Lord Lawrence Policy – School of Masterly Inactivity

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The Policy of Masterly Inactivity towards Afghanistan was pursued by the English largely as a reaction against the disastrous consequences of the first Afghan war. The policy was first pursued by Lord Lawrence with whom its name has been associated.

The Policy of Masterly Inactivity towards Afghanistan

The supporters of this policy argued that there was no serious danger of Russian attack on India. Russia was putting pressure towards the East simply because Britain had spoiled its relations with Russia in Europe. Therefore, Britain should come to an understanding with Russia in Europe. Yet, if Russia continued its pressure towards the East, it was not necessary that Afghanistan should be forced to act according to the Wishes of Indian Government. Therefore, the English should not force the Amir of Afghanistan to accept a treaty or an ambassador. Of course, the English should try to befriend the Amir and help him financially and with supply of arms but, in no case, should have a treaty with him. In case Russia attacked India, the English should face it at the border of Afghanistan. Thus, the supporters of this policy or school, desired to befriend the Amir and strengthen him financially and militarily but, in no case, were prepared to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan as against the supporters of forward school who desired to force a treaty on the Amir.

Lord Lawrence

Lord Lawrence, the governor-general in India during the period 1864-1869, initiated the policy of Masterly Inactivity. He believed that the English should not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and there was no necessity to keep an English representative at its court. Pursuing this policy, he restrained himself from interfering in the wars of succession which ensued between the sixteen sons of Dost Muhammad after his death in 1863. Different princes succeeded in capturing the throne at different times and Lawrence accepted each of them, in turn, as the Amir. Finally, in 1868, Sher Ali became the Amir. Lawrence presented to Sher Ali three thousand five hundred arms and £ 60,000. He, however, did not attempt a treaty with him. He stated that he desired no treaty with the Amir though he very much wished to safeguard his independence which if endangered he would certainly attempt to protect.

Opinions have been expressed in favour of this policy of Lord Lawrence as well as against it. It has been said in its favour that it saved the English from many difficulties, responsibilities and wasteful expenditure. Besides, if the English had attempted to interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan, then, probably, that country would have passed under the influence of Persia or Russia. On the other hand, it has been the opinion of many others that the policy failed to serve the object of the English, establishing a strong and friendly Amir in Afghanistan. Besides, the Afghans doubted the integrity of the English. Sher Ali, the then Amir, was certainly dissatisfied with this policy of the English. He remarked: “English look to nothing but their own interests and bide their time.” The policy could not be pursued in toto. Lawrence himself gave assistance to Sher Ali in 1868 which, on principle, was an act violative of this policy.

Lord Mayo (1869-72)

Lord Mayo (1869-72) who succeeded Lord Lawrence also pursued the same policy. He presented £ 60,000 to Sher Ali and met him at Ambala. Sher Ali demanded that the English should make a fixed treaty with him; he should be given a fixed amount of subsidy every year by the English; the English should take direct responsibility of protecting Afghanistan from foreign aggression, and the English should recognise his son Abdulla Jan as his successor.

Lord Mayo did not agree to his proposals. He tried to assure the Amir by his goodwill and promise of help in case of need. That failed to satisfy Sher Ali.

Lord Northbrook (1872-76)

When Lord Northbrook (1872-76) was the governor-general in India, Russia extended its frontier much nearer to Afghanistan. Sher Ali felt nervous and deputed his representative to meet Lord Northbrook at Simla. He sought the assurance of complete protection by the English against Russia in case it attacked Afghanistan. But, Northbrook refused to give any such assurance. On the contrary, he made it clear that the English were not prepared to change their policy. Sher Ali was completely disappointed and thereafter, attempted to gain the goodwill of Russia, He accepted a Russian representative at Kabul. It disturbed the English. At that time, the conservative party leader Disraeli became the prime minister in Britain. He believed in an aggressive imperial policy and directed Northbrook to ask the Amir to accept a British resident at Kabul. Northbrook did not agree to his advice and preferred to resign. Disraeli deputed Lord Lytton as the governor-general in India to pursue the policy which he felt would safeguard better the interests of the British empire. The Policy of Masterly Inactivity ended then and there.

Points to remember

  1. The policy of ‘Masterly Inactivity’ was pursued by Lord Lawrence, Lord Mayo and Lord Northbrook respectively, largely as a reaction against the disastrous consequences of the first Afghan War.
  2. These successive governor-generals believed that Britain should come to an understanding with Russia in Europe concerning Persia and Afghanistan; the English, instead of forcing the Amir to accept a treaty or an ambassador, should try to befriend him; and, strengthen the Amir financially and militarily.
  3. Pursuing this policy, Lawrence restrained himself from interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and in the war of succession which ensued between the sons of Dost Muhammad after his death in 1863.
  4. When finally Sher Ali became the Amur in 1868, he presented him arms and money but did not try for a treaty with him.
  5. The policy saved the English from additional responsibilities and ‘wasteful expenditure but failed to get a friendly Amir in Afghanistan
  6. Lord Mayo met Sher Ali at Ambala and presented him £ 60 000 but refused to sign a treaty offered by the Amir to save Afghanistan from foreign aggression and accept Abdulla Jan as his successor on condition of his being friendly with the English.
  7. Sher Ali deputed his representative to meet Lord Northbrook at Simla and sought assurance of English protection from Russia but it was refused.
  8. Feeling disappointed, Sher Ali accepted a Russian representative at Kabul.
  9. At that time, Disraeli became the prime minister of Britain who favoured the pursuance of the “Forward Policy” towards Afghanistan.
  10. Disraeli directed Northbrook that he should ask the Amir to accept an English resident at Kabul.
  11. Northbrook did not agree to his advice and resigned which resulted in the end of the “Policy of Masterly Inactivity”.

Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam short notes on the attitude of Lord Mayo and Lord Northbrook towards Afghanistan. Lord Lawrence School of Masterly Inactivity Policy.

Questions for UPSC mains :

What was the attitude of Lord Mayo and Lord Northbrook towards Afghanistan? How far they followed the policy pursued by Lord Lawrence?

Or

Discuss the School of Masterly Inactivity.

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