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Sīstān in British Indian frontier policy

  • Ross L. Greaves

Sīstān (Sijistān or Sāgistān) came within the scope of British Indian frontier defence during the Napoleonic era. Lord Minto sent out missions to the Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan, Afghanistan and Persia in order to acquire reliable information about the borderlands. Captain Charles Christie and Lieutenant Eldred Pottinger in 1810 explored the route westward into Persia from Baluchistan. Christie separated from the others at Nushki and travelled to Herat via Sīstān before joining Pottinger in Iṣfahān. According to Christie: Seistan is a very small province on the banks of the Helmind, comprising not more than five hundred square miles, bounded on the north and northeast by Khorasan, on the west by Persia, and on the south and south-east it is separated from Mukran by an uninhabited desert.

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1 Henry, Pottinger, Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde (London, 1816). Appendix: Abstract of Captain Christie's journal, 403–23. Quotations from p. 407.

2 Tīmūr the Lame (d. 1405), so called because of an arrow wound in his leg acquired in Sīstān.

3 Sir Lewis Pelly to Earl Canning, no. 16, Herat, 27 October 1860. F0800/233.

4 Sir Owen Tudor Burne's memorandum on Persia, 1 December 1879. L/P & S/8, C28, IOR. SirFrederic, Goldsmid (ed.), Eastern Persia, 2 vols. (London, 1876).

5 Salisbury to Lytton, private, 31 March, 19 and 26 May, 2 June 1876. Salisbury MSS. IOL. Adrian, Preston, ‘ Sir Charles MacGregor and the defence of India, 1857–87 ’, Historical Journal (1969) pp. 5877. Burne's memorandum on Persia, Herat, and Seistan. Separate and Secret, 21 April 1880. L/P & S/8, C29. IOR. See also C9. For a short summary of British policy towards Sīatān see Greaves, Rose L., Persia and the defence of India (London, 1959), 1420, 178–80, 201–5, 211–13.

6 See Gordon's memoranda and Wolff's correspondence in FO60/528. See also correspondence in PO60/509, 517, and FO65/1377, 1379, 1392, 1394. Lansdowne to Cross, private, 14 July and 4 August 1890. Rawlinson to Lansdowne, India Office, 11 October 1889. Lansdowne MSS. IOL.

7 Morier to Salisbury, private, 8 November 1889. Salisbury MSS. See also correspondence in FO65/1379, 1392.

8 Hamilton to Curzon, private 16 January and 27 February 1902. Hamilton MSS. IOL. Cross to Lansdowne, private, 28 August 1890. Lansdowne MSS. IOL.

9 Curzon, George N., Persia and the Persian Question (London, 1892), 1, 229–43. Record of some travellers in Asia, East Africa and Arabia whose works have been of Interest to the Government of India Commencing in 1875. L/P & S/20, C49. IOR.

10 Minute by Salisbury on Brackenbury's memorandum on the subject of proposed Seistan Railway, secret, 2 October 1890. FO60/517.

11 Salisbury to Cross, private, 31 December 1888. Cross MSS. 51264. Brit. Lib. Cross to Dufferin, 3 November 1887. Dufferin MSS. IOL.

12 Salisbury to Lascelles, private, 6 October 1891; to Lord Lansdowne, 23 October 1891. Salisbury MSS. Sandeman to Lansdowne, Carlsbad, 30 June 1891; Ardmore, Ireland, 16 September 1891. Lansdowne to Salisbury, Calcutta, 16 December 1891. Lansdowne MSS. IOL.

13 Kimberley to Campbell Bannerman, private, in pencil 1892/3; following letter dated 3 January 1893. Same to same, private, 7 October 1892. Kimberley MSS.

14 Minute by Salisbury on Wolff to Salisbury, no. 247, decypher tel., 7 December 1888. FO60/495. See also relevant correspondence in FO60/496; 500; 503; 504 and FO65/1334.

15 Minute by the Viceroy on Seistan, 4 September 1899. Supplement to the Government of India, Foreign Department, to the Secretary of State for India, no. 175, dated 21 September 1899, secret/external. FO60/615. Curzon's despatch of 21 September 1899 was reproduced as Cd. 3882, Persia no. 1 (1908) and again in British documents on the origins of the war, 1898–1914, vol. IV. Paragraphs 28–39 treat the Russian presence in Khurāsān and Sīstān but that section is not reprinted in either the Command Paper or the British Documents.

16 There is continuous reference to Sīstān in the private Hamilton/Curzon correspondence. IOL. For reports by an officer on the spot see those by Sir Percy Sykes while on tour in Sīstān and its environs from late 1898 until his return to Kirmān in the spring of 1900. Quotations from reports dated 18 December 1899 and 29 June 1900. Sykes was first appointed to the Consular Service in 1895 in which capacity he made continual journeys and tours except during the South African War. See his Ten thousand miles in Persia (London, 1902).

