The ‘Masterly Inactivity Policy’ was followed by the British towards Afghanistan from 1860-76. It was conceived by John Lawrence.
The Masterly Inactivity was opposed to the policy of misdirected war and activity. As long as Russia was out of Afghanistan, the British remained inactive in Afghan affairs. But, they had a hawk-eye on the affairs with readiness to strike if their interests were belied.
It was an outcome of practice commonsense and intimate knowledge of the frontiers. It was to save money and men from fighting in a tedious land surrounded by fierce freedom loving Afghans. Lawrence followed a ‘Leissez faire’ in the Afghan affairs. He refused to embroil in the dynastic wars of Afghan princes. He never forced a British envoy on the Amir of Afghanistan, rather he was willing to help a successful prince with finance.
It was not based on indifference towards Afghan affairs or ignorance in Afghan internal affairs and watchful preparedness towards happenings to tackle the situation only when it would demand.
The reversal of Masterly Inactivity began with arrival of Lytton in Indida. Disraeli government in Britain was for permanent scientific frontiers for India. Lytton was directed to conclude a more definite, equatorial and practical alliance with the Afghans, to check Russian influence permanently. A delegation with overtures were sent to Kabul to bring it under British influence. Refusal of Amir of Afghans, Sher Ali, to receive it, perpetuated the crisis. When Russian emissary was received and British refused permission to enter Afghanistan, Lytton resorted to forward policy. Thus Masterly Inactivity was abandoned.