst,knowing that the UK has a strong military presence on the still divided island.
    Back in 1986, my late husband and I were hiking in the Troodos mountains there. We noticed that the ground was littered with spent shotgun cartridges from the local sport of killing migrating birds but I hope that a campaign to stop that has worked. Anyway, ahead of us was a very large station with masts and receiving dishes and the next thing we had armed military police pointing their rifles at us and telling us to clear off.
    The area is littered with military bases I see.,+Limassol,+Cyprus&hl=en&ll=34.947865,32.861481&spn=0.039609,0.052958&sll=51.762185,-0.569129&sspn=0.007477,0.013239&t=h&z=14
    I have just looked up the BBC report on the explosion. I did not know 12 had been killed. {}

  • dreoilin

    “I learn from what you have posted and see a line of continuity from past to present.”
    Gosh, Courtenay, it’s a bit of a jump from what Craig posted to Richard Gage … if you’d just written “9/11” and run away again, you’d have guaranteed a visit from LarryStiglitz. 😉

  • Bert

    I’d recommend the book “Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story” by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould.

    Details here:

    There is a vast amount of referenced material on the history of Afghanistan in there & it would be worth a dip for your prospective tome.

  • glenn

    Someone should write a book on British treachery like this, it would give us a much better perspective on how the rest of the world sees us. Has it already been done? Anyone know of one? I’d wager a lot of our former colonies have tales like this, going back hundreds of years, where feelings are still pretty raw.
    By the same measure, the next time the filth tells a group of peaceful protestors that they are to be congratulated for being orderly, and now they’d like to safely escort them to freedom, we’ll be shocked – shocked! – that the protestors have the audacity not to believe them.

  • mark_golding

    I have recently approached the 19C treachery in Afghanistan from the perspective and notes of one man, Captain Vitkievitch or ‘Vickovitch according to Burnes. I believe Vitkievitch was dispatched to Kabul by the Russian government to offer an alliance complete with arms and subsidies, this being instigated from Iranian intelligence dated September 30th 1837 before Burnes was to arrive in Kabul the following month. Count Simonitch had written to Dost Mohammed expressing a wish to befriend him. Such assistance I believe would give Russia some insight of British interests in India. Interestingly we note from the ambassador’s letter, Russia had close ties with Iran at the time that remain to this day.
    Mohammed had complained (diplomatically) to the Russians that the British were supporting the Shah and also had a good relationship with Runjeet Singh, while he ‘did not seem favourably disposed to Singh and also the Sikhs were his enemies.
    This of course sounds like playground ‘ganging up’ yet is an exquisite insight into earlier diplomacy, stealth and deception. .
    The reply to Mohammed’s letter by Emperor Nicholas, though it contained no direct promise of assistance, was thought sufficiently compromising by the British Foreign Office to be suppressed. So also was a passage in a letter from Count Simonitch referring to the fact that Vitkievitch had gone to Cabul as bearer of an autographed letter from the Czar, and another passage setting forth that the presents he was charged to offer came from ” the Imperial store.”
    Vitkievitch, the Russian [double?]agent succeeded in convincing Dost Mohammed of Russian help but did not reveal that this help was conditional on Mohammed recognising the claims of Persia over Herat; the interference of Russia in his affairs had, all the same, the effect of bringing about a war between Britain and Afghanistan.
    Vitkievitch had received only verbal instructions, and, according to Perofski’s historian he was ” not to disclose anywhere that he was sent by the Russian Government.” Vitkievitch who was really Polish not Russian, disclosed secret information to Burnes about an impending Russian attack on now Uzbekistan after the British had settled matters in Afghanistan. Vitkievitch was later found with his brains blown out. It was announced as a suicide but I disagree. The night before his suicide he was at the theatre with Prince Soltykoff, apparently in excellent spirits and before retiring to bed he gave orders to be called early the next morning.

  • ingo

    Mary, can’t understand it either, why should it end up being stored in Cyprus anyway. Looks like all the Greek Turkish and Italian ports are closed to flotilla’s in future, leaving only the option of non stop journeys from North African or Portuguese and spanish ports, not impossible but some boats could need bigger fuel tanks.

    Looks like those boats who have sailed are either incommunicado not giving any electronic signals to home in on, futile as they can’t hide, are still on their way, engaging the IDF in a cat and mouse game, or have already been boarded and are in tow somewhere. Either way we should hear of it soon.

    Also this week the UN report of the first flotilla is (over)due, so we will soon hear whats up.

  • Jon

    @Glenn, I don’t know how well it fits with what you’re interested in, but “People’s History of the World” might be worth looking into. I haven’t read it, but it is by socialist thinker Chris Harman, whose Zombie Capitalism I am reading at the moment. I believe his thesis for People’s History was to invert the usual mode of history – to recount things that happened to ordinary people, rather than approaching things from a kings & queens (ruling class) perspective. An index of the book is here, as well as some sample material
    A similar thing was done for the US, here – check out Amazon for some aggressive 1-star reviews from some angry people!
    For a more recent history of British/US past, Mark Curtis is invaluable. But I don’t think his work stretches back as far as the topic of this post.

  • dreoilin

    “Someone should write a book on British treachery like this, it would give us a much better perspective on how the rest of the world sees us.”

    I have no idea if anyone has attempted the like. I (idly) Googled “British treachery” on the off-chance, but then I got distracted (by a funny American site purporting to give a précis of Irish history) and I didn’t look very far after the first page of results.
    I read this about a month ago. It’s not about treachery, it’s about misrepresentation. And the media.
    “The IRA hunger strike and Fleet Street’s graveyard of truth”
    “… Again, the British people did not realise that, because their newspapers did not tell them. And many still do not grasp that fact today …”

  • dreoilin

    Posted on Twitter, tonight, starting at 21.58:
    Seems like #Gaza is paying the price for the #flotilla – continuous bombing by #Israel this whole week, including right now. #Breaking
    Your Starbucks drink & can of Coca Cola helped pay for the bombs being dropped on #Gaza tonight. #BDS
    2 children injured in #Gaza explosions. This is #Israel. #Terrorism 6 minutes ago

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