William Dalrymple, Return of a King: Shah Shuja and the First Anglo-Afghan War 1839-42

Dalrymple, William
2012-04-10

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Participants
WD
William Dalrymple, lecturer (male)
KM
Kris K. Manjapra, host (male)

William Dalrymple lecture entitled "Return of a King: Shah Shuja and the First Anglo-Afghan War 1839-42"

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Bengali Oral Histories
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Islam on the Indian Ocean Rim
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http://hdl.handle.net/10427/78207
ID: tufts:MS165.002.001.00004
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Well I am delighted to welcome you all to this event where William Dalrymple is speaking and it's really a pleasure and a delight to welcome him to Tufts on behalf of The Centre of South Asian and Indian Ocean studies and also our co sponsor the History Department. We last met I think at Karachi, no Karachi Literary Festival, after having just sort of been at this memorable encounter we had at a panel in the sunny and colourful atmosphere of Jaipur,
where Will, as some of you no doubt know, organizes the most widely attended Literary Festival in the world. As a writer who enthrals his readers with his gripping narrative style, he occupies a very special place in the community of historians. His work reminds academic historians of the intimate relationship between literature and history and ought to spur them
towards writing more attractively and accessibly - that's always a challenge - but certainly William is somebody that we acknowledge as someone who is shining light on that. Dalrymple's book "White Mughals" is an important contribution to our understanding of the first phase of colonial rule in India during the late 18th century a period of economic loot and plunder it was not characterised by a form of British imperialism that was imbued with a sense of or rather a clear sense of racial superiority.
WD
The story I have been dealing with since "Last Mughal" will be coming out in this book that looks as if it's a menu for the sort of Taj Qatar with these cross swords, called "Return of the King" which should be out in April here, though in a couple of months in India, which tells the story of what was for the Victorian British the pragmatic defeat, the great imperial disaster of their time: the First Afghan War. In the British telling of it,
WD
only one survivor made it back from the retreat from Kabul: the famous Doctor Brydon on his pony limping in to Jalalabad, the only survivor of 18,000 troops who left Kabul. The reality of course as with all these legends is very different. When the British finally retreated from Afghanistan, having levelled and destroyed every town and village between Landi Kotal and Kabul, over 2000 sepoys and about 200 British officers in fact returned with the army though many survivors, including a large number of Gorkhas who came in to Jalalabad only a few days after Doctor Brydon,
WD
but it remains true that this was the extraordinary defeat. The 1830's was the period when the British controlled more of the world economy than they would ever control again. This was a period when Victorian armies were, with industrial techniques and weaponry, were defeating pre-colonial armies in every theatre that they encountered them and the destruction of almost the entire Kabul army during the retreat of 1842 was an extraordinary event. It's also one, of course, with great resonance for our times. When we read the accounts of the First Afghan War, it's impossible not to reflect on what's going on in Afghanistan today.
WD
Here is the summary of the Reverend G.H. Gleague who was one of the chaplains attached to the force. "The First Afghan War," he wrote, "was a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rationalist timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which has directed or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has been acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled that of an army defeated."
WD
There are also innumerable parallels which, the closer you probe them, the more striking they become.
WD
The puppet ruler brought with the British and reinstalled in the Bala Hissar, Shah Shah-shuja Durrani, the grandson of the man who was in many ways was the founder of modern Afghanistan, is from the same sub-tribe as President Karzai. While the Ghilzai who brought down and shot down the British in the past in 1842, today make up most of the foot soldiers of the Taliban. In many ways it's the same war waged with slightly different flags 150 years later. Moreover, reading the correspondents of the war, one finds over and over again the same issues confronted as one finds today: the questions of what are the responsibilities of an occupying army.
WD
Do you just try and hold conquered territories for your own interest or do you try and reform political systems? What do you do when your allies start boiling people alive or roasting their enemies? Sir Claud Wade, who is one of the first intelligence chiefs of the period, warns on the eve of 1839 evasion, "There is nothing more to be dreaded or guarded against, I think, than the overweening confidence with which we are too often accustomed to regard the excellence of our own institutions and the anxiety that we display to introduce them to new and untried soils. Such interference will always lead to acrimonious disputes if not to a violent reaction."
WD
Moreover, there is a sensation when you look at the passage into Afghanistan that the - you have a very similar process going on in the West: taking a single rumour, a piece of stray intelligence and finding it been booted around and manipulated by a group of hawks until a panic, a fear, has been created, in this case not about weapons of mass destruction but about a perceived Russian threat to Afghanistan, and you find the participants even using the same language just before the war the British Ambassador to Tehran writes a mail back to London saying, "We should declare he who is not with us, against us. We must secure Afghanistan." So over and over again you find these echoes running backwards and forwards. The same mistakes being made,
WD
the same cynical moves being played, the same political geography in play on the ground resulting in a similar end game, and again finally the decision to withdraw from the occupation taken less on the grounds of what is needed in Afghanistan or needed by the Afghans and more to do with local politics back home and the sheer expense of holding a territory which for all that it seems from a distance to be geopolitically important, turns out to be so expensive to hold that is beyond the resources of the occupying army to manage and then this rather panicked withdraw.
WD
One of the survivors from the First Afghan War, one of the hostages who was taken, George Lawrence, found in old age he was to witness a second invasion of Afghanistan, and wrote to the Times, wondering, "A new generation has risen, which instead of profiting from the solemn lessons of the past, is willing and eager to embroil us again in the affairs of that turbulent and unhappy country. Although military disasters may be avoided, the advance now, however successful from a military point of view, would not fail to turn out to be as politically useless. The disaster of the retreat from Kabul should stand forever as a warning to the statesman of the future not to repeat the policies that bore such bitter fruit in 1839-42. Sadly, however, it seems that these lessons have to be re learnt by each successive generation."
WD
So my aim when I started work on this book was to try and do what I had done with "White Mughals" and "Last Mughals," which is to take a fairly familiar piece of colonial history and try and look at it afresh by looking at new sources from both sides. And early inquiries about, including to Ayesha, about whether there were already - what the chances were of finding Afghan archives from this period, led to very little information about what was or wasn't available in Afghanistan. But when I actually went there three years ago and began reaching around, the first initial inquiries at the Afghan National Archives which survive in Kabul, surprisingly intact in a rather beautiful Ottoman style building in the centre of the city, reveals that there were in fact very few papers surviving from this period. The archives are very good but exist mainly for the 1860's, 70's, 80's onwards.
WD
However, it turned out there were a large number of texts in Persian, in Dari, which recorded the events of the war and intriguingly many of them had been published for the first time on the Urdu and Persian Presses in India, in the run up to 1857 that they were printed in exactly the places which exploded: Delhi, Kanpur and Luckhnow, and that it - it's also extremely significant that the uprising in India began in regiments which had been deserted by their British officers and left to their fate during the retreat of 1842. So there are many links between these two conflicts and you can draw very interesting lines between where these things are printed and which regiments the 1857 uprising breaks out inside.
WD
In the end, by the time that I came to begin writing this book, I'd amassed 9 full length diary sources written within 50 or 60 years of the retreat, all of which were well known to the Afghan historians still on the ground in Kabul, many of which have been reprinted in Dari in Arianna the Afghan journal, during the remarkable period of Afghan historical studies in the 40's, 50's and 60's, and yet again none of which has ever been used in a single English language account of the First Afghan War. In fact, the only English language account which is even mentions these sources is Christiane Noell's fine book on "Doss Mohammad's Rule" but she doesn't use them to discuss the war.
WD
So what - when I found myself in the situation in the end was with nine incredibly detailed new sources, telling the other side of a very familiar picture. Some of these sources were written almost immediately after the war. There are two Afghan epic poems. One is called "The Akbarnama," not to be confused with the great Akbarnama written at the time of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, but about Wazir Akbar Khan who was one of the heroes of the resistance after whom the diplomatic enclave in Kabul is still named and this was written in his praise by an Afghan epic poet and it's a work of some length and it's a very detailed, slightly romanticized, not always incredibly reliable on the details, but it gives a very clear insight into Afghan attitudes immediately after the First Afghan War.
WD
Another one written about the same time, perhaps a year earlier, has survived in a fragmentary form, it's called The "Jang-name-e" (the History of the War)" and it gives a very interesting regional perspective. It's about the First Afghan War seen from the perspective of Parwan Gulistan just to the north of Kabul and it celebrates the valour of the Gulistanis and their two leaders Ame-Masjidi and Ame-Haji who were two Gulistani Nakshbandi pirs who were also the heads of the Ulema in Kabul and who appeared in a very minor role in the British accounts of the war. One of the interesting things in the Afghan primary sources is the fact that there is a very different cast of characters in the resistance to that in the British accounts. The British seem to think that resistance is being led by the Barakzai who ultimately did take over Afghanistan on the British retreat but what is clear in the other sources, the Afghan sources,
WD
is that there is a much more diverse and much more fragmentary Afghan resistance in 1841 and that you have a number of different armies arriving for different reasons from different parts of Afghanistan, camping in different places, and the Afghan resistance has far less coherence than the British imagine it to. The British see an undifferentiated wall of bearded Pathan fanatics as they imagined in. In reality there's lots of very different people involved in this, quite a few of whom - and this is a very important point - are Royalists, supporters of Shah Shuja's, the Sadozaites, who are very happy to have him continue as ruler, they just don't want the British there, and all these nuances are missed by the British.
WD
Another incredibly useful and very interesting source is Shah Shuja's own autobiography, most of which was written by him immediately before the war, in exile in Ludhiana, again never been translated into English other than the very brief chapter that appear in the Calcutta Review in 1842, but which was finished and completed by one of the Shah Shuja's followers, a merchant of Herat, Hussein Herati and he gives the point of view from the Sadozai court and their feelings of betrayal by the British.
