Was Burnes Right? 58


History is full of interesting “what ifs”. The letters in my last posting from Ranjit Singh to Alexander Burnes relate to one of them.

In 1837-9 Burnes saw more clearly than other British officials in India that Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Empire was very much a personal one and would not survive his imminent death. Burnes also deplored the religous violence and hatred flowing from the Sikh conquest of Muslim lands.

Burnes submitted a policy recommendation that, on the death of Ranjit Singh, his most recently conquered Muslim lands including Peshawar and Kashmir should be returned to the sovereignty of the Emir of Kabul, Dost Mohammed Khan. Burnes favoured what we might call a “Greater Afghanistan” which would have in essence included modern Pakistan plus Kashmir. He argued this would bring stability to the region and provide an effective buffer against Russian expansion from the North. This would have been in fact a return to the status quo twenty years earlier.

Burnes as Envoy to Kabul negotiated with both Ranjit Singh and Dost Mohammed an agreement in principle that Kashmir and Peshawar would be held by Dost Mohammed immediately, but with payment of tribute to Ranjit Singh. This would, he calculated, leave them to fall into Dost Mohammed’s lap at Ranjit Singh’s death.

Burnes’ ideas were rejected in favour of a policy which presumed that the Sikh Empire would continue to be the most important non-British military power in India. Britain therefore, to Burnes’ disgust, invaded Afghanistan in alliance with the Sikhs to depose Dost Mohammed. Humiliating military defeat followed, and Burnes was killed.

The Sikh Empire did indeed disintegrate and both it and Sind were annexed by Britain within a decade. That was not a cunning master plan at the time of the Afghan invasion. It was a reaction to a power vacuum as things fell apart.

What if? is a rather pointless game, but I am struck by the wisdom of Burnes’ proposals. If the Muslim populated areas had been returned to Muslim rule within a generation of their non-Muslim conquest, how much future bloodhsed would have been avoided, continuing to this day especially in Kashmir?

I have never believed that because something did happen, it was inevitable that it would. Burnes’ plan was not a pipe-dream. His negotiations in Kabul were repudiated by the Governor-General, but in fact were warmly approved by the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London, so much so that Burnes was knighted for them and promoted to Lt-Col. (Historians seem to have not noticed why he was knighted, wrongly portraying it as some kind of preparation for command lines in the Afghan invasion).

Unfortunately it took a year for Burnes’ reports to reach London and for London’s approval (and his knighthood) to come back, and in the meantime the Governor-General (who was subservient to the Court of Directors) had repudiated Burnes and launched an invasion.

This was not inevitable either. It was against the great bulk of official opinion in India. The Governor-General needed the authority of his Supreme Council at Calcutta. But the constitutional arrangements had not caught up with the new practice of the Governor-General living in Simla in the summer. An emergency provision existed for the Governor-General to act autocratically when physically separated from his Council, and this is what Auckland abused to launch the war – which senior Council members were known to oppose.

So the Burnes plan was not pie in the sky. How different history might have been. And what an interesting book I am writing. You really must buy it!!


58 thoughts on “Was Burnes Right?

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  • anno

    Jon, you are right, this is only an advertisement, a fig-leaf, a blogetable, a deception. By which Homo Electus, political man, tries to convince the world that they care about crimes against humanity, committed by this country against Muslims in Afghanistan,Iraq, Philistine, Somalia.
    Indeed, Burnes was doing exactly the same thing, proposing a decoy humanitarian strategy for which he was honoured by the British establishment. He knew very well, what the whole world now knows after Bush and Blair, that the West constantly plans to destroy Islam. They still think exactly the same, that God is on their stupid side. Exactly the same.

