The most sensitive nerve in the British Empire terminates in Afghanistan, and the ghost of the czar is always dancing about the Khyber Pass, through which caravans laden with merchandise find their way across the mountains between India and the countries of Central Asia. Every time there is a stir in a clump of bushes, every time a board creaks in the floor, every time a footstep is heard under the window, the goose flesh rises on John Bull's back, and he imagines that the Great White Bear is smelling around the back door of his empire in India. Peshawur is the jumping-off place of the Northwest, the limit of British authority, the terminus of the railway system of India and the great gateway between that empire and Central Asia, through which everything must pass. It is to the interior of Asia what the Straits of Gibraltar are to the Mediterranean Sea, and the Dardanelles to the Black and Caspian seas. While there are 300 paths over the mountains in other directions, and it might be possible to cross them with an army, it has never been attempted and would involve dangers, expense and delays which no nation would undertake. The Khyber Pass has been the great and only route for ages whether for war or commerce. The masters of Central Asia, whether Persians, Greeks, Macedonians or Assyrians, have held it. Alexander the Great crossed it with his army. Timour the Tartar, whom we know better as Tamerlane, came through upon his all-conquering expedition when he subdued India to found the Mogul Empire, and if the Russians ever enter India by land they will come this way.

The pass is reached by crossing a stony plain ten miles from Peshawur, and winds through gorges and crevices in the mountains for thirty-three miles at an altitude averaging 7,000 feet above the sea. At one point the mountains close in to about 500 feet apart and the rocks rise in sheer precipices on either side; in other places the gorge widens to a mile or more and will average perhaps three-quarters of a mile the entire distance. It is a remarkable gateway, a natural barrier between hereditary enemies and easily defended from either side. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is 180 miles from the western entrance to the defile.

The British fortifications are at Jamrud, nine miles from Peshawur, and the terminus of the railways, where a strong garrison is always kept. The pass itself is controlled by a powerful semi-independent native tribe called the Afridis, estimated at 20,000 strong, who receive subsidies from the British government and from the Ameer of Afghanistan to keep them good-natured on the pretext that they are to do police work and keep order in the pass. It is blackmail and bribery, but accomplishes its purpose, and the pass itself, with a strip of highlands and foothills on the Afghanistan side, is thus occupied by a neutral party, which prevents friction between the nations on either side of the border. The Afridis are fearless fighters, half-civilized, half-savage, and almost entirely supported by the subsidies they receive. Nearly all of the able-bodied men are under arms. A few, who are too old or too young to fight, remain at home and look after the cattle and the scraggy gardens upon the gravelly hillsides. The women are as hardy and as enduring as the men and are taught to handle the rifle. The British authorities are confident of the loyalty of the Afridis and believe that the present arrangement would be absolutely safe in time of war as it is in time of peace - that they would permit no armed body, whether Russians or Afghans, to cross the pass without the consent of both sides, as is provided by treaty stipulations.

The arrangement is as effective as it is novel and the Afridis carry out every detail conscientiously. The pass is open only two days in the week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. No one is permitted to cross or even enter it from either side except on those days. And even then travelers, tourists and others actuated by curiosity are not allowed to go through without permits. The caravans going both ways are required to camp under well-formed regulations at either entrance until daylight of Tuesday or Friday, when they are escorted through by armed bodies of Afridis horsemen. There is not the slightest danger of any sort to anyone, but it is just as well to go through the ceremony, for it keeps the Afridis out of mischief and reminds them continually of their great responsibilities. These caravans are interesting. They are composed of long strings of loaded camels, ox-carts, mules and donkeys, vehicles of all descriptions and thousands of people traveling on foot, who come sometimes from as far west as the Ural Mountains and the banks of the Volga River. They come from Persia, from all parts of Siberia and from the semi-barbarous tribes who inhabit that mysterious region in central Asia, known as the "Roof of the World."

The camel drivers and the traders are fierce-looking men and extremely dirty. They have traveled a long way and over roads that are very dusty, and water is scarce the entire distance. They look as if they had never washed their faces or cut their hair, and their shaggy, greasy, black locks hang down upon their shoulders beneath enormous turbans. Each wears the costume of his own country, but they are so ragged, grimy and filthy that the romance of it is lost. The Afghans are in the majority. They are stalwart, big-bearded men, with large features, long noses and cunning eyes, and claim that their ancestors were one of the lost tribes of Israel. Their traditions, customs, physiognomy and dialects support this theory. Although they are Mohammedans, they practice several ancient Jewish rites. The American missionaries who have schools and churches among them are continually running up against customs and traditions which remind them forcibly of the Mosaic teachings. They have considerable literature, poetry, history, biography, philosophy and ecclesiastical works, and some of their priests have large libraries of native books, which, the missionaries say, are full of suggestions of the Old Testament.

