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Afghanistan- Imperial Britain Afghan Agony and What US Should Learn

Afghanistan- Imperial Britain Afghan Agony and What US Should Learn

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Published by Khybari
Afghanistan- This is a review of the book titiled "Imperial Britain's Afghan Agony" and the analysis is with the issues faced by the US forces in Afghanistan
Afghanistan- This is a review of the book titiled "Imperial Britain's Afghan Agony" and the analysis is with the issues faced by the US forces in Afghanistan

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Khybari on Apr 03, 2012
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12/27/2013

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Imperial Britain's Afghan Agony
Review
From the
Mar-Apr 2012Seth G. Jones |February 28, 2012
Diana Preston
,
(NewYork: Walker & Company, 2012), 320 pp., $28.00.
 
FOR MANY foreigners, the history ofAfghanistan reads like a morose, Shakespearean tragedy. A litany of armies ventured into thefabled “graveyard of empires,” sometimes well-intentioned, only to face insurmountablechallenges and withdraw in humiliating defeat. Without a doubt, the quintessential Afghan tragedyis the First Anglo-Afghan War, the subject of Diana Preston’s book,
The Dark Defile: Britain’s Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838–1842 
.As Kabul and growing parts of the country rose up in rebellion, the British embarked on aninglorious retreat in January 1842 led by Sir William Hay Macnaghten, Britain’s chiefrepresentative to Kabul, and Major General William Elphinstone, commander of the British Armyin Afghanistan. The British-led force, which numbered about 4,500 soldiers and included a largecontingent of Indian sepoys, was eviscerated as it battled through biting cold, knee-deep snowand apoplectic tribesmen. Dr. William Brydon, the lone European survivor to reach the British fortat Jalalabad, later recalled: “This was a terrible march, the fire of the enemy incessant, andnumbers of officers and men, not knowing where they were going from snow-blindness, were cutup.”
 
The Dark Defile 
, whose title comes from the lines of a Rudyard Kipling poem, is an impressivebook, and Preston relies on primary sources to tell an intriguing story from the British perspective.It is not as comprehensive as the classics by such historians as John William Kaye, whose
History of the War in Afghanistan 
remains a paradigmatic account of the British experience, but itis well sourced and well written.Given the current war in Afghanistan, it is natural to inquire about the applicability to today ofBritain’s nineteenth-century experience. But its relevance is limited. Not every empire thatventured into those lands experienced the same dire fate as the British did in the nineteenthcentury. Still, two lessons bear close attention. The first is a virtual tenet among most Afghananthropologists: a strategy that focuses only on creating a strong central government is unlikely tosucceed in a country where power remains local. The second is perhaps more sobering: contraryto modern counterinsurgency theories, victory—and defeat—may ultimately be more a function ofwinning the hearts and minds of domestic constituents than of local Afghans. Both lessonsbecome vividly apparent in
The Dark Defile 
.PRESTON TELLS the British tragedy in colorful prose. In the early nineteenth century, Britainwas a global superpower that boasted impressive political, military and economic might. It was, tobe sure, the era of
Pax Britannica 
. The country’s gross national product was $8.2 billion, and itboasted a 53 percent relative share of European wealth, had the largest iron and steel productionin the world, and enjoyed a 10 percent share of world-manufacturing output. The only countriesthat came close were Russia and France, which had large populations and similar levels of grossnational product, world-manufacturing output and industrial potential.In South Asia, the British Empire was firmly entrenched in India, where the East India Companyhad flexed its economic and military muscles to annex or subdue much of the subcontinent.Britain’s chief rival in the region was Russia, and the two engaged in a growing balance-of-powerstruggle. The “Great Game” was alive and well. As Preston writes, “the British perceived theRussians as the greatest threat to India,” either directly or by inciting others to act against Britishinterests. Reacting to reports from British spies and diplomats across the region, including theindefatigable Alexander Burnes, the British had become increasingly edgy about Russianexpansionism. Burnes’s reports emphasized that Afghanistan could be a profitable trade routeand help balance Russian power.In May 1838, senior British government officials debated several options. Lord Auckland, thegovernor-general of India, wrote to Sir John Hobhouse, president of the Board of Control inLondon, that one option was to “leave Afghanistan to its fate” and focus on shoring up BritishIndia. A second was to “attempt to save Afghanistan” by supporting the current ruler in Kabul,Dost Mohammed Khan, and other local power brokers. The third option—and the one Britaineventually adopted—was to invade the country and impose the elderly Shah Shuja as king, whothe British assessed was more malleable than Dost Mohammed Khan. For British officials, ShahShuja’s weakness was an asset.

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