  • Paul

    There is an Avaaz campaign urging recognition of Palestine at the link below (as 120 states have already said they will). It seems the EU might sway the balance.
    .
    http://www.avaaz.org/en/middle_east_peace_now/?fp
    .
    They are looking to reach 1,000,000 as soon as possible. (There is a decision on UK support imminent.) They are also asking people in the UK to call the Foreign and Common Wealth Office directly:
    .
    https://secure.avaaz.org/en/palestine_eu_callin/?vc
    .
    FCO:
    020 7008 1500.
    .
    Also try Hague’s Parliamentary office:
    020 7219 4611

  • Jon

    I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, Anno.
    .
    But I do have a sufficient enough grasp of your world-view to remind you (as I regularly have to) that you can’t see past the alleged perfection of your religion. I wish you could see that, since Islam is a product of human thinking, and its books have been written by humans, that it is not infallible. That is not to say that God is not infallible – I am not expressing a view on that here, one way or the other.
    .
    Similarly, I keep having to point out that there is insufficient evidence that “the West” – which is not a monolithic bloc of opinion anyway – “hates” Islam or wants to destroy it. The questions in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are about political power, oil and economics. Of course religion is involved, and that sometimes complicates it, especially in Palestine/Israel. But you need to put your energies into tackling the economic causes of Western invasions or CIA-engineered coups, rather than looking at it as a cosmic good/evil battle. Having a religion is fine (most of the time) but don’t let it be a replacement for critical thinking.

  • Clark

    Come on Anno, cheer up! The Human species’ greatest sin seems to consist of burning too much carbon, God’s punishment is to relentlessly increase the setting on the global thermostat, and Muslims, Christians, atheists – saints and sinners all – will fry or roast together. We’ve literally created hell!

  • mary

    Baroness Manningham Buller was on Woman’s Hour this morning. She regretted that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld had come together to use torture in their war on terror. She repeated that she haver condoned it, it was illegal nationally and internationally and should never be used as it was to obtain information. Is this statement from her believable?
    .
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b013qz79
    first fifteen minutes.

  • Paul

    @Paul Johnston

    Yes. I agree. I wasn’t promoting the content so much as commenting on the complete lack of coverage of events in Iceland (as far as I have seen) in the MSM on the UK. The article had a number of glaring flaws – it was the topic that was interesting, not the reportage.

  • Paul

    @John Goss
    .
    Sorry John, didn’t see your link that I re-posted until after I had posted the same.

  • mary

    James Landale of the BBC discusses the grab for Libya in cool tones.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9577000/9577895.stm
    .
    Did ‘Libya oil cell’ bring down Gaddafi?
    What part did oil play in bringing Colonel Gaddafi down?
    .
    David Cameron set up a secret unit within Whitehall to mount covert economic operations against him.
    .
    Deputy political editor James Landale explains the so-called “Libya oil cell”.
    ~~~~~

    Obviously he has not heard or felt the blast of a Hellfire missile exploding nor inhaled the smell of burning flesh.

  • anno

    Jon, what a worms-eye view you have on the world. The worm ingests earth and other matter in its path. It passes through the worm and it comes to the conclusion then that it has created new earth.
    Which bit of your existence did you make for yourself? Your conception, your development from a collection of cells to a lump of flesh, a lump of flesh to a creature with bones, a conscious being, a boy, a man, a soul? Did you sit down and arrange the calcs for keeping the earth in precision orbit in the solar system. Did you teach yourself to respect other human beings???????
    Keep on believing in the banana skin theory. After it got thrown out, it evolved into a banana a few thousand cycles down the road it evolved into a human being. Call yourself homo sapiens?
    A key fob is a bit of plastic attached to precision cut and useful tool. You are a homo-fob. With as much intelligence as a key-fob but less useful. Thanks at least for trying.

  • Jon

    Anno, I am proud to be related to a banana! I think I want a badge to that effect 🙂
    .
    Your insistence of the existence of God wasn’t even slightly relevant to my assertion that human Islam has human flaws. All human religions are humanly flawed, to be fair!
    .
    But your dilemma as I understand it is that your political views depend on the existence of God. Since that is unprovable, so are your theories – forever untestable. Like my views or hate them, at least I can argue them from first principles and statistics that are accepted by everyone, religious or atheist.
    .
    There are religious people here who take part on a secular level, and that makes them engaging and relevant. Try it – it doesn’t require you to give up your religion.

