Foreign Policy under British Raj

Foreign Policy under British Raj

This article deals with ‘ Foreign Policy under British Raj – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Frontier & Foreign Policy

  • Policy adopted by the British to consolidate their rule in India included securing it’s boundaries  
  • To certain degree India influenced the foreign policy of whole Britain .  Being jewel in crown  & large size of Indian subcontinent,  defense of India was important part of British foreign policy

Reasons influencing

1 . Communication & Transport

  • Industrial revolution led to invention of Railway, Roads & engines
  • Men & material can be rapidly transported
  • These facilities were not only for Britishers but other powers too like Russia . There was threat that they can come & attack via land too

2. Political & Administration

  • Controlling the frontiers
  • Securing the trade routes

International Situations affecting Foreign Policy

  • In the 19th century – situation was favorable to British
  • Have already defeated Dutch, French & Portuguese  to became undisputed naval power
  • Hence, only land frontiers with Russia & China figured in Foreign policy of British India

1 . Threats of French Attack

  • 1807 after French naval defeats – Napoleon planned to attack India via land route – there were apprehensions of joint French , Persian & Russian attack 
  • Compelled Lord Minto, immediately to send 4  diplomatic missions as a counter move to avert the impending threat.
    • Malcolm was sent to  Tehran
    • Elphinstone to Kabul
    • Seton to Sindh
    • Charles Metcalfe to Lahore.
  • As a result of the efforts of these diplomatic missions, friendly treaties were concluded with the respective governments with a view to meeting the challenge of the French . This was first ever step taken by British in foreign policy
  • Although French threat disappeared with defeat of Napoleon in Battle of Waterloo but threat of Russians remained which dominated British Indian foreign policy for decades

2. Decline of China

  • India never apprehended attack from China because frontier was naturally guarded by lofty Himalayas
  • In history , China extended its sovereignty over Tibet but in 18th & 19th century her power declined

3. Threat from Russia

  • Idea of Russian Perilpropagated by Lord Palmerston (British Foreign Secretary) 
  • British checked Russian in Mediterranean sea.  They advanced towards north western frontier of Afghanistan => Alliance with Sikhs strengthened

4. Afghanistan

  • British were anxious to protect Afghanistan because it was the emporium of their trade & only entrance to Central Asia from their side
  • But it was British vs Russia in Afghanistan

Afghan Policy of British Raj

Afghan Policy was mainly led by British fears of Russian Attack ie RUSSOPHOBIA.

Two Anglo Afghan Wars were fought

  • First Anglo Afghan War 1838 (Sikhs under Ranjit Singh were also party)
  • Second Anglo Afghan War (under Lord Lytton)

First Anglo Afghan War (1838-43)

  • Disastrous for British & led to  recall of Auckland
  • 1838 : Tripartite Treaty signed between British, Sikhs and Shah Shuja (deposed ruler of Afghanistan in Sikh protection)
  • 1839: British and Sikhs replaced Dost Mohammad by Shah Shuja (puppet)  as ruler of Afghanistan after defeating him
  • But people didn’t accept Shah & there was rebellion in 1841
  • Had to restore Dost Mohammad Khan on throne in 1843
  • After that some significant changes happened . Punjab & Sind both fell to Britain & they reached natural Indian Boundaries
  • Dost Mohammad Khan always remained neutral. Be it Crimean wars of 1854-56 with Russia or Revolt of 1857

Second Anglo – Afghan War (1878- 80)

  • 1874 : liberals lost & Conservatives under Disraeli came to power who were believers of forward policy . They send Lytton as Viceroy and he led government to go for 2nd Anglo Afghan war
  • 1878 : Sher Ali (Afghan Ruler) refused British envoy although he accepted Russian envoy in the Afghan Court. This leads to the second Anglo Afghan War with Britishers emerging victorious
  • 2nd Anglo Afghan War => Afghans lost => Abdur Rahman (grandson of Dost Mohammad ) was placed as pupet on Throne in return of surrender of all political control to British

After World War I & Russian Revolution – Situation changed

  • Afghanistan demanded full independence
  • 1919 : Habibullah (Amir & Son of Abdur) was murdered . He was succeeded by Amanullah who declared war against British India
  • 1921 Treaty – Afghanistan was declared independent  with control on foreign affairs

