William Dalrymple: We Should Learn from the 1842 Anglo-Afghan War





[William Dalrymple os a travel writer and historian.] Shortly after his return from Afghanistan in 1843, an Army chaplain, Reverend G. R. Gleig, wrote a memoir about the First Anglo-Afghan War, of which he was one of the very few survivors.

It was, he wrote: ‘A war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government, which directed, or the great body of troops, which waged it.

‘Not one benefit, political or military, has Britain acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.’

It is difficult to imagine the current military adventure in Afghanistan ending quite as badly as the First Afghan War, an abortive experiment in Great Game colonialism that slowly descended into what is arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the West in the East.

An entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world was utterly routed and destroyed by poorly equipped tribesmen, at the cost of £15 million (well over £1 billion in today’s currency) and more than 40,000 lives....

But nearly ten years on from Nato’s modern invasion of ­Afghanistan, there are increasing signs that Britain’s fourth war in the country could end with as few political gains as the first three....



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