  • anno

    Jon, my thesis is that the indicator for economic colonialism combined with utter destruction is not the value of the assets to be gained, but the level of Islamic faith that can be oppressed.
    You deny this truth because it is opposite to the politically correct version of yourself and your country that you believe in.
    As you get forced closer to the truth of my argument you come up with: Why would I have anything against Islam if it was merely an invention of human beings? This is the last resort of a liar, to escape from the accusation of prejudice on the basis of ignorance.
    In life you always know when you are being conned when you ask a pertinent question about the the car you want to buy, like last time the engine was serviced, and you get the answer; I don’t know. By Allah, you know that Islam is from God, and you and Craig’s disinginuity about this is part of the oppression, not part of the process of its removal.

  • Jon

    Anno,
    .
    > Jon, my thesis is that the indicator for economic colonialism combined with
    > utter destruction is not the value of the assets to be gained, but the level
    > of Islamic faith that can be oppressed.
    .
    We agree that that is what you believe. As I have made clear, I disagree with that thesis.
    .
    > You deny this truth because it is opposite to the politically correct
    > version of yourself and your country that you believe in.
    .
    What does “politically correct version of yourself” mean? I don’t even know where to start with that one.
    .
    Do I believe in “my country”? Well, if you mean to say that I support its wars, then you’ve ignored everything I’ve said on these boards for the past few years just so you can hang onto your crazy argument. I’ve long maintained that the Iraq invasion was based on lies, and that Bush and Blair should be taken from wherever they are now and held at the Hague until such times as the ICC can set up a trial for war crimes. Afghanistan was at least multilateral, but as far as I know it was a response to 9/11, despite the primary perpetrators being Saudi, and so features another false premise. In any case the general war machinery seems to be untrammelled, and no justice will ever come to Iraqis or Afghans who have lost civilian relatives in the carnage. Ditto the separate instances of individual war crimes, such as the use of white phosphorus in Gaza, as well as the question of whether each invasion constitutes a greater war crime. Libya – well, I am cynical enough about developed world governments to know their motives are squalid, and I would support a war crimes investigation against NATO (in particular to test whether they exceeded their UN mandate, which seems likely).
    .
    I suppose I believe in my countrymen, though – I am less of a flag-burner than I used to be. I’ve discovered the weird dichotomy that one can hate ones government, and the violence of the capitalist British state, and all its selfish mechanisms and systems of amorality, and still love its green hills, its villages, its spirit, its generosity, its kindness.
    .
    > As you get forced closer to the truth of my argument […]
    .
    This may be the core of your problem. You are so convinced of your rightness that you plug your ears with cotton wool and start singing whenever someone critises you. Have you never admitted a wrong?
    .
    > Why would I have anything against Islam if it was merely an invention
    > of human beings? This is the last resort of a liar, to escape from the
    > accusation of prejudice on the basis of ignorance.
    .
    I am afraid I haven’t the foggiest what that means, but feel free to explain. But I am certain I have not lied to you in our exchange (i.e. perpetrated a deliberate falsehood) and it is not civil for you to allege it. Wasn’t it you recently who spuriously alleged Craig is a CIA plant?!
    .
    > you know that Islam is from God
    .
    I don’t know that at all; in fact, I am strongly of the view that one brand of religion is no better than another. I generally find the major religions intolerant, and doing more harm than good, even though I find religion intriguing. (My Hindu friend was quite happy to talk to me last weekend about the sacred cow whilst I was eating a tasty meatball bolegnese).

  • Jon

    O/T, but mildly related to my conversation with Anno. Whenever I think of organised religion, a song from Roots Manuva comes into my head: Sinny Sin Sins (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCQWGmTkTfw). It’s about the singer’s early experience escaping from the judgemental influence of his father’s church, and features this great lyric:
    .
    > Can I trust King James to translate these papers?
    > Do I need a middle man to link with the creator?
    .
    Indeed. More churches for one, I say!

  • Jon

    Suhayl, cheers for the link to the Scots Wikipedia. Just opened the article on “Spellin an grammar” – fascinating to (try to) read!

