William Dalrymple suggests the past should guide anyone considering invading Afghanistan
Last night I attended a reception hosted by Sir Tom Stoppard and the Founders’ Circle of the London Library at the East India Club with my great friend Barbara Minto. At it, the writer and historian William Dalrymple gave a brief but fascinating talk about the discoveries he’d made researching his latest work, Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan 1839 – 42.
Dalrymple’s lecture mainly focused on the story of one of the worst defeats ever inflicted on the British colonial empire but it was his final remarks that I found most relevant. In a comparison to the West’s current role in a region that truly is the crossroads of the world, the historian argued that we should look to history before interfering there.
As I also learned when I read and reviewed Graham Lee’s excellent Fighting Season, Dalrymple argued that invaders are and always will be unwelcome in Afghanistan. Be they British, Russian, American or, as he suggested might come next, Chinese, Afghans will “break our teeth” and tell us to “go home”. We venture there at our peril.
After the event I was lucky to meet a former European Union ambassador to Syria, the travel writer Lord Fitzgerald and a delightful American named Carey Adina Karmel whose enthusiasm for the London Library was infectious. Here indeed was proof that “salon society” is thriving in London.
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