Afghan adventures: the more things change

Sir Harry Flashman was one of the great empire builders of Victorian England. Here he reflects on Afghanistan in the first volume of his memoirs. Simply substitute “Islamism” for Russia and contemplate what has been learned over the last 170 years.
.. I got hold of as much information as I could on matters in Afghanistan. They seemed to stand damned riskily to me … The reason we had sent an expedition to Kabul, which is in the very heart of some of the worst country in the world, was that we were afraid of Russia. Afghanistan was a buffer, if you like, between India and the Turkestan territory which Russia largely influenced, and the Russians were forever meddling in Afghan affairs, in the hope of expanding southwards and perhaps seizing India itself. So Afghanistan mattered very much to us, and thanks to that conceited Scotch buffoon Burnes the British Government had invaded the country, if you please, and put our puppet king, Shah Sujah, on the throne in Kabul, in place of old Dost Mohammed, who was suspected of Russian sympathies.
I believe, from all I saw and heard, that if he had Russian sympathies it was because we drove him to them by our stupid policy; at any rate the Kabul expedition succeeded in setting Sujah on the throne, and old Dost was politely locked up in India. So far, so good, but the Afghans didn’t like Sujah at all, and we had to leave an army in Kabul to keep him on his throne. This was the army that Elphy Bey was to command. It was a good enough army, part Queen’s troops, part Company’s, with British regiments as well as native ones, but it was having its work cut out trying to keep the tribes in order, for apart from Dost’s supporters there were scores of little petty chiefs and tyrants who lost no opportunity of causing trouble in the unsettled times, and the usual Afghan pastimes of blood-feud, robbery and murder-for-fun were going ahead full steam. Our army prevented any big rising – for the moment, anyway – but it was forever patrolling and manning little forts and trying to pacify and buy off the robber chiefs, and people were wondering how long this could go on. The wise ones said there was an explosion coming …
Sir Harry Flashman circa 1840 (George MacDonald Fraser, 1969) p 85


About Greg

Middle aged male, resident at the finest of all latitudes, 37. Reputedly an indoor cricketer.
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