North West Frontier Policy

  • Annexation of Sindh and Punjab brought the British into direct contact with the hill tribes. These hill tribes were practically free owing only nominal allegience to Amir of Kabul
  • Inhabiting dry and difficult terrain, living on meagre resources but endowed with courage, endurance and military skill, these people frequently indulged in mass raids and plundering of the British Indian border
  • Two distinct methods of administering the frontiers & conducting relations with tribes developed because they share border with two different provinces
Bombay – Valleys were broader and less torturous than Punjab
Closed Frontier system was adopted
– Under this, frontier was patrolled & no tribal man beyond the border was allowed to enter  British territory without pass
Punjab – Open frontier
– For its protection, forts and garrisons were built to guard the narrow passes. To encourage tribesmen to forsake their old habits of plunder the government allowed them to trade in the British Indian territory.

Lord Dalhousie’s policy

  • Policy of Fines, Blockades & Expeditions
    • Fines were imposed as a punishment for plunder and murder
    • blockades for keeping crisis within certain limits
    • expeditions were led against the tribes which resorted to mass plunder and rampage.
  • In view of the high rate of casualties, the British officers were discouraged from visiting the tribal region.
  • It created employment opportunities and encouraged the tribals to enlist themselves in military and para-military forces.
  • It strengthened its hold on the region by constructing roads and railway lines

Till 1890 – British policy in Sindh was more effective than in Punjab

Reasons were

  • Physical difference – Already mentioned
  • Jigra ie  tribal council of the pathans  in Baluchistan consisted of few leaders & was easy to deal with them but in Punjab there were large number of leaders . Consensus was reached with dificulty & even if reached , very less chances that all will abide

Durand Line  1896

  • Establishment of peace on NWF was a complex problem as usually Amir of Kabul intrigued with frontier tribes  . Lord Lansdowne wanted to settle it forever .  Sir Mortimer Durand was appointed to negotiate a boundary agreement
Amir Of Kabul To retain Wakhan, Asmar, Kafiristan, Mohmand and a portion of Wazirstan;
Britishers Swat, Bajaur, Darwaz Kurrum Valley, Chalgeh and New Chaman+tribal areas of Gomal Pass
  • It gave legal right to britishers to enforce subordination upon tribes like Waziris, Afridis & Bajauris . There were numerous revolts because of agreement because these tribes didn’t accept British Subordination

Lord Curzon

  • Having intimate and personal knowledge of the area and the people, Lord Curzon –(1899-1905)proposed the withdrawal of British Indian regular troops and replacing them with bodies of tribal levies.
  • Besides gaining confidence of the frontier and creating local responsibility for maintaining law and order the proposed change had the additional advantage of being less costly.

Tibet Policy of British Raj

  • Tibet is a landlocked country encircled by chains of mountains with average height of 10,000 feet above sea level  with meagre resources . People loved isolation . China had nominal suzerainty over Tibet but in practice in 19th century with decline of Manchu dynasty Chinese influence  over Tibet was almost non existent
  • With no threat , in the beginning British interest in Tibet was purely commercial . Warren Hastings send two missions in 1770s for commercial purposes
  • But eventually British interest increased . Reasons can be
    • In view of the declining power of China, and scramble among the foreign powers to divide it into spheres of influence, Tibet assumed great strategic importance particularly for the British and the Russians.
    • After the extension of British influence over Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim, the boundaries of British India and Tibet came very close to the each other.
    • When Russian advance reached Pamirs,it posed  a threat to security of India from the northern side.
    • During the 19 th century , British interest in teak and shawl wool increased considerably. There was a tremendous pressure of the traders on the government to develop regular traffic with Tibet through Bhutan.
    • There were rumours that Mongol of Russian nationality , Agwar Dordshi had gained confidence of Dalai Lama & was shutting between Lhasa & Petersburg

The lure of the closed land was too strong to resist, the fear of Russia was too great to be ignored and the desire for trade was too powerful to overcome for  Curzon . England was reluctant to sanction any interference but Curzan was able to extract permission to send Col Younghusband to Tibet . 700 Tibetans slaughtered & Treaty was signed & Tibet was reduced to protectorate of Britain.  Russia accepted this showing bogy of Russian danger was superfluous

  • Chinese revolution in 1912 – New government wanted to make Tibet a Chinese part but Dalai Lama declared independence.  Representatives of China & Tibet invited to Shimla in 1912 to settle the issue . 2 treaties were signed
    • British accepted China’s suzerainty over eastern zone or the inner zone. The outer zone or the western zone was declared autonomous.
    • By another treaty it was decided to draw a boundary between Tibet and British India which is named after the British delegate Henry McMahon.