17 Hamilton to Curzon, private, 21 and 27 June 1901. Curzon to Hamilton, private, 29 May 1901. Hamilton MSS. IOL.

18 Salisbury to Northcote, private, 8 June 1900. Salisbury MSS. Quoted in Greaves, Persia and the defence of India, pp. 16–17.

19 Charles, Masson, Narrative of various journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, the Panjab and Kalat (Pakistan repr. 1977), 4, 283.

20 See the series of papers in CAB17/53 and CAB6/1. Greaves, Rose L., ‘ British Policy in Persia, 1892–1903–11’, BSOAS, 28, 2, 1965, 289–93.

21 Count Lamsdorff to A. N. Speyer, 30 September 1904, Krasnyi Arkhiv, LIII, 26–7, 33. Captain A. L. Duke, Meshed, 24 August 1901, Report on the Russian Post at Turbat-i-Haidari; Charles Hardinge, Memorandum on Russian Quarantine Cordon, 4 June 1903. FO60/732. Note by Sir Hugh Barnes on question of a loan to Persia, 8 January 1906. MSS. Eur F.lll/351. Curzon MSS. IOL. See also Charles Hardinge to Salisbury, no. 102, 15 August 1897. MSS Eur F. 111/69B. Curzon MSS. IOL.

22 Lloyd C. Griscom to John Hay, Teheran, 25 November 1902. American Department of State. Edward, Penton, ‘The new trade route to Persia by Nushki and Sistán’, Journal of the Society of Arts, L, 22 December 1901, 6578.

23 David, McLean, Britain and her buffer state: the collapse of the Persian Empire, 18901914 (London, 1979), 61–3.

24 Selborne to Curzon, 4 January 1903. MSS Eur F. 111/229. Curzon MSS, IOL. Viscount, Grey, Twenty-five Years (London, 1925), 1, 165–70. Morley to Minto, private, 25 January 1906. Minto MSS. National Library of Scotland.

25 Minute by Viceroy of 4 September 1899 on Seistan. FO60/615. Lord Kitchener to Sir George Clarke, Calcutta, 18 January 1906. CAB17/53.

26 Note by Sir G. S. Clarke on the question of Seistan, 26 March 1906, followed by a description of Seistan. CAB17/53. Clarke became Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence. In Lord Esher's estimation: 'Clarke is excellent. All on the right lines. Very amiable—and fat and comfortable. A great thing! ’ To Balfour, 30 December 1903. Balfour MSS 49718. Brit. Lib.

27 Clarke to Balfour, 26 and 28 April 1905. Balfour MSS 49701. Brit. Lib. See also 49700.

28 Balfour to Curzon, 3 November 1904. MSS Eur F. 111/233. Curzon MSS, IOL.

29 Talk with Sir A. Nicolson, Balmoral Castle, 16 September 1913. MSS Eur F. 112/251. Curzon MSS, IOL. Greaves, Rose L., ‘ Anglo-Russian convention and its working in Persia, 1907–14—II ’, BSOAS, 31, 2, 1968, 300–8.

30 Parliamentary Debates, Fourth Series, Commons, 17 February 1908, CLXXXIV, 476–83. Charles Hardinge to Grey, 22 December 1907. FO800/92.

31 Spring, D. W., ‘ The trans-Persian railway project and Anglo-Russian relations, 1909–1914’, Slavonic and East European Review, LIV, 1 01 1976, 6082. Summary of Trans-Persian Railway Negotiations prepared for Committee of Imperial Defence and Note by M. P. A. Hankey, 7 January 1913. CAB16/26. See also CAB6/2.

32 The Nushki-Seistan Railway. Secret Papers printed for the Committee of Imperial Defence. August 1916. CAB42/17.

33 Russian designs and methods in Central Asia during and since the war of 1914–1918. Foreign Research and Press Service, Balliol College, FO371/27054. B. J. Gould to Foreign Secretary, Government of India, Duzdap, 7 October 1920. The Sistan Levy Corps. FO371–4917.

34 Situation reports on Persia during World War I. CAB21–12. Quetta-Seistan Railway, secret, July/August 1916. CAB42/17. Second Instalment of Draft Conclusions on Indian Defence by Mr. Balfour, dealing chiefly with Seistan, secret, Committee of Imperial Defence, August 1916. CAB42/18. See also CAB17/149. Brig. Gen. F. J. Moberly, History of the Great War, operations in Persia, 1914–1919, confidential, compiled by the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence, 296, 320–1, 348–50, 362–3, 404–7, 427 ff., 452.

35 See Committee of Imperial Defence papers on the defence of India, Afghanistan, and Persia in CAB6/4, 5, and 6.

36 Annual Report for Persia for 1932. FO371/16967. See also FO371/12296, 13069.

37 Curzon, , Persia, 1, 244.

38 The Times, 14 January 1903.

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