Hamid sahib’s review of Dalrymple’s “Return of a King”.
Hamid sahib is polite, as usual, and does not say that Dalrymple’s PR campaign for this book (which has been mostly based on selling it as some sort of “lesson” for today) is very misleading and probably deliberately so. Other than that, its an informative review.
—– Forwarded Message —–
Sent: Friday, August 30, 2013 9:15 AM
Subject: Book Review
This was in response to many questions asked about First Anglo-Afghan War, British players & related questions about Indian army. I just tried to put all in book review as they are related although I had to do it in hurry therefore a bit disjointed.
Book Review: William Dalrymple. Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan 1839-42
William Dalrymple’s latest work Return of a King is a fascinating account of First Anglo-Afghan War of 1939-42. Dalrymple is a well known historian of India and his previous works City of Djins, White Mughals and The Last Mughal are based on his extensive research spanning several years while living in India. One crucial factor that differentiates Dalrymple from other English language historians is his use of local sources mainly in Urdu and Persian. In telling the story of the First Anglo-Afghan War, he also used Afghan sources that are now available to English language readers for the first time. However, all Afghan and Indian sources used by Dalrymple are not reliable and some are polemics that freely mix fantasy with facts. Dalrymple sheds some light on two fascinating characters; Mohan Lal and Shahamat Ali. These two natives were first students of English at Delhi College and in an all British cast, the two played a very important role as native political assistants to British.
In summary, by 1839, Dost Muhammad Khan had established himself as ruler of Afghanistan after annihilating other contenders. A former ruler, Shah Shuja was living in a comfortable exile in Ludhiana as British pensioner and Maharaja Ranjit Singh was ruling Punjab that included Peshawar; the former winter capital of Afghan rulers. British fearful of Russian drive cobbled a plan involving British, Shah Shuja and Ranjit Singh. British will help Shah Shuja to regain his throne with the help of Ranjit. Shuja will get his throne, British will get a friendly ruler who will keep Russians out and Ranjit will keep Peshawar as Shuja will renounce his claim over the territory conquered by Sikhs. This was the genesis of First Anglo-Afghan War. Wily ruler of Lahore was the shrewdest of the three players not allowing the army to take the shortest route that will go through his own territory. Instead, army had to go through the desolate areas of Sindh, Baluchistan and over treacherous Bolan Pass to southern Afghanistan. The journey alone and not any battle devastated the army. Shah Shuja was easily installed at Kabul by British and Indian bayonets and Dost Muhammad changed place with Shah Shuja and lived in same quarters in Ludhiana as pensioner with his slaves and concubines. After a year and a half of partying and affairs in Kabul, British cut subsidies to border tribes into half to decrease expenses, the tribes closed passes, annihilated small force and large camp followers, British sent an army of vengeance to spank Afghans and returned to India, Shah Shuja was murdered, Dost Muhammad came back, repeated the previous act of chopping some rebellious heads and other body parts to become the top dog again and the cycle was completed. Continue reading