Anglo-Persian War (1856-1857)

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The declaration of war against Persia, by England or rather by the East India Company,[1] is the reproduction of one of those cunning and reckless tricks of Anglo-Asiatic diplomacy, by virtue of which England has extended her possessions on that continent. So soon as the Company casts a greedy look on any of the independent sovereigns, or on any region whose political and commercial resources or whose gold and jewels are valued, the victim is accused of having violated this or that ideal or actual convention, transgressed an imaginary promise or restriction, committed some nebulous outrage, and then war is declared, and the eternity of wrong, the perennial force of the fable of the wolf and the lamb, is again incarnadined in national history.

For many years England has coveted a position in the Persian Gulf, and above all the possession of the Island of Kareg, situated in the northern part of those waters. The celebrated Sir John Malcolm, several times Ambassador to Persia, expatiated on the value of that island to England, and affirmed that it could be made one of her most flourishing establishments in Asia, being in the neighbourhood of Bushire, Bandar Rig, Basra, Grien Barberia and Elkatif. Accordingly, the island and Bushire are already in the possession of England. Sir John considered it a central point for the commerce of Turkey, Arabia and Persia. The climate is excellent, and it contains all the facilities for becoming a flourishing spot. The Ambassador more than thirty-five years ago submitted his observations to Lord Minto, then Governor-General, and both sought to carry out the scheme. Sir John, in fact, received the command of an expedition to take the island, and had already set out, when he received orders to return to Calcutta, and Sir Harford Jones was sent on a diplomatic mission to Persia. During the first siege of Herat by Persia, in 1837-38, England, under the same ephemeral pretence as now —that is, to defend the Afghans, with whom she has constantly a deadly feud—seized upon Kareg, but was forced by circumstances, by the interference of Russia, to surrender her prey. The lately renewed and successful attempt of Persia against Herat has afforded England an occasion to accuse the Shah of violation of good faith toward her, and to take the island as a first step toward hostilities.

Thus, for half a century, England has striven continually, but rarely with success, to establish her preponderance in the Cabinet of the Persian Shahs. The latter, however, are a match for their wheedling foes, and squirm out of such treacherous embraces. Aside from having under their eyes English dealings in India, the Persians very likely keep in view this advice, given to Feth-ali Shah, in 1805: “Distrust the counsel of a nation of greedy merchants, which in India traffics with the lives and crowns of sovereigns.” Set a thief to catch a thief. In Teheran, the capital of Persia, English influence is very low; for, not counting Russian intrigues there, France occupies a prominent standing, and of the three filibusters, Persia may most dread the British. At the present moment an embassy from Persia is on the way to or has already reached Paris, and there very likely the Persian complication will be the subject of diplomatic disputes. France, indeed, is not indifferent to the occupation of the island in the Persian Gulf. The question is rendered yet more knotty by the fact that France disentombs some buried parchment by which Kareg has already been twice ceded to her by the Persian Shahs—one so far back as in 1708, under Louis XIV, and then in 1808—on both occasions conditionally, it is true, but in terms sufficient to constitute some rights, or justify pretensions from the present imitator of those sovereigns, who were sufficiently anti-English.

In a recent answer to the Journal des Debats, The London Times gives up in the name of England to France every pretension to the leadership in European affairs, reserving for the English nation the undisputed direction of the affairs of Asia and America, where no other European power must interfere. It may, nevertheless, be doubted if Louis Bonaparte will accept this division of the world. At any rate, French diplomacy in Teheran during the late misunderstandings did not heartily support England; and the French press exhuming and ventilating Gallic pretensions to Kareg seems to foreshadow that England will not find it an easy game to attack and dismember Persia.

  1. The reference is to the Anglo-Persian War of 1856-57. The pretext was afforded by an attempt of the Persian rulers to seize the Principality of Herat whose main city, of the same name, was an apple of discord between Persia and Afghanistan. The national liberation movement that began in 1857 forced the British Government to sign a hasty peace treaty with Persia. Under the peace treaty of March 1857 signed in Paris, Persia renounced her claims to Herat. In 1863 it was attached to the possessions of the Afghan emir.