CHAPTER III: THE FIRST YEAR OF OCCUPATION
Dost Mahomed, after his flight from Cabul in 1839, had soon left the hospitable refuge afforded him in Khooloom, a territory west of the Hindoo Koosh beyond Bamian, and had gone to Bokhara on the treacherous invitation of its Ameer, who threw him into captivity. The Dost's family remained at Khooloom, in the charge of his brother Jubbar Khan. The advance of British forces beyond Bamian to Syghan and Bajgah, induced that Sirdar to commit himself and the ladies to British protection. Dr Lord, Macnaghten's political officer in the Bamian district, was a rash although well-meaning man. The errors he had committed since the opening of spring had occasioned disasters to the troops whose dispositions he controlled, and had incited the neighbouring hill tribes to active disaffection. In July Dost Mahomed made his escape from Bokhara, hurried to Khooloom, found its ruler and the tribes full of zeal for his cause, and rapidly grew in strength. Lord found it was time to call in his advance posts and concentrate at Bamian, losing in the operation an Afghan regiment which deserted to the Dost. Macnaghten reinforced Bamian, and sent Colonel Dennie to command there. On September 18th Dennie moved out with two guns and 800 men against the Dost's advance parties raiding in an adjacent valley. Those detachments driven back, Dennie suddenly found himself opposed to the irregular mass of Oosbeg horse and foot which constituted the army of the Dost. Mackenzie's cannon fire shook the undisciplined horde, the infantry pressed in to close quarters, and soon the nondescript host of the Dost was in panic flight, with Dennie's cavalry in eager pursuit. The Dost escaped with difficulty, with the loss of his entire personal equipment. He was once more a fugitive, and the Wali of Khooloom promptly submitted himself to the victors, and pledged himself to aid and harbour the broken chief no more. Macnaghten had been a prey to apprehension while the Dost's attitude was threatening; he was now in a glow of joy and hope.
But the Envoy's elation was short-lived. Dost Mahomed was yet to cause him much solicitude. Defeated in Bamian, he was ready for another attempt in the Kohistan country to the north of Cabul. Disaffection was rife everywhere throughout the kingdom, but it was perhaps most rife in the Kohistan, which was seething with intrigues in favour of Dost Mahomed, while the local chiefs were intensely exasperated by the exactions of the Shah's revenue collectors. Macnaghten summoned the chiefs to Cabul. They came, they did homage to the Shah and swore allegiance to him; they went away from the capital pledging each other to his overthrow, and jeering at the scantiness of the force they had seen at Cabul. Intercepted letters disclosed their schemes, and in the end of September Sale, with a considerable force, marched out to chastise the disaffected Kohistanees. The fort of Tootundurrah fell without resistance. Julgah, however, the next fort assailed, stubbornly held out, and officers and men fell in the unsuccessful attempt to storm it. In three weeks Sale marched to and fro through the Kohistan, pursuing will-o'-the-wisp rumours as to the whereabouts of the Dost, destroying forts on the course of his weary pilgrimage, and subjected occasionally to night attacks.
Meanwhile, in the belief that Dost Mahomed was close to Cabul, and mournfully conscious that the capital and surrounding country were ripe for a rising, Macnaghten had relapsed into nervousness, and was a prey to gloomy forebodings. The troops at Bamian were urgently recalled. Cannon were mounted on the Balla Hissar to overawe the city, the concentration of the troops in the fortress was under consideration, and men were talking of preparing for a siege. How Macnaghten's English nature was undergoing deterioration under the strain of events is shown by his writing of the Dost: 'Would it be justifiable to set a price on this fellow's head?' How his perceptions were warped was further evinced by his talking of 'showing no mercy to the man who has been the author of all the evil now distracting the country,' and by his complaining of Sale and Burnes that, 'with 2000 good infantry, they are sitting down before a fortified place, and are afraid to attack it.'
Learning that for certain the Dost had crossed the Hindoo Koosh from Nijrao into the Kohistan, Sale, who had been reinforced, sent out reconnaissances which ascertained that he was in the Purwan Durrah valley, stretching down from the Hindoo Koosh to the Gorebund river; and the British force marched thither on 2d November. As the village was neared, the Dost's people were seen evacuating it and the adjacent forts, and making for the hills. Sale's cavalry was some distance in advance of the infantry of the advance guard, but time was precious. Anderson's horse went to the left, to cut off retreat down the Gorebund valley. Fraser took his two squadrons of Bengal cavalry to the right, advanced along the foothills, and gained the head of the valley. He was too late to intercept a small body of Afghan horsemen, who were already climbing the upland; but badly mounted as the latter were, he could pursue them with effect. But it seemed that the Afghans preferred to fight rather than be pursued. The Dost himself was in command of the little party, and the Dost was a man whose nature was to fight, not to run. He wheeled his handful so that his horsemen faced Fraser's troop down there below them. Then the Dost pointed to his banner, bared his head, called on his supporters in the name of God and the Prophet to follow him against the unbelievers, and led them down the slope.