WD
Then you get a whole - then there's another account called the Ain-i-Waki-i which is written from the perspective of Herat and then there are three later chronicles that give the Barakzai government view from Kabul in 1860's, 1870's and the early years of the 20th century. The Siraj e Tauriq the last of these histories is written just at the turn of the century for the successors of the Barakzai and give a very court centric, slightly later view of this, but quite accurate, and then finally there's an account by one of the Munshis attached to the British army, the Munshi's account have never been published which is in the national archives of India, and which gives the Munshi's views - oddly enough the most inaccurately of all the accounts - and with some startling sort of odd errors,
WD
but still very interesting for attitudes and giving the perspective of the Indians who - attached to the force - who often took the view that they had been deserted by their British masters. The Waqi'at-i-Shah Shuja begins with this wonderful opening passage, "Great Kings have always recorded the events of their reigns, some writing themselves, with their natural gifts, but most entrusting the writing of historians and writers, so that these compositions would remain as a memorial on the pages of passing time. Thus it occurred to this humble petitioner at the court of the Merciful God, Shah Shuja al-Mulk Durrani, to record the battles and events of his reign so that the historians of Khurasan should know the true accounts of these events, and thoughtful readers take heed from these examples."
WD
So, Shah Shuja is a very intriguing character and a much more interesting complex and admirable figure than he's made out to be either by the British or by his Barakzai rivals, the victors who in victory slag off the defeated loser. Shah Shuja is the grandson of Ahmad-Shah-Durrani who founded the Durrani Empire out of the ruins of the Usbek, Mughal, and Safavid empires. And he builds this sudden empire on the death of Nadir Shah in the 1740's, and Shah Shuja sees himself very much as a successor of the Mughal and Timurid courts and he has based I think his Waqi'at-i-Shah Shuja work partly on the work of Babur the Babur-nama.
WD
He sees himself as a peripatetic Timarid King, inheritor of this courtly tradition of the Mughals and Timarids, and regards himself as a sort of divinely appointed King but he inherits, in reality, a very fragile kingship. Afghanistan, which incidently is a word he never uses, he describes a geographical space called Khurasan which is filled with what's left of a political unit which is his family, the Durrani empire. One of the interesting issues that I discuss in the book is how far this war actually created for the first time an Afghanistan in the ruins of the Durrani Empire.
WD
By the time that the Durranis are replaced and the Barakzai take over, Dost Mohammad, by the end of his reign has established for the first time a state based on Kabul with roughly the modern boundaries of the modern Afghan state and he inherits some of the reforms which helped make Shah Shuja's rule unpopular. He takes a standing army with far less power in the hands of the regional chiefs and with a working tax system which provides some revenue for the central state, and this allows Dost Mohammad to consolidate this fractured group of conquests into what would become Afghanistan. By the very end of his, Dost Mohammad's reign, you will find people regularly using the word Afghanistan which is not something - a word - that Shah Shuja even uses once, even in his own memoirs.
WD
So the story I suppose opens when a young British officer is posted from Kermanshah in the southwest of the country to take a message to the Shah's court on the borders of Meshhad. It's 1837, and Sir Henry Rollinson a young officer who's been posted in Kermanshah and spent his spare time trying to translate the Cannae form script of ancient Persian on the edicts of Baystone. This young man riding through Persia gets lost in the middle of the night and finds - normally there's a very good system of post horses which he can use but because the Shah is going to war all the horses are being used by the Shah's armies and he is not allowed to refresh his mount, the mount is exhausted, he is exhausted. After three days in the saddle he loses the road in the middle of the night and wakes up in the middle of nowhere, not knowing where he is,
WD
on the Afghan borders of Herat and Iran. And just as dawn is coming up over the Koh-I-Shah Jahan mountains, he sees dust rising in the distance and there's a body of horsemen coming towards him down the valley, first thing in the morning. He doesn't know who they are, he only has a small escort, so he backs into a side valley and sees this body of horses coming closer and closer and as they pass he can see very clearly that it's a whole body of Cossack cavalry, Russians, and some of his grooms who've come from the British embassy in Tehran recognize individual Cossacks who they know from the streets of Tehran as part of the escort of the Russian ambassador in Tehran.
WD
And so Rollinson follows these horseman and finds them a little bit later at their breakfast and he goes up to the officer in charge of the group and they have this sort of rather wonderful 19th century conversation, when Rollinson opens in French and this man shakes his head and says no and he then tries Arabic and Persian and eventually agree to converse in Chugtai Turkish which is clearly not the first language of the blond mustachio figure having his breakfast rather sheepishly by the side of the river with his Cossack escort and this young blond man will not say anything about where he is or what he is up to, so Rollinson runs straight to the Shah's camp and asks about this groups of Russians he's seen heading into Afghanistan and the Shah says nothing to do with him,
WD
that the Russians have sent am embassy to Dost Mohammad in Kabul. So this one tiny fragment of information - a group of Cossack cavalry, one blond officer somewhere on the borderlands of Persia and Afghanistan - is a single nugget of information, if you like the yellow cake of its day, which is kicked around by the hawks of the various administrations in Calcutta and in London, and within 18 months has been manipulated, exaggerated, blown up beyond all proportion, to create a massive Russian threat on British rule in India, and the whole thing, this sort of echo chamber of hawkery, is turned into an imminent invasion which would justify plucking Shah Shuja.
WD
This is Alexander Burns who is the counterpart of Vikovich who was sent up as part of the negotiations leading into the war. This is Shah Shuja, Shah Shuja who has been sitting very happily for 30 years in exile in Ludhiana, more like a squire who has lost his whore than a monarch who has lost his empire, according to one visitor to him, is informed curtly that he is going to be replacing this family, the Barakzai's Dost Mohammad in the middle, here is Dost Mohammad again and all his sons, and Lord Auckland, this rather wonderful cocked hat, sends off and authorises in the end, a full scale British invasion of Afghanistan.
WD
This is a rather last minute change of plan. Lord Auckland's original plan was to try and get Ranjit Singh to invade Afghanistan for him. The Sikhs and the Barakzai Afghans had been squaring off against each other for 20 years and the Sikh Empire of Ranjit Singh had largely been eaten out of the remnants of the Durrani Empire, and the British thought that this would be the perfect thing would be to get the Sikhs to invade Afghanistan for them, but Ranjit Singh was a far wilier old cove than any of the British and ends up, at the end of a long negotiation, rather than having the Sikhs invade Afghanistan for the British, it rather turns out it's the British invading Afghanistan for the Sikhs,
WD
and the British suddenly realize a day before departure that the Sikhs are going to provide not one single troop for this - not one single soldier - for this invasion and the rather hopeless British envoy Sir William McNorton, who is much more happy translating the Arabian Nights at home in Calcutta than heading off on any invasion, realizes he has been comprehensively outwitted by the Sikhs but the invasion goes ahead. This is a rather wonderful sort of Victorian strip cartoon, which is in the British Library, called "The Line of Attack of a Bengal Regiment" which seems, judging by the costumes particularly in the top right in this slide, to represent the invading force of Bengal's sepoys
WD
heading into Afghanistan with their sheep, their pigs, their goats, their captives, holy men, munshis, wonderful munshi at the top left with his little sort of chariot reading his papers as he goes, and the Indus which eventually heads off into Afghanistan through the Bolan pass is an enormous enterprise. It's the largest East India Company army assembled since the defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799. It consists of 14,000 company sepoys, 6,000 irregulars, 30,000 camels, 1 Brigadier brings 50 camels alone to carry his kit and 2 regiments bring their own packs of fox hounds, and McNorton who has been so outwitted by Ranjit Singh continues to kind of show his inability to organize anything.
WD
"Poor Norton should never have left his secretaries office," writes one officer. "He is completely ignorant of men even to simplicity and utterly incapable of forming or guiding any administrative measures. The judicial life would probably have suited him best and even then only in the court of appeal, judging only written evidence." So this is the man to whom the invasion is entrusted. Meanwhile General Nott who is the only remotely capable British general is sort of side-lined because he's got a Yorkshire accent, and he comments that, about these sort of young queen's officers straight from London who are heading off into the passes:
WD
"Many young officers would have soon of thought of leaving behind their swords and double barrelled pistols as to march without their dressing cases, their perfumes, their whims of soaps and their odour cologne. One regiment has two camels carrying manila cigars while other camels carry jams, pickles, cheroots, potted fish, hermetically sealed meats, glass crockery, wax candles, and table linen." Anyway, they head off into the passes and more through surprise than good planning make it through the Bolan pass and then through the Kojac pass and plundered all the way by Baluchi snipers with their long barrels which can fire down a great distance and to the surprise of everyone turn outside of Kandahar and the Barakzai brothers who run Kandahar flee off to Persia without firing a single bullet
WD
and Shah Shuja pays his respect to his grandfather in the tomb in the sort of top left of this picture built in the Mughal style to hold his remains in the central Kandahar and he goes and he picks up the mantle of the prophet from its shrine in Kandahar which is of course what Mullah Omar did before taking the battle against the Americans after 9/11. They then go on to Gazhni, which they had been told has no walls at all, they discovered it had rather better walls than they had planned, and only at this point do they notice that they left behind their canon in Kandahar.
WD
Luckily, however, Burns the British intelligence chief has a fantastically well informed Munshi, called Munshi Mohan Lal, who is a very prominent figure in the story and who saves the British from disaster time after time, and this time manages to find from his informers that there is one gate of the city which hasn't been bricked up and the evening of their first arrival they simply lay charges at that gate and go in, in the night, and take it. And this is the one really spectacular victory of the march into Afghanistan and by the time they got to the Ballah Hizzah of Kabul the Barakzai had fled over the Hindu Kush and taken refuge in Bukhara where they are then thrown into prison.