One of the most successful missionaries in that part of the world was an apostate Polish Jew named Rev. Isidore Lowenthal, a remarkable linguist and a man of profound learning. He translated the Bible and several other religious books into Pashto, the language of the Afghans, and was convinced that he shared with them the same ancestry. A story that is invariably related to travelers up in that country refers to his untimely taking off, for he was accidentally shot by one of his household attendants, and his epitaph, after giving the usual statistical information, reads:

  He was shot accidentally by his chookidar. 
  Well done, thou good and faithful servant. 
  I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Afghanistan question, is, so to speak, in statu quo. The ameer is friendly to the British, but asserts his independence with a great deal of firmness and vigor, and is an ever-present source of anxiety. He receives a subsidy of $600,000 from the British government, which is practically a bribe to induce him not to make friends with Russia, and yet there are continual reports concerning Russian intrigues in that direction. He declines to receive an English envoy and will not permit any Englishmen to reside at his court. The Indian government is represented at Kabul by a highly educated and able native Indian, who is called a diplomatic agent, and has diplomatic powers. He reports to and receives instructions from Lord Curzon directly, and is the only medium of communication between the ameer and the British government. The present ameer has been on the throne only since the death of his father, the ameer Abdur Rahman, in October, 1901, and for several months there was considerable anxiety as to what policy the young man, Habi Bullah Khan, would adopt. During the last three years of the old man's life he yielded his power very largely to his son, and selected him twenty wives from the twenty most influential families in the kingdom in order to strengthen his throne. Although Habi Bullah is not so able or determined as his father, he has held his position without an insurrection or a protest, and is no longer in danger of being overthrown by one of the bloody conspiracies which have interlarded Afghanistan history for the last two centuries.

The British were fortunate in having a viceroy at that critical period who was personally acquainted with the young ameer and a friend of his father. When Lord Curzon was a correspondent of the London Times, before he entered parliament, he visited Cabul and formed pleasant relations with the late ameer, who speaks of him in most complimentary terms in his recently published memoirs. The old man happened to die during the darkest period of the South African war, and Russia took occasion at that critical moment to demand the right to enter into independent diplomatic negotiations with Afghanistan for the survey of a railroad across that country. Only a few years before, Great Britain fought a war with Afghanistan and overthrew Shere Ali, the shah, because he received a Russian ambassador on a similar errand, after having refused to allow a British envoy to reside at his court or even enter his country. And there is no telling what might have happened had not Lord Curzon taken advantage of his personal relations and former friendship. Russia selected a significant date to make her demands. It was only a fortnight after the British repulse at Spion Kop, and Ladysmith was in a hopeless state of siege. Such situations have a powerful influence upon semi-civilized soldiers, who are invariably inclined to be friendly to those who are successful at arms. However, Lord Curzon had influence enough to hold the ameer to the British side, and the latter has ever since shown a friendly disposition to the British and has given the Russians no public encouragement.

The official report of the viceroy to the secretary of state for India in London, covering the ten years ending Dec. 31, 1902, contains the following interesting paragraph concerning the greatest source of anxiety:

"Relations with Afghanistan have been peaceful throughout the decade. Although there is reason to believe that Afghan influence among the turbulent tribes on the northwestern frontier was at times the cause of restlessness and disorder, the Durand agreement of 1893, followed by the demarcation of the southern and nearly all the eastern Afghan boundary, set a definite limit to the legitimate interference of Afghanistan with the tribes included in the British sphere of influence. Under that agreement the annual subsidy paid by the British government to the ameer was increased from L80,000 to L120,000. A further demarcation, which affected alike Afghanistan and the British sphere, was that which resulted from the Pamir agreement concluded with Russia in 1895. Russia agreed to accept the River Oxus as her southern boundary as far east as the Victoria Lake. Thence to the Chinese frontier a line was fixed by a demarcation commission. This arrangement involved an interchange of territories lying on the north and south bank of the Oxus respectively between Afghanistan and Bokhara, which was carried out in 1896. The Ameer of Afghanistan also undertook to conduct the administration of Wakkhan, lying between the new boundary and the Hindu Kush, in return for an increase of his subsidy.

"Under the strong rule of the late ameer the country for the most part enjoyed internal peace, but this was broken by the revolt of the Hazaras in 1892, which was severely suppressed. In 1895-96 Kafiristan, a region which the delimitation included in the Afghan sphere of influence, was subjugated. Political relations of the government of India with the late and with the present ameer have been friendly, and were undisturbed by the murder of the British agent at Kabul by one of his servants in 1895, an incident which had no political significance. In the year 1894-95 His Highness sent his second son, Shahzada Nasrulla Khan, to visit England as the guest of Her Majesty's government. The Ameer Abdur Rahman, G. C. B., died in October, 1901, and was peacefully succeeded by his eldest son, Habi Bullah Khan, G. C. M.G."

