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Corps diplomatique: The body, British diplomacy, and independent Afghanistan, 1922–47*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 July 2017

Department of Politics, History and International Relations, Loughborough University, United Kingdom Email:
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This article studies diplomatic history in its physical dimensions. Its point of departure is the interpretation of the term ‘corps diplomatique’ in a literal sense. The article introduces the concept of the diplomatic body as a diplomat's body and as a body with diplomatic functions and meanings. Based on material relating to the British Legation in Kabul from 1922 until 1947, the body's ubiquity in international relations is revealed through the themes of space, language, and medicine. The article first looks at the impact of Kabul's spatial conditions and the physical reactions it excited in British diplomats. It then considers the bodies of Afghanistan's ruling elite as objects of British attention, whose appearance was documented in diplomatic records. Descriptions of these bodies in diplomatic language expressed intimacy and consensus as well as estrangement in British–Afghan relations. In addition to the metaphorical use of the diplomatic body, the provision of healthcare through the Legation's medical unit addressed the needs of British and Afghan bodies alike. It was also employed to further diplomatic ends by extending colonial medicine to the Afghan population. The study of the Legation's physical practices ultimately reveals the diplomatic mission's colonial origins and character.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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This article came to life at the annual conference of the British Association for South Asian Studies in 2013. I am grateful to my co-panelists, Gavin Rand and Erica Wald, and to the attendants of the panel for their comments. I am also indebted to Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, Thoralf Klein, and Modern Asian Studies's anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions on the drafts.


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36 ‘Report on the Kabul Mission by Sir H. R. C. Dobbs, K.C.S.I., K.C.I.E.’, 9 January 1922, p. 20, FO 402/1, no. 1, TNA.

37 Op. cit., F&P, 1923, 68(20)-Est, NAI.

38 Collingham, 2001, p. 165; Kennedy, D. K., The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1996, pp. 175201 Google Scholar.

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41 ‘Destruction of the second British Legation in Kabul’, 31 December 1926, GB165–0326, 9, MECA; ‘The Legation fire in Kabul: help from neighbours’, The Times, 31 December 1926.

42 Humphrys to Curzon, no. 6, 3 June 1922, F&P, 1922, 68(1)-E, NAI.

43 ‘Annual report on Afghanistan for 1930’, para. 100, FO 371/15550, N 760/760/97, TNA.

44 ‘Note on sanitation in connection with the new British Legation’, 26 July 1922, F&P, 1922, 212-F, no. 26, Appendix B, NAI. Emphasis added.

45 ‘Annual report on Afghanistan for 1933’, para. 159, FO 371/18259, N 2031/2031/97, TNA; ‘Account of medical affairs in Afghanistan’, 8 July 1942, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 167–181, BL.

46 Op. cit., F&P, 1922, 212-F, no. 26, Appendix B, NAI.

47 Ibid.

48 Op. cit., para. 159, FO 371/18259, N 2031/2031/97, TNA.

49 Arnold, 1993, p. 199; see also Arnold, D., ‘Cholera and colonialism in British India’, Past & Present, vol. 113, no. 1, 1 November 1986, pp. 118–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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53 ‘Medical affairs in Afghanistan’, p. 17, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 76–98, BL; Fraser-Tytler, 1953, p. 12.

54 Fraser-Tytler, 1953, pp. 285–96; Kennedy, D. K., ‘The perils of the midday sun: climatic anxieties in the colonial tropics’, in Imperialism and the Natural World, MacKenzie, J. MacDonald (ed.), Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1990, pp. 118–40Google Scholar.

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59 Humphrys to Curzon, no. 3, Kabul, 25 March 1922, FO 371/8077, N 3667/59/97, TNA.

60 Letter from Fraser-Tytler to his mother, 31 January 1924, GB165–0326, 1/1/1, nos. 30–32, MECA.

61 ‘Kabul Legation diary’, p. 50, GB165–0326, 8, MECA.