WD
So the British managed to recreate the throne and the court of Shah Shuja after a 30 year gap and almost immediately you get the same problem that happened with Karzai - that once you have installed a puppet, he's meant to be the ruler and of course that's not actually what you want at all, you want to be ruling it yourself, so almost immediately Shah Shuja comes into conflict with Burns and McNorton over who runs what and who has what authority and the more that the British undermine the authority of the ruler Shah Shuja, the less authority he has with his own subjects.
WD
Intriguing mixture of sort of court practice you can see in this picture: you've got the red chisel bash hats of Safavid Iran but with otherwise a rather Mughal style, or of Darbar hall which is entirely Mughal in style, and court ceremonials. So the Durrani court is in many ways as Safavid as it is Mughal. The British, meanwhile, camp outside on the plain with all their tents as if it is a peaceful piece of Bengal rather than wild Afghanistan and the "memsaabs" arrive. Shah-Shuja here he is with his sons, Prince Timor to the left, Prince Saftarjang the son of Ludhiana Dancing girl to the right and Mullah Ishaksai, who wore a very large turban in order hide the fact that Shah Shuja had cut off the top of his ears 30 years earlier when he ran away from a battle and this is the court.
WD
Here is a picture of one of the nobleman of the court and this is Lady Sale, the memsaabs appear. Lady Sale arrives in Kabul with a grand piano and writes soon afterwards, "My sweet peas and geraniums were much admired by the Afghan gentlemen. In my kitchen garden the potatoes especially thrive." While Lady Sales is organising her geraniums, fighting Bob Sale, her husband, is organizing cricket matches and horse racing,
WD
there are open air amateur theatricals with Darri translations given by Alexander Burns and as winter draws in, snipe and duck shooting, skating and snowman building, the fox hounds which seem to have made it in through the Bohlan pass and taken out to hunt jackals and Burns throws a Christmas party with Scottish reels and bag pipes and presides over it all in highland dress, complete with kilt and enormous spurn, and already there is discreet talk, so easy has this conquest has been of moving the summer capital of the Raj up to Kabul, in the same way and away from Simla which is a rather hopeless position on a high Himalayan saddle and to emulate the Mughals by moving to Kabul for the summer.
WD
And over the first year the tensions continue to grow between Shuja and the British administration of McNorton. Dost Mohammad, who's escaped from prison in Bokara surrenders and it looks increasingly as if it will be a straight forward British administration that sooner or later the puppet ruler will be disposed of, and it is this, as much as anything else, which creates tension, and the earliest insurgents, it is very clear in the Afghan accounts, are in fact Royalists who are supporters of Shah Shuja, not anyone from the deposed Barakzai regime. It is Shah Shuja's distressed followers who begin the plotting to get rid of the British.
WD
But the other issue is here is Mohan Lal, the one man who manages to keep close tabs of what is going on. He warns Burns and McNorton that there's growing discontent. He names the plotters but they ignore him and an intriguing difference from the problems today - this isn't a complaint about the modern troops because the modern troops tend to stick inside Bagram, where they have their own McDonalds and Dominos Pizzas and keep completely apart from the Afghan people - is the Afghan women, and there are, from the very beginning, accounts of Afghan women disappearing into the British cantonment on a very regular basis and coming back slightly richer,
WD
and the Afghans complain not so much that this is going on but that the women do so veiled - it is not clear whether they are dancing girls, which would have been perfectly legitimate, or whether they are fancy society women and this is something which comes across in all the Afghan accounts, this anxiety about the British abusing women and there is this - the things that the Afghans complain about is that the British do not treat women properly and that they are terrorists burning down the paths of Gulistan. The Afghans view the British as women abusing terrorists, which is not the way the British usually think of themselves in regard to the Afghans.
WD
Finally it is Alexander Burn's seduction of a young chieftain's mistress that brings about the conflagration. "It happened by God's will," writes Mirza Attar who is one of the - he's a Sikhapuri trader who is a former follower of Shah Shuja, who writes a very interesting account called the Noema Aruhk. "It happened by God's will that the slave girl of Abdullah Khan Atchehk Sheikh ran away from his house to the residence of Alexander Burns,
WD
when on inquiry it was found out where she had gone, the Khan beside himself with fury sent his attendant to fetch this silly girl back, but the Englishmen, swollen with pride, cursing and swearing, had the Khan's attendant severely beaten and thrown out of the house. The Khan then summoned the other sardars and said, 'Now we are justified in throwing off the English yolk. They stretch the hand of the tyranny to dishonour private citizens great and small. Fucking a slave girl isn't worth the ritual bath that follows it but we have to put a stop to it right here and now otherwise these English will ride the donkey of their desires into the field of stupidity to the point of having us all arrested and shortly we will be deported into foreign imprisonment.
WD
I put my trust in god and raise the battles standard of our prophet Mohammad and thus go to fight. If success rewards us then it is as we wished. If we die in battle, then it is still better than to die with degradation and dishonour.' The other sardars, hs childhood friends, tightened their belts and girt their lions and prepare for Jihad.
WD
So Burns is the first victim of this impromptu disorganised uprising which breaks out for very local reasons on the night of 1st November 1841.
WD
He has only 6 sepoy guards, he feels very confident in the old city, but a mob of 200 or 300 gathers outside his home led by Abdullah Khans Atchahkzai and another old man called Ahmad ullah Lagari and again what interesting about the Afghan sources is the way that we can - not only do we get a slightly different persona, not only do we get a slightly different group of insurgents taking control from the ones that British are aware of, but we actually get detailed motivations of individual Afghan rebel leaders,
WD
so while the British see a sort of undifferentiated wall of fanatical beards facing them, and their accounts reflect this, in the various Afghan accounts written, particularly the ones written 2 or 3 years afterwards, we have individuals with individual motivations. So Abdullah Khan Achakzai is pissed off because his mistress is being seduced. Aman ullah Khan Lagari who is a self made man from a rather modest background who had built up his reputation particularly under the Sadhirzai, three successive Sadhirzai rulers has his military force cut by the British, his taxation raised, and eventually his estates taken away and he goes into rebellion.
WD
These two important Tajik leaders who are very prominent at the beginning of the uprising Mir Haji and his brother are both Tajik Khurasani Nakshbandi peers who are also very important leaders of the Ulama in Kabul and these two bring in their Tajiks - they again have a very specific gripes against the British during the previous punitive campaign in 1840, Lady Sale's husband had burnt down Mir Haji's fort in Khurasani after he believed he'd been - he was about to give himself up-he believed that he had a deal with Mohan Lal to go in to take refuge in the tomb of Timur Shah.
WD
That night while he is in the tomb of Timur Shah about to give himself up, fighting Bob Sale goes and burns down his fort and massacres his family and he then slips out of the city and forms the centre of resistance and then when the uprising breaks out in Kabul, he leads a separate uprising among the Tajiks of Gulistan. So through the various diary accounts, you can suddenly put faces on the individual rebels, you can find individual motivations for why each one takes this very risky step of rising up and fighting against the British,
WD
and again in particular it's very interesting how many like Aman-ullah-Khan Laggari are staunch loyalists, staunch supporters of Shah Shuja, but nonetheless begin this rebellion to try and get rid of his British allies.
WD
At the beginning of the uprising the Barakzai is almost entirely absent from the fighting. They arrive half-way through when the British have already been defeated. This again is something that is not at all clear in the later Barakzai sponsored court chronicles written in the late 19th century in Dari,
WD
the Swaraj ul tawari, the tariq-e sultani, and the various other court chronicles in that in retrospect the Barakzai have a much more prominent role but this is not the case in the earlier accounts where it is a largely Royalist force and a group of random insurgents who begin an action directed primarily against Alexander Burns and then it spirals out of control. What is very clear in the early accounts is that the rebels keep their - the insurgents, the guys who massacre Burns and his house - keep their horses saddled expecting to have to ride out of the city and take refuge in the hills when the British force marches into the city
WD
but the hopeless British general - this is McNorton, who is hacked apart shortly afterwards - what is very clear is that the rebels expect a very strong British response which never comes. The leading British General, general Elphinstone has a bad case of gout and when he tries to mount his horse on the first day of the uprising, he falls off his horse and his whole horse rolls on top of him and as this is the kind of beginning of the end of the British fight back.
WD
Now this is a very rare picture which has never been published as far as I know, which is the only picture to actually show the British cantonments and in them you can see, in this picture, there's a rather sort of grand group of British barracks with rather nice Georgian buildings with high chimney pots surrounded by groups of tents. But what you can also see in this picture is that the cantonments are surrounded on all sides by low hills and to the right by a whole variety of small forts, and all the Afghans have to do is to pull canon up onto these various small hills and they can shoot down into the cantonments.
WD
The two military leaders of the uprising Aman-ullah-Khan Laggari and Aman-ullah-Khan Atraksai within the first 7 days of the uprising, capture the different British comosarian forts which control the British ammunition and the British food supplies so that within a week the British are not only being fired on from all the hills that surround and all the forts that surround the cantonment, they have also lost all their food supplies, and within a week it's basically over. It's a very quick defeat and after McNorton goes out and negotiates and is hacked to death by Akbar Khan, which is the first arrival of the Barakzai after 2 months after the uprising has begun, after that it's all over
WD
and the British have no option but to - here's Elphinston the guy with gout - but to head off back home again. So they sign a treaty with Akbar Khan and the other rebel leaders that they can retreat to India in safety and that if they surrender their canon and hand over their treasure, they will be allowed to march away unmolested. But this is not what happens.
WD
As soon as they get into the mountains, the Ghilzai are waiting for them.
