Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Afghan Wars 1839-42

This is a story of the madness of the English as they sought to, well, they don't seem to be quite sure, so neither should I be.  So far the English have managed to displace a popular tyrant in Cabul with an unpopular one who is known for a "mixture of timidity and duplicity" that leaves him despised and hated while the English are compelled to stay and keep him propped up.  The logic seems to have been something like the enemy of the enemy ... of my enemy is certainly going to be my friend, although the character of this leader is such that he would have had trouble being the friend of anyone, while the former ruler wasn't the enemy of the English.  The author gives this little note at the start:

"The Duke of Wellington pronounced with prophetic sagacity, that the consequence of once crossing the Indus to settle a government in Afghanistan would be a perennial march into that country."

Afghanistan wasn't any kind of western centralized government, but instead a collection of tribal groups that supported a central monarch.  Maybe.  Dealing with these leaders is what required an expert leader, which unfortunately was the one the English had just ousted.  Then there is this note on the character of the Afghan leaders:

"When historians write of Afghan treachery and guile, it seems to have escaped their perception that Afghan treachery was but a phase of Afghan patriotism, of an unscrupulous character, doubtless, according to our notions, but nevertheless practical in its methods, and not wholly unsuccessful in its results."

At the end of chapter three, the first year of the occupation has now ended, the former ruler, Dost Mohammed, has just given himself up.  The English can feel smug, and the catastrophe is still to come.

3 comments:

Rummuser said...

A great read on Afghanistan is from a South Asia specialist William Dalrymple. http://www.amazon.com/Return-King-Battle-Afghanistan-1839-42/dp/0307948536

History has just repeated itself and will continue to till the Afghans are simply left alone.

Looney said...

It looks like Dalrymple has a number of publications that are of interest. The one I have is by Archibald Forbes, who died in 1900 and accompanied the second invasion army.

Rummuser said...

I have read all of Dalrymple's books and am a great fan of his. You will not go wrong reading him if you are interested in my part of the world.