Book Review: Return of a King

Return of a King, is the story of British misadventure in Afghanistan circa 1839 when the British East India Company waddled in to the country with some 20,000 men with the aim of installing Shah Shuja (grandson of Ahmed Shah Abdali) on the throne. It was the time when the term, “The Great Game” was devised between two leading powers of the world, The British Empire and Russia. What followed after that was a series of events more or less like a chain reaction which resulted in the uprising of Afghan people against the British, resulting in their disgraceful ouster. Not many of the 20,000 strong survived as they were targeted in the narrow valleys and passes on their flight form Kabul. Many were killed, some taken prisoners for ransom and others sold in the slave trade market. The book is well researched as always by Dalrymple, and covers the events based on authentic sources, both Afghan and British. It also looks at the reasons for the uprising against the British. Also discussed is the role of Ranjit Singh, Shah Shuja, Dost Muhammad, Akbar Khan, the rivalry between Sadozia and Barakzais, Monstuart Elphinstone, Alecander Burnes, Willaim Macnaghten, George Pollock, Nicholson, Lord Auckland as some of the important figures in this theater.

The chain of events after the disgraceful flight of the British, led to to yet another invasion of Afghanistan by the British, more commonly called as the Army of Retribution, 1842. The purpose being to avenge the massacre of the British forces. Deep down the various political intrigues are discussed in some detail, the role of money lenders, intrigues and more intrigues. The British finally withdrew perhaps never to venture again in Afghanistan and officially declaring it an enemy country until finally forced to invade it with the ISAF some 160 years later. And rightly so the author draws parallels between all these invasions, including the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. There is little doubt that the proud Afghan can be subdued, as history has proved it time and again, every invader has had to leave with a bloody nose. As Mirza Ata has written, “it is certainly no easy thing to invade or govern the Kingdom of Khurasan.”

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