WD
And again it's slightly unclear in the Afghan sources as for the British sources whether the Ghilzai are acting on their own or are acting in concert with Akbar Khan. Akbar Khan himself may well have not ordered the Ghilzai to attack the British partly because his father was being held by the British in Ludhiana. It's quite likely that the Ghilzai acted on their own volition because their subsidies have been cut. Ever since the time of Aurangzeb, the various tribes of the Khyber have been paid Radari which is the road tax which all the rulers including Nadir Shah on his way to loot Mughal Delhi paid the frontier tribes, and the deal was that they would not plunder the caravans and they'd keep the roads open and maintain them in return for very large subsidies,
WD
and these were paid by successive rulers until McNorton, the British chief of administration, cancels unilaterally the Ghilzai subsidies and it seems to be this that pisses off the Ghilzai so badly and leads them to probably disobey Akbar Khan's orders and massacre the retreating troops despite all the treaties that had been signed.
WD
In addition to sniping, this is the rather wonderfully clothed Colin Mackinzee who is taken hostage, this is Akbar Khan in his battle dress, another Afghan view of him. Despite the treaties they are shot down from the first moments of entering the Court Kabul Pass and of the 18,000 - 5,000 sepoys and 13,000 camp followers -
WD
who leave Kabul on the 6th of January by the 10th of January there are only 2,000 left alive and this is as much to do with the worst winter in a decade and thick snow and blizzards as it is actually from sniping and from ambushes. But by day 2 all the sepoys have got so frostbitten, they can't hold their rifles, and in addition as with the initial mistake of losing their commissariat and losing their food and their ammunition, the same happens a second time on their retreat. What food and tents they have are left at the end of the army and then as the British head on for their first camping ground, all the baggage is captured by the rebels on night one, which means that in the middle of these blizzards there's no tents, there is no cover, and the frostbitten soldiers are in no position to fire their guns, their feet are like wood by night too, and they can't operate their guns so they are just shot down.
WD
The final stand which became a thing of Victorian myth, rather like with Dunkirk in 1941, a massive humiliating defeat is turned sort of against all the odds in memory into a great sort of brave victory of gallantry and this last hundred troops fighting on the hill of Gandamak becomes an icon which successive generations of British imperial historians look on as a symbol of gallantry - these last ragged soldiers having exhausted their ammunitions, surrounded by dead bodies, fighting on with their bandits, as the batons to the right close in on them.
WD
What is true is that there's another last stand in the rather gorgeous Nimla gardens built by Shah Jahan and by the 12th of January, the sentries on the top of the fort of Jalalabad see a single figure crossing the plain and this is Dr. Brydon, the surgeon, and he has made it through thanks to - always important to keep your reading matter with you; kindles are not nearly as good - but Dr. Brydon has a copy of Blackwoods magazine rolled up inside his forage cap and when the Ghilzai come for him and swipe at his hat, the sword goes through the copy of Blackwoods magazine but leaves Dr. Bryden unscathed and Dr. Bryden rides in.
WD
But he isn't, in reality, the only survivor. There are about 20 Gurkhas who limp in, in the days that follow and many, many more are taken hostage. It is, however, an extraordinary victory for the different parts of the Afghan resistance.
WD
Mirza Attar crows that it is said "60,000 English troops" - not actually the case but he it is what he says - "60,000 English troops, half from Bengal, half from other provinces, without counting servants and camp followers, went to Afghanistan and only a handful came back alive, wounded and destitute.
WD
The rest fell with neither grave nor shroud to cover them and lay scattered in that land like rotting donkeys. The English love gold and money so much they cannot stop themselves from laying hands on any area productive of wealth. What prize did they find in Afghanistan except on one hand exhausting their treasury and on the other disgracing their army? It is said that 40,000 English troops have been in Kabul, that many were taken captive on route, and that many remained as cripples and beggars in Kabul, and the rest perished in the mountains like a ship sunk without trace, for it is no easy thing to conquer and occupy the kingdom of Khurastan."
WD
Lady Sale, who has been taken hostage, sees as she's riding into captivity, the sepoys reduced to cannibalism in the caves on the route. We pass two hundred dead bodies, she wrote in her diary, many of them Europeans, the whole naked and covered with gaping wounds. As the day advanced, several poor wretches - Hindustanis and camp followers - who had escaped the massacre made their appearance from behind rocks and within the caves, where they had taken shelter from the murderous knives of the Afghans and the inclemency of the weather.
WD
They had been stripped of all they possessed and a few could crawl no more than a few yards on their hands and knees, being frostbitten in the feet. Here Johnson found two of his servants; one had had his hands and feet frostbitten and a fearful sword cut across one hand and a musket ball in his stomach. The other had his right arm completely cut through to the bone. Both were utterly destitute of covering and had not tasted food for 5 days. Wounded and starving they had set fire to bushes and grass and huddled together to impart warmth to each other. Subsequently we heard that scarcely any of these poor wretches escaped from this defile and that driven to extremes of hunger, they had sustained life by feeding off their dead comrades.
WD
So the following year - this is the walls of Jalalabad which holds out for the rest of the winter and here some of the hostages all dressed up in Afghan quilt. Here is where the British officers and their wives are kept in some comfort, in contrast to the sepoys who are sold off to slave owners and sold off in the markets of Bukhara in Central Asia. So the following year, the British send back what they call the Army of Retribution which lays waste to Afghanistan and trees are destroyed, villages are burned down, and as the army rolls in, destroying all that it can in revenge for the previous defeat, they see the skeletons from the previous year and the dead bodies.
WD
Some were mere skeletons while others were in a better state of preservation. Their hair was still on their heads, their features were perfect although discoloured, their eyes had evidently been picked out by birds of prey, which wheeling in endless gyrations above my head seemed to me to consider me an intruder in their domain. On turning the corner of a large rock were 5 or 6 bodies were lying in a heap together, a vulture which had been banqueting on them hopped away carelessly to a little distance, lazily flapping its huge wings but too lazy to fly. I turned away from the sickening sight with a sad heart but a strong determination to lend my best efforts to paying the Afghans the debt of revenge we owed them.
WD
So that debt of revenge is paid particularly in Kabul. The British, when they first were forming their rhetoric for the invasion, talked about the Indus trade; about the necessity of opening up the Indus as a river for trade and that Kabul would be turned into the great march for British manufacturers from around Central Asia, so the final action of the British before pulling out of Afghanistan is, however, to burn down the great Mughal bazar that was built by Ali Mohammad Khan who was Shah Jahan's governor of Afghanistan and a great massacre takes place in Kabul.
WD
The choux is burnt down, even the courts of the British allies that the Hindus and the Kizelbash are destroyed, there are mass rapes and as they withdraw the Sadozais come to because they know there is no hope of remaining after the alienation caused by this campaign and they march out, leaving Kabul in flames, completely destroying the greatest city in the country.
WD
For the Afghans like Mirza Attar watching on, this is the final disgrace.
WD
The remaining troops were welcomed on their arrival in the Punjab's, writes Mirza Attar, once they were safely out of Afghanistan. For the proverb says Afghanistan is the land of hawks but India is the land of carrion crow. It is said that the English entered Afghanistan the second time merely to free the English prisoners, spending lakhs and lakhs and bribe the Afghans into allowing them safe passage, leaving thousands more dead behind, paying compensation double the value to the owners of the property they had destroyed then revealing their true nature by demolishing the markets of Kabul and returning to India.
WD
They'd hoped to establish themselves in Afghanistan to block any Russian advance but for all the treasure they expended and for all the lives they sacrificed, the only result was ruin and disgrace. If the English had been able to take and keep Afghanistan would they have ever left this land where 44 different types of grapes grow and other fruit as well: apples, pomegranates, pears, rubar, mulberries, sweet water melons and muster melons, apricots and peaches and ice water that cannot be found in the plains of Hindustan. The Indians know neither how to dress nor how to eat", pens Mirza Attar. "God save me from the fire of their dal and their miserable chapattis."
WD
So the final sort of irony of this is that having justified this invasion on the basis of confronting the Russians, by the time the troops are marching back in to the Punjab, Russia has become an ally and Tzar Nicolas has invited himself to stay at Windsor Castle. To avoid Polish terrorists, he arrives incognito, travelling by steamer from Holland as Count Olaf and he travels only with his travelling camp bed and on arrival by train in Windsor Castle, uninvited, he turns up with his camp bed and his first action is to ask for a straw from the stables to stuff his camp bed with and Queen Victoria, who's pregnant and newly married and age about 21, thinks some sort of Tartar savage has turned up on her doorstep.
WD
But the days that follow there's a whole variety of politicking, all the different political figures are brought in. Count Nestlerode, the foreign minister who had sent off Wicknwitch, meets Lord Palmerston and they all meet at the Chiswick breakfast in Chiswick house and there's this great political medley with all the Russian aristocrats, the Czar, Lord Palmiston, Count Nestleroad, which is broken up in some chaos in the end, when the Duke of Devonshire's giraffes stampede and the Czar has to be rescued from the hoofs of the giraffes and suburban Chiswick and this is a precursor of what would follow because within a few years the Crimean War has begun and 800,000 die in that war.
WD
As Kipling has his hero say at the end of Kim, "When everyone is dead, the great game is finished, not before."
WD
Anyway I thought that I couldn't really write this book. Here they are disappearing off to Afghanistan. Here is Dost Mohammad seated on the left of this picture being welcomed in Lahore by the Sikh Khalsa, on his way back in to take Afghanistan, to take the throne of Kabul, and as with what will no doubt take place at the end of this current invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, there would be an almost complete reversion to what existed before within a few years of all this destruction, death, and fighting.
