After a brief period of time, I am going back to reading History. I got a hardcover copy of ‘Besieged: Voices from Delhi 1857’ by Mahmood Farooqui. It is a book about the siege of Delhi during the uprising of the Indian Army in 1857. The author has compiled and translated many never-before-seen Mutiny Papers from the National Archives in order to give substantial evidence to the governance of Delhi and the related incidents that happened during the five months of siege.
There is no history reading without my favourite William Dalrymple. His new book ‘Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan’ is the talk in town these days. Sadly, I couldn’t attend the distinguished lecture that Mr Dalrymple gave in University of Hyderabad a couple of months ago, as part of the release of the above mentioned book. I was hoping to attend and get an autographed copy of the book but I guess, it’ll have to wait. Dalrymple’s book is the story of the first Anglo-Afghan War and how strikingly similar it is to the current world affairs. The book describes how the West has always got itself entangled in Afghanistan at various points in its history and how the confrontation destroyed and depleted the power of the West over the years. I had pointed out this fact, two years ago, in a reading club meeting and now Dalrymple has written a book about it.
When Alexander’s forces had to reach India through the narrow mountain passes of Afghanistan, they had to face the wrath of the dreaded Afghani mountain tribes through guerrilla attacks and ambushes. By the time he was ready to cross the Indus, his forces were depleted and his famous cavalry greatly disorganized. The Persian Empire tried to annexe several Afghan kingdoms during the 1500s and through the 1600s but always ended up in having their forces (including the famous Persian cannons, which were later used by Babur during his attack on India) perished in the process. Then, the British Army with its famed Lancers invaded Afghanistan, with nearly 200,000 troops, to re-establish Shah Shujah Ul-Mulk on the throne. The entire army of what was then the world’s greatest nation had to retreat through the mountain passes while facing numerous ambushes and history records of only a mere 7000 making it home. We know how the Russians tried and got their hands burned and how the United States got entangled in Afghanistan and suffered.
When history tells us that it is impossible to subjugate the Afghan Tribes militarily, with a stubborn mind we insist on doing it again. Dalrymple’s book explicitly says it on your face that you cannot win with this people. The more you try, the more you die.
P.S: Leaders, please learn from History. It has a tendency to repeat.
- History repeats in Afghanistan (thehindu.com)
- In Afghanistan, Dalrymple sees history playing out all again (thehindu.com)
- Sex, lies and slaughter (3quarksdaily.com)
- William Dalrymple: a life in writing (guardian.co.uk)
- The Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, By William Dalrymple (independent.co.uk)
- William Dalrymple takes a swipe at the Empire (dailymail.co.uk)
- A tragic lesson Britain will never learn (standard.co.uk)
- Of kings, battles, and memoirs (thehindu.com)
- Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple – review | Diana Athill (guardian.co.uk)
- America brief leads to Afghanistan journey for student photographer (mdx.ac.uk)