  • anno

    Jon, maybe you genuinely don’t know that Islam is from God, but the US war machine in Afghanistan and Pakistan that takes out sincere, believing Muslims in their homes by night or day because of their beliefs, certainly knows that Islam is from God and they don’t like it.

    Suhayl, for many years Birmingham Museum displayed a Boddisattva carved in slate next to the entrance hall. It portrays kingly tranquillity using a carved lion as a cushion in much better detail than the average knight’s tombstone. One of the most satisfactory achievements of the Taliban ( the real ones, not the CIA mercenary clones ) was to take out the Buddhas carved into the mountainside, a relic of statue worship that previous generations of Muslim power had failed to remove.

    If Jon is a Boddisatva, all the more reason for me to shoot down some of the tripe about the burning, current issue of Islam that he and Craig propagate about Islam…. ancient texts written by humans in times long past etc etc. They always talk about Islam as if it were a piece of rubbish in a black bag they intend to throw out in the morning for the binmen. They concede that it exists, but not if they had anything to do with it. The real issue is how to make a bob or two out of the third world without anybody knowing, while the Muslims are inconvenient witnesses to what they or we are doing.
    Not acceptable to use NATO bombs and financial institutions to remove Libya’s assets because it’s too obvious. But still acceptable a bit of gentle gravy training which all good and proper English gentlemen have always done. ‘Would you like a cup of tea darling? Not looking too good on the North-west frontier. Got any biscuits darling?’

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Aye, Jon, ah get the feelin it might’ve been written by a pal ae mine. It’s gae bonnie an fair interestin.
    .
    “They always talk about Islam as if it were a piece of rubbish in a black bag they intend to throw out in the morning for the binmen.” anno.
    .
    I do not agree, anno, certainly not wrt Jon and Craig.
    .
    My dear fellow! Have a biscuit and a cup of chai!

  • mary

    I mentioned Manningham Buller earlier. A friendly Guardian article written by Norton Taylor (who incidentally is on the Advisory Council of the Royal United Services Institute and who probably knows Dame Eliza) has been posted on Media Lens.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/sep/02/mi5-war-on-terror-criticism
    MI5 former chief decries ‘war on terror’Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller uses BBC lecture to criticise ‘unhelpful’ term, attack Iraq invasion and suggest al-Qaida talks

    .
    This is a riposte to the soft soap.
    .
    Re: bbc REITH LECTURE : MI5 former chief decries ‘war on terror’…
    Posted by Alan Haynes on September 2, 2011, 7:25 am, in reply to “bbc REITH LECTURE : MI5 former chief decries ‘war on terror’…”

    Manningham-Buller was head of MI5 from October 2002 to April 2007. On 17th June 2003, at a conference at the Royal United Services Institute she gave her complete backing for the War on Terror. She has also turned a blind eye on the use of torture to gain intelligence and refused to appear before the joint committee on Human Rights in January 2006.
    .
    Why has she decided to spill her guts now… now that she has retired with a nice pension and after being made a Dame? The term ‘Right Honorable’ does not apply to her in my opinion. If she had had any moral courage, she would have told Blair where to stick the invasion of Iraq and resigned in protest. She did not. She is just another self-serving establishmentarian who has undergone a damoclesian conversion… when it was too late.
    .

  • anno

    Suhayl, garbage in, garbage out. Just been watching some hairy coptic priests snaffling the Angel Gabriel peace be upon him, by ritual prayers into a small silver vessel, ready for consumption later. Handy if you need a city turned upside down for its evil deeds like qawmi Lut.
    Even handier if can retain his honoured presence in your digestive tract. I seem to remember that Jesus said that what you took in by the mouth comes out from your rear end without any benefit. So somebody must have deviated, hesitated or been irrelevant somewhere along the line.
    The trouble is that too many people discuss Islam without going into the religious battle that underlies the torturing and bombing. Jon asks me to put my religion aside in order to discuss current affairs. Tiddly,widdly. No teeth, no teeth.
    “Never did I see such a mess– smears of honey; and moss, and thistledown– and marks of big and little dirty feet– all over my nice clean house!”
    There are far more effective ways of obtaining vast quantities of cash from foreign countries without smashing their economies as has been done in Iraq, Eqypt and Libya. The reason for attacking Muslim countries is to cause fitna – strife, but all you gonks can think of is the benefit to arms companies. Don’t you get it? It’s both. If you deny the religious element of these events, you are really living in a children’s fable. The root cause is racist Zionism, dressed up a a Western cultural waistcoat like an old toad. But Jon and Craig will never see it.
    It would require them to undergo a total and difficult re-think.