WD
Anyway when I went to try and research this book, I thought I couldn't really write this book without actually doing the root of the retreat, which is the kind of centrepiece obviously for any book about the First Afghan War, and I had the surprising discovery that the Chief of the Secret Police, the man who was basically in charge of the tortue in Kabul, was a fan of the "Last Mughal" and I got invited to dinner and had one of the most terrifying critiques other than that by Ayesha, when I was subjected to the evening of cross questioning about why I like the "Last Mughal," wasn't he a complete wimp, didn't he deserve everything he got, was he really a patriot - no, and therefore he deserved no mercy.
WD
Anyway, this Chief of Police kitted me out with the latest deserter of the Taliban who himself was an extraordinary character called Anwar Khan Jigdalic and Anwar Khan Jidelic was a former village wrestling champion, who made his name as a Hesbi Islami Mujahedeen commander against the Russians and had also led the Afghan Olympic wrestling team. Anyway he just come across from the Taliban and been made an official in Karzai's government and the Chief of Secret Police, the NSD, said this man would take you to his village, he lives in Jangdallic which is the village before Gandamak.
WD
So off we set, past the sight of the cantonments, which now appropriately enough is the sight of the American Embassy and we drove down the road with Jigdalic pointing out where his ancestors had sniped at the British from and he said, "Those British, those bastards, forced us to pick up guns to defend our honour so we killed every last one of the fuckers. Lorry went like this." This hasn't stopped Jigdalic sending off his entire family to the safety of north hold in north London where they now lived.
WD
Anyway we followed down the corkscrewing mountain passes and he pointed out where he had been a Mujahedeen commander and by the time we arrived at Jigdalic, where the resistance put up an enormous holly hedge where hundreds of the sepoys found themselves impaled and shot down - one of the most dramatic scenes in the defeat. We ended up going there and having the most enormous lunch and I was trying to get to Gandamark where the famous siege of the last stand took place, but as course after course of kababs and roomali roti and pulao appeared from various corners of the village, it became clear that we weren't going to get anywhere that evening.
WD
And so we ended up sort of beating a retreat to Jalalabad by the main road and never got to Gandamark and arrived in Jalalabad to find that that very day in Gandamark, after being completely peaceful the previous six months, Gandamark, which backs onto Tora Bora and the sight of Bin Laden's last stand, had that day been the sight of a major battle. The villagers had planted poppy the previous year and had it ploughed out by the administration and no one had given them any compensation that they'd been promised. Someone somewhere along the line had taken the compensation and had put it in their pocket. They never got a penny.
WD
So they were forced to plant poppy again and this time they warned the government that if they came and burnt it then they would bring in their friends from the mountains to resist. And that had happened that day. The government turned out with the ploughs to plough up the poppy crop - I always thought they burn the poppy crop, but in fact, they plough it under - and this time the Taliban were waiting for them. Nine police vehicles were shot up, 90 hostages taken, 10 people killed. All this had happened at 10 in the morning while we were just beginning our feast in the next door village completely unaware, and had we turned up at 4 o' clock - had we not been so incredibly greedy - I probably wouldn't be standing here to tell this tale to you today.
WD
So the following day we went into Jalalabad to watch the negotiations between the government and villagers of Gandamark about what to do with hostages and to come to some sort of accommodation. So this last Jirgah took place on the hill above Jalalabad airport. We sat there while down below the air strip at the bottom, predator drones took off with sort of every 20-25 minutes, circling the hills around. And once the negotiations were finished we went over and talked to the elders from Gandamark and I asked whether they saw any parallels between the - Anwar Khan Jigdalic was still with me at this point - and we asked whether there was any parallels between then and now
WD
and Jigdalic said, "Yes it is exactly the same. Both times the foreigners have come for their own interests and not for ours. They say we are your friends, we want to help, but they are lying." What was very interesting was that the memories of these wars was still very much present in these villages - it all got slightly muddled up, the First and Second Afghan Wars had got confused. They talked about the Battle of Maiwand which is actually the Second Afghan War as being the place where Dr. Brydon had been killed. I mean it was all a bit of a muddle but it was - they knew the names:
WD
Burns, McNorton, Brydon - long forgotten in Britain, were all very familiar names in these valleys, and they said that, "Since the British went we've had the Russians. We saw them off but not before they bombed all the houses in the village. We are the roof of the world. From here you can control and watch everything. Afghanistan is like a crossroads for every nation that comes to pass," said Jigdalic, "But we do not have the strength to control our own destiny. Our fate is determined by our neighbours."
WD
One of the elders from Gandamark, I said you know, what they thought of the Americans - they said, "Well last month, some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me, 'Why do you hate us?' And I replied, 'Because you blow down our doors, you enter our houses, you pull our women by their hair, and you kick our children. We cannot accept this. We will fight back and we will break your teeth. And when your teeth are broken, you will leave. Just as the British left before you. It's just a matter of time.'"
WD
What did he say to that, I asked. He turned to his friend and said, "If the old man are like this, what would the younger ones be like?" In truth, he said, all the Americans know their game is over. It's just their politicians who deny it. These are the last days of the Americans, said the elder from Gandamark. Next it will be China.
WD
Thank you very much.
Okay well thank you very much again for an extraordinary story, I wonder though, you talk about the difficult relationship between history and strategic imperative and I think that's something we all agree about, but one does need to put things into perspective, and I wonder whether you could help us place the First Afghan War in a broader historical perspective. You talk about that stray piece of rumour that led the British to make this gathering rush and, you know, destroy themselves, but in fact, I mean, it was obviously a part and parcel of a larger policy. You know, there was a debate going on in the British circles between a forward policy and how best to defend the borders of the subcontinent.
WD
But if you look at it, I mean that's one point, but following the Afghan War, you see the ease with which the British are able to swallow the remainder of the northwest, which really is their concern, and I mean Afghanistan had been perceived, even though you talk about their reluctant withdrawal, as a buffer state, I mean, between Russia and the Indian empire, so I'm really interested for you to - for the purposes of the audience and not withstanding an extraordinary story - if you could tell us how this really impacted on the British in India because that really was what it was all about. I mean, how large a loss was this relative to the British army in India and how should we be reading this? I mean, I don't deny that this is very sort of curious analogy -
WD
Carry on. I think it's more complicated than that. There's a huge variety of different opinions in India and the biggest argument that takes place, takes place between Burns - who is the only one that's actually been in Afghanistan and visits Dost Mohammad and it's quite clear to Burns that Dost Mohammad is very keen to become an ally of the British and that an invasion and regime change is completely unnecessary. The whole thing is totally unnecessary and he makes his point very coherently, very cogently, and argues it with great vigour, and Burns, who has many human failings, is nonetheless perceptive, clever, and can see that the whole thing can be done without a single shot being fired.
WD
The main issue is whether it's possible to reconcile the Dost Mohammad with Ranjit Singh, and by the time Burns is in Peshawar, he can see that the Sikhs are losing so many men and spending so much money having to keep Peshawar against a low level insurgency on the ground, daily ambushes, sniping, and fire from all the different Afridis and Khyber tribes, that he thinks that Ranjit Singh can easily be persuaded to come to some sort of accommodation and give it over to one of the Barakzais to look after, in return, and accept some nominal sovereignty and he persuades all parties to accept some sort of face saving deal.
WD
And the only reason that doesn't happen is not because of rival factions or different views of foreign policy. It's straight forward departmental jealousies. There are two rival centres of intelligence gathering for the northwest frontier. One is run by a man called Henry Pottinger. He is the man who eventually goes and takes Hong Kong and opens up - he's a kind of Anglo-Irish Ulster bulldog who later bullies the Chinese in handing over Hong Kong. But at this stage, he runs his intelligence gathering operation on behalf of the Bombay Presidency out of Bujh in Gujarat.
WD
The rival operation is run by Sir Claud Wade out of Ludhiana, and he is answering to the Bengal Presidency based in Calcutta and he has the ear of McNorton. McNorton has his nose put out of joint by Burns' rapid descent. Burns is part of the Bombay Establishment and he is the glamorous young poster boy, who not only gets the job of going into Afghanistan, which Wade has never done and then beyond Bokhara, but he goes home to England, he publishes a book, he gets the gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society, he's called to Buckingham Palace, he gets the award in France, and this young man aged 21 who's a very junior figure in the administration, comes back having had this sort of incredible run and gets invited the whole summer going to all the house parties, and the rival lot - Wade and McNorton, who were meant to be the experts in Afghanistan but had never actually been there,
WD
had their noses put completely put out of the joint by this young whippersnapper who is from the rival group - sort of FBI against CIA, this sort of thing - and because of this, McNorton argues to Auckland who has no interest at all in Afghanistan, there's nothing about it, he's completely pig ignorant about the entire wide of geopolitics and he just wants an easy time for most of it. He manages to persuade Auckland that Dost Mohammad is this sort of anti-British partisan, that Burns is too young to be listened to, that no one should take any notice of what he says,
WD
that he's been staying with the Barakzai, he's been corrupted by their hospitality, and I think, my personal reading of the whole thing, is that this is departmental jealousy rather than anything else. And it's the two rival presidencies and it just happens that the Ludhiana lot that have the ear of the viceroy and of the general, and they get their way.
WD
The British managed to do without Afghanistan very easily for the very simple reason that there is no Russian threat. The Russian are miles away. The Russians at this stage - both the Russians and the British had been advancing towards each other for a century and a half and particularly the British under Wellesley. Wellesley is the kind of great forgotten figure of British aggression in India. Wellesley conquers more of India than Napoleon conquers of Europe.
WD
It is Wellesley that conquers Tipu Sultan, who absorbs the whole of the south. He moves up, with the Maratha Wars, takes Delhi in 1803, and far more than Clive, far more than Hastings, all these, he is the figure who militarily conquers the heart of India in a very short period, bankrupting the Company in the process. He's recalled by the company because he spends so much money and at the same time the Russians have barely moved from the Arambagh frontier - the Russians are almost.
