04 December, 2020

Here’s To You, Sekunder Burnes

Unused sources inform a history of the First Afghan War—the deceit on both sides, craven heroes, and a royal licking

Tribhuvan Tiwari
Here’s To You, Sekunder Burnes

Regime change is not solely the prerogative of the American neo-con elite. It was first put into practice by the British East India Company in 1839 in Afghanistan. They didn’t call it regime change then, simply restoring an exiled king to his throne. William Dalrymple has covered the entire episode and its tragic fallout in Return of a King. Unlike other books on the period between 1839-42, the finely written Return of a King uses multi-lingual sources, not the usual eyewitness accounts or scholarly works from single-language sources. Dalrymple has sourced material from all participants of the tragic First Afghan War—British, Afghan and Indian (including the Punjab Archives in Lahore, Pakistan). It makes for a riveting account. The writing is typically Dalrymple: newsy, informative and interspersed with titillation. Even a supposedly god-fearing place like 19th century Afghanistan provides plenty of that diversion.

The East India Company invaded Afghanistan to reinstate Shuja ul-Mulk as the ruler. He had been greying in Ludhiana, surviving on...



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