As the Americans announced they are withdrawing from this fought over land, and the Taliban take over with remarkable speed that that takes us all by surprise (it’s speed is nicknamed Dunkirk on Whatsapp by the press), I start to re-read Dalrymple’s book, aptly subtitled The Battle for Afghanisthan.
Although Biden is simply fulfilling a strategy outlined by Trump, the speed of his plan seems to jar, it is what is called ‘The Fighting Season’, the date appears to be fixed based on the US calendar of before the 20th aniversary of 9/11 in September.
The great fear, of course, is the return of the Taliban of the 1990’s, a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, and woman in mufti, banned from education and equality. I recall Tom my cousin saying in a London pub after he has just returned from a years service in Helmoland, ‘Eventually we will have to work with the Taliban.’
The book is big and uncharacteristically unmarked but with post it’s on pages I through important at the time. Memory being what it is, I I recall only flavours and little detail. The embarrassingly foolish British ignorance of a land and the image tribal identity of the peoples, their historic and often brutal warfare (a blinding I recall). But I hadn’t expected such an obvious error, caused by a envy of power base, between two men. Bruce and Wade.
The book starts 1809 with Shah Shuja ulMulk on the thrown and the travels of the Koh I Nur – mountain of light – diamond.
Napoleon is the first threat to imperial India which arrests British interest. Napolean has plans to reach India through Persia and Afghanistan put the British in a tiz, and they send an envoy to case the joint and befriend the Afghan leader Shah Shuja. As Dalrymple says: Afghans were perceived as mere pawns on the chessboard of western diplomacy, to be engaged or sacrificed. The emissary they went was a Scot called Elphinstone, and Shah Shuja was delighted to be courted by the otherwise stand offish East India Company.
However he had trouble inside his walls, was challenged, and lost at battle to Dost Mohamed, and fled.
Ranjit Singh, from Peshwar and knocking on the territory door of Afghanistan, imprissioned and torture Shar and thereby got the diamond
Enter captain Claude Martin Wade. Bengal born Persian scholar. First spymaster of the Great Game. (The grand contest of imperial competition espionage and conquest that engaged Britain and Russia until the collapse of their respective Asian empires. )
Meanwhile as Napoleon threat fails, the threat of Russia rises.
Ellenborough – the East India Company India rep. exaggerated threat of Russia. Russophobia ensued. Like many utilitarians he believed in the civilising nature of trade and commerce. Ordered a team of Suffolk dray horses to be transported to the Maharajah Ranjit Singh who liked horses.
It was Ellenborough who employed Alexander Burns to lead the mission. A Highland Scott and brilliant, he struck up an immediate friendship with Ranjit Singh. He was immune to Shah Shuja and Wade.
Wade, aware that he was now suddenly a desk bound Afghan expert who had never actually been to Afghanistan, grew still more irritated with this dashing rival when Burns began to come to different conclusions about British interests in the region to those canvased by Wades agency. Back Ranjit Singh and Dost Mohamad, forget Shah, he’s a popinjay pompous has been.
So was born a dangerously contradictory and two faced British policy towards Afghanistan, with Burns making friendly overtures to Dost Mohammad and the Barakzais, as another, Wade, was backing an uprising against them.
With Burns we could have had friendly trade and influence with Dost Mohammad, instead, as Wade’s view became accepted and Burns was left isolated, war became inevitable, and thousands of British and Afghan lives needlessly lost.
Last night we watched Rory Stewart ‘s The Great Game – a personal view. Brilliant, and impressive to watch him talk to and more listen to Afghan people who seem to trust him. He apty sumarises Dalrymple’s book without the detail or personal itch between Bruce and Wade. Bruce he sings the praises of, and his death is particularly grueling considering his integrity.
Then we watched Charlie Wilson’s war (2007) – mentioned in Rory Stewarts documentary, – relaying the intervention of two people who made sure the covert operation of US supporting Mujahideen against the Russians worked with money flowing from Congress. Brilliant. The character of Gust Avrakotos, the CIA operative, was particularly intriguing, and had the best lines – we were delighted to find the script was non other than Sorokin of West Wing. Julie Roberts was a secondary character of Joanna – although Rory actually met and spoke with her in his documentary and inferred it was she who was the prime mover in this political story.
Such leisure activity was caused by twisting my ankle at dog agility training, which imprisoned me on the sofa all evening.
1st Sept 2021
Two views of this history: “Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended. The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States. … This mission was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground. Last Man Out
Taliban leaders symbolically walked across the runway at Kabul’s international airport after the US withdrawal, marking their victory. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a livestream posted by a militant as he walked through the facility: “The world should have learned their lesson and this is the enjoyable moment of victory.” Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declared, “At 12 o’clock tonight, the last American troops left Kabul airport, on which account Afghanistan was completely liberated and independent.”
Charlie invited me to a zoom on Afghanistan run by Tortoise. Here are some notes from that meeting, which involved 2 women fresh from Afghan and still with family there, one a journalist, Alister Campbell and an Elder statesman.
20 years is now way long enough. Alister C: “i had a brother in Germany until 1990′. We’ve lost the idea of what long term is.
No one asked the US Western powers to leave. This was a worthy intervention.
The state now is in a state of collapse. Betrayal and abandonment
Left behind are 4 Embassy’s: Russia, China, Pakistan, and Arabia. These people will continue the conversation with the Taliban.
Is Afghanistan proof that nothing work Militarily? Syria, Kosovo? Bosnia, Sierra Leone?
Since Tony Blair we don’t have statesmen running our land masses.
The Taliban above all want legitimacy. Critical that we collaborate with the modern arm of the Taliban, do not forsake.
2 thoughts on “Afghanisthan returns to Taliban”
Written with feet knowing of travels.