WD
And just as you can argue, very coherently, that Al-Quida didn't existed in Iraq before the American invasion but it did exist after it and the Americans had created the monster that they feared, so in the same way, there was no Russian advance on Afghanistan, until the British sent Burns to find out about Russian espionage in Central Asia. Burns goes home, writes this bestselling book that sells record numbers of copies in Britain and is translated into French, and it's the French edition that makes it St. Petersburg.
WD
Suddenly the Russians wake up to fact that there's lots of British young men sending intelligence back from Bokhara, and it's after reading Burns' French translation that Auremburg is instructed to send Wickawitch to Afghanistan. So this whole thing that by fearing something, fearing a monster, you end up creating the very monster that you - by your own paranoia - and this is certainly the case with the great game. There was no great game. There was no Russian threat. The Russians were thousands and thousands of miles away. The entire Emirates of Kiev or Bukhara lie between the Russians and the British, and then on the British side the Armirs of Sind and the whole Sikh empire lies between them.
WD
So there is an enormous weight of the globe separating these two empires. It's an entire fiction that the Russians are a threat but it is manipulated and news and particularly this matter of the jealousy of Burns. Burns is the heart of it all. It's his bestselling book, alerts the Russians and his sort of peroration through the country houses and Buckingham Palace pisses off his colleagues, and that's what begins it all.
the British...
WD
So then obviously the situation is changed by the fact that the British have invaded Afghanistan. Once you have done that, the first thing they do is in the process of invading Afghanistan, they create a bridge at Karachi and take over against the treaty that they've done. They marched through in the middle of Sind. They also siege Sikhapur, which is this incredibly important centre. The Sikhapuri trading traders control the trading networks that runs from Sind through the Punjab into Afghanistan -
WD
weirdly enough, leaving Princeton yesterday there was a Sikhapuri taxi driver whose family had been in Kabul for 300 years and who'd arrived here 10 years ago - and they control trading that goes all the way up to Moscow using the hundi system. When the British siege Sikhapur, in the run up to this war, this is the beginning of their encroachment and they realize how easy it is to seize this area. So what happens then, they seize Sind and then the Punjab Wars and then they create the buffer at the Indus and that's the buffer that stays.
WD
But it's a whole series of sort of accidents. There's no natural momentum and necessity that the British will get all these area or that they need this area. They've only just really, you know, in 1803 did they take Delhi. It's very easy to have imagined a different roll of the dice, you know, the Yamuna or the Ganges ended up as the frontier, or the Sutlej, but certainly not the Indus.
But they do succeed in dealing with the Punjab very well, I mean if they hadn't taken Afghanistan before they would potentially face Mohammad Ranjit Singh alliance in a far more dangerous form.
WD
Well Ranjit Singh and Dost Mohammad were always enemies and Ranjit Singh was always a very pliable ally and had there been order in the Punjab at the death of Ranjit Singh - but Ranjit Singh doesn't have a successor. Ranjit Singh's eldest son is considered by everyone including the Khalsa to be incapable of succeeding him.
WD
This is what creates problems, causing the disorders in Punjab and the break down, but again a slightly different succession thing might have left a very strong Punjab and might have seen a proto-Pakistan which was a Sikh kingdom on more or less the same territories now controlled by Pakistan.
Thank you well let's move on I think we have a question, could you please introduce yourself before you speak into this because we are recording.
My name is Ali and I am very interested in that part of the area. I come from Lahore, my grandmother is from Sekhupur, a family of traders and all that. Based upon that, I have heard these stories while growing up, what has been told to us by my great, great grandfather that in 1737 when Nadir Shah came to Delhi, he in highlighted Gujarat no not Gujarat - Rajasthan so our family and lots of them were Mughal courtiers at that time so they had to face the brunt of the attack. So what they did was they took a refuge in Punjab.
WD
I am talking about Mia Fazal Husain, grandfather of Faizal Husain and Afzal Husain and Amjad Husain and all those people; very well known chief minsters of Punjab and all that. So once they took the refuge in Punjab, turns out that my great grandfather Mia din Mohammad was a buddy of Raja Ranjit Singh and as you know Raja Ranjit Singh took his missile at age 9. When he took his missile at age 9 since they were buddies when they grew up when he combined various missiles to form his Rajdhani he formed himself Mia din Mohammad as his revenue minister.
WD
Mia Din Mohammad was the person behind taking the revenge against the Durranis, that is why he was fighting in Peshawar. But on the other hand Raja Ranjit Singh could not convince his population, the Punjabi population, to go and do the revolt, however, Mia Din Mohammad being a Muslim was able to convince the entire Punjab to follow the leadership of Raja Ranjit Singh and as such form the government - the first time in the history that a Sikh was a leader of a Muslim, predominantly Muslim, area so that's what the story that has been told to us from generations to generations.
WD
That it was Mia Din Mohammad who was very prominently figured in creating that conflict between Brits and all that, and Ranjit Singh didn't wanted to go there, Din Mohammad want to go there, so the Britishers wanted to follow Din Mohammad as a result Hyatt's and you know Mohammad Hyatt Punjab's leader, and all that who were like constables, they were not even the commissioned officers. They were given lots of land and all that as such. So I think that's part of the area which needs to be considered in this whole situation. That it was a local conflict and that the revenge of the Durranis, I'm sorry, Nadir Shah Durrani towards the people who were dislodged as refugees. Thank you.
WD
I think, yeah, this is in the sense one generation before my story. This is Nadir Shah time. But I think, what's interesting also, is the way Nadir Shah, despite having this enormous army that sweeps the Mughals in front of him, still pays the Kkhyber tribes as does Aurangzeb. All these guys pay up. They don't tangle - they realize. Thank you, thank you for that.
My name is Aurian Sheikh and I am a PHD student here from Afghanistan, I just wanted to thank you for the very great lecture, I think you did a fantastic job in the history and telling in a very interesting way. I just wanted to make a comment about the concluding remarks that you had...
WD
Next it would be China.
Well currently America and then next China and please correct me if I got it wrong, I am not very sure if you could make a good comparison between what goes on now and what went on there. Of course, I mean, history can inform policy in certain ways but I do not - if I got it correctly - it looked to me - it seemed to me like you were basically inferring that the Afghans, mainly more or less all of them, are against Americans and they want them out and that they are sure the Americans will be defeated and will be apt. That is not the understanding I have as an Afghan there, and for the past two years, I was involved in conducting certain surveys,
WD
not even in the cities in Kabul, but in the south in Kandahar and Badakhshan and Helmand, as well as in the east in Bakhtiar, Paktika, and the majority of the respondents in the survey's actually wanted the American forces.
WD
I think it's a very important point there. I mean for all the striking similarities, this weird business whereby Karzai happens to be from the same popalzai as Shah Shuja and for all the continuities in political geography, for all the enormous similarities, there are very, very important differences and the most important is whether or not the Americans are popular.
WD
The clear fact that there has been no figure for the resistance to unify behind, in the way that, at the end of the very story, everyone unifies behind Dost Mohammad. There's no Dost Mohammad, there's no Wazir Akbar Khan in the current conflict. Given which, it should be possible for the ISAF forces left in Afghanistan, the Karzai government, to be more popular and to be a more acceptable force than they appear to be and I think, as we all know, the great huge error undertaken in modern history that we all will look back on and rue the day is the day the Americans took their eye off Afghanistan and then diverted resources from road building when they were very popular in the very beginning, when they hated the Taliban, and going and invading Iraq which had nothing to do with 9/11,
WD
as we all know, and not only was it an immoral and self-defeating thing to attack Iraq, to destroy a secular government, and to greatly augment the power of Iran, thereby opening up a whole new future conflict for us which may happen - the important point is that it takes resources away from Afghanistan and the striking thing that you notice when you go to Afghanistan and the first time for me and all the more so for you, is that ten years of occupation later and there is still no decent road system from the airport, no decent primary education system, there is no decent inoculation system for young children, and despite billions of dollars being brought into the country,
WD
almost every rating of development, it comes behind southern Sudan in terms, and this shouldn't be the case after ten years of occupation and the money that has been spent, it should, you know, rather than blowing the place up, if you just give them free hand outs of, you know, 50,000 dollars to every single Afghan, you would have been better off than you would be now, and it's a tragic series of errors. There was a huge opportunity for turning around Afghanistan ten years ago which isn't the case now.
WD
And I mean, I don't know what your feelings are but my feelings are extremely gloomy about what the future that lies once the troops - I mean it may be well that the Taliban don't come back but it's pretty likely we are going to have some form of fractured authority and decentralized rule and most likely all the return of the warlords, I'd say, I fear.
Hi, my name is Sarah. Actually I used to live in Delhi, I saw you 2 years in a row at the Penguin Spring Fever. Anyways, I had a question more about you as an author and you choosing what you are going to write about.
WD
Like you've written the most recent one and ones like "Last Mughals" - these are sort of like epics, almost, really exploring a key part of history, and then you've also got the "White Mughals" and then I read the journals that you edited of Anny Parks which are much more personal level and talk about what it was like for individuals on a household level in India. And I was just curious, how do you choose your next story, even like "Nine Lives" which is contemporary but, it's about individual choices and the lifestyles and belief systems and things and one thing that comes out in all your books is you really capture individual people's voices and I am just curious how do you choose what is going to be your next project and what voices and what stories you want to tell?
