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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What we forgot, 10 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (Hardcover)
If you start at the end, you will see how William Dalrymple assembled a prodigious mass of documentation (listed in the bulky bibliography that follows) including not only English (-language — for many of the protagonists were Scots or Irish) printed and manuscript sources, but a plethora of hitherto neglected Persian (-language — Farsi was the language of the Kabul court) documents culled from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

If you start at the beginning, you will see this drama contains a formidable dramatis personæ ranging from Lord Auckland and Shah Shujah to Lady Sale’s cat. Their actions and interactions are recounted in a masterly and authoritative style.

It is not, in some senses, a satisfactory drama; as in proper tragedies, the characters have flaws; they have also remarkable qualities, and the cross-cultural communication in a colonial situation, though marred by many misunderstandings, does reveal substantial skills in the British — ranging from a good knowledge of Persian (Farsi/Dari), an interest in archaeology and history, and a genuine ability to know and appreciate the new cultures they encountered …

The first Afghan war was based on a mistaken belief that British (actually, East India Company) interests in India were about to be undermined by a Russian invasion of Afghanistan, so it was determined to replace the acting ruler Dost Mohammed by deposed Shah Shujah. The Shah’s very legitimate claim to power was, for his countrymen, undermined by his association with unbelievers, and the British underestimated both their and his unpopularity, and failed to support him.

So it was that the British deserted him in his hour of need, and were thoroughly routed in an ignominious retreat. Nearly all the interesting and worthy characters die a miserable death.

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ (Santayana?) — this dictum is sadly applicable to the Afghan case, where the British have now waged four unsuccessful wars. Dalrymple is keenly aware of the ironies of history, and notes that Hamid Karzai is of the same clan as Shah Sujah. It is said he has read Dalrymple’s book, and it would be fascinating to know his comments.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Aug 2014 20:21:14 BDT
Merlin's Owl says:
I can't beleive the amount of people who keep linking the East India Company Afghan adventures 170 years ago to the NATO invasion 13 years ago. I suppose after 9/11 you would leave a heroin producing gangster state that breeds, trains and equips anti-western terrorists alone?

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2014 20:37:12 BDT
David says:
I do not recall expressing an opinion on the historical links between the current situation and Shah Shuja, but Dalrymple does address the question succinctly and, I think, without exageration. My own view about potential aggressors, learned at school, is that the best thing is to stop poking them.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2014 21:17:12 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 9 Aug 2014 09:01:36 BDT]
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