Friday, 14 January 2011

Afghanistan and Wrapping Up

I'm coming to the end of my residency now at the NLS. It's been an exciting and bewilderingly diverse three years. This blog has been one of the more interesting experiments. I've tried to use it to tell stories that have fascinated me, and as ways of thinking about how these documents from the 19th Century impact on an understanding of the world today...for me, anyway.

To conclude my posts on Afghanistan, then, I'm going to hand over first to the redoubtable George Glieg, the Scottish miliary clergyman and all round muscular Protestant, whose gripping account of the First Afghan War the Murray's published in 1843.

It's surprising how resonant it is:

"So ended a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, and brought to a close after suffring and disaster, without much glory attaching either to the government which directed, or the great body of the troops which waged it. Not one benefit, either political, or military, has England acquired by the war. Indeed, our evacuation of the country resembled almost as much the retreat of an army defeated as the march of a body of conquerors, seeing that to the last our flanks and rear were attacked, and such baggage as we did save, we saved by dint of hard fighting. Nevertheless, British India proclaimed what the whole world good naturedly allowed, that we had redeemed our honour, and were once more victorious."

This was the official proclamation of the end of the "forward policy" in Afghanistan that had been announced, with much more fanfare, likewise in Simla, only four years before:

"The government of India directed its army past the Indus in order to expel from Afghanistan a chief believed to be hostile to British interests and to replace upon his throne a soverign represented to be friendly to those intersts, and popular with his former subjects The chief believed to be hostile became a prisoner, and the soveriegn believed to be popular was replaced upon his throne, But...after events which brought into question his fidelity to the government by which he was restored, he lost, by the hand of an assassin, the throne he had held only amid insurrections.

Disasters unparalelled in their extent, unless by the errors in which they originated, and by the treachery in which they were completed, have {now} been avenged

(see last post)

....and...again attached the opinion of invincibility to the British Arms.

The British army in possession of Afghanistan will now be withdrawn to the Sutej...the Governor General will leave it to the Afghans themselves to create a government amidt the anarchy which is the consequence of their crimes...the combined army of India and of England...will stand in unassailable strength upon its own soil, and forever...preserve the glorious empire it has won..."

And Alexander Burnes, Murray author, diplomat of talent, linguist of genius, and Scotsman on the the still there...

Next time, to wrap things up for me as well as the British Army of the Indus, a couple of treasures I have to share before I go.