WD
I have always been very lucky in that I've always been able to follow my interests. When you're your own master, your only duties in the sense is to keep your readers engaged and as long as you can find subjects that will carry your readers with you, you're more or less free to follow your interests wherever they may lead, but that is the but, you have to find, I mean you have a different set of restrictions and humiliations as an academic and the long humiliating quest for tenure and all the other things that you have to undergo but you do nonetheless have the freedom to research things that could interest no one else, which is a freedom I don't have, and so this is a pro quid pro. You lose some and you gain some.
WD
I literally follow my interests and its weighing up whatever will keep me engaged for the 4 years so 5 years it takes to write a book like this. I mean there are various subjects that I would like to write about but I don't yet because I need to know that my books will reach an audience and once my kids are out of education I can start writing some really obscure stuff about my family history which no one is going to be interested in.
My name is Mohua Banerjee and I am a History PHD student at Harvard. I just wanted to ask you about the character of Munshi Mohan Lal who suddenly disappears from your story I mean
WD
he doesn't disappear in the book. He's very, very prominent.
if you could tell us a bit more about him, what happened to him aftermath of the battle.
WD
Mohan Lal is this fabulous character and there needs to be a biography of him. The last one was written by Hari Lal Gupta with an introduction by Jawaharlal Nehru written from prison in Allahabad in 1943 or something. He's an extraordinary character.
WD
He's the son of a Munshi who goes on the Elphinstone expedition in 1803 - 1807 to Afghanistan and his Anglophile father puts him into New Delhi College which is the first attempt to anglicize education in Delhi. He grows up anglophile. He's introduced to Burns early on for Burns first expedition and goes in with Burns. After the first expedition he's sent by Wade to be an intelligence officer in Kandahar so he's one of the early great game, but really one the very first, well the second, he's the second in Kandahar as effectively a great game intelligence operative, but in this slightly grey area where he's sort of declared,
WD
these intelligencers and news writer from this period who are writing intelligence and sending it back but are not doing it under cover. They are known to the host government. He then comes back, is with Burns on his second expedition in 1837 and is at his side all the way through the conquest. He's a key figure in the attack of Afghanistan. He has incredibly good contacts. He realizes what's happening to the retreating army in 1841 and halfway through the first day of the retreat doubles back. He's smart enough, uniquely.
WD
He doubles back, he goes back to Kabul and he shelters with Kizelbash who look after him and then he acts as all the way through the first 6 months of 1842, he's sending reports back to Peshawar from Shah-Shuja's court about what's going on in Kabul and then he's caught by - one of his messages is delivered to Akbar Khan and he's tortured and he's taken hostage and he has chillies burnt in front of his face and he's bastinadoed and he writes these very moving letters - all of which survive in the National Archives of India - and his writing is easy to read, it's ungrammatical but very easy to read, good handwriting and you literally have to go to National Rrchive and look up to M for Mohan Lal and order up the things, it's that easy.
WD
He is freed not by the Polock, the General of the Army of Retribution does write to Akbar Khan and demands his release of his hostage and he can do this because there are many Afghan hostages also and he says, "You wouldn't like me to torture your father like," but this arrives late, this letter, and in the meantime then the only person who will ransom him, because Akbar Khan wants money, is his fellow munshi and it's a very moving story, from Delhi College, who is Shamiyat Ali, who is Wade's munshi, who is in Indore, and somehow from Indore, he manages to get the money sent through the Sikhapuri community in Kabul and he's ransomed.
WD
He then uses, immediately on his release, he manages to borrow money to ransom the other hostages, who then uses the Kizelbash to get them released and on arrival back in Firozpur is disowned by the British, not only Mohan Lal, but all the British who have been in captivity. This is an embarrassment and they want nothing to do with this, so no one gets these VCs, no one gets awards, no one gets compensation, the accountants have lost their accounts, they're penalized for not being able to present their regimental records and Mohan Lal doesn't get the money he's borrowed in order to ransom the British back from, so he goes back from Shamit Ali and demands justice in London, and he is one of these early visitors to London, and he actually gets to see the Queen and like Burns, he manages to get incredible access
WD
and that photograph I showed you is taken on his visit to Scotland which is covered in great detail by the Scotsmen and he is photographed by David Octavian Hume who is one of the first Scottish photographers and he delivers Burns' journal back to his family in Montrose and he becomes a celebrity, but again like Burns himself, on arrival back in India, his regarders have been too jumped up, and he's obviously boasting about how he's had dinner with the queen and no one will employ himm so he's turned down for the job by the Munshi in Hyderabad and Lucknow which are the two prime plum jobs
WD
and he remains this slightly ostracized figure who is then chased out of his home in 1857 has to flee Delhi and is insulted by the British after 1857 then he dies not in poverty but a marginal figure in the 1860's. It's a great story and I have one friend who is going to work on it but never wrote it, everyone needs some good topic, there you go. There's a good little essay on him by Michael Fisher in the Delhi College Volume.
My name is Saugata Bose for the record. Ayesha was, I think, suggesting that despite the Afghan debacle, you know, British prospects in India were not damaged that much and you know because what followed in the 1840's was the conquest of Punjab and also the consolidation of British rule in Sind and you have given a good enough answer that you know the Russians were actually far away, the succession to Ranjit Singh was extraordinarily messy and so forth and things may have gone in a different direction and I think there's no doubt that the British saw the retreat from Kabul as a humiliating defeat,
WD
which is why it had to be turned into a victory somehow and when the army of retribution went in, in addition to sacking Kabul, they did something else, which was to come back via Ghazni, from where they took off the doors of the tomb of Mahmud of Ghazni, which was said to be actually it wasn't the gates of Somnath-
WD
They are in Agra Fort to this day. They are sitting there.
But I was just wondering, I mean one of the most, I think, you have got some fascinating sources. I think you talked about nine Afghan chronicles or accounts, some of them written soon after the events of the early 1840's.
WD
Do any of these Afghan chronicles have anything to say about the taking away of the doors of Mahmud of Ghazni's tomb because that was meant to be the sort of symbolic sort of turning of a defeat into victory, and the other question that I had was about, you know, the republicans and the democrats, you know, the conservatives and the Whigs back in England because, you know, they were clearly - you know, Auckland was replaced by Elinburgh, Elinburgh was damned by the evangelicals and by Macolay, partly because of the Gates episode, saying that he was indulging in idling and lingerism and not just any kind of lingerism but lingerism of the most dangerous kind,
WD
as he put it in a parliamentary speech. Now so there were clearly some bitter divisions among the British, was it simply a blame game that was going on following the defeat or would some of these divisions have played into the mismanagement of the entire Afghan campaign? I mean you have suggested that there were departmental jealousies within India but did metropolitan conflicts between the parties also undermine the prospects of the British expedition in Afghanistan or is it a story that comes about after the defeat? And so the period of the retribution 1843 and so on.
WD
So to answer the second question first, the Elinburgh is the man who originally comes up with the Indus policies. It is the Tories who come up with this in the 1830's and it is due to Elinburgh that Burns is dispatched up the Indus for the first time, the famous expedition when he has - again it's a fantastic story in itself. The British want to see whether the Indus can be turned to a navigable, ideally by steam, in the same way they have just begun sending up steamers up the Ganges as far as Allahabad and they plan to do the same
WD
and there are great ideas that the Indus will be a great autobahn into Central Asia and Manister Cottons will be appearing in the bazaars of Kabul in the summertime, thanks to these steamers churning up the Indus. And the Amirs of Sind very understandably don't want the British doing anything of the sort and poking around their river and so block everything and so they have to come up with a way of - this is just an anecdote, not a direct answer to your question, but it's such a good story that it needs to be told.
WD
The way, they, Burns, is sent off to map the Indus in order to see whether it is navigable, they come out with this sort of James Bond - 1830's version of a James Bond - scheme. And they know that Ranjit Singh loves horses and they come up with a scheme whereby they will send eight British enormous British cart horses, trey horses from Suffolk, out to India and present them to Ranjit Singh and this will give them a chance to - they say that they can't send the horses up by foot or else they will get damaged on their way
WD
- and the only way to do it is to have a raft and then just in case-they suddenly decide that he will tell them that they will have to march the horses so they send an enormous guild carriage very delicate guild carriage and so this guild carriage and the eight cart horses are put on a raft and sent with Burns up the Indus while six members of the Royal Geographical Society are hiding inside the coach taking dredgings and hydraulic surveys of the Indus.
WD
In the end, they come up with incredible data, quite separate to the published account of Burns' travel book about doing this trip up the Indus, is all his intelligence reports which are published later in the 1860's which are incredibly detailed hydraulic surveys of the details of the Indus. What they find of course is that the Indus is not a navigable river, you can just about take flat barges up but because of sand banks and issues of flow, it's never going to be a Ganges style mode of trade.
WD
Anyways this is all the result of the Tories. The Tories have begun this whole thing, they are supposed to be the biggest hawks and the irony is that its Auckland who is a very peaceable civil servant-ish official who only takes the general because he's so uncharismatic he can't make speeches and make it in politics in Britain. It's he who is talked by McNorton and Calvin and this group of young hawks who are also the coquetry around backhauli and who are part of this anglicising sort of group in Calcutta and these descriptions by the more liberal end of them, particularly Henry Thoby Prinsep -
WD
he's appalled by these hawkish colleagues he has and he constantly denounces them as he's busy and he is Macaulay's great enemy and takes on Macaulay in this debate in Calcutta about the anglo debate about whether to do English or Sanskrit and so Elinburgh, having arrived in the middle of this mess, can hardly disown it completely, because it is all a result of all his original policy of 1833 but he is so rude to Auckland on arrival that Auckland writes back to London questioning whether Elinburgh is entirely sane. Elinburgh also - I mean this has nothing to do about anything - Elinburghs is an extraordinary character whose first wife Jane Digby was this kind of incredibly highly sexed Victorian vamp who runs off and has a whole series of affairs
WD
including with Prince Schwarzenberg who fights a duel with Elinburgh. She ends up going off and having an affair with an Albanian gentleman and ends up married to a Bedouin sheikh in Almirah with whom she lives happily for 30 years and Elinburgh is humiliated by his famously unfaithful wife and it's partly because of this that he has to sort of butch himself up with all this forward policies stuff, isn't this fun, there was a question somewhere.
