chapter  16
9 Pages

The Pamirs Settlement

In May 1892, a sizable force, probably some 750 strong, and again under Colonel Yanov, was despatched to the Pamirs and soon came into contact with Afghan troops. The Chinese and Afghans had earlier met near Somatash and, although they had started by cooperating, in the middle of the year an armed clash took place between them, forcing the Chinese to withdraw. A small Afghan force was therefore left to face the Russians alone and was wiped out when it refused to retire. The Russians then ranged southwards, demolished a Chinese fort at Aktash and left a small contingent to winter at what was called the Pamirski Poste, at the junction of the Murghab and Ak-Baital rivers. A new military road was also constructed from Osh to the Alai. It was clear that another ‘Panjdeh’ was taking place: the Russians were systematically extending their presence across the region and eliminating any opposition. While Staal had earlier tried to argue that the expedition was aimed at the Chinese, whose activities in the Pamirs had, he alleged, caused the Russians serious embarrassment,1 this cut no ice with Salisbury, who expressed his deep concern at the likelihood of a clash with the Afghans.2 Staal’s personal view was that it was ‘both costly and purposeless’ for the Russian military to try to establish themselves on the Hindu Kush, so as to be able to threaten India whenever that might appear desirable. There was nothing to be gained by prematurely alerting the British, who, having been forewarned, would be stupid to ‘hand over the key to their house’. There would be no problem in ‘sweeping up the country’ at any future time if circumstances were to require it.3