62 Humphrys to Chamberlain, no. 4, 28 January 1929, para. 1, FO 371/13990, N 562/1/97, TNA.

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66 Adamec, 1974, p. 197.

67 Handwritten note, F&P, 1922, 98-F, NAI.

68 Humphrys to Bray, 7 August 1924, F&P, 1924, 60(1)-E, NAI.

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77 Nadir Shah distributed government positions to his brothers. Hashim Khan was named Prime Minister, Shah Wali Khan Minister of War, Shah Mahmud Minister of the Interior.

78 Barfield, 2010, pp. 188–97, 206–10.

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83 Maconachie to Simon, no. 153, 29 November 1933, para. 5, FO 402/16, pt. XVI, no. 23, TNA.

84 Maconachie to Henderson, no. 6, 23 May 1930, FO 371/14786, N 4007/6/97, TNA.

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87 See comments on file cover, op. cit., FO 371/14786, N 4007/6/97, TNA.

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89 Op. cit., paras 108–11, FO 371/15550, N 760/760/97, TNA; ‘Annual report on Afghanistan for 1931’, paras 140–147, FO 371/16278, N 969/969/97, TNA; ‘Annual report on Afghanistan for 1932’, paras 170–173, FO 371/17198, N 1626/1626/97, TNA; op. cit., para. 184, FO 371/18259, N 2031/2031/97, TNA; ‘Annual report on Afghanistan for 1935’, paras 189–192, FO 371/20321, N 1831/1831/97, TNA; ‘Annual report on Afghanistan for 1936’, paras 160–164, FO 371/21070, N 843/843/97, TNA; ‘Annual report on Afghanistan for 1937’, paras 115–119, FO 371/22254, N 768/768/97, TNA; ‘Annual report on Afghanistan for 1938’, paras 122–125, FO 371/23630, N 783/783/97, TNA.

90 Wylie to Eden, no. 59, 18 September 1941, FO 402/22, no. 5, TNA.

91 Letter from Fraser-Tytler to his mother, 21 August 1936, GB165–0326, 1/1/7, nos. 116–120, MECA.

92 ‘Note by Kerr Fraser-Tytler on the situation in Afghanistan’, 20 August 1941, p. 18, GB165–0326, 10, MECA.

93 Fraser-Tytler to Eden, no. 146, 21 October 1936, FO 402/17, no. 18, TNA; unofficial quarterly letter no. 8 from Fraser-Tytler, 1 April 1941, p. 2, IOR/L/PS/12/1765, nos. 3–6, BL; Wylie to Peterson, C-22/41, 12 June 1943, EA, 1943, 536-F, NAI.

94 ‘Political review of Afghanistan’, 11 February 1944, para. 9, FO 371/39964, N 951/951/97, TNA.

95 Squire to Eden, no. 59, 29 June 1945, para. 2, FO 371/45229, E 5095/5095/97, TNA; ‘Political review of events for the year 1946’, para. 6, FO 371/61480, E 1164/1164/97, TNA.

96 Humphrys to Cushendun, no. 107, 31 October 1928, para. 6, FO 402/9, no. 44, N 5527/4401/97, TNA; Rotter, 2005, pp. 269–70.

97 Quoted in Jacobsen, M., ‘The great game resumed: Afghanistan and the defense of India, 1919–1939’, in Rediscovering the British Empire, Ward, B. J. (ed.), Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, 2002, p. 92 Google Scholar.

98 ‘Fraser-Tytler to Metcalfe, no. 1263’, 9 February 1939, para. 6, FO 371/23628, N 908/144/97, TNA; Rosenberg and Fitzpatrick, 2014, p. 7.

99 Op. cit., no. 3, IOR/L/PS/12/1765, nos. 3–6, BL.

100 Hopkins, 2008, pp. 11–33.

101 These were the Minister, Counsellor, Secretary, Military Attaché and the Surgeon.

102 ‘Medical affairs in Afghanistan [1946]’, p. 9, EA, 1947, 13(13)-IA, NAI.