Nepal Policy of British Raj

  • Nepal was Hindu Gorkha kingdom.  After securing the control of the valley of Kathmandu in 1768,the Gorkhas steadily encroached upon both east and west, and occupied Kumaon, Garhwal , Sikkim and the Shimla hills. These areas were conceded to the British after the Gorkhas were defeated by the Treaty of Sagauli in 1816.
  • After the treaty the British used a great deal of tact and skill in their dealings with the rulers of Nepal. They treated Nepalese ruler as sovereign and addressed him as ‘Your Majesty’.
  • To them, the kingdom of Nepal was a stable and secure buffer between India and Tibet or China. To great satisfaction of the British, Nepal displayed no signs of entertaining any sentiments against the British. Relations between them were of peaceful co-existence & confidence. They were based  on the assumption that there existed an alliance between the two sides.
  • The Nepalese on their part maintained perfect neutrality during the revolt of 1857, whereas  British enlisted a large number of Gorkhas as mercenaries in their army.
  • Without any formal alliance treaty ,Nepalese government molded their foreign policy in accordance with British interests

Sikkim Policy of British Raj

  • Small Principality between Bhutan & Nepal
  • Strategically important because through it, Tibet can be reached through its two passes i) Kalimpong & Jelep La pass leading to Chumbi valley ii) Along Tista river to Sihaste
  • Civilised by Tibetan Monks & ruled by Aristocratic family , Sikkim was an independent country
  • Closing decades of 18th century , Gurkhas temporarily vested  their control over it . British however restored its independence & in 1861 declared it to be protectorate .

Bhutan Policy  of British Raj

  • Adjacent to Sikkim. Being poor, Bhutanese frequently raided plains for looting & in one of the raids they kidnapped Raja of Cooch Behar who was a British protectorate
  • To rescue him , Warren Hastings attacked Bhutan . They were defeated & small strip of land from Bhutan annexed to British territories
  • Even after that they continued to raid when Britishers were busy elsewhere + mistreated British Delegates
  • To settle this , Young husband Expedition in 1904-06 .
  • Finally Treaty of friendship  was signed at Punakha & they recognized Bhutanese ruler as sovereign in all matters except foreign affairs

Burma Policy of British Policy

Here British policy was decided by Timber resources and threat from French Empire of South East Asia.

1st Anglo – Burmese War

  • 1824 to 1826
  • In SE Asia, French were moving ahead during that time
  • Earlier Burma had small principalities each sovereign in its own respect . It was united by ruler Alaungpaya near about 1760
  • Bodawpaya extended by conquering Arakan , Manipur .Hence, they started to share border with British
  • 1822 : Burma annexed Assam too . Britishers declared war on Burma in 1824
  • Burma lost &  Treaty of Yandabo signed with them
    • British conquered Assam, Cachar, Manipur, Jaintia  & Arakan
    • Compensation to British 
    • Burmese were forced to enter into commercial treaty with Britishers giving them rights of forests , natural areas
    • British Resident to be placed at Ava

2nd Anglo Burmese War

  • Fought in 1852
  • Now Britishers were occupying all coastal area except coastal province of Pegu
  • This they did by 2nd Anglo-Burmese  war & renamed it Lower Burma

3rd Anglo Burmese War

  • Fought in 1885
  • French were moving upwards & Burma signed Treaty with France for Trade ( mainly Timber of North Burma in which Britishers were interested too)
  • Opportunity to attack  and finally they attacked
  • Guerrilla warfare by Burmese army.  Huge British army was used (40,000) & huge losses to Britishers
  • Finally whole of Burma was annexed

In 1935, Burma separated from India due to growing ties between Burmese and Indian nationalists .

In 1948, Burma got independence from British Empire .

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