No so in fact there is this then huge conflict between the Tories and the Whigs and the Tories try to blame the Whigs for the debacle but in fact they have started the whole thing.
WD
They have started the whole thing and I mean oddly enough in this it isn't as much of a - I mean just like one would like the Democrats and the Republicans to disagree more than they do disagree on Israel-Palestine for example - in the end, there actually isn't that much room between the respective hawkish policies and in the same way that the liberals are less liberals than one would hope for in this country and in matters of foreign policy, so certainly the Middle East. Yes, Mirza Attar has wonderful things to say.
WD
Everyone knows that these are self jug gates and I did think I actually put it in here in the end but there's a very nice - the man who is instructed to bring the sandstone Gates of Ghazni back is none other than Henry Rollinson, who is the best sort of Arabic scholar of his day and knows immediately that these are medieval, twelfth century gates and thinks it's as much of a joke as everybody else. So here they are, I got Mirza Attar and others. I'll just read from the book.
WD
A proclamation was duly issued by Elinburgh addressed to the Chiefs and Princes in Northern and Western India in which the Governor General spoke of how the insult of 800 years was finally avenged and centuries of Indian subjugation to the Afghans in pre-colonial times had been reversed, thanks to the British the gates that had once been a memorial of Hindu humiliation become instead a record of Indian superiority over the nations beyond the Indus.
WD
The gates were duly paraded around India accompanied by an imposing escort where there was ceremony displayed to bewildered bystanders in an attempts to impress upon the people of India the undiminished power of the benevolence of British rule. There was, however, no reaction either from the Indian Prince's and less still from the Hindus, neither of whom had been aware that they were missing any gates. As Rollinson observed while supervising the removal of the beautiful salja woodwork, the gates could hardly be restored because they were not from Somnath, the temple had been in ruins for a thousand years, and the Hindus were indifferent to the whole farce.
WD
Nor were the Afghans particularly upset to see the gates go. According to Rollinson, the custodian of the shrine merely shrugged his shoulders and said, "Of what use can these old timbers be to you?" Mirza Attar was more cutting. He's a Sikhapuri Muslim who starts off with Shah Shuja then sort of disowns him and writes this fantastically caustic account. He writes, "Elinburgh ordered the gates to be sent to India where they could be used to publicise the re-conquest of Khurasan and justify the huge expense of the operations in the country which produce so little revenue. As the saying goes, real power does not need tawdry propaganda. A more lasting monument till today is the quantity of rotting corpses of the English troops that still block the highways and byways of Khurasan.
KM
My name is Kris Manjapra, I'm from Tufts University History department, and I really liked the way you ended your presentation, particularly the note on America and China, and it made me think about - I wanted to ask a question about British-ness and American-ness and how, in fact, what's happening today or the context of Afghanistan today is different from maybe what was taking place during this First Afghan War. The question is, you know, if one follows the argument that from the 1770's, you know, from the 18th century to about the 1830,
KM
British-ness was very much being constructed and after that period from the 1830's on, there is a kind of British imperialness, a kind of gentlemanly British-ness that then sees itself at home in the the world and that seemed to work very well with your story because of the geraniums and because of the hounds and you know the sense of almost comfort of the characters, the British characters, in this foreign environment, which made me wonder whether you think the way that America's presence in the world today operates is in fact the inverse. That as opposed to America at home in the world, there is a kind of continuous kind of sense of America's foreignness, strangeness abroad,
KM
if there is a kind of terminal quality to America's engagements that is actually very different almost from what seems to be a celebratory or I mean the beginning of something great in this 1840's period verses now when we are moving from America to China and the end of something quite old and lifeless in the American context. I mean is this a contrast that we can draw between the two?
WD
That is a really interesting question and not the one that I have thought through.
WD
I am not sure that I agree with you that in the 1830's that a sense of British-ness is being constructed in the sense, you know, if by that you mean a sense of unity among the different countries, that had been going on since 1707, that you have a very clear idea that the Scotts, the Irish, the Welch and the English are one nation by 1800, by 1750's in the sense with 1745 with the Jacobite rebellion is the last time you get any real sense of internal tension within British-ness and this is a century later, so I think what you do however get is you get this very strong sense, these are the very first years of Queen Victoria's reign and this is the peak of British confidence.
WD
This is the moment when they control more of the world than they ever will again, when their arms are - there's no silver medal anywhere in the race at the moment - the British are way ahead of the European rivals in a way that they won't be by the 1860's, 1870's. Germany is coming up, the French are resurgent, but at this moment the French are defeated. Waterloo is 15 years ago. The Russians are not really a threat. They are the nearest thing there is to one and so this is very much the peak moment of the British self confidence and it is at this peak moment that this catastrophic defeat takes place, which is why it takes everyone so much by surprise.
WD
Auckland is so amazed by it that when he hears the news, he eats the lawn of the government house, there is description by one of his aids of him clinging to the cool grass and gnawing at it with his teeth and he goes to bed and has a nervous breakdown and doesn't appear for a month. And it's a complete surprise to them and I quote in the book the sort of startled headlines of the times and they assume again that the Russians must have something to do with it. It had to be the Russians. Where were the Russians, it couldn't have been the Afghans who did this.
WD
As for America, I mean yeah, there is, I feel, this sense that this is the McNorton moment, that the Chinese are rising up but also there is this very strong sense in Rajiv Chandra's second new book which if you wouldn't have read is an extraordinary book about the sociology really of the American occupation in this weird world that they live in Afghanistan with this transplanted American background, with movies being projected, with McDonalds and Dominoes. All the food is important. They will not eat a single shammi kabab or whatever. Nothing. It's extraordinary, you know, rich, great potential, for, you know, making friends with the Afghans and letting them provide food for this enormous occupation army, thought this is the ideal way for keeping with the farmers, keeping the economy going.
WD
Not one sandwich is bought locally, everything is imported, in this weird way, flown in freeze packets from god knows where and read Rajiv Chandra, it's a blistering and wonderful look at the kind of extraordinary culture of and that is a real contrast with the Brits. For all that the Brits got it wrong, continually, and made a complete fool of themselves, all of the officers could speak Urdu and many of them could speak Persian and few of them could speak Pashto too. They'd all been in India 20-30 years, except for the top leadership like Elphinstone who, Elphinstone is sent in, the completely hopeless gout-ridden Elphinstone, is sent in by the same man who will then later order them to charge the life brigade, Lord Raglan, so he's a kind of a serial offender of this.
WD
The two great losers of Victorian imperial military history are both called Raglan and then the other nice link with the future is the only other member of Lord Auckland's family to take charge and rise up and come to government is Antonieve who then supervises and dismantlement of a direct descendent two centuries later. Hi. Sorry.
Mine is very small so even if somebody else. Yes so my name is Mediah and I am a student here at the Fletcher's School, I am not a historian. I am an economist so I can be excused but I am curious and language was covered a little bit in what you said right now, but how do you access these wonderful stories across language barriers particularly because I was a little struck by the pull out quote that you had from the account of Shah Shuja.
WD
Waquiate-e-shah-shuja
Yes, and it describes it uses the word the court of the God, or yes the merciful God, and here I mean I feel there could be blurry lines between what, God and Lord, when sort of translating texts, so I was wondering what your thinking was.
WD
So 3 years ago, after this trip, I ended up with nine full length chronicles and I have two kind people who have helped me with all this. One is a genius, strange character who's worked with me on all the last three books, on the translations for "White Mughals" and "Last Mughal". He's a fantastic character called Bruce Wenell
WD
who used to teach in his Farhan before the revolution, has 16 languages, is a concert pianist and is more or less unemployable. He lives in a counsel house in New York and is one of these sort of strange but anyway, he basically comes to stay in the process when I'm writing these books and we work side by side on what we need and how to do this and he came to stay in my Delhi house for about six months last year
WD
and we worked through these texts. Also one of Ayesha's students Alia Naqvi worked on one of the texts on the Akbar-nama, which is the longest and most detailed and produced fabulous translations including a wonderful piece of Durrani Afghan soft porn which is a very long and incredibly detailed account of Akbar Khan's marriage night, which perhaps would be an appropriate moment to end with a bit of an Afghan smut. Blame Ayesha for this. This is Alia's translation. Here are two extracts. At one point Burns is reported to go back to the King of Firang and tell him about how beautiful the people of Kabul are.
WD
This is written by a Kabuli and he says into Burns' mouth he has put these words, "In beauty the people of Kabul are like the very hurries of gill man of paradise" - the gill man for those who don't know are the chip and dales of the Islamic paradise, these hunky chaps who hang out - "the women of that land are of such delectable beauty that one could slay a hundred Firangis with the power of her buttocks." This is what - we'll just end on Akbar Khan's marriage night.
WD
If we can find it. "Desire moved on both sides. Passion was inflamed as they sought each other. They laid bare their faces from the curtain of modesty. The veil of clothing they threw off, they clasp one another so close as perfume to the rose and colour to the tulip. They lay with each other in pleasure and delight, body to body, face to face, lip to lip. Sometimes the fingers would hit upon the moon on the pleiades. Sometimes the hand would hasten towards the musk of conquest. His desire swelled from the sweetness of her kiss. They both redoubled their labours for their prize. Shining jewel upon jewel he planted seed by a single pearl, the rubies of buttock shan was scattered." Amen.