103 Letter from Fraser-Tytler to his mother, 27 December 1940, GB165–0326, 1/1/11, nos. 158–160, MECA; Death of Major Lilly, FO 371/10410, N 9210/9210/97, TNA.

104 In 1935, the Legation personnel accounted for 1,830 in comparison to a total of 26,467 cases in that year. In 1936, the Legation personnel accounted for 2,140 cases, while the Legation dispensary counted a total of 39,832 attendances. Op. cit., paras 168, 178, FO 371/20321, N 1831/1831/97, TNA; op. cit., paras 142, 147, FO 371/21070, N 843/843/97, TNA.

105 The literature on the interrelationship of the body, medicine, and colonialism is rich; the case of India is particularly well represented. For example, Arnold, 1993; Chakrabarti, P., Medicine and Empire, 1600–1960, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2014 Google Scholar; Kumar, D. and Basu, R. S. (eds), Medical Encounters in British India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013 Google Scholar; Pati, B. and Harrison, M. (eds), Health, Medicine and Empire: Perspectives on Colonial India, Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2001 Google Scholar; Pati, B. and Harrison, M. (eds), The Social History of Health and Medicine in Colonial India, Routledge, Abingdon, 2009 Google Scholar; Sehrawat, S., Colonial Medical Care in North India: Gender, State, and Society, c. 1840–1920, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

106 ‘Report on the proposed buildings for His Britannic Majesty's Legation in Kabul’, 27 September 1922, p. 23, F&P, 1922, 212-F, no. 29, pp. 18–27, NAI,

107 Note by Howell, 9 October 1922, F&P, 1922, 212-F, NAI.

108 Note by Bray, 9 October 1922, F&P, 1922, 212-F, NAI. See also Chakrabarti, 2014, p. 108.

109 Fraser-Tytler to Collier, no. 339, 18 May 1938, para. 3, FO 371/22257, N 2911/2911/97, TNA.

110 Op. cit., pp. 9–10, EA, 1947, 13(13)-IA, NAI.

111 Op. cit., para. 188, FO 371/23630, N 783/783/97, TNA; ‘Legation Hospital and consulate dispensaries’, 30 October 1925, F&P, 1925, 256(2)-A, NAI; op. cit., no. 180, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, BL.

112 Humphrys, no. 373/4, 9 January 1926, F&P, 1925, 256(2)-A, NAI.

113 ‘Kabul Legation budget 1927–1928, Annexure 3’, 15 October 1926, F&P, 1926, 165-A, NAI.

114 Op. cit., para. 124, FO 371/16278, N 969/969/97, TNA.

115 ‘Summary of the course and tendency of events during the period May 15 to August 22, 1925’, para. 7, FO 371/10986, N 5349/533/97, TNA.

116 Op. cit., para. 34, FO 402/1, no. 1, TNA.

117 See also Barfield, 2010, p. 128.

118 Annual confidential report on George MacGregor Millar for 1922, 29 November 1922, IOR/L/MIL/14/15591, BL; ‘Kabul Legation diary’, p. 66, GB165–0326, 8, MECA; ‘Summary of the course and tendency of Afghan internal events during the period January 16, 1926, to October 15, 1926’, para. 3, FO 402/6, no. 46, N 5077/151/97, TNA.

119 ‘Summary of events in Afghanistan from August 17 to December 31, 1922’, FO 371/9292, N 920/920/97, TNA; Maconachie to Metcalfe, 27 July 1934, IOR/L/MIL/14/15451, BL.

120 Op. cit., para. 7, FO 371/10986, N 5349/533/97, TNA.

121 ‘Medical affairs in Afghanistan’, pp. 19–20, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 114–140, BL.

122 Humphrys to Bray, 23 July 1923, F&P, 1923, 657-F, NAI.

123 Op. cit., p. 14, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 167–181, BL; see also F&P, 1923, 657-F and EA, 1941, 392-F, NAI.

