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The 1921 Anglo-Afghan Treaty: How Britain's ‘man on the spot’ shaped this agreement

  • ANN WILKS (a1)
Abstract

This article explores the part played by Sir Henry Dobbs, the ‘man on the spot’, in shaping the 1921 Anglo-Afghan Treaty. The treaty provisions being negotiated were important to the security of the Indian frontier, internally and internationally, as they defined the formal relationship between India and Afghanistan right through until Indian independence. In contrast with existing accounts, the analysis presented here contends that Dobbs did have a significant influence both on the negotiating process and on the eventual result. It demonstrates how in his role as chief negotiator Dobbs drew on experience and techniques that he had earlier acquired as a political officer in frontier areas. His aim seems to have been to influence matters so that the treaty would deliver on what he regarded as important while giving away nothing that he thought damaging. The article thus sheds light on how—in a novel and volatile context—Dobbs handled differing views in London and Delhi, and negotiated with the Amir. Given the necessary authority by the British Government, he finally arrived at an agreement accepted by the various parties—Afghans, the Viceroy and the British Government in London. The source for this revised perspective on the negotiations and fuller understanding of his role are Dobbs’ recently-discovered letters and private papers, previously unavailable to historians, together with a re-examination of official sources prompted by this new material.

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1 Adamec, L., Afghanistan, 1900–1923. A Diplomatic History (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967).

2 Fraser-Tytler, W. K., Afghanistan. A Study of Political Developments in Central and Southern Asia. 3rd edition (Oxford, 1967).

3 Yapp, M. E., Strategies of British India: Britain, Iran and Afghanistan 1798–1850 (Oxford, 1980).

4 Hopkins, B. D., The Making of Modern Afghanistan (Basingstoke, 2012).

5 Marsden, M., Fragments of the Afghan Frontier (London, 2011).

6 Tripodi, C., Edge of Empire: the British political officer and tribal administration on the North West frontier 1877–1947 (Farnham, 2011).

7 Bayly, M. J., Taming the Imperial Imagination. Colonial Knowledge, International Relations and the Anglo-Afghan Encounter, 1808–1878 (Cambridge, 2016).

8 See, for instance, Condos, M., ‘“Fanaticism” and the Politics of Resistance along the North West Frontier of British India’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 58, no. 3 (2016), pp. 717745; Kolsky, E., ‘The Colonial Rule of Law and the Legal Regime of Exception: Frontier “Fanaticism” and State Violence in British India’, The American Historical Review, Vol. 120, no. 4, pp. 12181246.

9 Yapp, Strategies of British India, pp. 10–11.

10 These papers were found among a large and disorderly collection of family papers which recently came to light when Sir Henry Dobbs’ last surviving child died and his family house passed to her great nephew. Their new owner wanted a family member to sort through and review the papers and asked the author of this article to undertake this. Once this process is completed and all the papers relevant to Sir Henry Dobbs identified, the intention is to make them publicly available. They include some 300 letters to Dobbs’ mother, some 450 to his wife, and miscellaneous other correspondence and papers. My thanks to the owner of the Dobbs papers, Henry Wilks, for permission to use them for this article.

11 Adamec, Afghanistan, pp. 124, 129.

12 Adamec, Afghanistan, pp. 130–131.

13 Hopkins, Making of Modern Afghanistan, pp. 3–8.

14 Bayly, Taming the Imperial Imagination, pp. 272–277. Hopkins, for example, in his Making of Modern Afghanistan takes a critical stance towards Britain's notion of the frontier with Afghanistan as a zone of ‘unruly tribes’, emphasising how this perception arose from colonial encounters with and perceptions of the region's inhabitants.

15 Tripodi, Edge of Empire, pp. 16–17.

16 Marsden, Fragments of the Afghan Frontier, pp. 61–62.

17 Tripodi, Edge of Empire, p. 140.

18 Adamec, Afghanistan, pp. 87, 176.

19 Ibid., pp. 124–125, 131.

20 Tripodi, Edge of Empire, pp. 131–133.

21 Ibid., p. 140.

22 Quoted in Adamec, Afghanistan, p. 131.

23 Adamec, Afghanistan, p. 119.

24 Report on the negotiations conducted by the British Mission to Kabul during the year 1921 from Sir Henry Dobbs Chief British Representative to Mr. Denys Bray Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Secret, Simla, 9 January 1922, p. 8, (hereafter Kabul Report), IOR/L/PS/18/A 194, British Library (hereafter BL).