  • Jon

    Meh, Anno – you’re as slippery as soap when it comes to discussions. I am sure as a fellow Brummie you can do better than that! You’ve ignored every response I’ve given to you, and played your Islam Is Amazing record again, ad nauseum.
    .
    > Jon asks me to put my religion aside in order to discuss current affairs.
    .
    I haven’t asked you to give up your religion. My point is that if you want to talk with people about the injustice of bombing civilians, then lets talk about that in secular terms. I don’t need to believe in God to know it is wrong to kill people, for example. If anyone you speak to must convert to Islam then you’re wasting your time and energy.
    .
    > They [Jon] always talk about Islam as if it were a piece of rubbish in a
    > black bag
    .
    Another bald invention of yours, Anno. I haven’t applied any criticism to Islam that I won’t apply to the other major religions, and I tend to be cautious in criticising Islam anyway. In any case, I stand up for religious freedom – when leftist groups in Birmingham organise an anti-fascist rally in the Bull Ring to stand against Islamophobia and the EDL, I go to it. I’ve been to several. Would I be right in thinking you’ve not been to a single one?
    .
    > but all you gonks can think of is the benefit to arms companies
    .
    You mean we are in favour of arms companies? Err, yes, that’s why I am a member of CAAT. You are a fantasist – you just make it up as you go along.
    .
    > Jon, maybe you genuinely don’t know that Islam is from God
    .
    That may or may not be true, of course. Be wary of zealotry, Anno; it’s like an addiction, and can blind you.

  • Jon

    Ooh Suhayl, if you’re putting the chai on, I’ll have a cup! Although I’ve been working on my laptop from cafes recently, and have discovered the delight of latte coffee over ice (crushed or cubed). It really is lovely, when the weather is close.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Anno, imperialism did, and does, percisely the same to ‘Indo-China’ (Buddhist/Hindu/Communist), China (Taoist/Communist/Muslim/Christian/Buddhist), India (Hindu/Muslim/Christian), South and Central America (Christian/Pagan) and Africa (Muslim/Christian/Pagan). They’ll use whatever suits to construct an ‘enemy’ to facilitate unified action to leverage resources and hegemony. Zionism is one of the current, well-oiled hinges for their levers. Before that, it was ‘spreading civilisation’. And so on.
    .
    The previous Muslim rulers of Afghanistan saw no need to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas because they were secure in their empires and in their religion. They had bigger ideas.

  • anno

    Jon, sorry not to reply sooner. I am on holiday and not always near the internet.

    You do seem to have managed to misunderstand most of what I said.
    Any analysis of current political events has to be seen in the light of economic advantage, arms companies profits etc as well as fascist Islamophobia. Who asked who to give up their religion? You want me to leave out the religious fanaticism of the Zionists in the discussion of world events and I refuse because it doesn’t make sense to me to incapacitate nations if people want to make money out of them. The destrivity of colonialism now as ever is to weaken the beliefs and self-confidence of the target group. You happen not to like Islam so it doesn’t bother you too much if they are being weakened.
    The groups you support also do not support Islam, they feel threatened in their own freedoms by the fascism of EDL and New World order politics. Like a toilet cleaner who thinks that using the same cloth to wipe the bowl, the floor, the basin, of obvious lumps of dirt is somehow making it clean, smearing the dirt everywhere.

    Analysis means making things clearer not smudging the issues together. Craig and you would like Islam to be weaker, deny it if you possibly can.

