Cavagnari of Kabul
J.M. Brereton introduces Pierre Louis Napolean Cavagnari, a soldier of French-Italian and Irish descent, who played a distinguished part in British relations with Afghanistan, eventually costing him his life.
With hordes of Soviet ‘advisers’ now propagating the Kremlin line in the Afghan capital, it is ironic to recall that just one hundred years ago on May 26th, Major Louis Cavagnari and Yakub Khan, Amir of Afghanistan, put their signatures to the Treaty of Gandamak. Acclaimed as a brilliant coup in establishing a firm buttress between Britain’s Indian empire and the Tsarist bogey across the Oxus, the Treaty was also hailed as a vindication of Lord Lytton’s ‘Forward Policy’, and a triumph of diplomatic skill on the part of the Political officer directly involved in the negotiations.
Until 1879 the British public had never heard of Cavagnari. If the name seemed an improbable one for a British ‘political’ on the North-West Frontier, its bearer’s forenames seemed even more so, for this exotic hero of the Victorian Raj was baptised Pierre Louis Napoleon. When he came to be created a K.C.B. after the Gandamak master-stroke, Lord Lytton waggishly urged him to be styled ‘Sir Louis’ and not ‘Sir Napoleon’, for, declared the Viceroy, the world was not broad enough for two Napoleons.