Then we had tea in his study while he briefed me. “Laddie. I bought you a cadetship. I will pull every string to get you posted to the Frontier. Here are some letters of introduction. Keep them same and use the frugally. Here is a letter of introduction to Hogg Number 2. He of the elephant snout. Don’t let him fob you off! Stand your ground. Hogg Number 3 is for emergencies only. Play that card only if you must! The Frontier is where it is happening.”
“So what is happening?”
Uncle Hogg tapped one finger against one side of his nose. “The Ruskies are playing a game with us. The Great Game. It is all espionage and stealth and intrigue behind the mask of diplomacy.”
“How the hell can Russia invade India? It is not possible.”
Clever spy called Arthur Conolly mapped a possible route from the Crimea through Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass across the Punjab which is the invasion route every invader has used. I would think the Punjabis would feel like door mats by now.” Uncle Hogg pulled down an atlas and showed me the top secret classified information for Whitehall eyes only route.
“Fuck!” I replied. “I am a griffin but even I see that no fucking army can navigate that! A scout. Sure. A spy. Sure. An army! Fuck! The only way is if they conquer Persia first! Then enter Afghanistan! And everyone hears what a hell hole Afghanistan is. And they would have to invade all across the Punjab to Delhi!”
“Done half a dozen times in history with rich loot rewarded to the invader” Uncle Hogg replied.
“And then the Russians would have to split the army and half the army would have to invade down the Indus and other half of the army would have to invade down the Ganges to take out Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta! You are talking one way invasion Uncle Hogg! They would have to fight all the way to the seaports to secure reinforcements by sea from Russia! Just to continue to fight us! And if the Russian Navy tries to attack our ports our own navy would eat them for lunch! Unless they can seize the ports then we will sooner or later we will just reinforce our army by sea and kick their overextended butt right out of India! He who rules the seaports rule India!
So what does that leave? Delhi! What the fuck is Delhi? It is a passe capital of an empire that is no more. And looted and looted and looted until now frankly the ‘King of Delhi’ does not have a copper penny to pay his high street tailor! Just getting to Delhi is nothing. Taking down Delhi is nothing! Only a fool would conquer Delhi and think they secured India! The only way to conquer and hold India is by controlling the seaports! Conquering the entire country just to get to the seaports would be near to impossible! And a two prong invasion but land and sea would be defeated by our navy leaving the land invasion doomed.”
“Then what is Russia plotting in this Great Game my boy?
I flipped the oversized pages of the huge atlas back to the Ottoman Empire and planted my bony thumb on Constantinople. “India is a bluff to allow them to invade and dismember the ‘Sick Man of Europe’. The Ottoman Empire is a dead man walking. Europe is just helping the terminally ill and all but senile Caliphate to totter along because no one wants Russia to finally achieve the goal Empress Catherine the Great dreamed of: Constantinople. Austria can’t be bribed like before because Austria can’t even secure Hungary, much less swallow the rest of the Balkans all the way into the rump of the Ottoman Empire. Greece.?Who gives a fuck! So no one else profits from the fall of the Ottoman Empire except Russia. So no one wants Russia to swallow up the Ottoman Empire leaving behind only crumbs or other odds and sods frankly no one in their right mind would really want. It is a bluff. A distraction. A pantomime farce.”
I sat down on my bony rump as Uncle Hogg grinned. “Whitehall does not agree with you my boy! De Lacy Evans wrote a dossier called ‘Sudden Death’ proving it is feasible. Cordon Sanitaire wrote another dossier saying Russia could do it by way of proxy client states, bribing the notoriously corrupt ruler of Kabul to let Russia used Afghanistan as an invasion jump off point.
I pointed at the Khyber Pass. “That still leaves the Sikh Empire under that one eyed guy. What is….um…. yes! One Eye Ranjit Singh Maharaja of Lahore! He has an even bigger and more modern army than ‘John Company’! And he hates Afghanistan’s guts! And he won’t allow anyone to use the Sikhs like door mats!”
“What if the Russians have offered to help Dost Muhammad the Amir of Kabul to get what he wants? He has Swat Valley. That is a miserable crumb compared to the Kashmiri and Lahore and Peshawar . Those a crown jewels. You are talking about a piece of real estate that is nought but rocks except for a few valleys. You are talking about an Afghan warlord who would kill for valleys. The right valleys. Valleys controlled by a Sikh he hates!” Uncle Hogg sat back and nodded. I turned the atlas around and pondered it. Then I snuffed. My guts did not buy it.
“It is a fucking bluff. They want Constantinople. That is an easy invasion in comparison. Why twist yourself into a knot just to try to get India which is too big and too far away? The Russian Navy is a fraction of the British Navy. We have the ports. And there is no longer 60 million rupees in jewels to loot in Delhi. No. It is a bluff.” I sat down and stared at Uncle Hogg.
Uncle Hogg glared at me and then he slammed the atlas closed and pounded on fist on top of it. “Whitehall has decided!”
“Fuck Whitehall! Then Whitehall is an ass!”
Uncle Hogg glared —- and then giggled. “I quite agree with you my boy! But alas Whitehall as decided. Ditto India House!”
“‘John Company’ is not going to invade Afghanistan?”
“No. We are going to help One Eye Ranjit Singh Maharajah of Lahore to invade Afghanistan. Client ally. Let them do the nasty work. We will finance them. They will take the risks. If they can swing it then a puppet called Shah Shuja will be hoisted onto the throne of Kabul.”
“And British – Sikh coup? Won’t work and if we end up stranded there and Ranjit Singh and his Sikh Army flees and leaves us twisting in the icy winds of the Khyber Pass then we will be screwed!”
Uncle Hogg shrugged. “Let us hope not! ‘John Company’ has always won by backing the right client state over some other rival state before. The Sikh Army is the best, as you say, and damn near unbeatable. They should know what they are doing. It is their back yard.”
“All the Sikhs need is to control the Khyber Pass. They don’t need to spill blood for a bunch of rocks and stones which is all Afghanistan is. It is not in their interest to be trapped in a country of rocks and ambushes fighting savage tribes. A modern army can be neutralized if it is trapped in a country of rocks and ambushes fighting savage tribes. Afghanistan is a death trap for anyone other than travelers traveling through who have paid the bribes to travel through. Just travel through. Because only a fool would want to stay in Afghanistan!”
Two days later the newspapers boys were screaming out the news: ‘British Troops take Kabul!……”