  • Jon

    Thanks Anno.
    .
    I am not sure what I have misunderstood, but I will try:
    .
    > Any analysis of current political events has to be seen in the light of economic
    > advantage, arms companies profits etc as well as fascist Islamophobia.
    .
    Yep, agreed.
    .
    > Who asked who to give up their religion?
    .
    I dunno, not me. I’ve not asked you or anyone to *give up* their religion. See my last post about that.
    .
    > You want me to leave out the religious fanaticism of the Zionists in the
    > discussion of world events
    .
    I don’t think I’ve ever asked you to do that, and I don’t think in such a discussion – how religious fundamentalism impacts on politics – we should avoid talking about religion. This is a distinctly different point, and perhaps it pays for me to be explicit: discussing Zionism, or Christian Evangelicals, or Islamic Fundamentalism, is generally very useful (if done in an even-handed way). This is because they’re relevant to world politics, and discussing them does not require me to accept any articles of faith.
    .
    What I’ve objected to in previous discussions is the introduction of religious concepts that are quite debatable in themselves. For example, we can all agree religious fundamentalism is a cause of some violence in the world, and we don’t need to be religious to do so. But we don’t all have to agree that “the New Testament is the word of God”, since it requires one to subscribe to the existence of God, or to tenets of the Christian faith. My view is that you tend to muddle the two, so when you say “Islam is from God”, you are welcome to that view, but it isn’t relevant to *everyone* in a debate that is ultimately about economic advantage, arms companies profits, Islamophobia etc.
    .
    > You happen not to like Islam so it doesn’t bother you too much if they
    > are being weakened.
    .
    Wrong again; I really don’t know why you are persisting with such an unsupportable suggestion. It is true that I don’t like religion much, but it bothers me greatly that Islamic countries are being bombed, and that civilians are being killed and maimed. I don’t care what colour or religion or creed they are, though; killing people for oil or power or geopolitical influence is wrong.
    .
    For clarity, I would certainly like religions of all kinds to have their political influence reduced, but certainly not through violence or imperialism. It can only happen naturally anyway, since history shows that people cling onto religion ever more fiercely if you force them to give it up.
    .
    > The groups you support also do not support Islam
    .
    Which groups would they be? I am not of the view that people *should* support Islam, though again you’ve mixed up two different concepts. The groups I support aren’t specifically Islamic, but I am certain that none of them are in favour of our present Western militarism, which happens to have picked mainly Islamic targets. So, which groups? CAAT, Stop The War, Media Lens, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Palestian Solidarity Committee?
    .
    > Craig and you would like Islam to be weaker, deny it if you possibly can.
    .
    In the context you raise it (i.e. supporting military actions that, according to you, are specifically intended to reduce Islamic influence) I deny it completely. But I said exactly that on my 1st September post, which I am now thinking you didn’t read – I was very explicit in my condemnation of US/UK state violence.
    .
    Suhayl says it better than me: Islamophobia is just the current tool, but there is nothing in the long term that says Muslims have been treated over the ages worse than anyone else. One could argue that the Jewish people have been the most abused over the centuries in total, but quite frankly I don’t think we should set up a competition. Christians, Muslims, Jews, black people, white people and brown people have all been the subject at one time or another of racism, imperialism, colonialism and capitalism. I think this is a critical point; it is not to downplay the appalling suffering that is still being heaped onto ordinary civilians who should just be able to live their lives in peace. But, looking at things over a long period allows us to see what the root causes might be.
    .
    Your position, I think, is that if everyone converted to Islam then we’d all be happy and achieve world peace. My response is that cultural barriers will prevent any one religion from becoming the ‘world religion’, and so we will always have religious conflict; better for public religion to cede from view, and for people to practise their beliefs quietly and individually. In any case, there are satisfactory secular explanations for conflict, and you continually allude to them. Money and power.
    .
    Meanwhile, regarding the various conflict zones around the world as Islamic ignores the plight of non-Islamic people in those countries. What is your view of Christians in Palestine, for example? Or Buddhists in Iraq? I appreciate that these countries are mainly Muslim, but you should primarily feel solidarity with them because their citizens are human beings. You should be able to feel empathy with people whatever their faith, of course.

  • Jon

    (Side note: the conversation above between me and Anno is somewhat continued on the “BP Profit from Torture” thread.)

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