Page:Annie Besant - The Story of Afghanistan.pdf/15

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15
ENGLAND AND AFGHANISTAN.

the outbreak, or who had "returned later to fight against us," were hanged, and forty-nine were thus murdered in cold blood on November 10, 11, and 12. The letter then goes on:—

"Our great regret is that, while we are sending the rank and file to the gallows, the ringleaders are still at large. Such poor specimens of humanity as these marched daily to execution are of but little account in our sight, and will not be missed in a country like this; whereas the execution of leading men—as Kushdil Khan, Nek Mahomed, or Mahomed Jan—would have a wholesome effect on the whole tribe of intriguers who have brought Yakoob Khan so low. Unfortunately we have not these sirdars in our hands; they are still living, and capable of further evil-doing."

It seems impossible to believe that these words were written by an English soldier. Mahomed Jan is the gallant leader of the Afghan resistance; he is a soldier who has fought bravely and honorably against us. In the old days such a foe, when defeated, would have been treated with the respect due to a brave man, but the wild beasts who dishonor English manhood in Afghanistan long for the moment when defeat shall enable them to strangle him. The result of this butchery is seen in the now general rising in Afghanistan, and it is not likely that the Afghans, driven to madness by our murder of prisoners, will show any more mercy to our wounded or to any prisoners who may fall into their hands than we have shown to them.

If our conduct towards men defending their country has been criminal, what shall we say of our conduct towards the non-combatants? These, at least, are held sacred in wars carried on by civilised powers. But the word "civilised" is forgotten by our army in Afghanistan, and non-combatants share the fate of other rebels. Sword and halter are not enough—the torch is also called in to assist in the march of civilisation. By the light of flaming villages may be traced the blessings of the Empress of India's advancing rule. While the combatants dangle in the air from the gallows, the non-combatants freeze to death on the ground We have burned villages when the thermometer registered 20° below freezing point, and, while we carefully sheltered our soldiers in thick tents, we have driven out women and children, houseless and foodless, to perish in the awful cold. Nine villages were thus destroyed in a single day. In this way do we discharge,