There is no doubt as to what Lord Curzon knows and believes concerning the aggressive policy of Russia in Asia, because, shortly before he was appointed viceroy of India, he wrote an article on that subject for a London magazine, which is still what editors call "live matter."

"The supreme interest," he said, "ties in the physical fact that it (the northwestern frontier) is the only side upon which India has been or ever can be invaded by land, and in the political fact that it confronts a series of territories inhabited by wild and turbulent, by independent or semi-independent tribes, behind whom looms the grim figure of Russia, daily advancing into clearer outline from the opposite or northwest quarter. It is to protect the Indian Empire, its peoples, its trades, its laboriously established government and its accumulated wealth from the insecurity and possible danger arising from a further Russian advance across the intervening space that the frontier which I am about to describe has been traced and fortified. Politicians of all parties have agreed that, while the territorial aggrandizement of Russia is permissible over regions where she replaces barbarism even by a crude civilization, there can be no excuse for allowing her to take up a position in territories acknowledging our sway, where she can directly menace British interests in India, or indirectly impose an excessive strain upon the resources and the armed strength of our eastern dominions. The guardianship of the frontier is, therefore, an act of defense, not of defiance, and is an elementary and essential obligation of imperial statesmanship.

"Originally it was supposed that there were but three or four passes or cracks by which this mountain barrier was perforated, and that if British soldiers only stood sentinel at their exits an invader would have no other alternative but to come down and be annihilated. Modern surveys, however, have shown that the number of available passes is nearer 300 than three, a discovery which has suggested the policy of establishing friendly relations with the tribes who hold them, and thus acquiring an indirect control over their western mouths. For just as the main physical feature of the frontier is this mountain wall, with its narrow lateral slits, so the main political feature is the existence in the tracts of country thus characterized of a succession of wild and warlike tribes, owing allegiance to no foreign potentate, but cherishing an immemorial love for freedom and their native hills."

Although the idea of consolidating these border tribes into a single province, with an administrator and staff of officers of its own directly under the control of the viceroy, was first suggested by the late Lord Lytton, it has been the good fortune of Lord Curzon to carry it into effect, and it is considered one of the wisest and most notable events of his administration of Indian affairs. The new community, which is called the Northwest Frontier Province, was organized in February, 1901, and takes in the wide stretch of territory, which is described by its name. It is directly governed by an agent of the governor general and a chief commissioner, who allow the widest liberty and jurisdiction to the local chiefs consistent with peace and good government. The new system has been working since 1902, and while it is yet too early to calculate the results, the improvement already noticed in the condition of affairs, peace, industry, morals, the increase of trade and the development of natural resources justifies the expectation that the semi-barbarous tribes will soon yield to the influences of civilization and settle down into industrious, law-abiding and useful citizens. At least their organization and discipline under the command of tactful and discreet English officers gives to India a frontier guard composed of 30,000 or 40,000 fearless fighters, who will be kept on the skirmish line and will prove invaluable through their knowledge of the country and the mountain trails in case of a border war. The military position of England has thus been strengthened immensely, and when the railways now being constructed in that direction are completed, so that regular British and native troops may be hurried to the support of the wild and warlike tribes whenever it is necessary, a constant cause of anxiety will be removed and the north-western frontier will be thoroughly protected.

The problems connected with the aggressive policy of Russia on the Indian frontier are very serious from every point of view to every Englishman, and whenever the time comes, if it ever does come, the frontier will be defended with all the power of the British Empire. The aggressiveness of Russia has been felt throughout India much more than anyone can realize who has not lived there and come in contact with affairs. It has been like a dark cloud continually threatening the horizon; it has disturbed the finances of the country; it has entered into the consideration of every public improvement, and has, directly or indirectly, influenced the expenditure of every dollar, the organization of the army, the construction of fortifications and the maintenance of a fleet. The policy of Lord Curzon is to bring all the various frontier tribes, which aggregate perhaps 2,000,000, under the influence of British authority. To make them friends; to convince them that loyalty is to their advantage; to organize them so that they shall be a source of strength and not of weakness or peril; to teach them the blessings of peace and industry; to avoid unnecessary interference with their tribal affairs; to promote the construction of railways, highways and all facilities of communication; to extend trade, introduce schools and mechanical industries, and to control the traffic in arms and ammunition. The commercial and the military policies are closely involved and in a measure one is entirely dependent upon the other.

