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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Were a Vice Consulate established at Birjand


I

have seen it stated by correspondents in leading London papers that "Russian" Customs officials were stationed in Sistan, and interfered greatly with British caravans. That is mere fiction from beginning to end. As I have already stated, there is not a single Russian in the Customs anywhere in Persia. In Sistan the only official--a Belgian--far from interfering with the caravans, is of great help to them and does all in his power within the limits of his duty to be of assistance to them. The Consul himself was full of praise of the extreme fairness and justice to all alike of the Belgian official. There never was the slightest trouble or hitch so long as traders were prepared to comply with Persian laws, and so long as people paid the duty on the goods entering the country no bother of any kind was given to anybody, either British or others.

On April 3rd, 1901, the Persian Government introduced a law abolishing all inland Customs Houses and transit dues, and substituting instead a _rahdari_ tax of 6 annas per 240 pounds. This tax is payable on crossing the frontier, and is levied in addition to the 5 per cent. _ad valorem_ duty to which the Persian Government is entitled under the existing International Customs Convention. The rate of duty levied (5 per cent.), is calculated on the actual value of goods, plus the cost of transport.

The Sistan Consul, as well as the officials of the Nushki Sistan route in Beluchistan,

go to an immense deal of trouble to be of use to British traders and travellers, and everything is made as easy for them as is compatible with the nature of the country and existing laws.

A great deal of extra heavy work was thrown upon the shoulders of Major Benn, who acted in no less than three official capacities--Consul, Postmaster, and Banker--as well as, unofficially, as architect, house-builder, and general reference officer. It is very satisfactory to learn that this autumn (1902) an assistant is to be sent out to him from India, for the work seemed indeed too heavy for one man. Day and night's incessant work would in time have certainly told on even the cheerful disposition and abnormally wiry constitution of Major Benn, who, besides being a most loyal and careful official, takes a great deal of personal pride in fighting hard to win the severe race which will result in our eventually acquiring or losing Sistan and Eastern Persia commercially. Major Benn is most decidedly very far ahead in the race at present, and owing to him British prestige happens to be at its zenith, but greater support will be needed in the future if this advantageous race is to be continued up to the winning post.

Were a Vice-Consulate established at Birjand, as I have said before, the Sistan Consular work would be relieved of much unnecessary strain, the distance from Birjand to Sistan being too great under present conditions to allow the Consul to visit the place even yearly. The medical British Agent whom we have there at present is excellent, but the powers at his disposal are small, and a Consulate with an English officer in charge would most decidedly enhance British prestige in that important city, as well as being a useful connecting link between Sistan and Meshed, a distance of close upon 500 miles.


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