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THE TRIBES AND HOUNDS
By Lt Cdr Dennis Smith USN (Retired)
Acknowledgement; We wish to thank Dennis Smith (also email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) for allowing us to publish his excellent article on our site. Dennis's article was first published in "Afghan Hound Australia" (1997 Edition)" and we wish also to thank the publishers Sahjobe PTY Limited (http://nationaldog.com.au/aboutus.html) for their permission to reprint the article here.
Afghanistan is as it always has been, a harsh land of bitter division, a land of struggle, heroes and death. It has, over time, proven itself also to be a land of remarkable and unique creatures, both human and canine.
One hundred eighty eight years have passed since the February morning in 1809 when The Honorable Mountstuart Elphinstone entered the Lahore Gate of Peshawar, the traditional winter home of the rulers of the Kingdom of Kabul. Elphinstone was the first Englishman to visit Peshawar. He had been sent by the rulers of British India to win the favor of the incumbent King, Shah Shuja. The Empire was expanding but British India had yet to reach the Indus, and between it and the land of the Afghan Tribes lay the independent state of the Punjab. Peshawar was the terminus for all trade routes east to west, and it wore heavily the mantle of history left by Darius, Alexander, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and Babur. It abounded with the resulting waves of Persian, Greek, Hindu, Buddhist and Moslem ways of life which trailed these leaders. On a tour of the city, Elphinstone was literally lost in the bazaar which was awash with all of Asia. Chinese, Bokhara, Chitrali, Turkestani, Uzbeki, Afghani, Pathan Yusufzai, Afridi, Orakzai, and Hazara traders and merchants offered goods, wares and services of every conceivable type and origin. This cornucopia seemed natural in this land, whose borders were more idea than fact. This fabled land, spoken of by the traders in India as possessing every possible land form and climate, from the icy brutal mountains of the Hindu Kush to the scorching screaming wasteland of the deserts of Baluchistan. In the north, somewhere, was a border with Turkestan, and far in the west began Persia, where exactly no one even asked. Certainly not a pleasant place physically, but one which creates unique creatures, be they man or dog. In men, the qualities created are iron will, tenacity in battle and love of tribe. In dogs, hunting in such extreme climes and topography resulted in unfailing sight, endless stamina and the ability to pursue a variety of prey across both rock strewn mountain and burning deserts in all manner of weather. The strong fronts, solid toplines, powerful rears, huge feet, and punishing jaws of The Standard made success possible and are to be found in no other breed in such a unique mix.
Shah Shuja was indeed aware of the British in India and despite his remote location, and that of his Kingdom, had agreed to meet Elphinstone because of concerns of the designs of others on his Kingdom. Some of these "others" were neighbors, such as the Punjabi's, but more were living within his very kingdom, the multitude of Afghani tribes and clans. For the English, Shah Shuja's kingdom lay along the suspected path of an idea which would cement The Empire's greatness and wealth, a land route to Europe from India. The English concern over conquering the desolate wilderness, while large, was all the while second in importance to the those concerns of the Kingdom of Kabul's neighbors to the north, Czarist Russia, and the possibility of Russian (or Napoleon's, if his invasion of Russia was successful) intentions to reach the sea.
Elphinstone carried concerns for all of this and knowledge of little else with him into Peshawar that day as he attempted to divine the context of it all, based on his observations and his meeting with Shah Shuja. He was expected to return to India with good news and a strategy for carrying it out. He knew he was operating in a region which made the socially chaotic India appear as orderly as an English public school. Charles Miller in "Khyber" (MacMillan, 1977, pp xiv-xv) describes the political landscape as follows:
"If Afghanistan's national boundaries were uncertain, Shah Shuja's rule was even more so. Afghanistan could be seen not so much as a state than as an uneasy state of mind - a murkily defined patchwork of ever-shifting regional and clan alliances. The country seemed to reenact the Arabian Nights. Its princes lived in Babylonian opulence and wove tortuous Machiavellian plots against each other, while it's ragged masses slit one another's throats to avenge real or imagined insults, or simply for the hell of it. Shah Shuja held precarious sway over a fickle, rapacious citizenry of unlettered , bearded sharpshooters and knifemen whose allegiance was split up capriciously among several of his own relatives, each seeking the throne himself. Indeed, at the time of Elphinstone's visit, a tatterdemalion but well armed military force, mobilized by Shah Shuja's half-brother Mahmud, had captured Kabul and was marching toward the Khyber Pass to lay siege to Peshawar."
Over the next one hundred years, The British Empire and Czarist Russian would invent and engage in "The Great Game", and Afghanistan would be the playing field. Play in the game was fierce as invasions and occupations would cycle like the tide against routs and massacres for both the British and the Afghanis. The Great Game played itself out through periods of active war, quiet espionage and multifaceted subversion. By the turn of the 20th century it all seemed to have come full circle back to the beginning, with Afghanistan unconquered and ungovernable and still largely unknown and little understood, with British India still looking at it's western borders and wondering. Today the remains of that one hundred years can be found in the irrefutable reputation of the indomitable tenacity of the Afghani tribesmen in battles since and also in the British Regimental Crests painted on the rock walls of the road from Peshawar to the Khyber Pass, honoring the dead, the wearers of the Victoria Cross and the survivors.
Lt Cdr Dennis J Smith USN (Retired)
Copyright(c) Sep 1997
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