124 ‘Kabul Legation diary’, pp. 117–18, GB165–0326, 8, MECA.

125 ‘Summary of the course and tendency of events during the period April 1, 1926, to June 30, 1926’, para. 3, FO 402/6, no. 40, N 3909/151/97, TNA.

126 Op. cit., p. 13, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 114–140, BL; ‘Medical affairs in Afghanistan’, p. 14, EA, 1946, 435-F, NAI.

127 Wylie to Eden, no. 10, 2 March 1943, para. 8, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 108ff., BL; see also Gregorian, 1969, pp. 246–7, 311–14.

128 Op. cit., p. 1, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 167–181, BL; Prakash, G., ‘Introduction: after colonialism’, After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1995, p. 11 Google Scholar.

129 Arnold, 1993, p. 242.

130 Headrick, D. R., The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press, New York, 1981 Google Scholar. Headrick's approach has been discussed extensively; Arnold, D., ‘Introduction: disease, medicine and empire’, in Imperial Medicine and Indigenous Societies, Arnold, D. (ed.), Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1988, pp. 126 Google Scholar; Arnold, 1993; B. Pati and M. Harrison, ‘Introduction: health, medicine and empire: perspectives on colonial India’, in Pati and Harrison, 2001, pp. 1–36. See also Chakrabarti, 2014, pp. 101–21.

131 ‘Summary of the course and tendency of events in Afghanistan during the period February 16 to May 15, 1925’, p. 4, FO 371/10986, N 3409/533/97, TNA.

132 Op. cit., p. 2, F&P, 1925, 256(2)-A, NAI.

133 Op. cit., p. 14, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 167–181, BL; Ronald Hyam offers an interesting insight, arguing that ‘the deep-seated hostility of the Afghan people towards the British may well have been due to their resentment of the undisciplined lust with which British soldiers fell upon the women of Kabul [in 1841]’. It is difficult, however, to establish whether this notion played a role in connection with the ban on women to attend the Legation dispensary. Hyam, R., Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1990, p. 2 Google Scholar; op. cit., para. 141, FO 371/21070, N 843/843/97, TNA.

134 Op. cit., para. 6, IOR/L/PS/1733, nos. 108ff., BL.

135 Telegram no. 176 from Wylie, 11 September 1942, para. 4, IOR/L/PS/12/1934, BL.

136 Op. cit., para. 8, IOR/L/PS/1733, nos. 108ff., BL.

137 ‘Medical affairs in Afghanistan, 1947’, p. 23, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 15–23, BL; ‘Report on medical affairs, Afghanistan, 1948’, p. 11, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 3–12, BL.

138 Squire to Bevin, no. 12, 28 February 1946, para. 3, FO 371/52275, E 2578/66/97, TNA.

139 Squire to Bevin, no. 9, 27 January 1948, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, no. 14, BL.

140 Squire to Bevin, no. 23, 1 March 1947, EA, 1947, 13(13)-IA, NAI; op. cit., pp. 19–20, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 15–23, BL.

141 ‘Afghanistan: annual review for 1948’, para. 5, FO 371/75621, F 1967/1011/97, TNA.

142 Arnold, 1993, p. 294; Chakrabarti, 2014, p. 115.

143 Op. cit., pp. 19–20, IOR/L/PS/12/1733, nos. 15–23, BL.

144 See FO 983/36, TNA.

145 ‘Afghanistan: annual political review, 1949’, 2 January 1950, para. 6, FO 371/83035, TNA; ‘Afghanistan: annual political review, 1950’, para. 15, FO 371/92080, TNA.

146 There are occasional files that seem to have survived for their anecdotal and not for their political value: Ledwidge to Landymore, 23 March 1955, FO 371/117019, TNA.

147 Arnold and Kennedy offer diverging interpretations of the term; Arnold, 1993, pp. 61–115; Kennedy, 1996, p. 8.

148 Hopkins, 2008, p. 170.

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