South of Afghanistan, and the westernmost territory under British control, is Baluchistan, whose western boundary is Persia and the Arabian Sea. It was formerly a confederation of semi-independent nomadic tribes under the Khan of Kalat, with a population of about a million souls, but twenty-six years ago, after the Afghan war of 1878, those tribes were taken under the protection of the Indian government and Sir Robert Sanderman, a wise, tactful and energetic man, assisted the native rulers to reorganize and administer their affairs. During that period the condition of the country has radically changed. British authority is now supreme, the primitive conditions of the people have been greatly improved, they have settled down almost universally in permanent towns and villages, many of them are cultivating the soil, producing valuable staples and improving their condition in every respect. The country consists largely of barren mountains, deserts and stony plains. Its climate is very severe. The summers are intensely hot and the winters intensely cold. The wealth of the people is chiefly in flocks and cattle, and they are now raising camels, which is a profitable business. The chief exports are wool and hides, which are all clear gain now that the cultivation of the fields provides sufficient wheat, barley, millet, potatoes and other vegetables to supply the wants of the people. Fruits grown in the valleys are superior to anything produced in other parts of Asia. The apples and peaches of Baluchistan are famous and are considered great delicacies in the Indian market. There is supposed to be considerable mineral in the mountains, although they have never been explored. Iron, lead, coal, asbestos, oil and salt have been found in abundance, and some silver.

The efforts of the government have been to direct the attention of the people to mechanical industries rather than to mining, because it is important to break them of their nomadic tendencies and accustom them to permanent homes and regular employment. They resemble the Bedouins of Arabia in many respects and prefer to follow their flocks and herds over the mountains rather than settle down in the towns. The men are hardy, brave, honest and intelligent, but are desperate fighters and of cruel disposition; the women resemble the Chinese more than the Arabs, and are bright, active and ingenuous. The sense of humor is highly developed and the laws of hospitality are similar to those of the Arabs.

Although the British agent in Baluchistan has autocratic powers whenever he finds it necessary to exercise them, the Khan of Kalat is allowed to govern the country in his own way, and to all appearances is the independent authority. He is given a subsidy of about $75,000 a year on his private account from the Indian government, and his official income averages about 500,000 rupees a year, which is equivalent to about $175,000. With this he pays the expenses of his government and maintains a bodyguard of about 250 native cavalry. Only once has the British government found it necessary to interfere in an arbitrary manner. On that occasion Khudadad, the late ruling khan, murdered his prime minister in a fit of passion, and upon investigation it was found that he had put to death also without trial a number of innocent subjects. The Viceroy of India permitted him to abdicate and gave him a generous allowance, which was much better treatment than the villain was entitled to. His son, Mir Mahmud, who succeeded him, turns out to be an excellent ruler. He is intelligent, conscientious, and has the welfare of his people at heart.

There is little of interest except the political question and the peculiar appearance of the people up in that particular part of India. It has been debatable ground as far back as the earliest days of Aryan colonization. Although Peshawur is regarded as a modern city, it is mentioned by the historians who wrote up the campaigns of Alexander the Great, and if you will go up there the guides will show you where he crossed the river. The city has a population of about 80,000, of which three-fourths are Moslems. They come from every part of Asia, and the streets and bazaars swarm with quaint costumes and strange faces unlike any you have ever seen before. And what strikes a traveler most forcibly is their proud demeanor, their haughty bearing and the independent spirit expressed by every glance and every gesture. They walk like kings, these fierce, intolerant sons of the desert, and their costumes, no matter how dirty and trail-worn they may be, add to the dignity and manliness of their deportment.

They are so different, these haughty Mohammedans, from the bare-legged, barefooted, cringing, crouching creatures you see farther south. It would seem impossible for these men to stoop for any purpose, but the Bengalese, the Hindustani and the rest of the population of the southern provinces, do everything on the ground. They never use chairs or benches, but always squat upon the floor, and all their work is done upon the ground. Carpenters have no benches, and if they plane a board they place it upon the earth before them and hold it fast with their feet. The blacksmith has his anvil on the floor; the goldsmith, the tailor and even the printer use the floor for benches, and it is the desk of the letter writer and the bookkeeper.

It looks queer to see a printer squatting before a case of type, and even queerer to see a person writing a letter with a block of paper spread out before him on the ground. But that is the Hindu custom. You find it everywhere throughout India, just as you will find everybody, men, women and children, carrying their loads, no matter how light or how heavy, upon their heads. If an errand boy is sent from a shop with a parcel he never touches it with his hands, but invariably carries it on top of his turban. One morning I counted seven young chaps with "shining morning faces" on their way to school, everyone of them with his books and slate upon his head. The masons' helpers, who are mostly women, carry bricks and mortar upon their heads instead of in hods on their shoulders, and it is remarkable what heavy loads their spines will support. At the railway stations the luggage and freight is carried the same way. The necks and backs of the natives are developed at a very early age. If a porter can get assistance to hoist it to the top of his head he will stagger along under any burden all right. I have seen eight men under a grand piano and two men under a big American roller top desk, and in Calcutta, where one of the street railway companies was extending its tracks, I saw the workmen carry the rails upon their heads.