25 Hirtzel to Dobbs, 27 January 1920, Unpublished papers of Sir Henry Dobbs (hereafter Unpublished Papers).

26 Adamec, Afghanistan, p. 123.

27 Report on the British-Afghan Conference held at Mussoorie between the middle of April and the end of July 1920 from the Chief British Representative (H.R.C. Dobbs) to the Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Simla, 6 August 1920, p.12, IOR/L/PS/10/811, BL (hereafter Mussoorie Conference Report).

28 Brown, J. M., Modern India. The Origins of an Asian Democracy, 2nd edition, (Oxford, 1994), pp. 203-207.

29 Adamec, Afghanistan, pp. 144–148.

30 Dobbs to his Mother, 29 January 1921, Unpublished Papers.

31 Kabul Report, p.4.

32 Report of the High Commissioner on the Development of Iraq 1920–1925. Colonial Office Confidential Print. 6 August 1925, p. 4, CO 935/1/11, UK National Archives (hereafter TNA).

33 Nicolson, H., Curzon: the last phase, 1919–1925: a study in post-war diplomacy (London, 1934), p. 161.

34 MacMillan, M., Peacemakers. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and its attempt to end war (London, 2002), pp. 1922.

35 Dobbs to Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Note, 25 May 1921, Unpublished Papers.

36 Letter Dobbs to his wife, 21 November 1921. Unpublished Papers.

37 Tripodi, Edge of Empire, pp. 50–58.

38 Letter, Dobbs to Gertrude Bell, 6 January 1918. Unpublished Papers.

39 Letter, Dobbs to Hirtzel, 6 April 1920. Unpublished Papers.

40 Fortnightly Report on the situation in Baluchistan from the A. G. G. (Mr Dobbs) for 9 June 1919. Unpublished Papers.

41 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 21 October 1921, Unpublished Papers.

42 Fortnightly Report on the situation in Baluchistan from the A. G. G. (Mr Dobbs) for 9 June 1919. Unpublished Papers.

43 Yapp, Strategies of British India, p.10.

44 Letter Dobbs to his wife, 15 November 1917. Unpublished Papers.

45 Letter Dobbs to Hirtzel, 6 April 1920. Unpublished Papers.

46 Kabul Report, p. 18.

47 Tripodi, Edge of Empire, p. 131.

48 Letter Dobbs to Hirtzel, 6 April 1920. Unpublished Papers.

49 Yapp, Strategies of British India, p. 591.

50 Adamec, Afghanistan.

51 Mussoorie Conference Report; Kabul Report.

52 Yapp, Strategies of British India; Bayly, Taming the Imperial Imagination, p. 20.

53 Quoted in Adamec, Afghanistan, p. 138.

54 Mussoorie Conference Report, p. 3.

55 Letter Dobbs to his mother, 5 April 1920. Unpublished Papers.

56 Mussoorie Conference Report: Appendix: Proceedings of the 8th meeting, 28 June 1920.

57 Mussoorie Conference Report, pp. 6–11.

58 Telegram Dobbs to Chelmsford, 17 July 1920. Unpublished Papers.

59 Kabul Report, p. 2.

60 Letter British Representative Kabul Mission to Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, 10 April 1921. Unpublished Papers.

61 Adamec, Afghanistan, p. 159.

62 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 14 December 1920. Unpublished Papers.

63 Quoted in Adamec, Afghanistan, p. 159.

64 Adamec, Afghanistan.

65 Kabul Report.

66 Kabul Report, p. 10.

67 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 15 January 1921. Unpublished Papers.

68 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 4 March 1921. Unpublished Papers.

69 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 15 April 1921. Unpublished Papers.

70 Adamec, Afghanistan, p. 158.

71 Telegram, Chelmsford to Dobbs, 3 January 1921. Unpublished Papers.

72 Letter, Dobbs to Hirtzel, 27 April 1921. Unpublished Papers.

73 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 15 April 1921. Unpublished Papers.

74 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 12 February 1921. Unpublished Papers.

75 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 30 April 1921. Unpublished Papers.

76 Letter, Hirtzel to Dobbs, 1 June 1921. Unpublished Papers. Hirtzel also refers in this letter to Bray as a source of “défeatism” among the Viceroy's advisers.

77 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 28 May 1921. Unpublished Papers.

78 Adamec, Afghanistan, p. 161.

79 Kabul Report, p. 13.

80 Ibid., pp. 13–14.

81 Ibid.

82 Ibid.

83 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 3 August 1921. Unpublished Papers.

84 Telegram 229, Dobbs to Reading, 1 August 1921, Unpublished Papers.

85 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 3 August 1921, Unpublished Papers.

86 Secretary of State for India to Viceroy, Telegram 3961, 5 August 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/955/1, BL.

87 Ibid.

88 Dobbs to Foreign Secretary Government of India, Telegram 235, 6 August 1921, Unpublished Papers.

89 Viceroy to Secretary of State for India, Telegram 1927, 10 August 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/955/1, BL, and Reading to Montagu, Telegram 1685, 16 August 1921, Unpublished Papers.

90 Secretary of State for India to Viceroy, Telegram 4177, 16 August 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/955/1, BL.

91 Secretary of State for India to Viceroy, Telegram 4503, 2 September 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/955/1, BL.

92 British Representative Kabul Mission to Foreign Foreign Secretary Government of India, Telegram 294, 14 September 1921, and Foreign Foreign Seceretary Government of India to British Representative Kabul Mission, Telegram 2194, 15 September 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/956/2, BL.

93 British Representative Kabul Mission to Foreign Foreign Seceretary Government of India, Telegram 299, 18 September 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/956/2, BL, and Dobbs to Foreign Foreign Seceretary Government of India, Telegram 300, 19 September 1921, Unpublished Papers.

94 Kabul Report, p. 8.

95 Kabul Report, p. 15.

96 British Representative Kabul Mission to Foreign Seceretary Government of India, Telegram 313, 1 October 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/956/2, BL.

97 Dobbs reported to his wife that Sir John Maffey who had some experience of Afghanistan and extensive experience in the North West Frontier Province where he was by then Chief Commissioner, privately described Bray to Dobbs as full of timorous theories which meant that matters did not get concluded. Dobbs to his wife, Letter 26 October 1921.

98 Agent to the Governor General and Chief Commissioner Baluchistan to Viceroy Telegram 441 21 Oct 1921 to Foreign Seceretary Government of India; Agent to the Governor General and Chief Commissioner NWFP Telegram 549 22 Oct. 1921 to Foreign Sec. GoI. IOR/L/PS/10/956/2.

99 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 5 October 1921, Unpublished Papers.

100 Montagu to Reading, Telegram 5139, 7 October 1921 Unpublished Papers, and Secretary of State for India to Viceroy, Telegram 5225, 13 October 192, IOR/L/PS/10/956/2, BL.

101 Viceroy to Secretary of State for India, Telegram 2485, 1 November 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/956/2, BL.

102 Dobbs to Reading, Note, 5 October 1921, Unpublished Papers.

103 British Representative Kabul Mission to Foreign Seceretary Government of India, Telegram 294, 14 September 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/956/2, BL.

104 Diary of the Kabul Mission, 8 November 1921, IOR/L/PS/10/957/1, BL.

105 Letter, Dobbs to his wife, 12 October 1921, Unpublished Papers.

106 Kabul Report, p.16.

107 Dobbs to Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Telegram 366, 12 November 1921, Unpublished Papers.

108 Ibid.

109 Kabul Report, pp. 16–17.

110 Dobbs to Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Telegram 376, 16 November 1921, Unpublished Papers.

111 Dobbs to Foreign Secretary to the Government of India via Chief of the General Staff, Telegram 145, 27 November 1921, Unpublished Papers.

112 Dobbs to Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Telegram 410, 29 November 1921, Unpublished Papers.

113 Kabul Report, p. 18.

114 Ibid., p. 17; Afghan Treaty and Appendix, IOR/L/PS/10/957/1, BL.

115 Ibid., and Fraser-Tytler, Afghanistan, p. 262.

116 Dobbs to Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Telegram 377, 16 November 1921, Unpublished Papers.

117 Kabul Report. pp. 17–18.

118 For example, The Times (London), 24 November 1921, The Morning Post (London), 25 November 1921, The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, 29 November 1921.

119 Yapp, Strategies of British India, p. 10.

120 Tripodi, Edge of Empire, p. 131.

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